By Paul Goble
Over the last 25 years, the percentage of Russians who say they view the dissemination of religious instruction has fallen by almost half, from 61 percent to 36 percent, leading some commentators to suggest that there is now a crisis in the relationship between the Russian people and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Some blame this on the behavior of priests and senior clergy, behavior that polls show puts Russians off, and others simply on the growing secularization of Russian society, one in which for all the talk about religion, churches remain largely empty and the views of the church ignored.
But the Moscow Patriarchate itself says there is no problem with its behavior or with the relationship to it of the Russian people. Instead, its officials insist, journalist Anna Popova says, that all the bad press the church gets is the result of an army of trolls that attack the clergy and especially Patriarch Kirill (dailystorm.ru/news/postoyanno-trollyat-patriarha-v-rpc-obyasnili-snizhenie-interesa-k-religii).
Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, head of the Patriachate’s commission on the family, the defense of motherhood and childhood and one of the most flamboyant attackers of modernity and defenders of obscurity, says that talk about a crisis of faith in Russia is the work of trolls who know nothing about the church or about Russia.
In their telling, he says, every priest has a Mercedes, and such reports infuriate many Russians. “The people have acquired the sense of envy. And it is well-known that the Russian peasant woud like not to acquire a second cow but to see that the cow of his neighbor has died. The Bolsheviks inculcated this and changed the mentality of the people.”
“There is a whole army of [such] people,” the archpriest says. “They constantly troll the church and the patriarch.” They treat any report about well-off clergy as if the next story would be about Nagasaki or Hiroshima. Indeed, “an entire pleade of such nihilists has arisen who know nothing.”
According to Smirnov, “the main symbol of their worldview is the Mercedes … Yes, priests sometimes travel in good cars, because those who support them and can give them such vehicles, not new ones but all the same…” He says that he was given a nine-year-old Audi.” It was in good condition, he sold it and then bought a Volkswagen.” It is at least new.
He argues that “Christianity is the foundation of European culture, and if Russia is a European country, then Russians must know the basics of the faith. Just like, for example, the French. Regardless of whether he believes in God or not, a Frenchman must know the basic commandments and know something about Christianity.” Russians must do the same.