Church Renaissance in Russia: True and False Paths

Tatyana Senina


     Let us begin with a bibliography.

     The publishing-house “Letnij Sad” has published a book edited by Prof. Kimmo Kaariajnen (University of Helsinki) and Prof. Dmitri Furman (European Institute, RAN). It is worthy, in our opinion, of concentrated attention on the part of the Orthodox. It is called: Old Churches, New Believers. Religion in the Mass Consciousness of Post-Soviet Russia. Moscow – St. Petersburg, 2000 (pp. 248). The book summarises the research project “Religion and Values after the Fall of Communism”, work on which was conducted from 1991 to 1999. The project is part of a large research programme studying Russia and Eastern Europe.

     “The aims of the given project,” write the authors, “were to study:

1.     The transformation of values and relationship to religion in the Russian world consciousness in the post-communist era.

2.     The values and relationship to religion of the Russian elite.

3.     The relationship to religion and values of the minorities in Russia.

4.     The new religious movements in Russia.

5.     The role of religion in the social-political life of Russia.

     The main instrument of research was the conducting of all-Russian polls (in 1991, 1993, 1996 and 1999)… Polls were conducted by interview and encompassed 1500 to 2000 people. Polls by interview were also conducted in 1998 among the Russian elite… Besides polls, it goes without saying, other methods of work were used.

     The book is divided into 8 chapters: 1) “Religiousness in Russia in the 1990s”, 2) “Religion and politics in Russian mass consciousness”, 3) “The religion and value orientations of the Russian elite”, 4) “The theme of religion in the Russian mass media (entropy, symphony, ideocracy)”, 5) “New religious movements in Russia in the 1990s”, 6) “The interrelations between the Church and the State and religious legislation in Russia in the 1990s”, 7) “The Tatars and the Russians – believers and unbelievers, old and young”, 8) “The mass consciousness of the Russians and their religiousness in the conditions of a national minority (the Russians in contemporary Estonia)”…

     The first three chapters are particularly interesting. The authors consider that the development of the relationship to religion in Russian in the course of recent centuries is reminiscent of the movement of a pendulum: from the “highest point” of universal religiousness in the Middle Ages, to the appearance from the time of Peter I of various forms of Masonic and Voltairean free-thinking and, as a result, the gradual dispersal and retreat of this general religiousness, then to the appearance in the 19th century of the first conscious atheists (Pisarev, Chernyshevsky, Dobrolyubov, et al.) and the spread of various kinds of materialist and positivist philosophies amidst intelligentsy circles, and then to the spread at the end of the 19th century of powerful integral anti-religious philosophical systems like Marxism, which put forward their plans for the attainment of an ideal society and earthly happiness. Thus the “pendulum” of religiousness moved inexorably downwards.

     “From time to time,” write the authors, “the official church and the Russian autocracy could console themselves with the thought that atheism was a specifically intelligentsy phenomenon, while the simple people were still deeply religious and Orthodox. ‘The moment of truth’ came with the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, which showed the degree to which the Russian ‘Orthodox monolith’ had been undermined from within.”…

     We shall try, on the basis of contemporary sociological investigations of the feelings of the “new believers”, and also of our own observations, to answer the question: has the contemporary “religious renaissance”, and in the general the feelings of the majority of believers and unbelievers in Russia, gone far from that condition of religiousness which the holy bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov) in the middle of the 19th century considered to be its woeful fall? Another important question, closely linked with the first, is: where must we look for a true Church renaissance?


1.     The Myth of the “Religious Renaissance of Russia”

From “a society freed from religion” to “a society of general Orthodoxy”


… According to the data of the polls of 1979-81, among people between the ages of 18 and 25 1.7% were believers in God, between 26 and 30 – 1.4%, between 31 and 24 – 2.7%, between 41 and 50 – 4.8%, between 51 and 60 – 10%, between 61 and 70 – 22.1%, between 71 and 78 – 35.3%, older than 80 – 40.2%. However, we get another picture from the data collected by the authors of the book as a result of the 1999 poll: in the respondents’ replies to the question, were their parents believers or atheists, the results of the poll showed that “in the Soviet years, in which the overwhelming majority of parents of those polled lived, there was a clear and even insignificant minority of atheists, while there were significantly more believers than the polls of the Soviet era revealed” (p. 9): it turned out in general that for 51% of those polled their mother was a believer (for 3% - an atheist), their father was a believer for 24% (an atheist for 10%), their grandmother was a believer for 63% (for 1% - an atheist), their grandfather was a believer for 38% and an atheist for 3%.

     “It goes without saying that we must approach the present replies with almost as much caution as the replies in the Soviet polls. First, the respondents may have in mind the world-view of their parents after the revolution of 1991-93, when a mass exodus from ‘the atheists’ took place…. Secondly, insofar as religion is now again ‘in honour’, people can represent and portray their parents as being more religious than they are in fact, in accordance with the new ideas of what is “proper” and “decent”. Very minor and superficial manifestations of religiousness in the parents may become, in the minds of their children, “faith”. However, these data nevertheless witness to the fact that atheist Marxism-Leninism could not become such a “pan-national” faith as Orthodoxy had been in the Middle Ages.” (pp. 9-10).

     Does this “turn to religion” meant that in Russia there really are significantly more believers? The authors of the book clearly show that in our time orthodoxy has become the same kind of ideological cliché as atheism was earlier, and that Russia has passed from “a society freed from religion” to “a society of general Orthodoxy” (p. 11) – although believers have at the same time become not much greater in number.

     “The most dramatic changes have taken place in the sphere of the evaluation of religion and its significance, where we can no establish the presence of a “pro-religious” and “pro-Orthodox” consensus which embraces the overwhelming majority of Russians. This consensus is very evident in the evaluation of various religions.” (p. 11).

     We should not that those who have carried out the poll have not quite correctly organised it, since it has turned out that Orthodoxy and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad are related to each other in the same way as, for example, Orthodoxy and Buddhism. However, for the authors of the book “Orthodoxy” is first of all the official Moscow Patriarchate, which they always call the “RPC”, and which is for them, in general, the single representative of traditional Orthodoxy in Russia. However, on the other hand, a similar presentation of the question allows us, on the basis of the results of the polls, to better understand what kind of people the ordinary parishioners of the MP are and what they believe in.

