Russian Orthodox Church Income Rises Dramatically Despite Economic Crisis
Staunton, VA, June 13, 2016 – It is a rare trend indeed in which there are not exceptions, when some individuals and institutions suffer while most are benefiting or when others benefit at a time when the overwhelming majority are suffering. Such is the case of the Russian Orthodox Church whose income has risen 27 percent at a time when most Russians are seeing their incomes fall.
Its income has risen because the faithful are paying more for services and goods the Church supplies such as weddings and funerals or religious literature even though they have cut back slightly – about three percent — on their contributions to its work.
According to Russia’s Federal Tax Service, the Russian Church saw its income from services and rites and the sale of religious literature and other goods rise last year by 27 percent to 1.79 billion rubles (US $30 million) while contributions to it fell to 4.03 billion rubles ($130 million).
These statistics suffer from one problem: they include all religious groups in Russia; but because most of the other larger faiths and Islam in particular do not charge for services, almost all of these changes are accounted for by the Russian Orthodox, according to Roman Silantyev, who heads the council of advisors on religious affairs to the justice ministry.
Some of the rise in the Russian Orthodox Church’s income last year came from its “daughter” companies such as the Sofrino enterprise which produces books, candles, vestments and icons, the Danilovsky Hotel, and the publishing house of the Moscow Patriarchate itself, the figures show.
Vitaly Milonov, a deputy of St. Petersburg’s legislative assembly and a sexton in the church, says that he believes these figures reflect reality, one in which more people are going to church to pray because of difficult economic times and offering to pay for services for themselves and their loved ones who are in difficulty.
The Moscow Patriarchate, however, has not commented on the new figures. In the past, it has insisted that it doesn’t have any of them itself as every congregation and bishopric is a separate legal person and keeps track of its income. (That is somewhat disingenuous as local churches and bishoprics are required to send money up the chain of the church command.)
But one of the reasons that the Patriarchate takes that view at least in public is that it insists its income is not earnings which should be taxed. That was the subject of a 2012 court case in Moscow, and at that time, the Russian Orthodox Church successfully defended its position on its income.
There are at least three reasons why these new figures on the earnings of the Russian Orthodox Church are important. First, they will reinforce the view of many Russians that the church is corrupt in some fundamental ways, enriching itself at a time when ordinary Russians are being impoverished.
Second, the fact that other denominations and Islam in particular don’t behave as the Russian Orthodox Church does may make them more attractive to people who have been sitting on the fence. At the very least, this pattern will further restrict the willingness of Muslims to convert to Orthodoxy.
And third, this pattern helps to explain why the Moscow Patriarchate continues to link its fate with the Russian state. It is not just a question of the church’s caesaro-papist traditions; it is a question of money – and that is a currency that both Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill clearly understand and calculate in.
Moscow Can’t Restore Empire for the Same Reason Anti-Bolshevik Whites Couldn’t a Century Ago, Piontkovsky Says
Staunton, VA, June 13, 2016 – For the second time in a century, the Russian empire has disintegrated, and following its disintegration there have arisen the expected “post-imperial messianic complexes that have always been characteristic of the Russian political class” which seek to put the empire back together.
But despite bold declarations like those of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council which proclaims that Moscow has begun the process of reclaiming its “imperial space,” Andrey Piontkovsky says, Russia will not be able to do so – and for the same reason the anti-Bolshevik Whites were not after the 1917 revolution.
Indeed, he writes, for that reason, the commitment to an undivided empire, “Russia will not ‘dominate’ the post-Soviet space and will not restore any ‘empire,’ not because new players have appeared in this space who have greater economic and information resources” but because Moscow isn’t prepared to offer anyone in that space an attractive option for themselves.
When the Russian Empire disintegrated in 1917, the anti-Bolshevik Whites fought under the slogan “for a single and indivisible Russia,” one that prevented them “even for the sake of victory over the Bolsheviks for compromises with the national movements on the territory of the territory of the former Russian empire.”
