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Russia emerges as Europe's most God-believing nation

Nearly 20 years after the collapse of the atheistic Soviet Union, a recent poll found that 82 percent of Russians classify themselves as religious believers. But far fewer subscribe to organized religion.

By Correspondent / May 6, 2011

Russian Orthodox Old Believers hold candles during an Easter service at a church in Moscow on April 23.

Mikhail Voskresensky/Reuters

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Moscow

Two decades after the collapse of the USSR, history's most atheistic state, the vast majority of Russians attest to a belief in God – more than in any other European country – according to a new opinion poll.

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The survey, carried out in April by the independent Public Opinion Fund (FOM), found that 82 percent of Russians say they are religious believers, while just 13 percent say they do not believe in any deity.

But the powerful Russian Orthodox Church will find nothing to celebrate in the survey's details.

The church claims 70 percent of Russians as its adherents and on the basis of that has successfully pressured the Kremlin to return most church property seized by the Bolsheviks almost a century ago, including vast tracts of land, churches, monasteries, and thousands of religious artifacts formerly held by state museums.

But according to the poll, just 50 percent of Russians say they are Orthodox, while 27 percent didn't associate themselves with any particular organized faith. Among young people between 18 and 24, the number of unaffiliated believers was 34 percent.

"It would be correct to describe Russia as a land of believers, but it cannot be called a country of religious people," says Mikhail Tarusin, head of sociology at the independent Institute of Public Projects in Moscow. "We were an officially atheist state for 74 years, and it may take some time to rebound from that. Right now I don't think we could put the proportion of truly religious, church-going people at more than 20 percent."

Experts say that most Russians lead overwhelmingly secular lives and pay little heed to the Orthodox Church's increasingly frequent efforts to influence public morals, including a leading priest's recent call for a national dress code and a string of Church-instigated lawsuits against artistic "blasphemy."

"There is no doubt that Orthodoxy is the traditional confession in Russia, but only a small part of those who call themselves Orthodox actually go to church regularly, mark the festivals, or practice the rituals," says Vladimir Gurbolikov, deputy editor of Foma, a missionary magazine published by the Orthodox Church. "The problem is a lack of information in society. People do not have normal communication with the Church and are unable to establish it, and so they do not know the Orthodox Christian faith even if they identify themselves with it."

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