International Orthodox Christian News

Russian Church offers to help Kremlin Weather Crisis

MOSCOW, March 11 (Reuters) - The Russian Orthodox Church will help the Kremlin keep a lid on any social unrest caused by the economic slump, its leader said at a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday.

The Church, which says it has over 60 percent of the population as its flock, has claimed moral authority in Russia since the end of communism and wants a stronger political role.

Analysts say the Kremlin is nervous about the prospect of unrest, though so far there have only been a few isolated protests over the effects of the slowdown.

Medvedev, who took office last year, has said maintaining social stability in the country of over 140 million people is at the heart of the government's anti-crisis measures, along with steps to save the financial system and strategic industries.

"We will help people to remain calm. We will oppose divisions in society which may grow because of the economic crisis," RIA news agency quoted Patriarch Kirill, elected to lead Russia's biggest church earlier this year, as saying.

"The church cannot afford to stand to one side," he said at the meeting between Medvedev and the heads of Russia's leading faiths in Tula, about 200 km (125 miles) from Moscow.

After a decade-long economic boom that helped cement the Kremlin's grip on power, Russia is heading into recession.

The rouble has lost about a third of its value against the dollar since August, tracking prices for Russia's main export oil, and about two million Russia's have lost their jobs as companies mothball production lines.

Economic hardship has already fueled racial intolerance in Russia -- home to about 10 million economic migrants from ex-Soviet republics -- and is making it hard for young people to find jobs.

"We need to tell the young people that not a single problem can be solved through violence, pogroms and propaganda of extremism," Kirill told the meeting.

The pledge of support from the Russian Orthodox patriarch signaled Kirill would maintain close ties with the state established under his predecessor, Alexy II, who some say compromised the church's independence from the Kremlin.

"Religious organizations can do a lot to prevent moral decline, the spread of a pessimistic mood in the society," Medvedev told the religious leaders in remarks broadcast by state-run television.


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