Is Russia Turning Protestant?

Posted July 30th, 2013 at 9:32 pm (UTC+0)
30 comments

In advance of Pope Francis’ visit to Brazil, a Copacabana Beach artist sculpted in sand his vision of Latin America’s first Pope. VOA Photo: James Brooke

RIO DE JANEIRO — In 1990, an American anthropologist wrote a controversial book: “Is Latin America Turning Protestant?”

Two decades later, that same provocative question can be asked of Russia.

Who will win: The Church of the Golden Domes? Or the Church of the Catacombs?

Before I grapple with Russia, let’s look at what is happening in Brazil, a country steeped in centuries of Catholicism.

On Thursday night, the crowd on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach gave a powerful vote for Catholicism.

My sons William and Alexander and I were lost in a happy, singing river of more than 1 million young people — Catholic faithful who came to welcome pope Francis, Latin America’s first pope. On Sunday morning, that figure was topped as some reporters estimated that 3 million people attended the pope’s farewell mass.

In the flesh, Pope Francis, an Argentine, charmed Brazilians as he sought to reinvigorate Catholicism, a religion that been losing ground in Brazil to rapidly expanding Protestant churches. Photo: Reuters

But the new pope’s first international visit had a strategic element. It was clearly aimed at countering the explosive growth of Protestantism in what long has been called “the world’s most populous Catholic country.”

In 1960, 93 percent of Brazilians identified themselves as Catholics. Today, 58 percent do.

In 1960, 4 percent of Brazilians identified themselves as Protestants. Today, nearly 25 percent do.

Five centuries after Portuguese explorers dropped anchor in this lovely harbor, Catholics now are the minority in South America’s third largest city, population 6.3 million.

In Brazil, Protestant Evangelicals make up a powerful bloc of 73 deputies in Brazil’s Congress. Last month, Evangelicals fielded 800,000 followers for an annual “March for Jesus” through central Sao Paulo. In this environment, Brazilian politicians have banished the phrase “Protestant sects” from their public vocabulary.

Sunday morning, an estimated 3 million people attended Pope Francis’s farewell mass on Copacabana Beach. Rio de Janeiro officials said a record 1.5 million tourists had visited the city for World Youth Day, a Catholic event held once every two years. Photo: Reuters

In Russia, the Kremlin takes an opposite strategy.

Since returning to the Kremlin last year as president, Vladimir Putin seems determined to restore the Orthodox Church to the official status it enjoyed during the time of the Czars. Increasingly, Protestant churches are kept underground. But they are expanding rapidly.

Last month, President Putin signed into law vaguely worded “defense of religion” legislation. In theory, this protects from “insults” Russia’s four religions deemed “historic” by a 1997 law – Christian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam.

Last weekend, any illusion that the law covered Islam disappeared when 263 Central Asians were detained in Moscow for gathering in an informal prayer house and partaking the traditional “Iftar” dinner to break the Ramadan fast. Although there are about 1 million Muslims in Moscow today, the city has only four mosques. City officials deny construction permits, saying most Muslims in Moscow are guest workers who will go home.

Instead, official support for the Orthodox Church can be seen everywhere – from the restoration of golden domed churches, to President Putin’s televised attendance at Orthodox Easter services, to the pre-election comment last year by Patriarch Kirill that Putin’s leadership of Russia is “a miracle of God.”

On Thursday evening on Copacabana’s Avenida Atlantica, families held up their children for blessings by the Pope. VOA Photo: James Brooke

The patriarch recently was given use of lodgings inside the Kremlin, a unique privilege enjoyed during the time of the Czars.

As the Orthodox Church exerts increasing influence over the Russian state, admirals of Russia’s Pacific Fleet nearly dropped traditional images of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, from last Sunday’s Navy Day celebrations. A local Orthodox leader had warned that pagan gods should have no place “at a celebration of an Orthodox Christian Navy.”

Meanwhile, Russian Protestants increasingly hold religious services in living rooms as their pastors are routinely denied permits to build churches. Visas for foreign missionaries are rare. Russia’s anti-Protestant actions are regularly chronicled in Forum 18 News Service, a website based in Oslo, Norway.

But out of sight does not mean out of mind.

Despite the efforts of Russian police and prosecutors, Protestantism keeps growing in Russia.

