Staunton, December 23 – The old saying that “there are no atheists in the foxholes” has a modern counterpart: there are many who turn to the church when times are hard. That is what is happening in Russia now, with ever more Russians attending church, wanting services to be in Old Church Slavonic, and viewing the clergy not as alien but as part of the people.
Alina Bagrina, who heads the Sreda polling and research organization, says that over the past year, Russians have increasingly turned to the church for comfort and inspiration in what is a time of troubles and what they want is the most traditional form of the faith (sreda.org/ru/2014/itogi-2014-alinyi-bagrinoy-rekord-prichashhayushhihsya-i-ozhidanie-krizisa/188867).
Polls taken this year show, when compared to the results of surveys in 2011, that ten percent fewer Russians say they do not believe in the basic doctrines of the church, seven percent fewer want to hear services in Russian rather than Old Church Slavonic, and five percent fewer say the clergy is cut off from the people.
All this suggests, she continues, that as life as become more difficult, Russians are doing what they have always done: turn to the church for help. She compares the current situation to what Aleksandr Nevsky faced 800 years ago. At that time, in her telling, “the Russian lands were being attacked from two sides: the Golden Horde was attacking from the East and, led by Catholic bishops, the Swedes, the Germans and the Lithuanians were attacking from the West.”
Then as again now, “it was impossible to fight on both fronts,” Bagrina says. Consequently, Nevsky “decided” we will fight in the West and make peace in the East. Then, after the passing of several generations during which Russian people will pay tribute, they will gather their forces for a worthy repulse of the enemy.”
“What is characteristic of the current situation,” she argues, “is the absence of a frontline on the territory of Russia.” Instead, she suggests, “we ourselves are creating this line” as Russia makes its “inevitable” civilizational choice.
Bagrina’s views both about the links between the current time of troubles and the turn to the church and between today and Nevsky’s times are not a voice in the wilderness. They are being echoed by many members of the Russian clergy and by Russian commentators as well (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2014/12/22/rossiya_vocerkovlyaetsya_medlenno_no_neuklonno/).
Crisis Driving Russians to Seek Solace in the Church and to Recall Nevsky’s Choice