By Paul Goble
The Moscow Patriarchate may be on the defensive because of its obvious losses in Ukraine and elsewhere, but it is very much on the offensive in the predominantly Russian regions of the Russian Federation where it is moving to make the study of Orthodoxy compulsory in the schools.
Under Russian law, parents are supposed to be able to choose which course on religion or civic ethics they would like their children to be exposed to; but in Pskov Oblast – and likely elsewhere as well – students are being compelled to study “Foundations of Orthodox Culture” (zen.yandex.ru/media/mbkhmedia/mama-na-menia-bog-rasserdilsia-v-pskovskih-shkolah-pervoklashek-obiazali-izuchat-osnovy-pravoslavnoi-kultury).
In the first and second classes, it is no longer an elective as the law specifies but a required subject children and their parents have no choice but to follow, according to Boris Kiryukhin, one of the parents of a pupil in Pskov’s School No. 3. He learned his son was being forced to study Orthodoxy only by chance when he saw his boy’s notebook.
The school administration had demanded that parents sign a consent form, but Kiryukhin says that he didn’t sign it. Nonetheless, his son is in the class. In his view, the father says, his son is “too young” to be exposed to religion. But the education authorities in Pskov Oblast disagree and are compelling pupils to take the class.
Pskov administrators say that the inclusion of Orthodoxy as a required course reflects “the regional, national and ethno-cultural characteristics” of the region. Since Pskov is predominantly ethnic Russian and Orthodox, students must study that faith (znak.com/2018-10-31/v_pskovskih_shkolah_uchenikov_1_i_2_klassov_obyazyvayut_izuchat_pravoslavie).
The textbook used in these courses is anything but neutral about Orthodoxy. It blames all of Russia’s problems today on the lack of historical-cultural education and “religious enlightenment” and says that God’s law must be learned and implemented by Russians in order to save their country from disaster.
Many parents may have no problem with this or fear what might happen to them or their children if they disagree. But anyone concerned about the provisions of the Russian Constitution which guarantee the separation of church and state should be worried about this stealth introduction of religious propaganda in schools far away from the glare of the Moscow media.