On Copacabana Beach, the happy mood was infectious. James Brooke with sons, William (left) and Alexander (right) VOA Photo: James Brooke

Last Easter, as is customary, Russian police were deployed to every Orthodox church in the land. They kept order and conducted a census. According to Interior Ministry statistics, about 4 million Russians attended Easter services at Russian Orthodox churches. That is 2.7 percent of the population in Russia, a nation where around 65 percent of survey respondents call themselves Orthodox. According to a survey made last April by the Public Opinion Foundation, about half of Russians who call themselves Orthodox admit they have never opened a Bible.

Russia’s Justice Ministry has registered 14,616 Orthodox parishes, 4,409 Protestant parishes, and 234 Catholic parishes. But Anatoly Pchelintsev, a religion specialist and professor at the Russian State Humanitarian University, estimates that for every registered Protestant congregation, there are at least two unregistered ones.

Pchelintsev, who edits the Religion and Law publication here, concludes that Russia has about 15,000 Protestant congregations, roughly equal to the number of Russian Orthodox ones. He says the number of Catholic parishes is roughly the same as the official number.

In Siberia, long a land of dissenters and discontents, there are believed to be more Protestants in church on Sunday mornings than Russian Orthodox. On one recent visit to Khabarovsk, the second largest city of the Russian Far East, I went to a packed Baptist church, only a kilometer from a sparsely attended Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The massive Cathedral had been built with federal funds.

What is to be done?

Built in the late 16th century, at a time when the Protestant Reformation started to sweep Northern Europe, Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral seems to incarnate Russian exceptionalism and the Orthodox Church’s resistance to change. VOA Photo: James Brooke

In the 16th Century, the Russian Orthodox Church rejected the Protestant Reformation that swept Northern Europe. In the 17th century, minor reforms by Patriarch Nikon triggered the Great Schism, provoking millions of “Old Believers” to reject Moscow’s Patriarch. Some moved as far away as Alaska.

But with the vast majority of contemporary Russians rarely entering churches, many feel the Orthodox Church will have to change — or end up with the declining demographics of Brazil’s Catholic Church.

On Friday, a push for change came from an unexpected corner: Alexander Lukashenko, the archconservative president of Belarus, a country where half the population is nominally Orthodox.

“As the world is undergoing change, therefore the Church must change also,” said Lukashenko, who has received awards from the Belarusian Orthodox Church. “I think we are on the threshold of reforms in the Orthodox Church.”

“Our church should begin a reform, step-by-step, beginning with the church language,” he continued, referring to Old Church Slavonic, a 1,000 year old liturgical language unintelligible to most Russians and Byelorussians.

“The prayers, services and sermons are too long,” Lukashenko continued. “Adults and the elderly just cannot endure them. One should be brief, succinct and more modern.”

“I am against the practice of people coming in, listening to a sermon standing on their feet and having no opportunity at all to sit,” he said, referring to Russian Orthodox churches that have no chairs or pews. “The practice of building huge cathedrals is no good either. Churches must be cozy and warm, and they must not oppress believers.”

Oddly, similar advice came the next day from the far side of the planet.

In a meeting on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis addressed 300 active and retired Brazilian cardinals and bishops, giving the longest speech of his four-month-old pontificate.

“We have labored greatly and, at times, we see what appear to be failures,” the pope said in a veiled reference to the millions of Brazilians who have abandoned Catholicism for Protestantism. “We feel like those who must tally up a losing season as we consider those who have left us or no longer consider us credible or relevant.”

Then, warming to the central theme of his speech, he said: “At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people. For ordinary people the mystery enters through the heart.”

For Russia, the future offers a choice: Will Russia’s Orthodox Church compete with Protestantism, or try to crush it?

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

30 Responses to “Is Russia Turning Protestant?”

  1. Russell G. Thatcher says:

    I am thrilled that Russia’s leader Putin is turning Russia once again towards Christianity. The prayers of Russia are being answered. But please, the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church and the various Protestant Churches are indeed Christian! Ask the members of the differing congregations. Vladimir Putin wants Russia to return to the old stable values of the Orthodox, and that is certainly understandable. But for it to be truly understandable modern language and a comfortable learning environment must be established for the people. Hurrah for Mr. Putin and the Russian people. I pray that Mr. Putin visits all the leaders of the various Christian denominations and encourages them to work together. He certainly is proving to be a great fellow. Let him be blessed of God!

