I don't know if this was ever posted here, but I read this on the "Oriental Orthodoxy" Yahoo! group, and will post it here:
HREF="mailto:email@example.com">Andrei Zolotov Jr.[/url] Staff Writer
With the apparent blessing of the Kremlin, the Education Ministry has
defied resistance even from within its own ranks and taken a major
step toward introducing an Orthodox Christian component into the
public school system.
Education Minister Vladimir Filippov last week released a 30-page
description of an optional course called "Orthodox Culture," which
can be taught in public schools as a part of the basic curriculum if
regional education officials or a school's principal decides to do
Filippov said he was submitting the course, developed by Orthodox
educators, only for "consideration." But one of the authors said it
gives a green light to those who have balked at introducing such a
course and attempts to provide a framework for the wide variety of
courses already taught in about 60 of Russia's 89 constituent regions.
"It means the ministry does not mind if such courses are introduced,"
said Hierodeacon Kiprian Yashchenko, dean of the pedagogical
department at St.Tikhon Orthodox Theological Institute and one of the
authors of the course.
"You know our bureaucrats -- they use their offices according to
their worldview. Most of them are atheists and they say it is
impossible because the school is separate from the church. Yes, we
are separate from the state, but we can cooperate, can't we?"
Yashchenko, who has a doctorate in pedagogical science, said he led
the group of educators who compiled the program from what is already
being tested in the Noginsk district of the Moscow region, Smolensk,
Kursk, Belgorod and other regions of Russia. Although the intention
is to immerse children in the Orthodox worldview, the course is
taught by regular teachers and does not include any church
ritual. "Priests may be consultants," he said.
The 30-page document is a vast catalogue of themes, including
Biblical subjects, Orthodox tradition, asceticism, liturgy,
literature and art. By the end of the course, a student could be
asked to write a paper on one of 64 subjects, such as "Faith and
Science," "Moscow as the Third Rome" or "Orthodox Understanding of
The ministry says the course, which it recommends teaching once a
week in primary school and twice a week in secondary school, is to be
part of the main curriculum but with attendance to be voluntary.
"Russia is a multinational country, and even within one subject of
the federation there are places where there are practically no
Orthodox," Interfax quoted Filippov as saying in Novosibirsk. On the
other hand, he said, Orthodox culture has existed in Russia for more
than a thousand years and there is an "objective need" to learn it in
The program does not spell out how the decision to teach the course
is to be made, whether a certain percentage of parents, for instance,
has to request the course. And if the course is taught, there is as
yet no provision for children who choose not to attend.
Religious education in public schools is a highly sensitive and
controversial subject anywhere in the world and especially in Russia,
where interpretations of the constitutional principle of separation
of church and state vary greatly, and a system of church-state
relations is being painfully developed after decades of Soviet
The program appears to have bypassed the Education Ministry
apparatus, which Orthodox Church officials have described as among
the most reluctant to cooperate with the church.
"We have not produced, ordered, reviewed or issued any such program!
We have a [secular] religion studies program, but no 'Orthodox
Culture!'" Tamara Tyulyaeva, an official with the Educational
Ministry's department of general education, said angrily in a
telephone interview Thursday. "There were such
attempts, but we have a simple answer: We are a secular school system
and will never introduce any confessional program -- neither Moslem,
nor Jewish, nor our dear Orthodox. Otherwise we'll get such a mess!"
Opponents of religious education in public schools -- who at various
stages included State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, Deputy Speaker
Irina Khakamada and the Yabloko party -- say it will divide people
and sow xenophobia.
"This document smacks of the Middle Ages and obscurantism,"
government spokesman Alexei Volin was quoted in Friday's Gazeta as
saying. "If the Education Ministry considers it necessary to
introduce studies in religion,the course should include the basics of
all religious world views and the history of atheism in addition."
The Orthodox Church has argued that secular religion classes do not
offer students a choice of worldview, because religion is taught from
a nonreligious perspective. An Orthodox class, however, would add a
moral dimension otherwise missing in the post-Soviet school system
and would help reverse the proliferation of crime, drug-addiction and
alcoholism, the church said.
"The moral disorientation of many young people, their loss of a
meaning in life, becomes the soil for various vices and threatens
Patriarch Alexy II wrote in an address to a state-church conference
on education in October. "That is why all of us -- religious leaders,
authorities and society -- have to realize that school should give
not only a sum of knowledge, but also an upbringing."
The conference, which took place Oct. 10-11, appears to have played a
pivotal role in the Education Ministry's paper, which is dated Oct.
22. In addition to Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist leaders, the
conference was attended by presidential envoys Georgy Poltavchenko
and Sergei Kiriyenko, State Duma members and Educational Ministry
Izvestia quoted Poltavchenko -- the presidential envoy to the Central
Federal District who is a practicing Orthodox Christian -- as saying
at the conference that it is time for an "Orthodox Culture" course
Kiriyenko, from the Volga Federal District, also named education as
one of the fields where the state should cooperate with "traditional"
With most post-Soviet school programs still permeated with atheism, a
religious course would offer students an alternative, he said.
A former employee of the Moscow Patriarchate's department of
education and catechism, who did not want to be named, said the
decision was likely made on the sidelines of that conference. He also
said the government's program to help Muslim education in Russia,
aimed at preventing Russian Muslims from traveling to the Arab
world's often radical schools, played a role in the Moscow
Patriarchate's lobbying efforts.
That perhaps explains why official Muslim leaders did not protest the
Education Ministry's decision. "We are not against our Orthodox
brothers finding out as much as possible about their culture," said
Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia.
He stressed, however, that the voluntary aspect is crucial and
complained that Russia's Muslims and other religious groups are
unable to reach all schools because they "suffered even more than the
Orthodox Church during the Soviet period," Interfax
Nafigulla Ashirov, the Mufti of Siberia who is seen as a more radical
Muslim leader, strongly opposed the Orthodoxy course. "Russia is
living through one of the most complicated moments in its history,
and raising this issue when the Chechnya wound is bleeding in the
south of Russia, when skinheads are walking the streets of Moscow, is
a direct violation of the Constitution," Ashirov said in a telephone
Human rights activists are among the fiercest opponents of the
program. The For Human Rights group led by Lev Ponomaryov complained
to the Prosecutor General's Office earlier this year about a textbook
titled "The Basics of Orthodox Culture" by Alla Borodina, but the
complaint was thrown out.
"The textbook's authors help the growth of xenophobia and nationalism
in our society," Interfax quoted Ponomaryov as saying. "This
textbook, which is already used in state schools, imposes the views
of one confession on schoolchildren and thus violates the principle
of a secular state."
Yashchenko said the second edition of Borodina's textbook will be
corrected to take into account human rights activists' complaints.
"We in the Church are first and foremost against violating the will
of children and their parents," he said by telephone Friday. "If it
turns into the Divine Law [the doctrinal course taught in tsarist
Russia], if we don't take into account that most children are not
church-goers, if it does not create a field for thinking, then we
will definitely kill the cause. Then it will turn out like before the
Revolution, when everybody went to the Divine Law, knew the prayers
and holidays, but lived differently."
The Education Ministry's program can be found at <A