     On the basis of the data of the polls the investigators draw the conclusion that “the ‘pro-Orthodox’ consensus embraces representatives of all the world-views. Among believers who are “favourably” and “very favourably” disposed towards Orthodoxy, waverers constitute 98%, unbelievers - 85%, atheists – 84%… This is the real pan-national consensus” (pp. 11-12).


The nature of the Russian “pro-Orthodox” consensus


    However, it is too early to rejoice.

     “The hierarchy of relations to various religions,” continue the authors, “in our opinion allows us better to understand the nature of the ruling, ‘pro-Orthodox’ feelings. One immediately notes that it is by no means a hierarchy of closeness to Orthodoxy. The attitude to the Buddhists, for example, is better than the attitude to the Christian Baptists and even than to the Orthodox Old Believers. What kind of hierarchy is this? In our opinion, there lies at the base of it the idea of Orthodoxy as the pan-Russian religion, in accordance with which one can form a higher evaluation of those religions which, however far from Orthodoxy they may be, are traditional religions of other nationalities and do not wage propaganda amidst the Russians. The ‘worst’ religions are those which are new to Russia and active. The ‘pro-Orthodox’ consensus is a consensus in a positive evaluation of the national past, traditions, originality and stability – one might even say, immobility in the religious sphere, which the ‘bad’ religions are undermining.” (p. 13).

     Thus the positive evaluation given to Orthodoxy by the majority of the citizens of Russia is nothing other than an expression of phyletism: Orthodoxy is good not at all because it contains the True of the Faith, but because it is “the historical religion” of Russia – “a Russian must be Orthodox”. Naturally, on such a basis a serious attitude to faith and the search for the truth is far from occupying centre stage. Truth and “historicalness” are far from the same thing. For example, the first Christians were accused by the pagans precisely of “having betrayed the gods of the fatherland”, of having overthrown “the historical religion” and of preaching some kind of “foreign” god.

     In a footnote the investigators add: “In our opinion, the nature of this consensus is evident also in the respondents’ choice of the traits of Orthodoxy. Good traits unquestionably predominate. However, various good traits are chosen with varying frequencies. Thus 57% are unquestioningly in agreement with the definition of the RPC as “peace-loving” (with only 1% choose the opposite trait of “warlike”), 47% - with “humane”, 43% - with “close to people”. But epithets linked with activity and striving for the future are chosen comparatively rarely. The trait “progressive” was chosen unquestioningly by 24% (“reactionary” – by 5%), “developing” – by 23% (“stagnating” – by 6%), “politically active” – by 14% (“politically passive” – by 9%), “helping the development of culture” – 17% (“hindering the development of culture” – 2%), “helping the development of democracy” – 17% (“hindering” – 3%).

     “When comparing the colossal figures characterising a good attitude of the Russian towards Orthodoxy, and the comparatively meagre figures characterising its evaluation as “progressive” and “activist”, the natural question arises: do the Russians relate so well to Orthodoxy in spite of the fact that they have doubts about its progressiveness, or, on the contrary, because they have such doubts, because activity and striving for the future are not at all what they need from religion. In our opinion, “because” is the more correct answer” (p. 46, note 5).

     However, if we take account of the fact that, as the authors demonstrate later, the percentage of real believers and those going to church among those polled is very small, it is evident that the above-cited evaluations of the activity of the MP come from people who are in principle unchurched, that is, this is an evaluation of the activity of the Church with the eyes of this world. And we see that what the people of this world like most of all in the activity of the MP is its “peace-lovingness” (which is particularly expressed in “brotherly relations” with heretics and representatives of other religions”, “humanity” (that is, indulging people’s weaknesses and vices) and “closeness to people” (which in our time is expressed most of all in endless baptisms of everyone in succession, even notorious atheists; in the crowning of practically unbelieving couples, who come to be crowned from some kind of superstitious or vainglorious considerations; the carrying out of all kinds of needs, to which those ordering them ascribe a certain “magical” effect; the blessing of anything you like – beginning with icons and “protective belts” and ending with cars, rings, pendents “against the evil eye”, etc.).

     “The hierarchy of trust and distrust of various institutes,” comment the authors, “… says a great deal about Russian mass consciousness. Russians have the greatest distrust for the most democratic institutions, the staff and activity of which depends most from the people itself – the Duma and the parties. On the other hand, they they place most trust in institutions which are least dependent on the ordinary man – the RPC and the army” (p. 46, note 6).

     Thus the RPC-MP is “very much trusted” by 23%, is “trusted” by 46%, is “not trusted” by 11%, and is “not at all trusted” by 7%; for the army the corresponding figures are 9, 43, 26 and 12%; the mass media – 3, 37, 35 and 18%; the unions – 6, 27, 29 and 24; the government – 2, 23, 36 and 32%; the Duma – 2, 13, 40 and 28%; the political parties – 1, 7, 39 and 34% (p. 14, table 1.4)…


In what does the “Russian Orthodox people” believe?


     The authors go on to try and explain what now hides under the expression “Russian Orthodox people”:

     “…. We can see a close link in contemporary Russian consciousness between Orthodoxy and national identity.

     “…. In Soviet times the word ‘Russian’ was very close in meaning to the word ‘Soviet’, and presupposed both a completely obvious distinctiveness and traits which can both be the subject of pride and give this distinctiveness a value (the first socialist state in the world, free education and medicine, a great military power, etc.). Now this has all collapsed, and the Russians are in the situation when it is not entirely clear what ‘Russianness’ consists in, and - the main thing – what its value is… And here Orthodoxy comes to the rescue – not so much as a religion as a symbol of Russian distinctiveness, as something that can be presented with pride in opposition to others, and whose value these others also to a certain degree recognise.

