200 new Orthodox churches in Moscow causes public stir
March 26, 2013 Anna Vasilieva, Kommersant-Dengi
The Russian Orthodox Church is going full-speed ahead with its plan to
build 200 new churches in Moscow, despite complaints from non-believers
and members of other religious groups.
As part of the 200 Churches Program approved by the Russian Orthodox
Church two years ago, eight new churches have already been built in five
districts of Moscow. Thirteen more are under construction, and the
documentation for a future 36 churches has been completed.
Patriarch Kirill announced in the summer of 2010 that the Russian
Orthodox Church would need to build at least 200 new churches. He based
his argument on the numbers: If, in Russia overall, there is one church
for every 11,000--13,000 residents, then, in Moscow, (where there are
only 650 churches and chapels) every place of worship must accommodate
two or three times as many people.
Many see the realization of the 200 Churches Program as the ideological
expansion of the Russian Orthodox Church; even some Orthodox believers
are disturbed by it.
Most disgruntled of all by this program are people who live in the
districts where the new churches are being built or will be built. In
principle, they are not against this sort of construction, but they say
that more thought should be put into choosing the sites --- parks and
squares should be left untouched.
Meanwhile, many Muscovites cannot understand why new Orthodox churches
have to be built at all. They say that the churches near them are
largely deserted, even during important Orthodox holidays. In their
opinion, it would be far more logical for the Russian Orthodox Church to
spend its money on shelters for the homeless.
The Russian Orthodox Church insists that the program's naysayers are a
small minority. Philip Gril, leader of a movement that supports building
new Orthodox churches, noted that "under Soviet rule, some 1,000
churches in Moscow were destroyed; so today's construction of 200 new
churches is a partial restitution of debts to the Church."
The trickiest aspect of implementing the 200 Churches Program is the
privileged position that municipal authorities have accorded the
interests of the Orthodox Church. Despite statements to the effect that
Moscow is a multi-denominational city, other religious groups have few
churches of their own. The Catholic Church has two churches and 12
parishes. The Jewish faith has five synagogues; Muslims have four
mosques and Lutherans have three churches.
Experts agree that the question of building new mosques is most pressing
of all. Some 2 million Muslims live in Moscow. Last year, the United
Center of Muslim Organizations in Russia finally received permission to
build a new mosque. However, residents of the district in which the
construction was planned came out against the project and it was dropped.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin believes that "two-thirds of the Muslims
who go to the city's mosques have no registration papers, therefore, it
is not yet a fact that Moscow needs to build more mosques."
The Moscow population mostly approves of such conclusions. Experts, on
the other hand, say that the numbers of Muslims in Moscow will not
diminish due to the lack of mosques. Meanwhile, relations between the
different nationalities are becoming worse and worse with every passing
"Muscovites have become hostages to their phobias with respect to
Muslims," said Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov, president of the Islamic Cultural
Center of Russia, in response to an earlier, unsuccessful bid to build a
mosque in the Moscow district of Mitino.
Other religious groups are also dissatisfied. The Federation of Jewish
Communities of Russia has informed the municipal authorities many times
of the need to build several more synagogues in addition to the existing
five. No new synagogues are being built, even though Russian President
Vladimir Putin opened the world's largest museum of Jewish history in 2012.
Small religious sects, too, have their complaints. Krishna worshippers,
for example, have been trying for almost a decade to replace the loss of
the building which, since 1991, had been their only temple in Moscow. It
was razed in 2004. Despite the active support of foreign politicians and
cultural leaders, construction of a new Krishna temple has yet to begin.
As for the construction of Orthodox churches, residents' protests have
not gone entirely unheard. So far, at 19 hearings concerning the 200
Churches Program, the protesters have managed to win negative decisions.
Meanwhile, the municipal authorities have given the Russian Orthodox
Church twice as many new sites from which to choose.
/The article is abridged and first published in Russian in
Kommersant-Dengi magazine <http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2140608
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