If people in the eastern half of Europe were as devoted to their faith, and as convinced of God’s existence, as they tell pollsters, then one would expect the region to be pervaded, at this time of year, by an atmosphere of contrition and repentance. Roman Catholics, after all, began their Lenten fast on March 6th while for Orthodox Christians March 11th is the first full day of Lent. (In any given year each church makes a complex set of lunar-based calculations to determine the date of Easter, and the seven-week period of self-discipline which precedes it.)
Certainly there will be many individuals and communities who do feel that ascetic spirit. But it would be an exaggeration to say that an air of sober self-examination will be palpable on every street. People in some former communist and former Ottoman lands seem to overstate their religiosity when asked about their views, just as those who live in the continent’s more secular western half may be a bit shy about admitting any interest in the transcendent.
Consider some findings of Pew, a researcher based in Washington, DC, about how strongly people in 34 European countries believe in a Supreme Being. (The research was actually done between 2015 and 2017 but Pew does an artful job of keeping debate on the subject alive by presenting nuggets from its rich seam of data in ever-shifting combinations.)
There are 10 countries where more than 85% of people declare belief in God: Georgia (99%) and Armenia (95%) come top, along with Moldova and Romania (95% each). The nations which used to form communist Yugoslavia score highly (Bosnia 94%, Serbia 87% and Croatia 86%). Greeks (92%) also declare themselves to be firmly theist, as do the people of mainly Orthodox Ukraine and historically Catholic Poland, where the figure in both cases is 86%. At the other extreme, majorities of people in the Netherlands (53%), Belgium (54%) and Sweden (60%) are convinced that there is no God.