First full day in Russia. We succumbed right away to our American need for daily coffee, although, when we are in Russia, we drink a lot more instant coffee because it is kind of a thing here if you drink coffee at all. To this day, no matter where I am in the world, if I drink freeze-dried, instant coffee, it takes me to Russia (even more than vodka or tea).
But seriously, I feel so grateful on my first day back after four years of being away. Grateful for this land and culture that raised my wife and, at least partially, is raising my children. Grateful for a local program here that allows families of our size discounts and perks to encourage others to have larger families. It is a very positive place to bring kids: visiting museums, traveling to interesting places, and eating authentic market-purchased food. We even toasted last night to Russian cows for their delicious dairy products, some of which Americans are just now discovering.
But we believe the best reason for raising children almost as third culture kids is not to turn them into snobby connoisseurs of fine culture. No, third culture children learn intuitively to be strong patriots but without thinking of any particular place as their ultimate home. They grow up yearning for different homes at different times for different reasons. And these multiple longings can finally teach us that, this world and all its various desires is passing away while the man who does the will of God lives forever. Our true home lies elsewhere in heaven.
What is one good example of a longing in each of our respective countries? I will tell of one in Russia that might surprise Americans and one in America that might surprise Russians.
First, my oldest two daughters long to be in Russia because they feel free. That’s right, you heard me. America does not have the market cornered on this dearly prized virtue. In fact, in the wake of our rising security culture and the over-protected child, my pre-teen daughters’ visit last summer to an Orthodox Christian camp in the states left them quite underwhelmed. Yes, they had adequate bits of manufactured fun thrown at them at regular intervals to prevent the dreaded onset of boredom, and to their credit, all of camp life was infused with prayer. But it was almost too structured and definitely over-supervised. Campers could not blow their nose without two counselors nearby to hold the tissue.
By contrast, the camp the two older girls went to near Optina Monastery in Russia struck just the right balance between responsible supervision and the craving of any rising adult: the freedom to develop deep human relationships in the serious context of daily prayer and primitive communal life. By God’s grace, we are altogether as a family going to partake of this with them this year for at least 3-4 days and then cut them loose for the remaining week or so again.
While freedom is an unexpected discovery in Russia, Russians who come to America may be surprised to find strong devotion and faithful piety there. Surely, they expect Americans to be fun, irreverent, and uninterested in serious discussions. While there is that side to our culture, there is also a sense in which we take our religious choices quite seriously. In a pluralistic society where so many choices abound, one tends to be more deliberate in his/her choice. And if that choice is the Universal Church, their decision for Her lifesaving spiritual life can take on the same fervor as the spiritual revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries in America. At home in Russia, the Orthodox Church can be underestimated as merely the national church or the only church one has ever known. But in America, She is allowed to shine among a dizzying variety of alternatives, allowed to prophetically witness to their respective deficiencies. Pluralism does not have to be a liability. With the right apostolic mindset, it can be an unmistakable opportunity.
And in the end, the ultimate goal is not exclusive love for any one country. As G. K. Chesterton so boldly spoke about his definition of patriotism, “I do not love a country because it is necessarily lovable. It is lovable because I love it… [and so] the absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France.” Or in our case, the faithful fervor of America may inform the freedom of the new Russian Federation and vice versa. For at the end of time, when the kingdoms of this world have come to an end, the Kingdom of Our Lord and of His Christ will be established, “And He shall reign forever and ever.” Christ is ascended in glory!