In 20 years of religious freedom, the Russian Orthodox Church has been unable to create a workable system for preparing its clergy and lay workers to perform social service, including missionary work, charity and moral education at schools and universities, argues Boris Knorre, professor of philosophy at the Higher School of Economics and a participant in the Encyclopaedia of Religious Life in Russia Today research project.

According to Knorre, who spoke at a seminar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, the Russian Orthodox Church has a dual understanding of the term “social service.” On the one hand, there is a strong missionary element, aiming to reach those at the bottom of the social ladder or those who are otherwise vulnerable or disadvantaged. On the other hand, social service also seeks to reach society more broadly, with a particular emphasis on teenagers and young adults.

Patriarch Kirill, elected to head the Church a year ago, is trying to systematize and modernize the Church’s social activities, Knorre reported. Dissatisfied with the scale of work with youth, Patriarch Kirill is creating a parallel system, maximally independent of the clerical hierarchy, of spiritual instructors for youth, the all-Russian public Orthodox movement, built on the Orthodox wing of the pro-Kremlin political youth movement Nashi.

And it is only under the new partriarch, Knorre said, that within the Church it was finally required to report on their social activities. As a result, the Church does not have accurate information about the number of successful social projects, although they appear to be many. The most recent data, dating from 2004, include 2,253 functioning Church social institutions, of which 161 orphanages or child shelters, 183 retirement homes and 1,577 soup kitchens.

The seminar was chaired by Alexey Malashenko.