    • Keith Crosby says:

      You’ve obviously spent little time in Russia. Putin and his friends have made it illegal to “Protestant” and other pastors (other than “Russian” Orthodox) to discuss religious matters with people under 18.

      Sharing your faith outside the walls of a church can land you fined or imprisoned. Remember that Putin is an old line KGB Colonel who advanced his career spying on college students. Also remember that it was the “Russian” Orthodox church that cooperated with the KGB in driving other churches underground. Christians (think Alexander Solzeneitzen were imprisoned.

      Your post is either naive, or you’re part of the propaganda machine.

  2. Mykhayl says:

    Russian Orthodoxy unlike world Orthodoxy is the vassal of the Muscovite state. If you notice Christian Churches speak of souls while Russians of “the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate”, lamenting that the Communist gave away the Orthodox Church IN America. As (Saint) Jan Hus prayed “Lord, Your council now condemns You own act, Your own laws as heresy. Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me.… (see Mark 9:38).

  3. Mack Hall, HSG says:

    Just what Russia needs — American fat boys in muu-muus preaching the Gospel of Send-Me-Money.

    • Willis says:

      Really? That is your impression of Protestants? Have you ever been to a protestant church?

  4. Fr. John Morris says:

    After the fall of Communism, well financed Protestant missionaries flooded Russia in an effort to take advantage of the weakness of the Russian Orthodox Church following almost 70 years of brutal suppression under the Communist dictatorship. They used deception, bribes, watered down religion and all sorts of unethical methods to steal people from the Orthodox Church. It is tragic that after surviving Communism, the Russian Church found herself facing a barrage of attacks from American and European Protestant missionaries who instead of honoring those who suffered for Christ in Russia, try to succeed where the Communists failed by destroying the ancient and venerable Russian Orthodox Church.

    • Keith Crosby says:

      What would the Orthodox Church know about ethical? Was it ethical for the Russian Orthodox church to work with the KGB?

      So, you’re saying all “Protestant Missionaries” were unethical? That sounds like something the Nazi’s said about the Jews before (and after) WWII?

      There’s an old saying… If the chickens are well fed, they do not leave the coop. It’s a Russian proverb. If the Russian Orthodox Church was preaching the gospel, then people would gravitate toward it. But alas… many in the Russian Orthodox church failed to do so. And now, they are working with Ex-KGB Putin to persecute other Christians!. Now, that’s amazing. And your mindset says it all.

      • Fr. John Morris says:

        Yes, the Protestants were un ethical and un Christian, by taking advantage of the weakness of the Russian Orthodox Church after decades of persecution by the Communists. Their first offense is claiming that the Russian Orthodox Church does not preach the Gospel. No group of Christians have suffered for Christ as much as the Russian Orthodox. They should be honored for preserving their Faith instead of criticized by American and other Protestant sects.

        • Keith Crosby says:

          Don’t be silly. The Protestants went through Communism, too. The Russian Baptist Union saw many of their pastors killed during Stalin and Lenin’s reigns of terror and under Kruschev, too.

          If explaining the gospel to athiests is unethical then let’s all be as unethical as we can! If clinging to dead religion, being complicit with the communists in turning in people to the KGB weakened the Orthodox church… let it die… it deserves it.

          The Russian (Muscovite) Orthodox church is persecuting Christians in Russia and playing hand maid to the State and it is costing it dearly. You only get what you deserve when you preach something other than salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

          You seek an earthly kingdom… true Christians seek a heavenly kingdom in the life to come. Your allegations are untrue, politically motivated—-and communist.

          • Fr. John Morris says:

            The Protestant missionaries who flooded Russia after the fall of Communism, showed no respect for the suffering Russian Orthodox who kept their faith despite savage persecution. The Russian Orthodox Church is merely trying to protect its flock from these sheep stealers, who have put on a well financed campaign to take people away from the Orthodox Church. In the 19th century Protestant missionaries did exactly the same thing in the Middle East. Who are you to judge my allegiance? It is to Christ and His Holy Apostolic Church.

