Church "envelopes": what is behind the most scandalous tradition of the ROC

Church "envelopes": what is behind the most scandalous tradition of the ROC
MOSCOW, Oct 8 — RIA Novosti, Anton Skripunov. The pandemic is a severe blow to the Russian Orthodox Church. Some clergymen are calling for greater financial openness and a review of the tradition of "envelopes" — money that priests informally present to the Bishop. This practice has been around for many years and is often criticized. About the problems of the Church economy — in the material RIA Novosti.With the growing number of cases of coronavirus in Russia, more and more actively discussing a repeat of the spring quarantine, when almost the entire country was on self-isolation. The clergy and believers are particularly worried. In the spring, access to churches was restricted in most Russian regions. The number of parishioners fell sharply, and with it — and financial income.All parishes — both rural and urban, were affected. "We have a fairly large Church — for example, there are about a thousand worshippers at the night Easter service. And spending a lot — on cleaners, security, teachers of the singing school, and so on. In previous years, the ratio of income and expenses was more or less equalized. Because of the pandemic, the situation has worsened," says Archpriest Vladimir Vigilyansky, rector of the Tatiana Church at Moscow state University in Central Moscow.According to him, revenues have halved. Spending has been reduced, but many months of arrears in salaries for clergy and temple staff remain. Moreover, according to father Vladimir, priests in the Church receive 35-40 thousand rubles, which is half the average monthly salary in the capital."There is no money at all for the maintenance of the temple. Although it is quite large, and it needs to be repaired all the time," says the Abbot.His parish still remains part of the financial system of the Moscow city diocese. This means that it transfers a certain share of revenue there. According to the priest, they are also used for the maintenance of Synodal structures, educational institutions, conferences, payment of pensions to priests and charity projects.However, this year the budget of the Moscow Patriarchate has significantly decreased. In may, Patriarch Kirill ordered a quarter reduction in contributions for 2020 to the administrative center of the Russian Orthodox Church. The decree concerned Moscow churches and those dioceses "where restrictions were imposed on Church attendance by parishioners and, accordingly, revenues significantly decreased, and which at the same time established no less reduction in the contributions of parishes to the diocesan budget."From the outside, the scheme seems opaque and confusing. In fact, everything is even more complicated. First, from the point of view of secular laws, the Russian Orthodox Church is a conglomerate of individual legal entities, primarily dioceses. All of them are registered as NGOs, which means that they cannot engage in Commerce. Church structures, being religious organizations, are exempt from taxes. But, contrary to popular belief, not from everyone.Thus, the clergy and working staff, according to the law, are required to receive wages, and not lower than the minimum wage. Income tax and social contributions are paid for each employee. In contrast to Greece, where there is a state salary Fund, in Russia religious communities provide for themselves. In addition, they are obliged to close utility bills without any concessions.And if a single parish can support itself through donations — for utensils or Trebs, then the same diocese usually does not have such sources of income. Although it should also pay salaries to employees, maintain educational institutions, and help the poor and elderly.Therefore, the diocese receives deductions from each Church. A certain part goes higher — to the Patriarchate, "for General Church needs". "As a rule, they donate cash. By and large, they can't be tracked. We rely entirely on the integrity of our clergy, including bishops," says Bishop feoktistos of Pereslavl.At the same time, each diocese, according to the canons, is a "small local Church". That is, it is managed in its own way. As the Bishop notes, neither the Charter of The Russian Church nor the canons clearly state how the financial system should be arranged.Of course, the scheme with percentages from each parish is common to all. But at the same time, according to the established tradition, the clergy also hand over envelopes with money to the Bishop, most often voluntarily. Usually during a Bishop's visit to a particular Church.However, the issue of "envelopes" for the Church is scandalous. From time to time, the Network publishes complaints of priests and parishioners about the "dominance of extortion". In most cases, they are anonymous.Sometimes such complaints are the focus of public attention. So, last year, Chelyabinsk publications wrote about the conflict between the clergy and the faithful with Bishop Parmen of Troitsky. The Patriarchy was accused of forcing parishes to hand him envelopes.The scandal became public in August, and a few months later, in December last year, the Holy Synod decided to transfer Bishop Parmen to another diocese. The ROC did not specify the reasons for the decision."Any clergyman has always lived on donations, including the Bishop. There's nothing wrong with these envelopes. It's bad when they demand it from you, when it's not voluntary. Sometimes, a cleric of any level says that he has prayed, and now he must pay two thousand rubles. This is indecent," said Pavel Ostrovsky, a well — known priest and blogger.This problem, according to him, is closely related to another one that is often found in churches: when tariffs are set for certain Trebs."Although Patriarch Kirill forbade this to parishes. And it turns out that if you did not make a donation for a certain amount, then the sacrament is not performed. And they begin to push in every possible way," the priest says.All together, this scares believers away from churches. Especially in times of crisis.Recently, the tradition of "envelopes" began to disappear. Somewhere — by itself, and somewhere — by the will of the ruling Bishop.So, for example, it was in the Pskov diocese. At the beginning of last year, Metropolitan Tikhon publicly put an end to informal monetary contributions."We completely cancel all kinds of "envelopes", offerings on the occasion of the anniversary of ordination, name days, and so on — if anything, I gratefully accept the good wishes and hope for your prayers, I prefer to meet significant dates for me in a narrow and prayerful circle. Everyone forgot about the "envelopes"," he said at the diocesan meeting.However, due to internal Church features, it is not always possible to cross out the tradition and not everywhere."How to cover the diocese's budget deficit? First of all, raise the percentage of deductions from parishes (the clergy used to call it a "tax". — Ed.). But for them it is always unprofitable, — explains Bishop Theoktistos. — And then the abbots suggest closing the budget gap with envelopes. Why is this happening? Let's say a Bishop comes for a temple holiday. The community has benefactors who are ready to help the Abbot with finances for the organization of the holiday on a one-time basis. But these same sponsors will not give money for the diocesan tax. Accordingly, they go past the accounting Department.""I understand that everything depends on the decency of a particular Bishop. But, whether you like it or not, there are Church needs for which money is needed. This is a matter of survival, not personal bliss," the priest says.However, the clergy interviewed by RIA Novosti assure that the financial rules within the ROC are quite clear. First, the obligations imposed by secular legislation, whether it is deductions of insurance premiums or payment for "communal services", themselves force parishes to keep records.Secondly, the rectors of many communities report to the parishioners about the funds. The same applies to the levels above — in a number of dioceses, bishops tell the clergy where the money given in envelopes went. At the General Church level, before the bishops ' Council, the Patriarch reports on finances."nothing changes from the form of transfer of funds — in the form of parish taxes or envelopes. The Bishop, in fact, acts as the accountant of the diocesan Treasury. The fact that the process does not look too aesthetically pleasing is a question of a different order," notes the well— known Church publicist hieromonk Makarii (Markish).Another thing is that with the development of technology and document management, transparency, according to him, is needed even more. And to achieve this is simple — "deduct funds via Bank transfer or accounting collection".
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