After decades of iron–fist Soviet rule, Russia, if nothing else, ranks among the most secular states in the world. Article 14 of the 1993 Russian Constitution declares the country a secular one and prohibits the state from sponsoring or requiring citizens to belong to any religion.
But today, the government has begun observing all major Orthodox holidays. Public radio and television regularly broadcasts the celebration of the Divine Liturgy from the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. High–level government representatives are expected to attend the televised services on Christmas and Easter; film crews usually make it a point to record officials and their families for a few moments. Given that many of these politicians once belonged to the Communist Party, which propagated an antichurch agenda, this apparent conversion is especially remarkable.
The governments unabashed support of the Orthodox Church extends into other programming as well. Regular features on public stations educate audiences about, and address issues of concern to, the Orthodox community — which is historically the dominant faith of the nation. In contrast, there are no such programs about Judaism, Islam and other religions — all of which are present in contemporary Russia.
In some regions, public schools now teach students the basics of Russian Orthodox Christianity. This addition to public schools curricula remains controversial, especially among Russias educated, urban middle and upper classes. The media — both secular and Orthodox — closely follow the debate, often engaging commentators both in favor and opposed to the policy.
In the early 1980s, Glasnost allowed Russians to explore their spirituality openly for the first time since the Bolshevik coup détat in 1917. Many desired to reconnect with the faith of their forefathers — Orthodoxy. And when the Soviet Union collapsed less than a decade later and the Russian Federation was established, this privilege became a fundamental right, enshrined in the nations constitution.
Free to minister and evangelize, Russian Orthodox leaders and laity began building media outlets to reach out to the millions who grew up without knowing or practicing their ancestral faith. Almost overnight, Orthodox newspapers and magazines sprang up all over the country.
Today, many bookstores maintain a section on Orthodoxy. Numerous shops specializing in Orthodox literature and theology have also opened around the country. Russias federal agency for mass communication now registers hundreds of Christian publications, most of which are affiliated with the Orthodox Church of Russia.
The proliferation of Orthodox media both reflects and fuels a spiritual revival in the formerly atheist nation. Sunday schools have multiplied; most parishes offer children and youth classes on the tenets of the faith.
No longer sanctuaries for elderly parishioners alone, churches attract more young families now than in living memory. The average age of churchgoers in rural and urban areas is at its youngest in modern history.
But perhaps Orthodox medias greatest impact has been in improving the publics knowledge about the faith and raising the churchs sociopolitical and cultural profile.
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