Religion in Russia

Posted on 27. May, 2015 by in Culture, History, News, Russian life, Soviet Union, when in Russia

Wooden Church of Kizhi

Wooden Church of Kizhi by C. Triebert on

Many of us might align ourselves with a particular religion. Reasons for belonging to a particular religion would include geography, family history, governmental policy, simple interest and more. According to, the world’s largest religion is Christianity with nearly 2.04 billion followers. Islam comes in second with about 1.2 billion followers. History students might remember that in the Soviet Union, religion was suppressed and even eliminated in certain areas. Gosateizm, or state atheism, combined with science, was meant to replace what  German Economist Karl Marx deemed to be the “opium of the masses.”  What about today? Which religions are popular in Russia today?

Researchers from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) conducted surveys over a number of years  and with several thousand Russians in order to identify which religions were popular in Russia. The findings are made all the more interesting when you compare them with earlier polls. The particular study I looked at compared numbers from   three different years: 1991, 1998, 2008. Sure the data is nearly seven years old but it creates a vivid picture of the trend. The general survey results can be viewed here.

History has proven time and again that the more you try to stamp out or suppress a religion, the stronger it is likely to become. This has proven to be true in Russia.  Orthodox Christianity flourished before Lenin’s policies were adopted. With just over 72 percent of the country subscribing to its tenets, Orthodox Christianity is far and away the largest religion in Russia. Since 1991, it has increased by over 40 percent. Though it was forced underground for many years, it was not altogether eliminated and even now, flourishes fervently.

Those who do not affiliate with any particular faith, not necessarily atheism, make up about 18 percent of the population – down from 61 percent in 1991. If you figure from about 1917-1991 or so, the government propagated atheism, it is not difficult to see why in 1991, 61 percent considered themselves not affiliated with any faith. Why is this listed, you may ask? Well, it takes faith to subscribe to a religion and it also takes faith to believe that there is no God, or that everything created happened by chance. Faith is the common denominator here.

Like in many other countries, Islam is growing in Russia. Though still a small group compared to Orthodox Christianity, Islam is subscribed to by just over six percent of the survey participants. In 1991, less than one percent identified with Islam.

Protestant, Roman Catholic, Buddhism, and “Other Religion” make up less than one percent each.

Another interesting takeaway for me was that nearly 70 percent of those aged 70 years and up believed in God while just over half of those aged 16-29 didn’t. You might say that people often want what they cannot have and for most of their lives, the older generation could not easily or legally have subscribed to a particular faith – making it more difficult to believe in God. They also lived through a war that saw the country lose millions of lives, while at the same time being led by a less-than-kind man that would have you imprisoned or worse for no reason at all. Today’s younger generation, which I consider myself a part of, have had a very easy life compared with their parents and grandparents; of course, there are exceptions to this. It just seems that the harder one’s life may be, the more they might turn to God.

In my opinion, the important takeaway is this: freedom of religion is practiced in Russia and to a much greater degree than before. We ought to be able to worship whatever we want without fear of persecution from the government, other churches, or other people. Thankfully today, in modern Russia, people are relatively free to do so.

Всего хорошего!

Read Famous Opening Lines in Russian – Part I

Posted on 21. May, 2015 by in Literature

cat reading Anna Karenina

Image by DaBinsi on

I’m sure a few of our readers became interested in Russian thanks to their love of Russian literature. Whenever Russian literature comes up, people immediately respond with the name of their favo(u)rite Tolsotyesky 😉 book.

At the same time, very few of these Russian lit buffs have read these books in Russian. This is understandable — fiction tends to use rarer vocabulary and more complex sentence structure, and some of the language may be antiquated. These are not things a conversational Russian class prepares you for.

With that in mind, I thought it may be nice to look at the beginnings of famous Russian books and break down some of the language used in them. I will also link to an English translation for each of them.

