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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Orthodox University Opened By Patriarch

Pledging to return spiritual values to higher education, the Russian Orthodox Church on Wednesday opened its first university in the 1, 000-year history of its existence.

The new Russian Orthodox University is the country's first to blend a liberal arts education with the teachings of the church, its rector, Reverend Ioann Ekonomtsev, said.

"Our new university will represent a synthesis of the church and sciences", he said. "We do not want to be a competitor to other universities, but to return spiritual values to our very rich culture".

Ekonomtsev did not make clear, however, how the curriculum would combine church ideology with the liberal arts disciplines. Instead, he talked about the teaching of subjects like economics "from a spiritual perspective" or "spirituality and improving production", phrases which recall for the average Russian of the ideological bent of education in the Communist era.

The church has had for centuries its own seminaries, monasteries and academies, some of which even survived the atheist Soviet period. Like its Europian counterparts, it played a dominant role in general education through the 18th century. The church also recently opened the St. Tikhon Theological Institute to train the clergy.

But this new university, which actually opened its doors at a site near Red Square last week, is the church's first foray into the liberal arts.

Unlike most higher educational institutions, which are funded by the state, the university will run on donations from private citizens and the new Orthodoxy Bank, a joint venture between the church's education and catechism department and the Greek Egnatia Bank.

Ekonomtsev said that courses would be offered this semester in history, philosophy, and Biblical studies, and that the university would later add departments in economics, medicine, and art. Teaching staff will come from Moscow State University, he said, and he is working on setting up teacher and student exchanges with foreign universities, including Oxford.

"This is a universal education that is to unite our traditions", he said.

Despite his loose description of the curriculum, the wide range of guests at the opening ceremony - who included Patriarch Alexei II; Sergei Stankevich, President Boris Yeltsin's political adviser, and Valentin Stepankov, Russia's public prosecutor - praised the university as the first step in returning Russia's buried religious history and values to the general public.

"The graduates of this new university may not be part of the clergy", Stankevich said. "But they will carry its important culture with them".