      “By virtue of this, and in contradiction to the ‘normal’ logic and direct meaning of terms, in contemporary Russia the concept ‘Orthodox’ is not a part of the wider concept ‘believer’, but rather the opposite – the concept ‘believer’ is part of the concept ‘Orthodox’.

     “For some contemporary Russians one can be an adherent of a definite faith without being a believer… Many unbelievers, and even atheists, are ‘Orthodox’ (according to the formula of the Belorussian President A. Lukashenko: ‘I am an Orthodox atheist’).

     “In 1999… 82% of the respondents called themselves adherents of Orthodoxy (3% called themselves unbelievers and 13% ‘don’t know’). Thus there are significantly more Orthodox than believers (42%). 98% of believers, 90% of waverers, 50% of unbelievers and 42% of atheists call themselves Orthodox.

     “For 82% of Russians to consider themselves Orthodox… is, of course, a huge achievement of the Church, if we estimate its activity from figures. But it is clear that this ‘ideological’ Orthodoxy has only a very oblique relationship to religious faith” (pp. 15-16).

     Truly this is a just observation: the “ideological” support of Orthodoxy will not deliver from eternal condemnation either the atheist or the unbeliever or the kind of believer who does not live a Church life from condemnation, but only occasionally goes to church to put down candles, or even the believer who occasionally has confession and communion, but at the same time in his everyday life leaves behind none of his serious passions and vices.

     We leave aside at this point the question that the majority of contemporary believers in Russia consider the Church to be the heretical MP….

      In what, according to the sociological polls, do these 82% of “Orthodox” believe?

      “… The proportion of those in the population who believe in God is much higher than those who believe in various ideas and dogmas which in the Orthodox and pan-Christian teaching are inseparably linked with faith in God” (p. 17).

     …. Out of 61% of believers in God only 10% believe in the resurrection of the dead; consequently, according to the word of the Apostle Paul, the faith of the remaining 51% is vain: ‘If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ is not risen. But if Christ is not risen, then vain is our preaching, and vain your faith’ (I Corinthians 15.13-14). However, of those who believe in God a much higher number believe in the transmigration of souls, and still more in astrology, magic and sorcery. This ‘faith’ leads us to think, not of Orthodoxy, but rather of paganism….

     From further polls it becomes clear that only 18% believe “in God as One with Whom a person can establish personal relations”, that is, understand God in a Christian way (which, however, is not equivalent to Orthodoxy). 38% consider that “there is something like a Spirit or vital force”, 21% - “do not know”, while 16% consider that “there is no God, Spirit or vital force” (p. 18)…

     In the rhythm of the growth in numbers of believers a “sharp rise” is observed from 1991 to 1993…, “stabilisation” in the years 1993-1996, and a new growth from 1996 to 1999”. As regards the atheists, their percentage “fell catastrophically” – from 35% to 5%. But later it becomes stable at this level.” (p. 19). This is explained by the fact that “in 1991 it was already a little ‘indecent’ to call oneself an atheist; mass conformist atheism had collapsed” and its representatives now prefer to call themselves “unbelievers” or “waverers”. However, the atheists have not completely disappeared..


“Faith without Works is Dead”


     The investigators go on to discuss the question “to what extent affirming one’s faith in God and identifying oneself as a believer really means something”. According to the 1999 poll, 51% of those polled consider that “God is not important”, 45% - that He “is important”, 56% - that “religion is not important”, 42% - that it is important…

     “Going to church once a month is a generally accepted dimension of religiousness in the sociology of religion, and on this dimension Russia occupies one of the last places in Europe and the world. Moreover, (and this is significantly more important), there has been no growth in churchgoing throughout the whole period of ‘the religious renaissance of Russia’, in spite of the fact that with the opening of a huge number of new and restored old churches it is now much easier to go to church. Only the number of those who go to church several times a year has risen – and that not by much” (pp. 21-22).

     “Faith without works is dead” (James 2.26). And so, in “checking the works”, it becomes clear that “the Russian Orthodox people” is, in relation to the faith, much more “dead” than the people of “the atheist and spoiled West”. Of course, we do not want to say that western people who often go to church are always deeply believing. However, they nevertheless apparently are not lazy in going there, even if it is done simply to “observe propriety”. As regards the Muslims, they are really much more religious and zealous than the majority of contemporary Christians.

     A table produced by the investigators shows the dynamic of replies in 1999 to the question: “How often do you pray?”: “often” – 15%, “sometimes” – 12%, “very rarely” – 9%, “only in critical situations” – 16%, “never” – 44%, “I don’t know” – 3%. And so almost half of those polled never pray, while the majority of those who do pray do this only in critical situations, when something is happening. Evidently, the relation of the latter to God is purely consumerist: “give” and “help” – in secular affairs, and by no means in anything spiritual. Strictly speaking, for this it is not necessarily obligatory to believe in the Orthodox God. Such “religious consumers”go precisely to an Orthodox church with their requests and consider themselves Orthodox believers, in general, only because it is Orthodoxy that is “historical” for Russia. If they lived in some other place, with other “historical roots”, they would go to a Catholic church or a mosque.

     “Still sadder for the ROC is the picture presented by the replies to the question on communion,” conclude the investigators later on. From the table produced by them (23) it is evident that of those polled in 1999, to the question: “Have you ever received Holy Communion?”, 53% replied “never” (58% of the men polled and 48% of the women), 17% - “sometime in my childhood”, 12% - “several years ago”, 5% 0 “a year ago”, 4% - “less than a year ago”, 2% - “a month ago”, 2% - “less than a month ago”, 6% - “I don’t know”. Men are less churchgoing than women; people older than 60 receive communion more often that those younger than 30 (among those younger than 30 65% had never communed, 0% replied “a month ago”, and 2% - “less than a month ago”, whereas among those older than 60 the corresponding figures were 39, 4 and 3%)…

     The investigation continues: “4% observed the fast completely in 1996, and the same 4% in 1999. In 1996 69% declared that they ‘practically never’ read the Bible. In 1999… 44% said that they never opened it.