А́нна Каре́нина (Anna Karenina)

Anna Karenina is a well-known novel by Leo Tolstoy (Лев Толсто́й) about a married woman who has an affair with a younger man. Please click on the audio player to listen to the pronunciation of this first part. The novel has inspired film and ballet adaptations. Several English translations are available.

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Все счастливые семьи похожи друг на друга, каждая несчастливая семья несчастлива по-своему.
Все смешалось в доме Облонских. Жена узнала, что муж был в связи с бывшею в их доме француженкою-гувернанткой, и объявила мужу, что не может жить с ним в одном доме. Положение это продолжалось уже третий день и мучительно чувствовалось и самими супругами, и всеми членами семьи, и домочадцами. Все члены семьи и домочадцы чувствовали, что нет смысла в их сожительстве и что на каждом постоялом дворе случайно сошедшиеся люди более связаны между собой, чем они, члены семьи и домочадцы Облонских. Жена не выходила из своих комнат, мужа третий день не было дома. Дети бегали по всему дому, как потерянные; англичанка поссорилась с экономкой и написала записку приятельнице, прося приискать ей новое место; повар ушел еще вчера со двора, во время обеда; черная кухарка и кучер просили расчета.

Похо́ж (-а/-е/-и for feminine, neuter, and plural) is the short form of похо́жий (-ая/-ое/-ие), “similar.” Похо́ж is used to say something is similar to or looks like something else — in this example, all happy families are like each other. Note how the preposition на goes between the two parts of друг на дру́га.

Узна́ла is a good illustration of the perfective voice — знать is, of course, to know; узна́ть is “start knowing,” or find out, learn something. Связь is a connection, liaison; here, an affair.

The second sentence is often quoted to describe a complete confusion or chaos. Смеша́лось is “got mixed up.” One of the meanings of меша́ть is to mix, to blend. This is a perfective, reflexive form.

Чу́вствовать is to feel; чу́вствоваться is to be felt — the reflexive suffix makes the verb passive here. Постоя́лый двор is an inn; strangers at an inn would have felt closer to each other than people in the Oblonsky house.

Ме́сто here is a situation, as in employment. The “Englishwoman” (англича́нка), presumably the governess (гуверна́нтка), has asked a friend to find her new employment (прииска́ть ей но́вое ме́сто). Чёрная куха́рка refers to the cook who made food for the servants and not for the masters of the house. Finally, расчёт refers to settling an account; here, it means that the coachman and the cook quit and asked to be paid for their work up to that moment.

Ма́стер и Маргари́та (The Master and Margarita)

The Master and Margarita is a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov (Михаи́л Булга́ков) that was not published until after the author’s death. This book touches upon the themes of love, art, Soviet society of the 1930s, and religion, among others. An English, or other, translation is likely available at your local library.

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Однажды весною, в час небывало жаркого заката, в Москве, на Патриарших прудах, появились два гражданина. Первый из них, одетый в летнюю серенькую пару, был маленького роста, упитан, лыс, свою приличную шляпу пирожком нес в руке, а на хорошо выбритом лице его помещались сверхъестественных размеров очки в черной роговой оправе. Второй — плечистый, рыжеватый, вихрастый молодой человек в заломленной на затылок клетчатой кепке — был в ковбойке, жеваных белых брюках и в черных тапочках.

Весно́ю is “in spring.” We can use the instrumental case to talk about other seasons, too — зимо́й (in winter), ле́том (in summer), and о́сенью (in autumn). The ending -ою is the more antiquated, poetic variant of -ой.

two menПатриаршие пруды are literally Patriarch’s Ponds; there is a physical pond in that location, but the name also refers to the entire neighborhood. The author is describing what the two men are wearing. Оде́тый (оде́тая/оде́тые) means “dressed in something,” or “wearing something.” You may also encounter the short form — оде́т, оде́та, оде́ты. This adjective (technically, participle) is followed by в + the name of the item in the accusative case. Па́ра refers to his suit. We also learn that the first man is упи́тан(ный) — portly, лы́с(ый) — bald, and ма́ленького ро́ста (short; literally “of little height”).

