08/02/2010, 00.00
RUSSIA

A new "army" of young people for the Russian Orthodox Church

by Nina Achmatova
The Patriarchate finance formation courses for youth leaders for mission "on the streets among the young people, promoting Christian values against the" Western philosophy "of drugs, egotism and moral relativism”. Kirill’s project to modernize the Russian Church or a political move to give the Kremlin a softer version of politicized young Nashi?

Moscow (AsiaNews) - An "army" of missionary specialists are ready to reconnect young people to religion.  It is a project launched by the Moscow Patriarchate. The aim is to "distance young people from drugs, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity” and organise events to communicate to society the Church's position on contemporary issues, explains Vladimir Batrakov, a former soldier now "enrolled" in the Patriarchate course which since May has involved 100 young members. The campaign promoted by Patriarch Kirill provides training for young adults who will then create youth groups throughout the Russian Federation.

Since 1991 there has been the "Orthodox Youth” movement in the Russian Orthodox Church, an organization that works primarily with children and adolescents. What differentiates the new youth group is that it is intended to promote, together with religious values, an "anti-Western philosophy”, politics and patriotism.

Some say the project is linked to Kirill’s "temporal" ambitions, who wants to join the Putin-Medvedev tandem as an ideological leader, while others forecast the failure of the plan due to lack of funds and the difficulty of coordinating the work. Meanwhile, a new group of youth leaders has already made its first appearance at summer camps held in June by the openly pro-Kremlin Nashi youth movement.

In December Kirill stressed, for the first time, the need to train leaders for the youth groups at a meeting with the leaders of the clergy. On that occasion he spoke of the importance of addressing young people in a society full of "moral relativism", "permeated by the cult of hedonism and personal success." The first step was the organisation of classes by the Synodal Department for Youth Affairs and the Patriarch's Center for Spiritual Growth of Children and Youth.

The courses, says Yulia Pavlyuchenkova - Deputy Head of the Synodal Department for Religious Affairs - give future leaders the ability to divert young people from "so-called European values” promoted by the mass media such as, free love, irresponsibility and egoism, which she said lead young people to drug abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity, early pregnancy and even imprisonment.

The future youth leaders are trained to " street missionary activity" by Boris Yakemenko, leader of the Orthodox wing of the Nashi youth group. Yakemenko said the youth leaders needed to understand that they had to “go out onto the streets to find young people, rather than waiting for them to come to church”.

The Church is funding the course and the work of youth leaders with money from the parishes and sponsors. The cost of a group of 30 to 70 people is about 300 thousand rubbles (7,600 Euros). There are more than 14,000 Orthodox churches in the country, but Pavlyuchenkova could not say whether every one of them will ever get its own youth leader.

Nikolai Mitrokhin, a researcher at the University of Bremen and financial expert of the Russian Orthodox Church, believes the effort economically unsustainable for the Patriarchate. He also notes that the Church is divided on an ideological level and this makes it impossible to standardize the ideals to be promoted among young people nationwide. However, he is not convinced that this is just an image boosting campaign for the Patriarchate, "Kirill is a mass media person who voices ideas for the church's modernization that are in tune with the times," Mitrokhin concludes. "The state needs less aggressive variants of Nashi".

 

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