The Russian Orthodox Church aspires to be the custodian of Russian identity and soul, but the State considers it as a junior partner that should not escape its control, explained journalist Konstantin von Eggert, former chief correspondent of BBC Russian Service and currently chief editor of the private channel Kommersant FM, at the Eastern European Day 2014 of the University of Fribourg (Switzerland).
The day was devoted to Orthodoxy in Ukraine and Russia and RW attended. According to Andrei Desnitsky, Institute for Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, after the fall of communism as the official state ideology, the Church believed that time had come to take its revenge upon decades of endured submission (the Church policy decried as “Sergianism,” from the name of metropolitan and then patriarch Sergius, 1867-1944). The Church leaders thought that they could now determine the national ideology, reversing the times but still following a kind of Soviet model.
Several speakers mentioned nostalgia for the Soviet period, not so much for communism and certainly not of atheism, but for statehood and a strong nation that sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as something to be regretted. The Russian Orthodox Church appears to be in agreement with a majority of Russian people, who are supporting Putin, Eggert explained. The Kremlin welcomes the attitude of the Church and its anti-Western approach, but at the same time it does not want the Church to become too dominant. It has not given the Church the status of a State Church; there are many ways to have leverage on the Church if necessary including tax exemptions, restitution of properties confiscated during the communist period, access to media, State-compliant courts.
Many people in Russia define themselves as Orthodox: the percentage has grown from 37 percent in 1991 to 68 percent in 2013. While the percentage of regular practicing believers, defined as those taking communion at least once a month, has slowly grown from 2 percent in 1991 to 6 percent in 2013, Desnitsky stated. People identifying as Orthodox, but never receiving communion has declined from 83 percent in 1991 to 62 percent in 2013.
Still, it means that many self-described “Orthodox” in Russia apparently do not practice their religion. According to Eggert, the Church should strive to become an independent moral authority. A number of people in Russia have been disappointed by its closeness with the state: what seems profitable to the Church today and a source of strength might generate growing skepticism toward it in the future.