Russian Orthodoxy: ethnic or religious identity?

Berlin, Germany - "I am Russian and so I am Orthodox." The sociologist Natalia Zorkaia, from the NGO Levada Center, thus summarizes the results of research conducted among the population of the Federation entitled "Religion and Religiosity in Russia." It notes that over 72% of people claim to be Orthodox, but only 3% go to church at least once a week. A high percentage loosely follows the precepts of their faith.

The research, commissioned by the Catholic organisation Renovabis, was born of a desire to "observe the return of the religious phenomenon in Eastern Europe and nothing more," says Christopher Dam representative of the organisation that is based in Berlin. Zorkaia says that, interviews from a sample group of 1600 people showed that "Orthodoxy in contemporary Russia is a form of ethnic identity rather than religious conviction."

The figures, presented in late June at a press conference in Berlin, show that 72.6% of respondents stated they were Orthodox and only 7.3% claimed to be atheist. People, who claim to belong to other Christian groups, including Catholicism, count for 1.2%, while Judaism, Islam and Buddhism count for 6.3% of respondents.

The Levada Center research shows that among those who consider themselves Orthodox only 42% say they believe in "unconditionally" God. The survey also notes that of these 55% attend church on the occasion of major celebrations, only 3% visiting every week while 12% never go to church. Data regarding the rules and precepts of the faith, such as fasting, confession and prayer, reveals a similar breakdown in percentages.

Hegumen Filipp, professor of Church History at the State University Mgu Moscow, says that the results of research show that "people come to church with their own superstitions and they try to make them a part of church life." The project promoted by Renovabis has aided understanding of the development of the religious phenomenon since the end of the prohibitions of the Soviet era. With regard to the orthodoxy in particular, it covers the period under Patriarch Alexei II.

For Filipp this snapshot of the situation sets out a future task both for the Orthodox clergy and for the leaders of other religions in the country. The Professor, who participated in drawing up the questionnaire, considers training of the clergy to be a vital element. Proper education of the people entrusted with the leadership of the different communities of believers is the only way to raise a genuine religious experience among the laity and greater awareness of the meaning of their faith.