The second man is плечи́стый (broad-shouldered), рыжева́тый (has off-red hair), and вихра́стый (shock-headed). His description is an adjective suffix paradise. -ист- is used to say “looks like something” (серебри́стый, silver-colo(u)red), “having a lot of something” — this is the case here, пле́чи being shoulders; or “quick to start something” like “поры́вистый” (impetuous). -еват/оват- means “slightly,” so ры́жий is red-haired, and рыжева́тый is “with a red tint.” Finally, -аст- is used to describe a person in terms of their appearance (скула́стый – having pronounced ску́лы, cheekbones; очка́стый – bespectacled; вихрастый — having many tufts of hair, вихры́). The second man is wearing a checkered shirt (ковбо́йка, also кле́тчатая руба́шка), wrinkled white pants (жёваные бе́лые брю́ки; жёваный is literally “chewed up”), and black slippers (чёрные та́почки).

Let us continue this discussion next time. What other books have you been meaning to read? Please let me know if you have a hard time listening to the audio.

Russian Summer Wardrobe: Get Your Speedo Ready!

Posted on 20. May, 2015 by in General reference article, language, when in Russia

Summer is upon us and with it the desire to finally shed multiple layers of clothing and feel the warmth of the Sun on our skin. Of course, if you live in Florida, California or some other place that is just as warm, you probably don’t get quite as excited. But what if you live in Russia? How warm are Russian summers? Are summer temperatures drastically different depending on where you are in Russia? And what do you call all the summer items of clothing in Russian? The answers to all these questions are revealed below.

Russian climate is mostly continental but average outdoor temperatures do vary. In the subtropical city of Sochi, the place of the last winter Olympic games, the average for the month of July is between 75-80F, while in the city of Vladivostok the July temperatures don’t usually rise above 65F. In any case most places in Russia allow you to show some skin during summer :-).

Thanks to Maria’s post about Russian winter wardrobe, I feel you are now well prepared for that. Now it is time to prepare you for the summer… which is so much more fun!

Let’s dive right into it by addressing bathing suits or купальники (for ladies) and плавки (for gents). Купальник consists of a лифчик (top portion) и плавки/трусы (bottom portion) or you can also say верх и низ (top and bottom).

Купальники бывают сплошные и раздельные. – There are one piece and two-piece bathing suits.

Верх моего купальника мне по-прежнему подходит, а низ стал немного маловат. – The top of my swimsuit still fits me but the bottom is now a little tight.

Swimsuits for guys are called плавки. It is worth mentioning that most Russian men are not into swimming shorts, instead they wear what you call speedos (tight bikini-like swimsuits). The bottom portion of ladies swimsuits is also called плавки, not бикини (бикини is present in the Russian language but it means a certain type of underwear, not swimwear).

The following list of summer essentials is familiar to everyone:

Гардероб – wardrobe

Шорты – shorts

Shorts in Russia are more common among women than men, in my opinion. Many middle-aged men in particular prefer not to wear shorts in public (some wear short running shorts at home or at their dacha).

Юбка – a skirt

Платье – a dress

Сарафан – a sleeveless dress with straps

Майка – a T-shirt or a tank top

Футболка – a T-shirt

Жилет/жилетка – a vest

Комбинизон – overalls (a trendy item these days)

Рубашка – a shirt

Блузка – a blouse

Ремень – a belt

Солнечные очки sunglasses

Кепка – a cap

Туфли – shoes

Сандали – sandals

Шлепанцы – slides, flip-flops

В чем пойти?/ Что надеть? – What can I wear?

To make this vocabulary easier to digest I am including a couple of videos on the subject of summer wardrobe. By watching the videos you can also improve your pronunciation of the words mentioned in this post. For those who would like some more info on the subject of clothing this post might be interesting. P.S. The first two videos discuss summer clothing for ladies, the last one describes wardrobe essentials for guys.

Всего хорошего!

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