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Orthodox Christians in Russia are many, true believers few

June 25, 2013, 16:13 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, June 25 (Itar-Tass) - In Russia, where Orthodox Christianity in fact plays the role of the official religion (although all main confessions are proclaimed equal), true believers are still very few. The religiousness of most Orthodox Christians is confined to the ritual aspect, which is graphically seen in the results of a recent opinion poll. Experts say that for modern Orthodox Russians faith is neither a source of outlook nor a code of conduct, but merely a means to ask God for the fulfillment of long-cherished wishes and desires.

As sociologists have found out, more than half of them never read any religious books, and most have very primitive ideas of Orthodoxy. The share of baptized Orthodox Christians has remained practically unchanged over the past years, although religion has penetrated all spheres of life - from education to politics.

As follows from the results of a recent survey by the Public Opinion Studies center, 64% percent of Russians position themselves as believers, 25% are atheists, 6% are Muslims, and another 5% replied they belonged to other confessions. Fifty two percent of those who said they were Orthodox Christians replied they have never read the Gospel, 12% never go to church, 15% do so less than once a year, and 29% go to church once or twice a year. Sixty percent never receive the Eucharist, and 83% never observe the lent. Only 12% of the respondents said they know prayers and are accustomed to fasting. As the pollster has remarked, jobless women retirees constitute the bulk of that group.

Thirty three percent of the people who regard themselves as Orthodox Christians, replied they are half-inchurched. They go to church several times a year, receive the Eucharist from time to time, but never practice fasting and abstinence during the lent. Half of that group read the Gospel, 31% are classified by the pollsters as “slightly inchurched,” while “poorly inchurched” and “very poorly inchurched” accounted for 16% and 8% of the polled respectively. As the survey indicates, over the past thirteen years the share of inchurched Orthodox Christians has not changed, and that of “half-inchurched” grew by 6%.

Most often Russian believers replied that the main purpose of their prayer was to ask for help, to thank God, and receive God’s admonition. Those who said that the main purpose of the prayer was to ask for help to somebody else were thrice fewer.

The share of active Christians in Russia does not exceed 2% of the population, the archpriest of the Russian Orthodox Free Church, Mikhail Ardov, told the daily Novyie Izvestia.

“What is it you are talking about at a time when the All-Night Vigil in Moscow gathers a tiny 1.5%-2% of residents? This is absolutely normal, because in the whole world active Christians number no more than 2%-3%. We live in a post-Christian era.”

According to Professor Anatoly Pchelintsev, of the Center for Religious Studies at the Russian State Humanitarian University, most of those who call themselves Orthodox Christians do not know the basics of religion. The number of true believers, according to experts, ranges 3% to 7%.

However, as it has turned out, even the few practicing believers understand the term Orthodoxy in their own special way. According to sociologists, only 57% of the Orthodox Christians believe that the Universe is God’s creation, 43% believe that after death the soul ascends to heaven or falls into hell, and a quarter of Orthodox Christians believe in reincarnation. Also, Christians tend to say more frequently than other people that they have had extra-terrestrial contacts.

In a word, Russian Orthodox believers have faith in Church, rather than in God, explains sociologist Katerina Kozhevnikova. The newspaper quotes her as saying “the religiousness of Orthodox Christians in modern Russia can be called magical. In other words, for most people it is confined to the ritualistic component.”

Modern Orthodoxy in our country looks ever more like “belief in rituals,” confirms religious studies expert, Yuri Tabak.

“Most of those who mechanically identify themselves with Orthodoxy have no idea of its history or sources, but merely respect its traditions and observe the main rituals.”

Tabak says that “religion is ever more often looked at consumeristically, as a source of magic power.” People are in the habit of asking God for material benefits and for career promotion, but all that pushes into the background the root meaning of religion, which concerns the individual’s relations with God and the shaping of one’s own views. The Church uses religion as an instrument to keep people within ethical bounds.

The Russians’ non-critical attitude to the activity of the Russian Orthodox Church largely stems from the low level of education, including religious education, says Yuri Tabak.

“Education generally helps the individual develop critical thinking. For instance, if people study the history of Local Councils and the postulates declaring that ordained priests shall not have private property, there will be a great deal of confusion regarding the modern hierarchs’ lifestyles habits.”

Tabak said the level of education of Russian Orthodox Christians was lower than that in the countries of Catholicism and Protestantism.

“We are witnesses to a slight crisis of faith in Russia, which is a result of not very ethnical behavior of Orthodox priests, involved in road accidents and illegal construction projects. This pushes people away from religion,” Anatoly Pchelintsev said.