        • David says:

          Fr John Morris will probably be a Catholic with his anti-protestant rubbish he is spouting. Go and sort your child abuse and leave the growing religion to get on with it

          • Archpriest John Morris says:

            I am not a Roman Catholic. I am a married Antiochian Orthodox Priest. Backed by American money, the Protestants tried to gain members by taking advantage of the weakness of the Russian Orthodox Church after 70 years of Communist oppression. They treated people who had really suffered for Christ as if they were not Christian. Meanwhile, the major American Protestant denominations who suffered no persecution have surrendered completely to secular American culture. Some bless same sex unions, and revise their theology to conform to political Correctness. Others build mega churches which water down the Gospel to feeling good and the promise of health and wealth and instead of traditional worship put on into a country western and soft rock show with a shallow message designed to tell the people what they want to hear, instead of what they need to hear to live the Christian life. American Protestants should try to bring America to Christ before they have the arrogance to criticize a Church that survived the worst persecution of Christians since ancient Rome.

  5. Larry Uzzell says:

    Both some in the Moscow Patriarchate and some among Protestants seem to have exaggerated their successes in Russia. Take a look at a 2012 telephone survey by a Moscow think tank which supports religious freedom, http://sreda.org/arena.

    The key numbers: Orthodox Christians supporting the Moscow Patriarchate: 41%. Believers without a specific religion: 25%. Atheists: 13%. Muslims: 4.7%. Generic Christians: 4.1%. Sunnite Muslims: 1.7%. Orthodox Christians outside the Moscow Patriarchate: 1.5%. Pagans: 1.2%. Buddhists: 0.5%. Old Believers: Fewer than 0.5%. Protestants: Fewer than 0.5%. Shiite Muslims: Fewer than 0.5%. Catholics: Fewer than 0.5%. Jews: Fewer than 0.5%. Hindus: Fewer than 0.5%. Pentecostals: Fewer than 0.5%.

    Over-simplifying religious trends in current Russia is not helpful.

  6. Ivan Smirnov says:

    Putin praised Lenin. He doesn’t care about Christianity, except as an electoral strategy.

    • Jon says:

      And this is different from American presidents?

      Who is the true Christian? An autocratic ruler who promotes Christianity albeit heavy handedly, or an American President who doesn’t speak of his faith, doesn’t promote Christianity openly, and allows pornography, homosexuality, etc. ?

      And remember, God is King of Kings. Not presidents. Better an autocrat who maintains good social values, than a president who allows the soul of the society to rot.

  7. James Brooke jbrooke says:

    I think a lot of the non-Orthodox Christian activity in Russia is going on under the radar — in the current atmosphere, it is hard to build churches, so what is going on largely passes unnoticed Jim/Moscow

  8. fred gill says:

    I fear the problems facing the Russian Orthodox Church are greater than mere “reform” of things like the liturgy can address. Russians on the whole appear more no more inclined to embrace religion than any other people outside of Islam or sub-Saharan Africa do. I would love to see the Orthodox Church bloom in Russia – not because it is being propped up and used by a cheap tyrant but because it has again won the love and the hearts of the people. But that day seems very far off.

  9. Fr. John Morris says:

    The Orthodox Church is blooming in Russia. The are building Churches, monasteries and schools all over Russia to take care of the people who are coming back to the Church. Naturally, after 70 years of atheist anti-Christian propaganda the Church has a lot of teaching to do. However, despite the persecution, the Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe held steadfast to the teachings of the Bible. In The West, the mainline Protestant Churches were not persecuted, but surrendered completely to the secular society. As a result Protestant Europe is now in a post-Christian era and the United States is entering a post-Christian era. So before American Protestants criticize the Russian Orthodox Church, they should clean up their own house.

    • Keith Crosby says:

      Moral equivalence is a lazy man’s means of making excuses and avoiding an answer. Dead churches, denominations, etc… are in decline world wide. When the Bible is abandoned for liturgy, incense, smoke and mirrors and outward conformity and appearances. The Russian Orthodox Church is corrupt. It sold out to the communists. It’s a bedfellow with Putin who is a very corrupt, even murderous, man.

      As for “well financed” Protestant missionaries. Who cares? Should missionaries taking the gospel forward be poorly financed and equipped? Some could say, “well financed (government financed?) Orthodox are building churchs and ecclesiastical building all over Russia.

      As for Protestants, Protestants have been present in Russia for over 100 years. This is nothing new. They just aren’t being murdered by the government like used to be the case.

      Here’s my question. If you are a Christian then why would you lament that Christians are coming to a country that was a prisoner of atheist communism for 70 plus years. It smacks of what the Apostle Paul condemned—”I am of Cephas… I am of Apollos, I am of Paul… ” These weren’t crucified. All should be of Christ—the Christ of the Bible. I’m opposed to any missionary or indigenous cleric who is not of the Bible.

