Saturday, January 26, 2019

Orthodoxy Doesn’t Define Russian Identity or Russian Attitudes toward Ukraine, Melnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 24 – At a time when the Moscow Patriarchate seeks to present itself as the primary basis of Russian identity and Orthodoxy as the definer of Russian attitudes toward autocephaly in Ukraine, polls show that Russians don’t view religion as central to their identity and are remarkably indifferent to what is taking place in Ukraine, Andrey Melnikov says.

            The influential editor of NG-Religii says that polls show Russians view themselves as defined by history and territory, including by history that was anti-religious, rather than by Orthodoxy, according to polls, and that fewer than two percent now attend services on major church holidays (

And despite all the hullaballoo from the Moscow Patriarchate and the Kremlin about Ukrainian autocephaly, he continues, more than a quarter tell pollsters they have never heard of this issue before pollsters asked and another third say that they are indifferent as to the outcome of church reorganization in Ukraine.

Even hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate acknowledge, the religious affairs specialist says, that “genuine participation in religious life is displayed by a tiny fraction of the citizens of Russia.” Metropolitan Merkury of Rostov and Novocherkassk even said that “our people do not have any idea” about the most important aspects of the faith.

As far as church attendance is concerned, the MVD office in Rostov reports that this year, only about 42,000 people attended church services on Russian Christmas, two percent of the total population and only half as many as was the case four years ago.  Roughly similar figures were true for Russia as a whole, Melnikov says.

The numbers appear to have been higher for the ceremony Russians have elaborated on the occasion of the anniversary of Christ’s baptism in which they jump into icy waters.  But many priests of the Russian Orthodox Church say this is less a religious act than a kind of recreation for people looking to be entertained.

These poll results and this participation level points to “several important conclusions about the essence of our national idea,” the editor says. “First, the term ‘Russian’ should not be treated as equivalent to ‘Orthodox Christian.’ Second, identity, based on political and territorial community is more important than religious and ethnic attachments.”

Russians are proud of many things in their national past, in particular Victory in the Great Fatherland War, that are “impossible to link with the Christian faith,” however hard some in the Moscow Patriarchate try.

And third “and most important,” Melnikov continues, “the worldview and ideological basis of patriotism consists of episodes of national history which look to be a poor fit from the point of view of Christian Orthodoxy – the revolution of 1917, the victory of Bolshevism int eh Civil War, and Victory over Nazism.”

Indeed, some members of the church intelligentsia “even consider the cult of Victory in 1945 the basis of ‘the civic religion’ formed by the state” and that leaves Christian Orthodoxy to the side.

“From this,” Melnikov says, “arises an unexpected practical conclusion: the course of the Russian powers that be toward the formation of national identity and patriotism connected with the glorious past of the Fatherland and in particular Victory in the Great Fatherland War” is surpassing any “deepening of the participation by religious organizations in social and political life.”

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