     “Only 1% (!) of those polled (and only 3% of believers) said in 1999 that they often spoke to a priest, 1% (3%) – that they never spoke to him, 4% (7%) that they did so very rarely, 13% (24%) – in special situations such as funerals, baptisms, etc., and 79% (61%) – never.

     “Immediately we passed from the level of words to the level of deeds, the movement of our ‘pendulum’ became almost imperceptible. A ‘positive attitude’ to the church is practically incapable of passing into a faith that is even to a certain degree strengthened by deeds.

     “… To the extent that we pass from the level of a ‘good attitude towards the ROC’ to the level of at first a purely ‘verbal’ faith in God, and then to the level of turning this faith into some kind of, albeit minimal deeds, the signs of a ‘religious renaissance’ become less and less noticeable, while the ‘emptiness’ and ‘unseriousness’ of those who newly identify themselves as ‘believers’ and ‘Orthodox’ becomes more and more evident. Therefore we have tried to separate out a category of people whom we can with a greater or lesser foundation consider real believers.

      “For this we have taken out a group of people who: 1) identify themselves as believers; 2) believe in a God with whom it is possible to enter into personal relations (and not a ‘vital force’); 3) consider themselves Orthodox, and 4) go to church not less than once a month, or 6) often pray. There were 6% of such people in 1996, and 7% in 1999.

     “We very well understand that our criteria for separating out the ‘real’, traditional Orthodox believers are not strict… But if we harden the criteria even a little and add to our four, for example, regular communion, or observance of the fasts, or reading albeit only once only the New Testament, or the absence of faith in astrology and the transmigration of souls, the group of traditional believers just ‘disappears’. Such believers, it goes without saying, exist, but statistically speaking they are an infinitely small quantity which cannot be captured in our crude means of measurement – percentages.

     “Thus at the level of more or less ‘serious’ faith, our ‘pendulum’ has hardly moved… The results of the ‘religious renaissance’ turn out to be not only very meagre, they turn out to be ‘infinitely small’, if not a negative quantity.” (pp. 22-24).


  1. What Awaits the Moscow Patriarchate?


“The New Believers”


     As the investigators of the ‘new believers’ demonstrated (pp. 24-26), amidst the ‘traditional believers’, that is, that 7% whom they separated out on the basis of the above-indicated criteria (and who, as the investigators themselves recognise, are far from adhering to all the foundations of Christian life with a fitting strictness), 19% are men, of whom 6.1% are between 18 and 29 years of age, 7% between 30 and 39, 14% between 40 and 49, 18.4% between 50 and 59, 23.7% between 60 and 69, 22.8% between 70 and 79, and 8.7% older than 80. There are significantly more elderly ‘traditional believers’ than in the population as a whole. At the same time, there are more simple ‘believers’ (that is, those who are ‘strained out’ with a hardening of the criteria) amidst the youngest of those polled. But the greatest percentage of the young (30.9%) go into the group of the so-called “eclectics” – “people who believe in the transmigration of souls and astrology, that is, those who are most subject to the influence of contemporary parareligious ideas” (the “eclectics” constitute 14% of all those polled as a whole).

     We may add that it is precisely to the group of “eclectics” that we must refer the major part of those who live with completely secular interests, but who “for security” sanctify cars, flats and offices and carry icons on their bodies (in pockets, bags, purses, etc. – the icon here plays the role of a talisman, just as the savages wear a shark’s tooth on their neck or something like that), and sometimes they drop in to a church and put the fattest candles in front of the icons…

     The investigators draw the following conclusions: traditional believers are primarily a female group, the least educated, the poorest, the most “village group” in origin, containing few bosses and home-owners and fewer divorces than in other groups, but very many widows and single people; also, according to the results of a separate poll, they are the most burdened with illnesses, which is not surprising since traditional believers are on average old people. In all these traits, except age, they are the opposite of the group of atheists (not too old, but mainly not very young). But the overwhelming majority of Russians

     “belong to the ‘intermediate’ groups with a comparatively undefined world-view – not ‘traditional’ and mainly nominal believers, ‘waverers’ and ‘unbelievers’, between there is a very small social-demographic difference.”

     The “eclectics” are primarily young people (pp. 34-35). Moreover,

     “with the proposition ‘Life has no meaning’, there agree 12% of traditional believers, 8% of all believers, 4% of waverers, 8% of unbelievers, 9% of atheists, 6% of eclectics and 7% of all those polled” (pp. 37-38).

     Quite an unexpected correlation! After all, if we take into account that fact that only true faith and life in accordance with it are capable of filling the life of a man with real meaning, it is strange that it is precisely among the believers that we find the greatest percentage of those who see no meaning in life. This is yet one more reason to believe that in polls many of those who fall into the category of traditional believers do not believe in the way an Orthodox Christian should, and that in fact the number of truly Orthodox believers is much less and is not caught in the polls…


Are the Orthodox Dying Out?


     On the basis of the date collected by them the investigators have tried to evaluate the perspectives for Russian religiousness:

     “We are convinced,” they write, “that the words ‘religious renaissance in Russia’ can be used only in inverted commas. This renaissance has the most superficial and ‘ideological’ character, which does not touch the deeper levels of consciousness. The second swing of the all-Russian world-view ‘pendulum’ turns out to be very weak, immeasurably weaker than the first swing – from Orthodoxy to communist atheism. If the first swing, without reaching the ‘high-water mark’ from which the ‘Pendulum’ began its movement, has not come to the same total domination by one people’s communist faith as was attained in the Middle Ages by Orthodoxy, it has nevertheless engendered a multitude of real ‘believing communists’, who accomplished all the grandiose achievements and exploits (and crimes and cruelties) of the great Soviet epoch. The second swing is noticeable only at a relatively superficial ‘verbal’ and ‘ideological’ level. There are amazingly few real believers in Russia, and they are concentrated in the marginal layers, and those that are departing both in a social and in a directly ‘biological’ sense. The question arises: what will happen next?

     “On the ‘verbal’ level religiousness… continues to grow… But can this growth be transformed into the growth of real ‘traditional’ Orthodox religiousness, which could compensate for the natural loss of the old, traditionally religious population?