Their position, Piontkovsky continues, “deserves respect.” At least they were honest as the Bolsheviks were not who said they supported the aspirations of the non-Russians only to crush them later. But the White idea had “one shortcoming: it was not supported by the Ukrainians or the Caucasians or the Balts or, in general, by any of the non-Russian peoples.”
As Andrei Amalrik wrote a half-century ago, “just as the adoption of Christianity extended the existence of the Roman Empire for 300 years, so too the adoption of communism has extended for several decades the existence of the Russian Empire.” But that duplicitous and immoral system could last only so long.
Today’s Russian “’elite,’” Piontkovsky observes, in the wake of the second collapse of the Russian Empire in the last century, has “suffered from phantom imperial pains” but once again is not in a position to offer the non-Russians anything but talk about Russia’s greatness and its “messianic imperial calling.”
But no one besides perhaps a few deceived Russians can find much of interest in that, the Russian analyst argues. The most Moscow and they can expect with that program from the non-Russians is “indulgent attention” from those who have been bought off with “large financial rewards.”
“The Russian political ‘elite,’” Piontkovsky continues, cannot understand that no one on the post-Soviet space needs it as a teacher of life and a center of attraction.” Not because the Americans are there causing trouble “but because Putin’s Russia cannot be attractive for anyone” among the non-Russians.
Almost 20 years ago, Konstantin Zatulin and his allies argued that the former Soviet republics need to be “forced to be friends” with Russia, utterly failing to recognize that such a formulation is “an Orwellian oxymoron” that will generate hatred rather than its opposite.
But such an approach, the Russian analyst continues, has another consequence: it prompts the non-Russians to look to other centers of attraction as they pursue their futures. “Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia see their future in the European economic and political space.” Even Belarus does as well.
Meanwhile, Piontkovsky continues, “the khanates of Central Asia are gradually becoming the near abroad” of China, the result less of Chinese efforts than of Russian mistakes which has pushed these people away and even created a format, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which gives Beijing a means of drawing these countries to itself.
Russians are uncomfortable talking about Central Asia as “’the near abroad’ of China” but now they have to because “today the Russian political class is experiencing the harshest possible geo-psychological disintegration, one much sharper than in 1991. Then, everything seemed temporary; now, it has become obvious that it is forever.”
“The confrontation with the West and the adoption of a course for ‘a strategic union’ and coalition with China inevitably will lead not only to the marginalization of Russia but also to its subordination to the strategic interests of China and to the loss of control over the Far East and Siberia, initially de facto and then de jure.”
Orthodox World Heading Toward a New Schism
Staunton, VA, June 13, 2016 – The decisions of the Bulgarian, Serbian and Antioch Orthodox churches not to attend an assembly chaired by the Universal Patriarch of Constantinople on Crete later this week and a declaration by the Russian Orthodox Church that it won’t accept any decisions taken by that body threaten to create a new schism in the Orthodox world.
Rosbalt commentator Ivan Preobrazhensky argues that the danger of a schism has become more likely because the Universal Patriarch has shown no signs of backing away from the project of an all-Orthodox assembly, the first in a millennium, and insists that its decisions will be obligatory for all in the Eastern church.
Of course, there is still “a chance” that the assembly now slated to open June 16 might be put off, but with each passing day that becomes less likely, especially given that preparations for it have been going on for “about 50 years” and many of the Orthodox churches will be attending as planned.
It should be remembered, Preobrazhensky says, that the Soviet government was one of the prime movers behind plans for this assembly because it “hoped to convert the Russian Orthodox Church into a center of world Christianity” and thus spread Moscow’s influence through the entire denomination.
But while negotiations were taking place, the USSR fell apart, and the Russian government pulled back for this project, leaving the church to its own devices. But with the coming to power of Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill, the Kremlin again backed this idea and with the same goals.
Both the Russian state and the Russian church became more committed to the idea of a council because of the war with Ukraine and the possible separation of Orthodoxy from Moscow. The Russian side hoped that the council would reaffirm Moscow’s view that Ukraine lies within what it calls “the canonical territory” of Russia.
