Russian Orthodox Church sees the Internet as a crucial tool for outreach

The Russian Orthodox presence online has been strongly developed after initial skepticism, especially as a way to attract young people and to show the Church as intellectually vibrant, and its significance is bound to increase as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, writes Jacob Lassin (Davies Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University) in the monthly magazine Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West (June 2020). At first, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) had been suspicious of the Internet as a space in which immorality might spread and Christian religious life become endangered. But subsequently, it has come to recognize the integration of the Internet into the daily lives of the people, and to see it as a useful instrument for reaching the Russian population and reinforcing its influence. It attempts to create attractive websites, similar to those used by Russian people for secular purposes. The ROC is aware of online criticism against the church and thus invests considerable resources for developing its presence online and making itself attractive to young people, especially those with a higher education. It wants to see more young people in church and to dispel the image of parishes attracting primarily older people.

Lassin observes that sites cover a wide ideological spectrum, from the conservative website (established as early as 1999) to the more open and diverse content of Moreover, the ROC has noticed the rise of social networks and launched its own,, complemented by a variety of other resources (online TV channel, and digital pilgrimages). The strategy of creating its own social network seems also to aim at preserving the faithful from critical discussions about the church that may take place in other similar settings.

Moreover, some prominent priests publish their widely read own blogs or pages, something that can be a blessing for the church, but also cause embarrassment when they voice criticism of the Church leadership. One such alternative voice is, a website founded in 2017 in response to the church’s political involvement by a former priest. A study of the website by the journal Entangled Religions (11.3) finds that while emerged from the inside of the church but now unites church dissidents whose anonymous discussions about the church and its leadership create an alternative space to challenge the hierarchy, writes Hannah Staehle.

Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West, Institut G2W, Bederstrasse 76, 8002 Zurich, Switzerland -; Entangled Religions,