     “This question is very complex, and we find it difficult to answer it.

     “… When you look at the figures that speak of the age structure of traditional believers, you get the feeling that this group must very quickly disappear. However, this feeling is to a certain extent false, for traditional religiousness… becomes stronger in old age,… and amidst contemporary traditional believers there are, of course, people who were active members of the komsomol in their youth and did not think about God at all. Could it be that when those who are young today become tomorrow’s old people, they will fill up the ranks of the traditional believers…?

     “To a certain degree such a process will probably take place… but a number of powerful factors may work against this age factor.

     “… Thus the numbers and relative weight of the village population will undoubtedly fall… But the most important factor, in our opinion, is something else.

     “… Traditionally religious people are to a huge extent… bearers of an unbroken cultural and religious tradition, in which faith was handed down almost with ‘their mother’s milk’. If 19% of those polled in 1999 had received a religious upbringing, then amidst the traditional believers this figure was 52%. But still more important is the fact that these people have from childhood had a certain basic knowledge and habits of Orthodoxy. Therefore even if they did not preserve religiousness throughout their lives, but returned to the religion of their childhood with the approach of old age and death, they knew where to return to  - to the world that they had been accustomed to since childhood. Meanwhile, it is precisely this tradition of the handing down of basic knowledge and habits – religious socialisation – that is disappearing.

     “… Basically, the ‘verbal’ religiousness of the new believers does not lead to the religious education of their children, for for such education it is necessary not simply ‘to believe in God’, but also to go to church, and have some basic knowledge.

     “In this situation, for a person who is, let us say, 20 years old and who in 40 years time will begin to be visited by thoughts about death and religious feelings, becoming a parishioner of the ROC will be, even if the presently existing encouragement of religiousness continues, significantly more difficult and less likely than such a change was for a former member of the komsomol who, however, remember prayers, church feasts, etc. since childhood.” (pp. 39-41)

     Besides, in society there is no striving to give children a religious education.

     “The obligatory teaching of Orthodoxy is supported only by 13% (21% of believers), and the teaching of religion in accordance with the choice of the parents – by 10% (15%), the teaching of ‘the science of religion’ – by 42% (40%), and 15% (11%) are against any teaching.

     “The impression is created that here we see the superficiality of the contemporary ‘pro-Orthodox’ consensus. Besides, a certain member (mainly passed down through artistic literature) of compulsory lessons in ‘the Law of God’ in the schools of tsarist Russia, whose effect was rather negative, has been preserved.

     “Thus it is difficult to imagine in the future not only a growth of real ‘traditional’ religiousness, but even its preservation at the contemporary low level. Superficial and profound tendencies in Russian mass consciousness do not coincide. ‘At a superficial level’ a ‘religious renaissance’ is taking place. ‘In the depths’ not only is there no religious renaissance, but on the contrary the small and marginal group of people that one could call, with some minimal argumentation, ‘real’ Orthodox believers, is disappearing.” (p. 41).


The New Paganism


     … Very significant are the date collected by the sociologists on the relationship of the ‘new believers’ to questions of morality (they are summarised in the second chapter of the book ‘Old Churches…’). Thus it is revealed that

     “only 27% of traditional believers consider abortion to be in principle inadmissible – this is a staggeringly small figure.” (p. 57).

     Let us recall that the people whom the investigators number with the “traditional believers” are not “the strictest” believers, but those who go to church not less than once a month and often pray, that is, they are not “droppers in”, who drop into the church rarely and “by chance” and pray not at all frequently.

     “Summarising the polls, among ‘traditional believers’ 37% ‘consider that absolute criteria of good and evil exist’ (21% of ‘eclectics’, 29% of atheists); 48% ‘consider that good and evil depend on the circumstances’ (‘eclectics’ and atheists – 65 and 67%); 4% ‘agree that people must have sexual freedom’ (25 and 21%), 63% disagree with this (45 and 50%); 83% ‘consider that marital fidelity is very important in marriage’ (70 and 69%); 29% ‘consider that good sexual relations are very important in marriage’ (56 and 50%); 7% ‘consider that the institution of marriage is lived out its time’ (25 and 19%); 35% ‘approve of a woman who gives birth to a child outside wedlock’ (41 and 43%); 36% ‘consider abortion possible if the husband and wife do not want children’ (69 and 57%); 27% ‘consider abortion never permissible’ (10 and 16%), 78% - suicide (60 and 58%), 73% - homosexuality (67 and 75%), 58% - marital infidelity (34 and 35%), 49% - lying when it is convenient (27 and 33%) (pp. 58-59).

     … And so it is likely that the future parishioners of the MP will be mainly such morally unstable “believers” and “eclectics”, who go to church and – some of them – carry out some religious rites, even at times confessing and receiving communion, but at the same time living by what are basically completely worldly interests and in a worldly way… They need the Church so that things can be “still better and safer” for them, so that they can live a more comfortable life, psychologically speaking, in this world….

     Such “believers” believe both in Orthodoxy and in magic, in sorcery, in the transmigration of souls and generally in everything that is a little “spiritual”. Moreover, they draw their understanding of the faith from various pseudo-ecclesiastical sources – various programmes and books “on religion”, etc. The following question has been heard from such “believers”: “Look, I’m a ‘Capricorn’ (or ‘Virgo’, etc.), so what icon do I need? They told me that my icon is such-and-such.” When you begin to explain to them that astrology has nothing to do with the Church and is condemned, they are surprised: “How can that be, we’ve read…“ or “But we heard on the radio…”…

     This mood in the contemporary masses is called by the investigators “the triumph of indefiniteness”:

     “But just as there are no reasons for imagining a real recovery of Orthodoxy in the future, so it is very difficult to imagine a revival of atheism.

     “…. Both these really definite and vivid historical Russian world-views have departed into the past.

     “… But if not Orthodoxy and not atheism, then what? Perhaps some kind of non-Orthodox religions?

