An Instant Remedy for a Deficit of Churches

Russian Club Of Orthodox PhilanthropistsThe instant churches can hold 150 to 200 people and be raised in one day.
In recent years, Russians have gotten used to a wide array of easy-to-make products, such as instant borshch, instant noodles and instant blini mix. Now, a group of Orthodox businessmen wants to add another item to the list: instant churches.

The Russian Club of Orthodox Philanthropists, a nonprofit organization founded in 2003, says it has developed a design for a temporary prefab church that can be built in just 24 hours.

The first such church will go up in the Siberian town of Kemerovo on April 6, kicking off a project to build around 10 of the churches throughout the country, Vasily Smirnov, the project's director, said by telephone Friday.

"We develop innovative techniques in this sphere, for people who want to build churches," Smirnov said.

Though some might deride the easy-to-build wooden structures as McChurches, they are meant to satisfy what Orthodox priests describe as an urgent need: churches for residential districts built during the Soviet era.

Communism changed the Russian landscape by introducing neighborhoods filled with towering apartment blocks, but because of official state atheism, the new districts almost never had churches, which were usually confined to historic town centers dating back to the tsarist era.

"In many densely populated bedroom communities, there are not enough Orthodox churches, and residents must travel to the town center to attend church," Smirnov said.

Father Vladimir Vigilyansky, a spokesman for the Orthodox Church, said Friday that the church hierarchy approved of the businessmen's initiative.

"Until we have the opportunity to build stone churches, these wooden churches will save the situation," Vigilyansky said. "In Moscow there should be at least 200 more churches."

Things are worse in many smaller cities, where sometimes the only church is located at the cemetery, far from the center of town, Vigilyansky said.

The problem is especially acute for old and disabled churchgoers, he added.

"Many people, especially the elderly and mothers with children, cannot attend church because they need to go with baby carriages, with canes," Vigilyansky said. "They need to take the bus and make transfers."

Help may now be on the way thanks to the philanthropists' club, whose members are "Orthodox businessmen and politicians" in various regions, Smirnov said.

The club's proposed solution is a wooden church that can hold 150 to 200 people and can be erected in a day. Smirnov said the design would make it easier for local philanthropists to build churches in their communities.

"The cost of construction using our techniques is one-tenth of that for any other comparable project," he said.

Also, since the church is just a temporary structure, it takes less time to get permission to build one than it would take to get approval for a permanent church, Smirnov said.

After the design makes its debut in Kemerovo in April, the philanthropists' club plans to show off the new technology with two more daylong bursts of church-building.

The first will feature the simultaneous construction of three churches in Moscow, Kiev and Minsk, respectively. The second will involve the building of one church in each of the country's seven federal districts, Smirnov said.

It is not yet clear when the two events will happen because the club is still getting permits from various officials, he said.

Smirnov denied that the organizers would profit from the flurry of church-building. "This is not a commercial project," he said.

There are currently about 15,000 Orthodox churches in Russia, while the total number for the former Soviet Union is about 30,000, Vigilyansky said. By comparison, there were 65,000 churches throughout the Russian Empire before the 1917 Revolution.