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2 Jul, 2009 05:53

Russian Orthodox Church short of cash

Even the House of God is not immune to the global economic crisis. Russian Orthodox Church congregations are lacking money, with major benefactors and large corporations also saving on parish donations.

A church which is probably the smallest in Moscow – with only 20 registered parishioners listed on its official roll – is the only place of worship for the residents of the district of Nekrasovka, on the capital's outskirts.

The Church of the Icon of the Mother of God is not crowned with golden cupolas. This temple shares a building with a construction bureau. Only a wooden cross on top of the roof shows that this is a house of God.

For more than six years, the church treasurer Nina Ovsyannikova has been collecting money to turn the building, more resembling a boiler-house, into a real place of worship.

“We need 5 million rubles to start building the church. We can only count on the mercy of God, as we have no one else to rely on,” says Nina Ovsyannikova.

Until recently, the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God had a major benefactor – the president of a big metals company. But as the Russian markets plummeted in the global economic turmoil, the service of God was no longer his priority. His company, like many others, was struggling.

The Russian Orthodox Church is the biggest religious faith in Russia, with more than 16,000 parishes. Its annual turnover is around $150 million, some of which comes from parishioners’ contributions, but most from big companies.

The crisis has put the squeeze on those donations, and hence on the church itself, with some companies ending charitable funding entirely.

“The income of parishes and monasteries, especially in the regions, has dropped significantly. The construction of new churches and the renovation of old ones, which are the most expensive projects, have almost stopped. But at the same time, many people who were hit by the crisis now resort to the church,” says Priest Georgy, Russian Orthodox Church.

Natalya runs a small hairdressing salon, but while she cuts hair for a living, she hasn't cut her gifts to the church. She's saved on advertising instead.

“I donate to the church because it’s my spiritual need. We've all been hit by the crisis, but there are many other ways to save money – for example you can spend less on the cinema. The New Testament says that you have to give God a tenth of what you have,” believes Natalya.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill has said that the world is now facing not just an economic, but also a spiritual crunch. But his flock is finding that the two may be closely linked.