      When we elevate the traditions of men, treating them as commandments, as Jesus said, we nullify the word of God for the sake of man made traditions.

      The question that needs to be asked and answered is “are we (you and I) of Christ?” Our faith and practice cannot be wrapped in a national flag or a culture. We, according to God’s words are citizens of heaven—just passing through as aliens and strangers.

      Our job, every Christian’s job and every Christian church’s job, or commission, is to go to all nations, making disciples of all nations and when they are born again, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit—teaching them to do all that Christ has commanded in His word (the Bible).

      If it takes well financed missionaries to do that, so be it. My prayer one day as after recovering from 70 years of atheistic oppression that Russia will send missionaries to the rest of the world, including America. In the mean time, missionaries should come until Putin slams the door—which isn’t much longer seeing his media take over and intimidation and murder of dissidents and journalists.

      In the mean time, let the missionaries come, let the gospel go forth whether by independents, the Russian Baptist Union ( Russian Group), Independent Association of Evangelical Churches (a Russian Group), independent European Churches and National Churches and Groups that understand the authority and inspiration of Scripture because they see the Bible as the word of God.

      Surely you wouldn’t have a problem with that as a Christian. Would you?

      After all there is no pure church (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or otherwise). So long as churches and groups are made up of people there will be problems.

      I remember walking through an art museum in Moscow and seeing a portrait of a matriarch in the Tsar’s family being sent into exile because the Orthodox Church changed the way that one’s hand was to be positioned in prayer. She refused to accept the new way and was banished.

      Where there are people there are problems. But God is sovereign and will work His will out successfully, despite your shortcomings and mine.

      • Fr. John W. Morris says:

        Without the Holy Tradition of the Church, you would have no Bible. Every Protestant sect was founded few hundred years ago by men. It is Protestantism that follows the traditions of men like Luther, Calvin, Wesley and others, while Orthodoxy has has kept the teachings of Christ undefiled for almost 2,000 years. Orthodoxy has survived violent persecution from Jews, Romans, Muslims, Communism and now our secularized American society. The Protestant missionaries sent to Russia to take advantage of the weakness of the Russian Orthodox Church after 70 years of violent persecution, should try to reconvert America and Protestant Europe to Christ first.

  10. Son of love says:

    Jesus christ will go wining millions for his kingdom in russia, arabia, brazil, ethiopia, and all over the world!!
    Through his servants, We are watching him glorified through out world!!

    for more information

    http://www.divinerevelations.info/
    Pleas it is allowed for any ortho, protests or caths or musilims too!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Archpriest John Morris says:

    Perhaps the American Protestants should worry about converting America to Christianity instead of sending missionaries to Russia, which has a long and venerable tradition of Christianity that even the brutal oppression of Communism could not destroy. At least Putin has spoken out against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East while our President remains silent, while the rebels he has supported kill Christians, kidnap Bishops and nuns and destroy Christian Churches in Syria.

  12. Allan Osborne says:

    Leave people in Russia to decide the religion they want to accept and not what is forced on them. That way the country will evolve in the way of the people and not the state. If they choose to follow the Protestant religion then that is there right surely.

    • Fr. John W. Morris says:

      Orthodoxy is not being forced on the Russian people. They have turned to the Church founded by Christ after the spiritual wilderness of Communism. The leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church did make political compromises to survive. Protestantism suffered under no such persecution, but has surrendered to secular culture. One sees this from the liberal Protestants who have yielded to the pressure of political correctness to accept the pro-gay agenda by blessing same sex marriage, to the Branson and Hollywood style presentations that pass for worship in the mega-churches that attract crowds to their simplified and secularized teachings that only bear a superficial resemblance to the Apostolic Christianity preserved by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

  13. Allan Osborne says:

    Times change and if people want a pro gay agenda and same sex marriages then nobody should be against this. They have a right to live and worship how they please and should not be treated any differently from there neighbours or indeed have to listen to people out of touch with reality in the modern world.

