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."
In another surprise, the poll found that just 4 percent of Russians are avowed Muslims, far below the 15 percent figure most sociologists cite. One reason, experts suggest, is that the FOM survey – which polled 1,500 people in 44 of Russia's 89 regions – may have avoided the insurgency-torn, but mainly Muslim republics of the north Caucasus.
Under Russian law the country has four recognized "founding faiths": Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism. The poll found that 1 percent of Russians are Buddhists and less than 1 percent are Jewish.
But Roman Catholics, who are not recognized under Russian law and are sometimes subject to legal harassment, number a whopping 7 percent (a figure experts also dispute), the FOM survey found.