THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH TODAY
The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest
religious association in our country. At present it has 128 dioceses in
various regions of Russia and in far and near abroad.
Since 1990 the Russian Church has been
led by His holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and
All Russia, the 15th patriarch in its history, who governs together
with the Holy Synod.
In the Russian Orthodox Church today there
are 128 dioceses (for comparison, there were 67 diocese in 1989), 19000
parishes (6893 in 1988), and nearly 480 monasteries (18 in 1980). These
figures point vividly to an all-round revival of church life taking place
under the primatial leadership of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow
and All Russia.
The pastoral service is carried out by
150 bishops, 17500 priests and 2300 deacons.
The network of educational Orthodox institutions
is directed by the Education Committee. At present there are 5 theological
academies (there were 2 in 1991), 26 seminaries (there were 3 in 1988),
and 29 pre-seminaries, which did not exist at all till the 90s. There are
two Orthodox universities, a Theological Institute, a women's pre-seminary,
and 28 icon-painting schools. The total number of theological students
including those of the correspondence departments is about 6000 people.
Educational institutions have been established to develop religious education
among the laity. This important work is coordinated by the Department for
Religious Education and Catechism.
There is a variety of forms in which religious
education and catechization of lay people are carried out, including Sunday
schools at churches, circles for adults, groups for preparing adults for
baptism, Orthodox kindergartens, Orthodox groups in state-run kindergartens,
Orthodox gymnasia, schools, lyceums, and Orthodox courses for teachers
of catechism. Sunday school has been the most popular form of catechism.
In the field of charity the work is carried
out on all-church level through the Department for Church Charity and Social
It is necessary to mention in the first
place a number of successfully functioning medical programs. A special
mention should be made of the Moscow Patriarchate's Central Hospital of
St. Alexis the Metropolitan of Moscow. In the situation where healthcare
is becoming commercial, this medical institution is one of the few clinics
in Moscow which provide free medical check-up and treatment.
A psychiatric service has been set up at
the Mental Health Center of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. It
gives free help to persons sent by parishes in the Moscow diocese.
These are only a few examples of concrete
work carried out by the above-mentioned Department.
In December 1990 the Holy Synod of the
Russian Orthodox Church decided to establish a church youth organization.
This decision led to the First Congress of Orthodox Youth which set up
an All-Church Orthodox Youth Movement as an official youth organization
established by the Russian Orthodox Church. The tasks which the Movement
set itself at that time were to attract children, adolescents and young
people who sought their way to church in the fold of the Russian Orthodox
Church and to unite groups of young Orthodox Christians under programs
of social service, restoration of monasteries and churches, pilgrimages
and contacts with young Christians in other countries.
The external contacts of the Russian Orthodox
Church are supervised by the Department for External Church Relations of
the Moscow Patriarchate. It tasks include the following:
- to provide hierarchical and financial administration
over dioceses, monasteries, parishes and other institutions of our Church
in far abroad;
- to prepare decisions for the church authorities
concerning church-state and church-society relations;
- to maintain relations of the Russian Orthodox
Church with Local Orthodox Churches, non-Orthodox Churches and religious
associations, non-Christian religions, religious and secular international
organizations, public, political, social, cultural, academic, economic,
financial and other institutions, as well as mass media.
Since 1989 the Department for External
Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate has been chaired by Metropolitan
of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill.
After gaining true freedom the Russian
Orthodox Church has set itself the task to revive its mission. Faithful
to the commandments of the Early Church and continuing the apostolic cause,
the Russian Church used to bear witness to Christ "even to the end of the
earth" (Acts 18), spreading the Good News of the Word of Life. The missionary
achievements of our Church and the very scale of its educational work -
from Poland and the Baltic in the west to Alaska and California in the
east, from Murmansk and Kamchatka in the north and the Black Sea, the Caucasus,
the Middle East and China in the south - demanded all its spiritual, material
and human resources. The names of Russian missionaries are ranked by right
among the greatest missionaries of Christendom. Suffice it to mention St.
Stephen of Perm, St. Triphon of Pechenga and monks of what is known as
the Russian Thebaid - the Valamo and Solovki Monasteries, as well as St.
Nikolay Equal to the Apostles, the Archbishop of Japan, St. Innocent, the
Apostle of America, Archimandrite Makary Glukharev the Apostle of the Altai.
In the later 19th century, an Orthodox
Missionary Society was established to help the Russian Church in its missionary
work. The missionary and educational work of the Russian Church was interrupted
by the 1917 Revolution, when we, according to the Prophet, "received of
the Lord's hand double for our sins" (Is. 40:2).
Now when the time of repression and restrictions
is past and the Church can again freely bear witness to Christ, the need
to revive mission has become the most urgent task for us as the Church
and an acute need for society.
In recent years the Russian Orthodox Church
has developed close contacts with the Russian Armed Forces. To maintain
these contacts the Patriarch and the Holy Synod have established a Synodal
Department for Cooperation with the Armed Forces and Law-enforcement Agencies.