Victoria Streatfeild meets the Rector of St Petersburg's Theological Academy FR STOIKOV'S BIG REGRET is that numbers of entrants to his theological academy are down this year. Compared with two years ago, when 180 young aspirants started training for the priesthood, 90 this year seems a paltry figure.
Rector of the sole seminary and theological training college in St Petersburg, Fr Stoikov remains philosophical. He remarks that "numbers are down because the Law of Conscience, introduced three years ago, has had an effect."
More seminaries have now been built outside the city and are attracting large numbers of applicants.
regulation ol Churches by the State has brought the Russian Orthodox Church face to face with long-term economic difficulties .Churches closed by the State are in disrepair. Others have been turned into museums, and there is considerable tension between the Church and the alma maters of Russian Heritage.
A good example of this is St Isaacs Cathedral, the premier church of the city. A masterpiece by the French architect Auguste de Montferrand, it is used as a museum and only as a church on special occasions. Getting it back for use as a full time cathedral will entail not only a battle of wills, but huge running costs which the Church cannot afford.
Metropolitan John of St Petersburg is forced to
content himself with using the cathedral of the Trinity, which fronts the theological college. That is, until the faithful, on which the Orthodoxy depends financially, come up with funds to run St Isaacs.
"Despite the problems," said Fr Stoikov, "the new law is enabling constant changes. In 1990, we were able to set up Sunday schools for our children in the diocese. We can now order literature from publishing houses and receive literature from abroad.
"In our diocese," he adds, "we have editors to take charge of the material, but no money to set up our own publishing house."
The financial concerns of the Orthodoxy together with the new Law have left a vacuum now being filled by others.
The Union Church or Greek Catholic Church has established a stronghold in the Western regions of the former Soviet Union.
In the Ukraine, Siberia and Vilarussia, Catholic bishops have sat on on the side lines whilst their priests have enticed members of the Orthodoxy. Humanitarian aid has been offered and literature distributed suggesting financial help.
"Our hierarchy is worried," said Fr Stoikov. "Negotiations are now taking place between the Russian Orthodox Church and Rome about this situation. The Pope has told our hierarchy that he does not like the activities of these priests.
"Our Church has nothing against Catholic bishops taking charge of their own Catholics," he adds. "But when they want to take more Orthodox people into the Catholic Church, they we are not happy."
If the rural areas are having problems with the Union church, the Diocese of St Petersburg remains on excellent terms with both the Catholic and Lutheran Churches. It is other religions which are causing the city problems.