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Russian benefactors look to ‘instant’ churches to ease shortage


A group of Russian Orthodox entrepreneurs has found a way to ease the continuing post-Soviet shortage of places of worship by devising a plan to provide instant prefabricated churches that can be assembled in 24 hours.

A prototype temporary wooden church is already in place at Kemerovo in Siberia, a vast part of the world’s biggest country that constitutes most of northern Asia, and where church shortages are most acute, said Vasily Smirnov, director of the Russian Club of Orthodox Philanthropists.

"Communism changed the landscape [of Russia] by introducing neighbourhoods filled with towering apartment blocks, but because of official atheism, they almost never had churches," Smirnov said in an interview with the English-language St Petersburg Times.

"In densely populated bedroom communities, there aren’t enough Orthodox churches and residents have to travel to the town centre," he said. "We’re developing some innovative techniques in this sphere for people who want to build churches."

The not-for-profit philanthropist’s club, founded by wealthy business leaders in 2003, said the buildings would be able to accommodate up to 200 people and be erected in large numbers once the project gathered pace, without the legal and bureaucratic complexities associated with traditional church building.

The Russian Orthodox Church has expanded rapidly in recent years, opening more than a hundred churches and chapels during 2007 in Moscow, where a further 86 are under construction.

However, Russia’s 142 Orthodox dioceses and 27 942 Orthodox parishes still have only a third of the churches the country had before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, which preceded a savage persecution of all religious groups.
Alexander Volkov, a spokesperson for the church’s Moscow Patriarchate, said Orthodox leaders had accepted the club’s initiative, but he declined to say whether the design would include the traditional onion domes, and screens that separate the sanctuary from the main part of the church.

"If this foundation is ready to provide the money and organisation for building these cheap churches, the Russian Orthodox Church will be happy to bless them," Volkov told Ecumenical News International on 5 May. "But this isn’t an official programme of our church, so the plans and their realisation shouldn’t be connected directly with us. They should be regarded as a temporary solution until we have the opportunity to build proper stone churches."

Ecumenical News International