Catechesis of the community, despite the founding of 5 theological institutes, 2 universities, 29 seminaries and numerous catechetical centers for the laity, has only scratched the surface. The number of priests has risen dramatically (in March 2003 there were 17,480 priests), but the numbers fall far short of what is needed to staff the increasing number of reopened parishes (now 16,200) and other ministries, such as hospital, military and prison chaplaincies. The number of monasteries and dependent houses has also increased dramatically, counting some 812.
This leaves the patriarch, Alexei II, and his church in an awkward position. Flocks of preachers from various sects, well financed and zealous, work among the people, winning large numbers of converts. The government, with full support of the Orthodox hierarchy, has passed a law restricting these movements and their activities, earning censure from the West. Once monitored, the Russian Orthodox Church is now accused of sanctioning the same kind of activity for all non-Orthodox.
Relations between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches are poor. The cause of much of this pain, the rebirth of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, is not just the Russian Orthodox Churchs opposition to Eastern Catholicism, but an even greater reluctance to let go of its patrimony, for Ukraine is rich in human and natural resources. A truly independent Ukraine will abandon Moscow for the West, fear Russian nationalists allied to the Orthodox Church.
While such fears may be justified, the Russian Orthodox Church has no other choice but to adapt just as it has in the past. Gone are the days of Soviet-sanctioned persecution. But the pre-Bolshevik days, when the church enjoyed a state-sanctioned dominion over the land, are gone as well. Thus, today the Russian Orthodox Church faces a new challenge: finding its way in a religiously heterogeneous, market-driven Russia.
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Michael La Civita is executive editor of ONE magazine.
Tags: Church history Russian Orthodox Church Kievan Rus