Russian Orthodox Church revival under Putin continues

ReutersPresident Putin and Patriarch Kirill.

The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has been expanding at the rate of nearly 1,000 churches a year, according to its head, Patriarch Kirill. Speaking at the Council of Bishops in Moscow, Kirill said the ROC now numbers 34,764 churches. Five thousand have been built or restored since 2009.

The Church has 361 bishops, nearly 40,000 priests and deacons, 455 monasteries and 471 convents.

The position of the ROC under the presidency of Vladimir Putin has strengthened considerably and it is increasingly identified with a nationalist agenda. Putin himself revealed in 2012 that he was illicitly baptised as an infant at the behest of his mother against the wishes of his staunchly Communist father at a time when the Church was still out of favour.

Around 23,000 churches fell into disrepair or were demolished during Communist rule. However, Putin has sought to reverse this decline, signing orders restoring some of the Church's large landholdings confiscated under Communism.

The public rehabilitation of the Church – accompanied by public expressions of support for Putin – has not necessarily been accompanied by an upsurge in churchgoing. According to a 2014 Pew report, between 1991 and 2008 the share of Russian adults identifying as Orthodox Christian rose from 31 per cent to 72 per cent. But the number saying they attended church at least once a month was only seven per cent in 2008. According to Pew, "This suggests that although many more Russians now freely identify with the Orthodox Church or other religious groups, they may not be much more religiously observant than they were in the recent past, at least in terms of attendance at religious services."