Things have become complicated recently, however. On the one hand, it began to appear to some in Moscow that the council would vote against Moscow on autocephaly. And on the other, having the meeting anywhere in Turkey was impossible from Russia’s point of view given tensions between Moscow and Ankara. Hence the decision to have the meeting in Crete.
Nonetheless, it had appeared that the meeting would take place given that the patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow, traditional competitors for leadership in the Orthodox world, had agreed to it, Preobrazhensky writes. Then, some of the smaller churches backed out.
Some suspect that Moscow was behind their decisions, using them as it sometimes used its political allies during the Cold War in order to torpedo something without taking direct responsibility and blame, the Rosbalt commentator says. It has even been suggested that notorious “Orthodox businessman” Konstantin Malofeyev has orchestrated this.
According to Preobrazhensky, there are now “very great chances” that the Moscow Patriarchate itself will not take part in the council in Crete and that its failure to do so, especially if the Universal Patriarchate insists that the council decisions are authoritative for all Orthodox, will lead to a schism.
If that happens, he suggests, then world Orthodoxy is likely to be so divided that it will no longer be possible to speak of a common Orthodox community but rather as a congeries of churches each jealous of its own powers and thus limited in its influence on other Orthodox and other Christian communities.
Fewer Russians But More Russian Speakers – the Changing Face of Many Parts of Russia Today
Staunton, VA, June 13, 2016 – The number and percentage of ethnic Russians in Astrakhan has been declining two to three percent every decade, according to Viktor Viktorin; but the number of the region’s residents who speak Russian has been growing, as fewer members of the younger generation of non-Russians choose or are able to choose to study and use their languages.
That pattern, which the Astrakhan historian and regional specialist calls attention to in the course of an interview taken by Yana Amelina of the Caucasus Geopolitical Club, is typical of many parts of Russia.
This pattern of fewer Russians but more Russian speakers helps to explain why Vladimir Putin often lays more stress on the latter rather than the former not only within Russia but in the former Soviet space, a stress that reflects his belief and that of many others that linguistic change is more important than or perhaps a herald of ethnic change.
It also explains why the Kremlin has been pushing hard to cut back the use of non-Russian languages in schools across the country while boosting the number of hours of Russian that non-Russian students are required to study and making it more difficult for those without Russian to pursue careers.
And this pattern provides support for those who seek to promote a civic Russian ethnic identity and even a civic ethnic Russian nation in order to unite the Russian Federation at a time when the share of ethnic Russians is declining and shows every sign of doing so for decades to come.
But the assumptions underlying this notion and the policies it has produced are problematic at best. While in some cases, linguistic change can be the first step to ethnic change, in others, exactly the reverse may be the case, with Russian-speaking non-Russians becoming more attached to their ethnicity as a result of their experiences after learning Russian.
Both in Soviet times and now, scholars have documented, non-Russians who serve in the military or who are imprisoned in the penal system often become far more committed to their own nation even as they become more fluent in Russian as a result of dedovshchina [hazing] and mistreatment by Russian majorities.
And a non-Russian who learns Russian and then experiences discrimination in the workforce or the government is likely to be angrier about that than will be a non-Russian who hasn’t learned Russian and therefore is not in a position to compete for many kinds of positions and preferment.
In imperial systems, it has been invariably the case that those most ready and able to challenge the ruling nation are those who have learned the language of the dominant power and then deployed it on behalf of their people. To put it in lapidary terms, it was an English-speaking lawyer named Gandhi and not Hindi-speaking peasants who won India its independence; and it was only after the Irish stopped speaking Gaelic that they challenged their English overlords.
The same is likely to be true in Russia, whatever Putin and his supporters hope for and whatever defenders of traditional language communities fear. But there is an additional complication in the Russian case, one that is likely to complicate the life of society and government there.
That is the response of ethnic Russians and the Russian nationalists who seek to speak for them. Many will be upset by what they are certain to see as a dilution of the Russianness of their country and be ethnically mobilized as well, albeit in a very different direction. Consequently, the pattern seen in Astrakhan should be watched carefully and not misread as it is likely to be.