     “The fear felt by the contemporary ROC at the spread of non-Orthodox religions is explained, in our opinion, by two reasons: first, the social-political positions of the ROC and correspondingly all those material benefits that it has, come from the presence in Russian mass consciousness of the association ‘Russian-Orthodox’. Therefore the spread of other religions, albeit at the level when the concepts ‘Baptist’ and ‘Adventist’ cease to elicit associations with dangerous sectarianism and ‘Russian-Adventist’ comes to be perceived as normal as ‘Russian-Orthodox’ (and this is by no means at the level of the majority, but at the level of a prominent and stubborn minority), undermines this link and threatens the social position of the Church. Secondly, the non-Orthodox religions are evidently spreading to a significant degree in the same narrow social layer in which traditional Orthodoxy also exists. The same pensioner who ‘is bound’ to be an Orthodox parishioner is quite capable of ‘falling into the nets’ of the Baptists…, and the same intelligent who is interested in religious questions…can be drawn by Catholicism… If the ‘real’ Orthodox constitute less than 5% of the population, then the appearance even of 1% of ‘real’ Baptists (and all the Baptists are ‘real’) means for the ROC a loss of 20% of its potential or real parishioners.

     “… It is quite possible, and even probable, that the proportion of non-Orthodox amidst all the ‘real’ believers will grow. But no mass conversion of Russian people to non-Orthodox religions is taking place or is foreseen, just as no substantial (or indeed any) growth in ‘real’ Orthodox religiousness is foreseen. If society were penetrated by real, serious religious searchings, if a general growth of religiousness were taking place, then it would inevitably take both an Orthodox and a non-Orthodox form. A real ‘Orthodox renaissance’ would inevitably be accompanied by a growth of Baptism, Catholicism, etc., and vice-versa. But the contemporary ‘religious renaissance’ is too superficial and ideological.

     “What we see is not the fall of two historical forms of ‘serious’, deep and integral world-views – Orthodoxy and atheism-communism, but the fall and gradual disappearance of ‘serious’, integral world-views in general… Disregarding whether the proportion of formal ‘believers’ will increase or not, in reality that type of world-view to which the future may belong is the indefinite type of world-view that has already now taken hold of the overwhelming majority of Russians… The movement of the pendulum is dying at the central position that is natural for a slowing down pendulum.

    “The future (and to a very large extent the present) of Russian world-views, of the Russian attitude to the fundamental questions of existence, is a  future in which the overwhelming majority, practically everyone, believes, kind of, in something, but kind of also does not believe – the triumph of world-view indefiniteness” (pp. 41-44).

     “… This picture of the future dominance of world-view indefiniteness and eclecticism could be called ‘the triumph of entropy’…, the fall of harsh and integral world-view systems and the spread of an eclectic type of world-view – a phenomenon, it goes without saying, that is not Russian, but global, although in Russia, by virtue of the specific weakness of both historical world-views – Orthodoxy and atheism-communism – it is particularly noticeable… “ (p. 45).

     From the religious point of view, this phenomenon should rather be called, not “the triumph of entropy”, but the triumph of neo-paganism.


3. Pastors of Souls


A Portrait of a Church Elite


     …In the religious elite of the MP

     “there are more people of the most elderly age-group than in other groups, and also comparatively many young people: 32.3% older than 60 (compared with 5% in the political elite, 10 % in the economic elite, 6% in the elite of mass media, 11.5% in the non-Orthodox religious elite), 17.5% younger than 30 (this is also more than in the other elites). “This is probably not a coincidence linked to the imperfections of the selection, but a reflection of the evolution of the position of religion and the Church. Ecclesiastical careers could be made either, as in Soviet times, slowly and under the supervision of the authorities, and especially of the KGB, by people who had been selected a long time before, relatively speaking, from traditional religious families, or comparatively quickly, as in our time. When the situation of the Church changed sharply, this career again became prestigious and the need for new, fresh cadres appeared. It is evident that these recent careers were made by people who did not belong to traditional ecclesiastical circles (30% of the elite of the ROC in the 1980s did not work in church, 4% of them worked in science and 11% in education)” (pp. 80-81).

     In the elite of the MP 65% have higher education (that is less that among the respresentatives of the secular elites), 14.7% have scientific degrees or have completed postgraduate degrees (this is a little more than in other elites). The parents of representatives of the religious elite were: 17% members of the CPSU (while for the political elite the figures are 55%), 28% representatives of workers’ professions, and 7% collective farm workers.

     “The elite of the ROC is the least “Soviet-egalitarian” and intellectual in its genesis. They come mainly from the “social lower classes”. Together with this, there is a particularly strong professional-“caste” succession. 25% of the parents of representatives of the elite of the ROC in 1980s worked in the Church (with the non-Orthodox elite the succession is less). And 20% of the children of representatives of the religious elite work in the Church now. … 69% of the ecclesiastical elite received a religious education and only 20% did not, while in the non-religious elites only 10% received a religious education… Thus… the elite of the ROC are mainly people of a specific tradition and sub-culture, which in Soviet times was very isolated and lived in its own enclosed world and interests. To a very great extent, in spite of a certain influx of ‘fresh blood’, this enclosedness is retained to the present day.” (pp. 81-82).

     Who are these people, and what are their views? After all, they are bishops who from their position ought to be “light shining in darkness”.

     “81% of the elite of the ROC agreed that there are ‘absolute criteria of good and evil’, 10% considered that there are not, 1% ‘do not know’ (amidst the non-religious elite the figures are 33%, 58% and 3%). To the question whether it is permissible to use drugs, 97% of the elite of the ROC and 80% of the non-religious elite replied “never permissible”; on the permissibility of extra-marital sex – 90% and 19%; of homosexuality – 91% and 62%, of prostitution – 91% and 46%, of abortions – 93% and 12%, of euthanasia – 97% and 26%, of suicide – 99% and 48%” (pp. 84-85).

