03/01/2017, 11.24
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The majority of Russians do not want to fast during Lent

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Only 2% is willing to engage in ascetic practices of the 40 days. 30% try to limit alcohol consumption; 15% are willing to stop sexual relations; 19% to give up social media and online entertainment. Orthodox Lent requires a strict vegan diet: complete abstinence from all animal food. Belonging to Orthodoxy is seen as of socio-cultural and religious value.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Three-quarters of Russians (73%) intend to continue with the usual diet during Lent without fasting and abstinence. According to the calendar of the Orthodox Church, Lent began on Monday, February 27th.

This year the Orthodox celebrate Easter on the same date as Catholics (16 April), as happens every four to five years. The differences of the two calendars, the Julian and Gregorian, usually have a 13 day difference (December 25, Christmas Day, falls on January 7 for Russians), but Easter is calculated differently, because of even older divisions.

According to a survey of one of the leading Russian statistics institutes, "Levada Center", 18% of respondents are willing to make some small sacrifice (give up part of meat or wine); only 4% is determined to follow the strict requirements of the Orthodox Lent, which requires the faithful to follow monastic rules of complete abstinence from all animal food, so a strict vegan diet, and they intend to do this only in Holy Week; just 2% is willing to commit to following it for all forty days.

It must be said that the Lenten fast has a particularly significant bond with Orthodox identity, which attributes these ascetic practices (with many periods of fasting during the year, not just during Lent), a much higher value than Western tradition. The Lenten sacrifice is not just about food, but a person’s entire lifestyle. In the survey, only 30% of Russians will try to limit alcohol; 15% are willing to stop sexual relations; 19% to give up social media and online entertainment (a new frontier in ecclesiastical fasting).

These statistics reveal that since the "religious revival" of the nineties, following the collapse of the atheist regime, instead of increasing, religious practice is decisively declining. Similar surveys in the West focus on attendance at religious services on Sundays and festive occasions, but in the Orthodox tradition, which also considers attendence important that, the most important indicators specifically concern ascetic practices such as Lent and fasting, proposed to the faithful as the true sign of 'belonging to the Church itself.

In fact, the Russian Orthodox Church has never before had such an imposing presence in the life of the country. From 6,800 churches open in 1986, at the end of the communist period, it currently has 30 thousand in 250 dioceses and more than 800 monasteries, served by almost 30 thousand priests. It is said that the Russian clergy has now reached the size of the Italian, that even 50 years ago exceeded 50 thousand units. Overall, the Russian Church has not only recovered the structural dimensions of before the revolution, but today it is a much greater power, more widespread than ever before in its history; and this in the face of an almost only nominal participation of the population, as indeed confirmed by the latest statistics.

Thus, this "religious revival" seems somewhat ambiguous, representing more of a socio-cultural identity phenomenon that a real mass conversion: Russians often express themselves as "unorthodox believers", or at least "non-practicing" similar to many Western Christians. Russia is actually one of the countries with the lowest participation in religious practices, including those of Europe and America. Moreover, Lent began with the "Sunday of Forgiveness," in which each one people are called upon to seek forgiveness from their neighbor for their sins: Conversion, then, is always possible.

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