By Paul Goble
According to preliminary statistics, 660,000 Muscovites attended Easter services at one of the churches of the Russian capital today while only about 100,000 went to May Day events, a kind of referendum on the two holidays and the occasion for renewed complaints that Moscow doesn’t have enough churches and needs to build more.
According to statistics gathered by two church architects, Filipp Yakubchuk and Daniil Makarov, there are some 934 Russian Orthodox churches in Moscow of which 436 have regular services. The total capacity of all the churches, those with services and those without, is 235,000 (the-village.ru/village/city/moscow-in-figures/232477-urban-sacred).
Assuming that approximately 10 million of Moscow’s population are ethnic Orthodox – that is people who are part of nationalities traditionally Orthodox in their faith – and that five percent attend services at one time or another, that means that Moscow needs either to open services in those churches which don’t them – many historical sites – or build more.
Taking up the cudgels for a massive church building campaign and dismissing the complaints of many Muscovites that new churches are replacing parks and other places of relaxation is Yana Amelina, coordinator of the Caucasus Geopolitical Club and a commentator on ethnic issues (kavkazgeoclub.ru/content/moskve-deystvitelno-ne-hvataet-hramov).
According to Yakubhuk and Makarov, Amelina says, Moscow doesn’t have enough churches because where people live, there are far more parishioners than can attend services. People stand in line or are forced to travel long distances: “Before the revolution, going to church was considered something entirely ordinary; now, it is almost an achievement.”
And they point out that this situation reflects not just the fact that “no one built churches” in Soviet times but also that the city has grown, absorbing former villages and their churches, most of which are very small. As a result, there are many large churches in the center, but only small ones on the periphery of the city where most people live.
Building on the arguments of the two church specialists, Amelina says that opposition to churches comes both from a lack of care in presenting arguments for them and also from the opposition of liberal groups to any manifestation of Orthodoxy in Russia today.
Curiously, given her expertise on the Caucasus and Islam, the writer has nothing to say about the far greater shortage of mosques for Muslims in the Russian capital. At present, there are only five officially registered, even though there are some 2.5 million Muslims in the city and its environs and even though a far larger percentage of Muslims go to mosque on holidays.