During the pandemic, more young people have come to the Church of St. Priest Martyr Antipas Pergamon in the center of Moscow. In general, however, young people distance themselves from a church that has positioned itself close to the state.
Evening already starting to blur, but Dad Andrei let his gaze go around. Still have questions?
After all, they are. How do you know you are choosing the right field for yourself? Are fertility treatments right? Does the dying surgeon interfere with God’s plans?
It’s Thursday night. The café of the Church of St. Priest Martyr Antipas Pergamon in the heart of Moscow is full, as there is always a bi-weekly poll. In it, Father Andrei, or pastor Andrei Shchennikov one can ask anything related to orthodoxy, religion and life.
There is no need to come either, as the event will be broadcast live on the photo service Instagram. You can also ask through that.
The first mentions of the Church of St. Priest Martyr Antipas of Pergamon are from the 16th century, but its means of attracting Moscow hipsters and other young adults are modern. It has a popular café, yard concerts, active Instagram accounts, and phone cases and belt bags with their own logo for sale.
“We don’t have to come up with any new content, but we need to come up with new routes to us. There are enough reasons from the church for even the uninitiated to come here, ”says Pastor Shchennikov before the event on the terrace of the café in the courtyard.
So the goal is for those who stopped at the café to take an interest in the church next door as well. The strategy seems to be working: the pastor says more young people have started visiting during the pandemic. According to him, many are looking for content in their lives or help with some distress.
“Sin has become commonplace, and of course it cannot be given up, but it no longer delights in the same way.”
More generally However, the Russian Orthodox Church has big problems with young people.
In March, the opinion polling agency Vtsiom published a measurement according to which 43% of Russians aged 18-24 and 53% of Russians aged 25-34 considered themselves Orthodox. In older age groups, the proportion was at least 70 percent.
66% of all Russians consider themselves Orthodox. Back in 2017, the figure was 75 percent. Admittedly, only a small fraction of these people actively attend church.
The situation explains much of the church’s own activities, says the scholar following the church Sergei Chapnin. It’s the president Vladimir Putin season pushed himself into the state.
“Even if a Russian knows nothing but the empire, be it the Russian Empire or the Soviet Empire, he is always skeptical of the state. Because in the 1990s and right in the early 2000s, the church was in some sense opposed to the state, it was treated more confidently, ”says Chapnin.
“As soon as the church went completely to the side of the state, a new generation grew up that treated the church as suspiciously and critically as it did the state. Society’s nearly 30 years of trust have largely been exhausted, and the Church does not understand that. ”
When looking at the history of the Russian Orthodox Church, the main line is subordination to secular rulers.
Emperor Peter the Great abolished the patriarchal function in the 18th century and replaced it with the Holy Synod, which was practically a ministry and part of the state administrative structure. A new ecclesiastical assembly was convened and the patriarchal function was restored only after the overthrow of tsarist rule in 1917.
Soon, however, the Bolsheviks officially established atheist Soviet rule and began persecuting the church. The communists nearly destroyed the church before World War II. During the war, it gained some freedoms, but the space remained cramped.
All seemed to change in the late 1980s, when Soviet power began to falter and eventually collapsed. Little had been saved of the pre-Soviet period. Virtually all institutions were Soviet.
The church seemed an exception, so it was considered a preserver of pre-Soviet traditions. In many ways, Orthodoxy became a central part of Russianness.
“But unfortunately, we didn’t fully understand at the time and didn’t want to believe that the church had become a Soviet, too,” Chapni says.
Putin’s rise to power and a turn toward the pursuit of empire were, in fact, a relief to the church because it was familiar to the situation. Its role as a guardian of state ideology was only strengthened when Putin began to talk more about so-called traditional values after the protests at the turn of 2011-2012.
According to Chapnin, those in power mainly take advantage of the church – talk of values is rhetoric.
At the church however, there is a dual image. Although the patriarch Kirill and the actions of the church administration would not arouse sympathy, one’s own close church and its priest might be important.
There are big differences between parishes and priests, as the church has its own conservative and more liberal wings. Some are also political.
However, in the Church of St. Priest Martyr Antipas of Pergamon, a ten-minute walk from the Kremlin, Father Andrei tries to avoid politics. It makes sense in every way so that those who disagree do not leave and the church does not become the eye of those in power.
However, Father Andrei does not say so.
“There is enough in eternal burning questions. In love, death, friendship, deception, joy, sorrow, loss. ”
When the opportunity after a couple of hours ends, father Andrei has answered dozens of questions.
According to him, the field is not important but in all professions one can follow God. She doesn’t want to condemn fertility treatments when the church is also considering easing her line, but maybe she can also think about waiting. And the surgeon did not do wrong but with the blessing of God.
The importance of Instagram also becomes clear. It is confirmed by stepping out Kamila Vasilyeva, who of course knew the church as a dentist, for St. Antipas is the patron saint of dentists.
“Then this cafe opened and they opened an account on Instagram. I saw their stories, and they became interested. Now I brought my daughter to such an opportunity for the first time. ”
Daughter Jeva Vasilyeva got one question asked and plans to come again.
Also a student Kristina Poterjaiko noticed on Instagram information about the church cafe. He had grown up in an Orthodox family but distanced himself from the church.
However, the cafe looked great. Poterjaiko came to Father Andrei’s event, asked a question and came next time. The church began to feel like its own, modern enough.
“I come alone. There are very few believers among my friends. ”