     54% of the elite of the MP considered it “never permissible” to deceive the state with regard to the payment of taxes (this percentage is significantly higher than among the secular elites and in the population as a whole; however one can hardly bank on the sincerity of the replies of the patriarchal hierarchs in this question). It is interesting that with regard to the question of the permissibility of lying if it is useful, a much higher percentage – 84% - replied negatively… Thus for the bishops of the MP the most serious sins (and not for all of them) are suicide, the use of drugs and euthanasia, but not adultery in its various forms or abortion, and still less lying and deceiving the tax police.

     “But to the overwhelming majority of question of the most various types the representatives of the elite of the ROC replied ‘I don’t know’ significantly more frequently than the representatives of the other categories of elite and the population as a whole. Moreover, the difference here is sometimes simply colossal and the proportion of ‘I don’t know’ replies among the religious elite is striking.” (p. 85)…

     One is reminded of the words of the Saviour to His disciples: “Let your yea be yea, and your nay nay; what is more than this is of the devil” (Matthew 5.37).

     The investigators note: “It is quite impossible to explain the colossal proportion of ‘I don’t knows’ among the elite of the ROC by the factor of education. More educated people are more often inclined to give clear answers to such questions than less educated people, but the elite of the ROC is significantly more educated than the population as a whole… Besides, they often reply: ‘I don’t know’ to questions which demand absolutely no reflection – for example, about friends or leisure.

     “Whence such a large number of ‘I don’t knows’? Evidently the reason for this is hidden in the specific social mechanisms of the selection of the elite of the ROC.

     “The Church has always striven, on the one hand, not to allow its organisation to be penetrated by various ‘secular’ political divisions, and, on the other hand, to preserve its general position of distance from secular problems while remaining loyal to ‘the powers that be’. Therefore any political views going beyond the bounds of this general loyalty could be a hindrance to their ecclesiastical career. This was undoubtedly the case before the revolution. But after the revolution the ROC turned out to be in a position that had never been encountered before in history, when careers in the ecclesiastical hierarchy were completely controlled by the totalitarian state, which held an atheist ideology completely contrary to that of the Church.

     “… Naturally the KGB, which carefully watched over the Church, did not allow up the hierarchical ladder clergy who could have independent views, whose position deviated even a little from the ideal position ‘more clearly seen by the bosses’. Such a situation could not fail to elicit, within the elite of the ROC, a fear not only of expressing, but even of having their own individual point of view (if you have one, you may say too much) – a fear that has now become both ingrained and irrational. In our poll, which was, naturally, anonymous, the real, rational danger that the expression of a point of view might influence one’s position in the Church was insignificantly small. But the fear was evidently too great, it has entered the flesh and blood of the people who have attained the heights of the hierarchical ladder by a careful avoidance of any individual positions, and even in an anonymous poll and answering the most ‘innocent’ question, these people were inclined ‘just in case’ to answer: ‘I don’t know’.” (pp. 86-88).

     Can such people fight for Orthodoxy and go against the current of contemporary life, which is inclined towards general ecumenism and ‘peace-making’, when people must not defend the rightness of their position “too ardently”?…

     As regards the political elite, which the elite of the MP is now striving so hard to be friendly with, its representatives, according to the results of the polls, pray rather rarely, there are significantly fewer believers among them than in the population as a whole (27% as against 40% of the population as a whole and as against 36% of believers with higher education), and it contains fewer people who are often in church…


Patriarchal Papism


     The investigating authors then go on to the attitude of the representatives of various elites to the MP.

     “Amidst the secular elites, it is the political elite which is most positively disposed towards the ROC and trusts it the most. By contrast, the elite which trusts it least is that of the mass media, which is in complete accord with… its relatively large, but ‘cultured’, not ‘conventionally Orthodox’ and not ‘patriotic’ religiousness.” (p. 93).

     As regards the attitude of the elites to their own organisation,

     “the elite of the ROC not only loves its own organisation and trusts it significantly more than the other elite groups and the population as a whole, which is completely natural, but also trusts it significantly more than the other elite groups trust their own institutions. Thus amidst the representatives of the political elite only 9% completely trust the Duma, 10% - the government, while amidst the representatives of the mass media elite 8% completely trust the mass media… (4% of the whole elite ‘very much’ trusts the mass media). Meanwhile, 88% of the ecclesiastical elite ‘very much trusts’ the ROC.

     “… The religious, dogmatic basis of this position is obvious. But… from a purely logical point of view, an exceptionally high evaluation of the church as a mystical organism, ‘the Body of Christ’, is ‘theoretically’ possible while having a low opinion of the ‘earthly’, contemporary Church, the Church as a social institution. Therefore we are dealing here, nevertheless, not so much with a strictly religious, theological  position, as with an ideological position, or with that intermediate zone in which theology imperceptibly merges into ideology.” (p. 94).

     A very true observation: truly, who, if not the bishops of the MP, must know in practice what iniquities are done in it, for they are the first who introduce them and approve them or cover them up; nevertheless, logically speaking, “the Orthodox Church is infallible, we are Orthodox, which means that everything is our Church is going just as it should” – the infallibility of the Church as the Body of Christ is transferred to the earthly organisation, which has the external marks of Orthodoxy, and then, by the same logic, practically any iniquities are justified and covered up, while those who protest are frightened off by the thought that “he who does not commemorate the patriarch will go to hell”! He who has read the lives of the saints and knows the history of the Orthodox Church just a little must understand all the stupidity of such an argument. However, there are not many in the MP now who look into ecclesiastical history, and if they are interested in it, it is from a purely theoretical point of view, without any attempt to draw parallels with modern life. Moreover, new arguments appear: ‘all this has been going on for a long time”, “those were saints”, “exceptional cases”, “we have to adapt to modern life”, etc. However, other representatives of the MP have already decided on more radical declarations, such as: “Who are these holy Fathers? They lived a long time ago, but now we have to listen, not to the dead, but to the living – his holiness the patriarch…”

     The sociologists go on to point out that a very characteristic trait of the MP is its bad attitude, not to certain secular elite groups, but to the religious elites of other ecclesiastical organisations, which are “the main religious ‘competitors’” of the MP.

