Orthodox church reacts defensively to signs of secularization


by Milena Faustova

NG-Religii, 20 August 2019


According to results of a survey by the All-Russian Center for Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 37 percent of young people aged 18 to 24 consider themselves nonbelievers. At the same time, 16% of their peers waver between belief and unbelief and 10% maintain that "they are believers, but do not associate with any one confession." In all, among those younger than 24, only 23% identify themselves with Orthodoxy; 9%, with Islam; and one percent each, with Catholicism and Buddhism. In all, 63% of those surveyed declared themselves adherents of Orthodoxy, while most people older than 35 years (65% and more) identify themselves with Orthodoxy.


"When analyzing the results of the study, it should taken seriously that there is a growing trend of a crisis of faith in general and of Orthodoxy in particular. Generation Z or, as it is also called, the first fully digital generation, declares a noticeable increase in the proportion of nonbelievers while there is an almost threefold decrease of the proportion identifying themselves as Orthodox," commented Kirill Rodin, the VTsIOM director of work with governmental agencies, regarding the results of the survey. He also noted "that the new generation has much that distinguishes itself from its predecessors, but certainly one of the dominant ones is that for people of the new communication reality, new laws and instruments of influence on the formation of attitudes operate." "Falling behind in updating old formats of interaction with the youth can become a fatal milestone in determining the new place and role of the institution of faith in society," Rodin concludes.


The RPTs [Russian Orthodox Church] has decided that the data presented by VTsIOM are not critical. As explained for NGR by the vice-chairman of the synod's Department for Relations of Church with Society and News Media, Vakhtang Kipshidze, before drawing any conclusions "it is necessary to compare two results of the survey: the result for the cohort of 18 to 24 years and the result for the cohort of 24 to 34 years." "In the younger cohort, the level of a critical view of Orthodoxy is higher, whereas in the next age group the number who declare their adherence to Orthodoxy is much greater. This is because at an earlier age, people, as a rule, are inclined toward a negative and independent view of the religious worldview of the majority. Many have still not made up their minds and it is easier for them to reject affiliation with any teaching than to manifest it. And as people mature they make a choice in favor of the traditional religious preferences of the majority, which have deep roots in the culture and life of our people and constitute an indispensible part of their identity." According to the VTsIOM survey, in the age category from 24 to 34 years, 62% of those questioned affiliate themselves with Orthodoxy and 16% of them are nonbelievers.


Kipshidze also noted that the results of sociological surveys "cannot be taken as the only indicator of the religiosity of the population." "With regard to religion, people are inclined to reconsider their choice very quickly. And a person can turn himself in one night from an atheist into one seeking religious truth. Or vice versa. And this is not just a Russian trait. Such a thing happens in Europe also, and various events may lead to the level of religiosity rising sharply as also to falling sharply. So that sociological investigations are only a conditional criterion and guide for evaluating the religious situation," the representative of the RPTs noted.


In turn, the dean of the philosophy faculty of the Lomonosov M.G.U., Vladimir Mironov, told NGR that the number of nonbelieving youth "in reality may even be much higher." "In recent years, the past three to five years, there has really been observed among youth a departure from the church. This is connected with those political realities that exist and with pressure from the church itself, which, in my view, was excessive. Therefore I think that the percentage of nonbelievers may be much higher than 37%. And if this situation is compared with what is now happening in, say, Germany, then there also are very many nonbelievers there, but there Christianity is a part of the life of people not on the level of faith as such but on the level of cultural self-awareness. It is just this that is lacking in Russia. Therefore the question is not so much whether a person believes or does not believe, but to what extent Orthodox culture is adequate to the present-day system of values of Russians," Mironov noted.


In the opinion of Roman Lunkin, the director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the results of the VTsIOM survey may give evidence of the growing awareness of young people. "The proportion of people who have a critical attitude toward the church and toward official religion is always great," the religious studies scholar noted in conversation with an NGR correspondent. "Note that I am not talking about religion or spirituality as a whole. Youth fully experience the greatest diversity of spiritual needs, but they are still not being asked about them. The survey that showed a high proportion of nonbelievers indicates several important things. Nonbelievers are still not atheists. That proportion is not so critical if one takes into account that about 60% turn out to be believers one way or another. In the Russian situation, young people may call themselves nonbelievers for two reasons. First, they haven’t found themselves anywhere; they haven't found their society, faith, or movement. Second, the increase in the number of nonbelievers is simply an equalizing of the number of believers and skeptics or nonbelievers among youth. Whereas earlier young people followed the rest of society in nominally considering themselves believing Orthodox or believers of traditional religions they did not understand. But now they have thought about what this is."


"In the past ten years, on one hand, among students there has been observed a decline in the number of nonbelievers somewhere from 50 to 37 percent," Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev noted in conversation with NGR. "On the other hand, there are surveys of M.G.U. students and other universities of the country, made from 2012 to 2018, according to which a decrease in believers occurred. Whereas earlier approximately 50% of the students of these universities called themselves Orthodox, by 2018 this number dropped to 31%. The main reasons are, according to the priest: "On one hand, a generation has grown up that does not have a feeling of guilt before the church, no stigma from the soviet atheist reality unfamiliar to them. The second objective thing is that contemporary civilization is completely secular, and at this age there are things to occupy and interest them besides the church. But there also is a subjective factor: that the decline in the growth of believers among youth associated with recent years means that there is a serious mistake on the part of Patriarch Kirill. It is a greater shame for him in that he declared his 'pontificate' to be an evangelistic one. However the positioning of the church as it has now become, as a policing service, which is able to recover for itself real estate whether from the Novyi Mir magazine or from museums or from hospitals and enlist the police for securing their ties—this is all superfluous activity, and the youth are reacting very cautiously and painfully to the pressure."