  14. Fr. John W. Morris says:

    Times may change but the eternally true principles of Christian morality do not change. My point is that although they did not suffer persecution, the so called main line Protestant denominations have all compromised their faith by surrendering to modern secular American culture and have abandoned Biblical moral teachings. The Russian Orthodox who were savagely persecuted did not compromise one part of their belief but remained faithful to the teachings of the Bible. I do not care what the large Protestant groups do, but I disagree with them and do not hesitate to say it. The Russian Orthodox Church has kept its faith pure and does not need a bunch of American Protestants to come there and take advantage of the weakened condition of the Russian Church after 70 years of savage persecution to steal its sheep. Let the American Protestants rediscover their own Faith and repent of the compromises that they have made to secular American culture and convert America first to the uncompromised Gospel.

  15. Martin Kalyniuk says:

    Is Russia turning Protestant?

    No.

    I find it remarkable that anyone could seriously write such an article, especially as the impression is that he spends time in Russia and speaks Russian.

    How can one watch Russian television, go into Russian bookstores, walk down a Russian street (on which there will invariably be an Orthodox temple), drive down a country-road (which will have a Russian Orthodox Cross to mark a place of prayer, and every so often you shall pass a monastery), take the train (where you hear radio programs about Russian Saints and the history of the Russian Church) – how can anyone, in a word, spend any time in Russia and ask the question posed in the title?

    It must always be kept in mind that statistics are only select samples of opinion: their interpretation, their general application and especially projections based upon them are all very difficult matters, and in this commenter’s private judgement, after all of altogether doubtful value. It is, as alluded to above, the life of the country or nation, which can only be seen for oneself, that is the truest and most exact testimony to it’s opinions. The people themselves, what they are reading, what they are listening to, what they watch, what they have to say and not what box they tick. The people themselves: not numbers, not generalized percentages.

    Now, as has already been noted, sectarians notoriously inflate their numbers by trying to make every five or six heretics having a cup of tea with Bibles on hand a “church” or parish or diocese. It is true that there is likely two unregistered Protestant “parishes” for every one registered; I would suggest it is even more. But the reason these self-styled “parishes” cannot register is because they do not have enough people to even qualify for registration.

    In real-time, flesh-and-blood, actual numbers: Catholics, Protestants and Jews combined do not make up more than 1% of religious Russians – according to the Levada Center survey of 2011. A 2013 poll by the same Center has two in three Russians as Orthodox Christians. The official polls of the Moscow Patriarchate have the number even higher at 85% of Russians identifying themselves as Russian Orthodox and with Russian Orthodox culture and civilization (the number of people surveyed and the phrasing of the questions accounts for the discrepancy).

    All polls show clearly that the number of Russian Orthodox Christians is increasing, and that Protestants remain stable, at below 1% when taken alone; the numbers dwindle even more if we sort them out into their separate sects (Baptist, Pentacostal and so on).

    Yes. There is a problem with attendance. But it must not be exaggerated. There are very many temples in Russia. Some are packed to the doors daily – some are quiet and attended by a few very pious people. This is actually a welcome set of choices for most; some times you want to pray at a quiet Divine Liturgy or evening service – some times you want to hear the walls sing with you.

    And, it is an issue of irregular attendance – and not non-attendance. Most people do not attend every Sunday. That is true. But most people do attend for major feastdays, to have their fruit or water blessed, on namedays, to commemorate and pray for the departed – and everyone comes when they have a problem. Lose a job, child is sick, husband is mean, want a wife and so on.

    The statistic about never having read a Bible is irrelevant. Reading the Bible is the sectarian standard of being a self-styled Christian. The same people who have not picked up a Bible likely could quote more passages verbatim than the average American Protestant, by having heard it read at Divine Liturgy; definitely would know more from the Psalms from memory. The Gospel, the Acts and the Epistles of the Apostles and the Apocalypse, the Law and prophets and particularly the Psalms – are all read regularly as an integral part of Divine Liturgy and are expounded by the priest during the homily. Personal study at home is good, but not necessary and unguided: even harmful, as forty thousand plus Protestant sects testifies to abundantly.

    It ought to be stressed as well that those who do not attend regularly are the least likely to listen to foreign sectarians. They do not come every Sunday of the year – they do wait for up to twenty hours in the cold to venerate relics from Greece or Palestine. You try telling them Icons are idols, that relics should not be venerated, that there are no Saints to help them. Ask a Protestant “missionary” in Russia. If he is honest: he shall tell you. He knows these people (невоцерковленными). The majority of Russians stop listening the moment they realize it is a Protestant.