     “The attitude of the elite of the ROC to all other religions is a notch worse than amongst other elite groups and the population as a whole… Evidently, as in the case of the ‘complete trust’ of the ecclesiastical elite to their own organisation, we are dealing here not so much with religion as such, as with an ideology born of the interests of the Orthodox clergy as a social class and the Church as an institution.” (p. 95).

     That is, for the clergy of the MP it is not the truth of Orthodoxy as such that is important, but its own position as “the state church”, and they have a negative attitude to anyone who might shake this position. The elite of the MP is best disposed towards the Muslims (7% are ‘very well disposed’, 10% ‘very badly’), then come the Old Believers (6% and 9%), the Jews (4% and 24%), the Catholics (4% and 12%), the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (0% and 16%), and then various sectarians – the Pentecostalists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Buddhists, the Krishnaites (from 0 to 1% and from 32 to 59%). They are worst disposed to the Krishnaites and the Jehovah’s Witnesses… The investigators point out that “this hierarchy has no religious basis”: its basis lies “in the degree of danger the given religion poses, not for the souls of believers, but for the social position of the ROC” (p. 95). Correspondingly, “the most unloved religions are not the religions that are furthest from Orthodoxy in their teaching, but those that wage the most active propaganda among the Russians” – that is, the most active “competitors” of the MP. And when the representatives of the MP talk about the traditionalism or non-traditionalism of one or another confession, or about their “fanaticism” and “sectarianism” (the latter definition is especially widely applied in the MP to all the True Orthodox), we must understand by “traditionalism” – “the religion’s reclusiveness within the bounds of its national-religious society, which is not dangerous for the ROC”, while by “fanaticism” we must understand – “active proselytism amongst the Russians” (p. 98).

     It is interesting that in the poll on the relationship to the equality of rights of religions, in all the elite groups there turned out to be a percentage of people who were simultaneously for equality of rights and the privileges of the ROC-MP. Naturally, the elite of the MP was most in favour of privileges (79% “completely in agreement” and 12% “were rather in agreement”) and against equality of rights (40% “rather not in agreement” and 22% “completely not in agreement”) with the equality of rights of religions. (p. 100). The overwhelming majority of the elite of the MP was in favour of privileges for their own Church. 53% of it were for the teaching of Orthodoxy in school to all pupils. (p. 101). This, together with their high degree of trust for their own organisation, their low estimate of their “competitors” and their small support for the equality of rights of religions, in the opinion of the investigators, speaks for “the united striving of the ROC for the position of the state Church, which it lost in 1917” (p. 102).

     The next poll to be taken was devoted to an evaluation of the qualities of the people itself. 44% of the elite of the MP, 15% of the non-Orthodoxy religious elite, 8% of the political elite, 6% of the economic elite and 9% of the mass media elite  “were in unqualified agreement” with the assertion that “the Russians are religious” (p. 104).

     “It is completely obvious,” note the sociologists, “that the high religiousness of the Russians for the elite of the ROC is an object of faith, for it is not confirmed by any empirical dimensions of religiousness, nor by historical experience. Here we see again that religion for the elite of the ROC is, as it were, a component of the national-conservative ideology, and the object of faith for it is rather this ideology” (p. 104).

     This is a very important observation, insofar as it shows precisely the weak side of the MP. The authority of the MP in society is maintained, not on the basis of its faithfulness to Orthodoxy as such, not on the Orthodox faith of the people and not on the conviction of the politicians supporting the MP that it is Orthodoxy that is the truth, but on the faith both of the first and of the second and of the third groups in the traditionalism of Orthodoxy for Russia: they all – both the politicians, and the majority of the people, and the clergy of the MP – are building their activity on the affirmation that “the Russian traditionally must be Orthodox”. Moreover, the inner essence of the Orthodox faith, the personal exploit for the sake of the salvation of the soul, becomes completely unimportant, just as the observation of the canons and the preservation of the dogmas. Only the Orthodox façade remains important; behind it any essence you like can be hidden.

     It is characteristic that very many people who are, by their life and convictions, completely non-Orthodox and unbelieving, go to church twice a year – to have their kuliches and eggs blessed at Pascha… and to receive holy water at the Baptism of the Lord. The main virtue of the holy water, in the opinion of secular people, consists in the fact that “it stands for a year and does not go off”…. Some people take the holy water home so that it can “stand for a year”, and they don’t even drink it; this attitude is reminiscent of the pagan faith in “security talismans”, and not at all of Orthodoxy.

     And so the hierarchs of the MP believe, not in Orthodoxy, but in “Russian Orthodoxness”, “religious traditionalism”, and that it is precisely the MP, and not any other religious organisation is the sole bearer of this traditionalism; and the prosperity of the MP is founded on the fact that it is in this that the majority of the population of the country, independently of the personal faith and church-orientedness of each person, believes. Here we see an original kind of papism: it is not important whether a person goes to church or not, whether he is a believer or an atheist, baptised or not, prays or does not pray, believes in astrology or the life after death, in the resurrection or in magic, or in all of these at once – all this is not important, the only thing that is important is the concept “Orthodox”, and the concept “Orthodox” is identical with the MP. Recognise only the MP to be “the traditional church” for Russia, and the only one – and you can believe in what you want and do what you want. Only do not undermine the authority of the MP! Otherwise you will immediately become her enemy and the destroyer of “social stability”.

     However, everything comes to an end sometime. It is obvious that in such circumstances the MP will not be able to hold for long those who truly seek the Orthodox Church, God and how to please God, so as to save their souls. It can give a man everything: weight in society, material prosperity (for the clergy), the “spiritual” colouring of “grey life”, the relief (that is, the sending to sleep) of the conscience by means of obedience to a spiritual father, moving rites (palms, kuliches, etc.), external pomposity in services, complete permission to live in a worldly environment with all the “conveniences” “blessed” by the servants of the cult, various means of making life “safe” (the blessing of flats, cars, personal things, etc.)… Only one thing they cannot give – a concept of patristic Orthodox Christianity and how to save your soul for eternity. And for that reason its game is up…


(Published in Vertograd-Inform, # 21—22, pp. 33—45).



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