Not the least role in the decline in the number of believers among youth may be played also by the introduction into the school curriculum of the required course "Foundations of Religious Cultures and Secular Ethics." This opinion was expressed to NGR by the head of the philosophy department of Pushkin Leningrad State University, Mikhail Smirnov. "As regards Foundations of Religious Cultures—indeed they are contributing to the sneer at religion. It is not a very correct comparison but one still may ask why the required Law of God in Russian schools 100 years ago did not save from the antireligious frenzy," Smirnov noted. However the expert suggested that today the issue is not so much atheism among the youth as about other worldview alternatives. "From religious affiliation one expects not a mystical, soteriological effect but specific social and psychological results that are not correlated with transcendental meanings. But turning to institutionalized and establishment religious organizations does not satisfy this need. Not for everybody, of course. But primarily youth. Hence, so-called ietsism (religious liberalism—NGR), igteism (assertion of the insufficiency of knowledge of God—NGR), apateism (philosophical point of view that signifies indifference to the existence or nonexistence of God—NGR) and other worldview positions, including popular parody religions. I would not call this a growth of atheism; it is not easy to grow up to conscious atheism. Indeed even the concept of atheism is too narrow; it would be more accurate to speak about free thinking, including religious free thinking, which confessional officials fear very much," the religious studies scholar says.


In the opinion of Mikhail Smirnov, it is necessary now to reject the usual division of people into believers and nonbelievers. "It is impossible in principle to give a precise definition of the concept of 'believer.' Any one will be open to objection if only because, unwittingly or consciously, it turns out to be associated with a specific religious form, thus excluding other forms that are considered religious. The main thing, however, is that in the past half century the format of what we once meant by the word 'religion' has changed. What is considered to be religious identity, as a rule, is not necessary in the key indicator of religious orientation—stable religious confessional notions. Knowledge of religious ideas, and even more their doctrinal expression, became marginal long ago," the expert summed up. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 August 2019)



Russians consider that the sacrament of baptism is an obligatory ritual of admission to Orthodox faith. Nearly every adherent of this religion has undergone it.

All-Russian Center for Study of Public Opinion, 14 August 2019


The All-Russian Center for Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) presents data of a survey about how many Russian consider themselves Orthodox and what is the attitude in our society to the ritual of baptism.


Orthodoxy is the most wide-spread religion among Russians. Adherence to it is declared by 63% of Russians. Most often these are people in age from 35 to 44 years (65%), from 45 to 59 years (65%), and older than 60 years (74%). More rarely than others representatives of youth from ages 18 to 24 (23%) identify themselves as adherents of Orthodoxy, although in the group of respondents ages 25 to 34 years, the proportion of adherents of Orthodoxy is three times (62%) greater.


An absolute majority of adherents of the Orthodox faith have undergone the ritual of baptism (86%), of whom 66% received the sacrament of baptism on the basis of a decision by parents or relatives, and 20% decided to join the ranks of Orthodox independently. While in the former case, undergoing the ritual of baptism occurred most often in childhood (average age of undergoing the ritual of baptism was four years, although most often Russians baptize children in their first year), and in the latter case people usually made the decision at a more mature age (average age is 31 years and the most common age is 30 years).


The motivation for those Russians who independently decided to receive the sacrament of baptism is most often a desire to be churched and an awareness that this is necessary, and also the state of the soul (20%). Another 15% of them wished to signify in this way their participation in the Orthodox faith and to confirm their own faith in God, 14% followed the example of baptized relatives and friends, and 12% were baptized along with their children.


At the same time, 12% of those questioned who declared their adherence to the Orthodox faith had not undergone the ritual of baptism. However 19% of them would like to receive the sacrament of baptism, most often with the goal of being closer to God, to affirm their faith (19%) or because it is customary (12%). The majority of representatives of this group do not plan to be baptized in the future (68%) and among the reasons they usually cite are lack of faith (29%), interest and desire (20%), or meaning of such an act (14%).


On the whole, Russians are of the opinion that it is necessary for an Orthodox person to undergo the ritual of baptism (75%). This point of view is especially intense among representatives of the female cohort (79%) and people older than 60 years (82%). The contrary opinion is held by 8% of those questioned, primarily those of 18 to 24 years (19%) and from 25 to 34 years (13%).


Regarding the optimal period for admission to the Orthodox faith, the majority spoke in favor of undergoing the ritual of baptism in childhood (60%). Most often, women think this way (64%) and citizens of ages 45-59 (63%) and people older than 60 (69%). At the same time, a third of those questioned think that it is better to make the decision to receive the sacrament of baptism as an adult (34%). This point of view is wide-spread among men (39%) as well as respondents of ages 18 to 24 years (59%), from 25 to 34 years (38%), and from 35 to 44 years (37%).  (tr. by PDS, posted 22 August 2019)

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