Church institution slips through secularist net

January 13, 2006

Russia's first Orthodox public university has opened in St Petersburg in a curious constitutional no-man's-land.

The country's secularist constitution insists on the separation of "church and state" and of "church and school". But the new university, which has the approval of Patriarch Aleksiy II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, also has some support from the state authorities.

It announced plans to open a branch in a building belonging to the (state-run) Foreign Economic Relations Institute in St Petersburg.

Although the new university is small, with only 200 students and two faculties, Orthodox influence in Russian education is increasing.

The Church managed to get courses on Orthodox tradition into state schools and universities - arguing that a knowledge of these traditions is essential for a proper understanding of Russian history and culture.

* Medical pressure group, the Society of Russian Orthodox Doctors, is campaigning for a ban on the use of foetal stem cells for research.

At its conference last year it discussed such issues as whether Orthodox canon law should permit infants conceived in vitro to be baptised.

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