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75% of World Orthodoxy Says Khristos Voskrese!
The Continuing Task of the Church Outside Russia

Christ is Risen!

The day before yesterday the hymns of the Russian Orthodox Easter resounded in new-found unity from New Zealand to Australia, from Melbourne to Tokyo, across Siberia to Moscow and Jerusalem, from Berlin to Geneva, from Rome to Brussels, from Paris to London, from Lisbon to Dublin, from New York to San Francisco and from Argentina to Alaska.

Indeed, according to polls conducted by sociologists from the Pan-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre among 1600 people from 153 towns and cities in 46 regions and republics throughout the Russian Federation, 73% of Russians consider that they belong to the Church, 10% consider that they are atheists and 7% agnostics. In Central and North-Western Russia, the proportion of Orthodox in the population is higher than average (79-81%), while the lowest proportion of Orthodox is in the Volga Region, standing at 63% of the total population. If we assume that the rates of adherence to canonical Orthodoxy are the same in the Ukraine, Belarus and Carpatho-Russia (Transcarpathia), then it can be calculated that some 150 million of the world’s 200 million Orthodox Christians are members of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Interestingly, research has also found that 8.7 million inhabitants of the Russian Federation (6%) are Muslims. The highest number of Muslims, about 17%, is in the eastern Volga Region and the southern Region comes second with 9%, since the Muslim population is made up of Tartars or other ethnic groups from the Caucasus and Central Asia. According to the researchers, followers of other religions and sects (Judaism, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism etc) make up less than 1% of the Russian population, while the remaining 3% of the population consider themselves believers, but are not yet members of any specific religious confession.

On the one hand, this study proves the dramatic shift over the last twenty years. In that time, probably over 100 million have been baptised and some 21,000 churches have been built or repaired and reopened. On the other hand, there are also the enormous problems of post-Soviet society. Corruption, alcholism, abortion and consequent depopulation are only just beginning to come under control. Thus, although the number of abortions has fallen dramatically, the rate is still two to three times higher than in Western countries - a classic case of the results of ‘Soviet morality’. The Churching of the population is also being delayed by the chronic lack of churches. Thus, some 35 million Russians, one quarter of the population, were forced to watch the Paschal service on television, because they simply do not have churches to attend. Another 100,000 churches are required in Russia.

Nevertheless, the situation is dramatically different from that in Western Europe. We cannot help thinking of the analogy of two trains passing one another. As the Western train long ago left the station of faith and now gathers speed towards its terminus of atheism (under the nationalistic mask of ‘Western culture’ and political correctness), so the Russian train goes in the opposite direction, from militant atheism back towards the Church. Whereas only a few years ago religious practice in both countries seemed to be at the same (very low) level, it would seem that they have now passed one another. The more Western countries become, in reality, Sovietised and atheised, the more Russia returns to her historic roots and her dual world role of ‘Holy Russia’ and ‘The Third Rome’.

Thus, for example the situation in the Holy Land is being transformed by the 400,000 or so pilgrims from Russia who, it is estimated, will visit the shrines of the Holy Land this year. They will give great cheer to the much-tried native Arab Orthodox population, as the Russian pilgrims did before the Bolshevik usurpation of power in 1917. Perhaps one day native Orthodox there will at last have a Russian-speaking Arab Patriarch, and not an anti-Russian one, placed there by the American Secretary of State and the Israeli Interior Ministry.

For us in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), the situation has also changed dramatically in the last 25 years. Then, we were followed by KGB agents in Western streets as ‘dangerous counter-revolutionary operatives’. Today we are faced with the repentance of those who then pursued us and even controlled the ‘Soviet’ churches in Western capitals, where many senior clergy, now gone the way of all flesh, were openly corrupt. The mission of the Church Outside Russia then was to keep the Church alive and free from all political and doctrinal compromises, until Communism had fallen.

Since the Soviet system finally collapsed and all those of goodwill have seen for ourselves the clear repentance of those who for decades had collaborated with the old dictatorship, so we have been faced with a new but similar task. This is not the task of witnessing to Communist Russia, but of witnessing to the Western world the eternal truths of the multinational Russian Orthodox Tradition that has remained uncompromised and unfettered. This is in contrast to the semi-Orthodoxy of a minority in the West, who chose to swim with the tide and collaborate with anti-Orthodox humanist values and even the Soviet Communist Party, in countries like France, England, Finland and the USA.

He is risen indeed!

Priest Andrew Phillips

29 April 2008
Bright Tuesday

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