As our time in Russia comes to a close, I think most about the day-to-day providences that surround us in this vast land of Third Rome. They are divine providences that even a whole century of atheist communism could not break or expunge from the people’s memory. And they are founded on an interdependence between church and state, between Christ and culture whose foundation extends a whole millenium to the very Baptism of the people in the 10th century. Continue reading
Category Archives: Russia 2014
Pop Culture That’s Alive
In a previous post, I exaggerated a bit about our family’s lack of media consumption. We do watch a little bit of television in Russia, but it is the kind of programming that we don’t find in America. After breakfast around 10:00am, we watch a 20 minute segment of cultural news on a whole channel appropriately named Kultura which also features documentaries, interviews, classic films, fine art reviews, opera, ballet… you name it. It’s a bit like PBS on steroids.
Similarly, the children’s theatre here is on a whole different level. I went today with my children to the Old Moscow Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard; it was the first time for me as well as for my children. Continue reading
Oases of Calm in a Desert of Noise
For a large family like ours to come from a small city like Boston and choose a much larger city like Moscow for a summer vacation seems strange. Most folks that live in cities during the year seek to escape them in the summer. But Moscow is no ordinary booming metropolis.
Begun over eight centuries ago as the central meeting point of several other cities that form a golden ring around her, the city of St. George bustles with the busyness of a thousand villages rolled into one. One of only 24 megacities, it is the largest inland and coldest megacity in the world. Nestled in this beehive of commerce and activity are the jewels established many centuries past, the spiritual heart of Russia’s modern and ancient capital, the oases of calm in this grand desert of noise: the Moscow Monasteries. Continue reading
How’s the Weather There?
There’s a saying in Boston that if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes. It is even more true of Moscow in the summertime where clouds constantly roll and change a bright sunlit sky into a big downpour. After a downpour there is a cool weather. The weather here like the people moves in strange and unpredictable ways and teaches all of us to lean not on our own understanding but in all things to discern the ways of providence.
Organic, Local Prayer Served 24/7
I had a seminary professor who ridiculed the idea of a small private chapel. He reasoned that if Liturgy means “the work of the people”, would not a private chapel limit this work to mere self-service or just a small hand-picked elite? While I agree with the principle of opening divine services to as many as possible, I think he might be missing the purpose of these smaller chapels and by extension the small, local parish church.
In Russia, the small chapels which dot the roadside, stand guard at the cemeteries, and provide a wayside Inn of Salvation at the airports and train stations are called chasovnya which I presume is derived from the Russian chas for “hour”. They are placed everywhere for those who need to pray at odd hours and not just the scheduled times of morning Liturgies and evening vigils. Their presence invokes the universality of the faith, that prayer is not limited to certain times or important metropolitan centers, but extends to the farthest reaches of creation. Continue reading
When Things Don’t Work
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
An avid reader of this blog several years ago implored me to tell a few of the difficulties of living abroad with a large young family. While I do not wish to complain about our gracious host country, I also do not want to paint all of our experiences with an overly rosy outlook. Truth be told, it is often quite hard, especially when things don’t work out the way they are planned. And especially for us Americans who just expect everything as a rule to be safe, expedient, and convenient, a paradoxical place like Russia can become quite unnerving. Continue reading
From Murder to Mercy
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
— Epistle of Apostle James Chapter 5
The senseless murder of innocents has often in history followed godless greed and unholy desire for personal gain. Midway through the 20th century experiment of atheist communism in Russia, Joseph Stalin felt the need to purify the system and find new sources of blame for his failing policies. Finding no blame in himself, he and his minions sought secretly and indiscriminately to purge undesired members of society in numbers before unimagined. Continue reading
An Underground Museum
I had an enlightened conversation the other day with the young daughter of my wife’s best friend in Moscow. In her young age of only 15, she has had the great fortune of living abroad with grandparents in Canada for half a year, and so she has some perspective on her own motherland. Since all of her family members are practicing artists, it is not surprising that our discussion revolved around art. But art for a Russian means something different than for an American, or rather the people have a different relationship to art. For a Russian, paintings are not simply objects which are consigned to museums, available for an elite segment of society that can afford the time and money to develop a taste for “that sort of thing.” They are rather like windows to the soul of every Russian, companions to them along the way, and just as everywhere present in society as icons are ever-present in the churches. Continue reading
The Beauty of Language
June 6, Birthday of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin
It has happened to me twice now, so there is no denying its power. We travel today to the Moscow Pushkin Museum on the anniversary of A. S. Pushkin’s birthday Jun 6, 1799 for a concert of poetry and music performed by children of the age of my own. The show begins with a recitation of the great author’s poetry. Just like several years ago when I came for the same event for the first time, I understood not a word of it. But just like then, I still could not help but weep for the beauty of it. Continue reading
Coffee Hour, Russian Style
One of the big temptations in traveling to another land is to expect many of the familiar things there from your home country. Or if those things do not live natively in the host culture, the temptation is to somehow import them. Such a tradition for us is the great American church custom of coffee hour. Yes, that’s right, coffee hour is not a given at churches around the world but is a distinctively American custom for Christians to gather after a Sunday service for at least coffee and donuts and sometimes a whole lot more.
One of the churches we consider our home away from home in Moscow has long held the tradition of refreshments and social mingling after the Sunday Liturgy, but they don’t call it coffee hour and they don’t claim that the custom is borrowed from America. Continue reading