    It is not a matter of Slavonic versus Russian, or standing for too long (two hours on Sunday is much less to ask of someone than twenty hours even once a year…). This is a simplistic idea of foreigners who listen to statistics but cannot read Russian and/or have never been to Russia. It is a problem of education and of human passions. They need to be taught, and they are being taught – there is a very popular booklet by the new martyr Daniel Sysoyev on the subject, that they should attend every Sunday. And the personal obstacles to attending, the excuses need to be struggled with.

    In Russia you have to work hard. A significant portion of those who do not attend regularly actually cannot, or they have not tried to organize it with their employer.

    Many more, who know they should go, will plead tired, that they have so little time to do what they want, to relax, to be with family and so on. These are glaringly not good enough and so they will manufacture complaints about priests, cannot afford to give in the collection, too many people (very common excuse in Russia, contrary to the overall thrust of the article), people are too critical.

    Self-justifications take a positive form too: God is everywhere, I can pray just as well at home, I have an Icon-corner and ectera.

    And this is not new. In the actual Church of Christ, this has been a problem, in one form or another, since people began postponing Baptism to their death-beds after the Milan Edict of Toleration. The answer has never been bend over backwards to make whatever alterations one imagines is going to attract people to attend; a spectacle that tends to repel rather than draw, I can say from personal experience having attended secondary school in an English-language country.

    This ends in ugly meaninglessness, in banality, in something it is an insult to compare with the Catacombs (with their ancient worship still preserved in the Roman and Milanese Liturgies; their Iconography and rich symbolism). The Catacombs epitomize the Christian rejection of the world – not the blind willingness to cater to it at any costs for the sake of gaining adherents. It is a law of the spiritual life and a documentary fact of history that the latter approach repels, it is the former that converts.

    Finally – my thanks if you have read up to here! – attendance is also statistically going up. Good news, yes? It is only in the last few years that the problem of attendance has really properly been identified and studied, work on remedying it has only begun. But it has begun now. Expect the continued increase of Russian Orthodox people, greater regular attendance and missionaries from Russia to English-language countries in the future.

  16. Fr. John W. Morris says:

    There are already Orthodox missionaries in the West. In America the Orthodox Church is one of the few Christian Churches that is growing, especially the Antiochian Archdiocese. Meanwhile, mainline Protestantism has experienced massive membership loss. Hundreds of thousands of Mayan Native Americans have recently converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in Guatemala and Mexico.

  17. My dear Brother in Christ,
    Love, Grace and Peace to you and to your dear family in Jesus most Trustworthy and fair name.
    Prayer: Father, would You please supply all my brother’s needs as he reaches out to others with Your glorious Gospel message. Fill and baptize him, and his fellow workers, with Your Holy Spirit in order to fully equip them for Your work. And please place a hedge of protection around them all, and their families, from the evils of both nature and of man. In Jesusname amenandamemen my dear brither how r u…? when did u come 2 india,,u wil come to india in this year 2014,,,,i will send chilldern party photes may 20st and 21st….
    paster john lazeraiser chinni…..iam waiting for u replay………….. Dear Beloved in Christ,
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    We are serving the Lord independently without joining in any other Fellowship or Ministry or Mission or Organization but are doing with utmost faith.

    We are serving among Dalit and Tribal people hailing from yanadi and Yerukula communities who are far behind in education, social, medical and financial. We are striving hard for their development in their living conditions.

    We are reaching the unreached proclaiming the Gospel as Jesus said at Mark 16:15, planting new Churches as has said at Matt 16:18 and winning many a perishing souls according to Romans 10:9. Part of it we are also working with Orphan and Street children as Jesus said at Matt 18:5 and Matt 19:14. God also called on us to look after the needs of poor widows and old aged people according to Deuteronomy 26:12, 13.

    We like to develop our Ministry reaching many more unreached areas with your ablest leadership and guidance. We are much interested to work with you joining in your Fellowship.

    Part of it we invite you with our heart and soul to visit India to see our work and to take part in our activities. We believe you are a blessing for us, for our Ministry and for our people. We are constantly praying God for you, for your family, Ministry and for your untiring services upholding before God daily.

    We request you to kindly pray for us and for our Invitation to visit India to work with us.

    I look to hear from you soon.

    In Jesus most Trustworthy name,

    (Pastor lazarus chinni john

About

About

James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.

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