A group of Russian Orthodox Americans was in Moscow this past week to learn traditional Orthodox singing from Russian experts. The organizers say they are motivated by the need to strengthen the friendship between the Russian and American peoples in this time of political tensions, but the Russian Orthodox Church is also connected to the Kremlin's anti-western agenda.
As a group of 35 amateur singers in Russia for their first time practiced the Slavonic tradition, choirmaster Vladimir Gorbik said they were connected by religion but weren’t concerned with political issues.
"We have nothing to do with politics. We are to do with faith. We are the people of one country called Orthodoxy, so to speak," said Gorbik.
Organizers say they are motivated by a need to strengthen friendship between Russians and Americans, at a time of heightened tensions over Ukraine.
But Russia's Orthodox Church leadership is closely connected to the Kremlin and both preach what they see as the decline of Western civilization.
"Russian Orthodox Church is used by Putin, by president, as a tool for mobilization of the population, of Orthodox population, in order to support what power, secular power, is doing now," said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
The Russian Orthodox churches in the U.S. share religious values with the church in Russia but are independent from its leadership and politics.
"The government and the church have always been closely intertwined in Russia. The government's changed more so than the church has. You know, I think there are some things that have caused tension as a result of that," said Alex Lukianov, patriarch of the Tikhon Russian-American Musical Institute.
But Lukianov emphasizes the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia is doing a lot of good as well, including building and restoring churches and monasteries.
With the help of the Russians, they hope to bring a group of Russian Orthodox Americans to Moscow every year -- to continue learning this spiritual tradition.