From Pravda to YouTube

Russian Orthodox media expands its reach and influence

text by Victor Sonkin with photographs by Julia Vishnevets

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On 10 October 2010, the Orthodox Church of Russia officially launched its own YouTube channel. The site’s first video features Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow and All Russia blessing the channel.

“We are doing this just to make the word of God ... closer to the life of the modern person, especially the youth,” explains the formally vested patriarch.

“YouTube is a noticeable phenomenon in modern cultural life ... It is very important that the church use this system.”

The sight of Patriarch Kirill speaking directly to YouTube users represents a striking contrast: the leader of the most prominent bulwark of tradition in contemporary Russia using modern technology to reach his flock.

And there are signs his flock’s interest in this new technology is growing. Patriarch Kirill inaugurated the YouTube channel during the fourth international festival of Orthodox media, entitled “Faith and Word.” Held at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, reconstructed in the 1990’s, the festival attracted several hundred guests from around the world. Less than ten years ago, a similar gathering attracted just a few dozen participants in a modest conference hall.

The growing influence of Russia’s Orthodox Church and its media stands out as one of the most astonishing features of the country’s post–Soviet landscape.

Less than 30 years ago, Soviet authorities had suppressed the church, dissuaded the faithful from worship and outlawed religious publications and media. Editors excised biblical references from all literature. Leaders frowned on writings by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy, whose works are imbued with Christian themes.

For most of the Soviet era, scholars did not dare publish anything related to religion apart from disparaging criticisms. It was not until the 1980’s, when Mikhail Gorbachev ushered in his policy of openness called Glasnost, that renowned philologist and historian Sergei Averintsev published a history on Byzantine Christianity.

The Soviets did, however, permit members of Moscow’s closely monitored Orthodox patriarchate to print a magazine during the latter years of the 20th century. Soviet authorities, however, relegated the magazine to restricted stacks in public libraries.

Not surprisingly, Soviet suppression of the church nearly destroyed the country’s Orthodox Church. Many Russians who lived through those years do not know even the most basic principles of the Orthodox faith.

In recent years, the Orthodox Church has risen triumphantly from the brink of extinction and become a powerful, omnipresent pillar of Russian cultural and political life.

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Tags: Ecumenism Russian Orthodox Church Soviet Union Media