Russian Orthodox Church will not accept Bitcoin in offering plate

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With roughly 100 million members, the church representing the dominant religion in Russia has no plans to accept cryptocurrency donations or offerings.

According to a Q&A streamed on YouTube by Jesus Portal, the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Hilarion Alfeyev, said the Russian Orthodox Church, or ROC, is not planning to create its own digital currency, nor accept cryptocurrency including Bitcoin (BTC) for donations. However, Alfeyev added it was possible to use other forms of technology to send money to the church: phone calls.

“We are unlikely to accept donations of various cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin, nor will we release our own currency,” he said. “I think that it is quite possible to make a donation to the church over the phone.”

The statement is somewhat of a softened stance for Alfeyev, who three years ago compared cryptocurrency to a Ponzi scheme “behind which there is nothing.” At the time he did not seemingly distinguish between crypto and traditional banks, saying the currency “[paved] the way for usury, which the church has always spoken out against.”

The ROC was reportedly in an “extremely difficult” financial situation last year as the pandemic shut down its churches in Russia for two months. Though it is difficult to determine exactly what the church is worth given the secrecy surrounding its spending, some reports from 2014 suggest the ROC brought in $150 million in profits — monetary, not spiritual — annually.

Lawmakers in Russia started the year by passing a bill that gives crypto legal status in the country, but does not allow it to be used as a payment method. President Vladimir Putin later signed a decree forcing certain public officials to disclose their crypto holdings by the end of June. However, a letter from the Russian Ministry of Labour and Social Protection published in December indicates officials should liquidate their digital assets by April.

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Julio Medina

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