Disneyland in Russia

VDNKh. The Centre of Oceanography and Marine Biology Moskvarium. Built in 2015.We returned on Friday from our monastic retreat to greet some new company in our Moscow apartment. Our cousin and his family arrived from Surgut on vacation and stay at a nearby hotel while taking most evening meals with us. He is a fine fellow and his lively wife and 3 girls are the best company any soul could ask for, but their taste in entertainment is a little different from ours. And coming from the monastery only increases my own culture shock.

He invited us yesterday to accompany his family to see a show at the Moskvarium, a kind of sea-themed theater located in a huge cultural park of other museums and theaters north of Moscow called V.D.N.H. [pronounced V-Din-Ha]. We visited V.D.N.H. right before traveling to the monastery and went that time to a special museum dedicated to robots. My older son loved it, but I was less enthused by all the noise. This time I had high hopes that the show might combine the best in Russian theatre and dance with a theme park invented in America. What transpired was one of the strangest spectacles I have seen so far in Russia. Continue reading

A Sober Exuberance

48205105362_29a15541c3_kTime definitely passes differently at a camp near a monastery. I have asked two people already for the time and the day and both have responded alike that they count the day and the hour not according to their watch or phone, but according to their obedience: when it begins (now), when it ends (soon), when we will eat the next meal (soon enough), and when we will go to bed (before and after prayer). Who needs to measure the day with numbers in such an arrangement?

This monastic pattern of life makes this camp feel very different then even Orthodox camps I have visited in America. For it makes even loud events like sports or singing more subdued, more controlled— a kind of sober exuberance. Continue reading

The Best of Our National Heritage

48205054051_6e697aa29a_kWe are blessed with almost perfect weather this week, almost like Southern California. On day 2 at Camp Radonezh near Optina Monastery, the same pattern follows except that I am given a different obedience and a different set of campers in the morning. We hike to the farther Skete of Saint John the Baptist in order to pick berries, that great Russian tradition and past time. This time, a particular young man is the de facto leader of the group and what a lad he is: the kind of boy who knows the answer before the question is asked, an uber-capable young man already at the age of 10. He, of course, not only speaks decent English but claims to teach it along with Spanish. I have no way to evaluate the latter skill but given his proficiency in everything else, I have no doubt. Continue reading

A Monastic Camp

48205061766_f6f90aef5c_kWe arrived last night and awoke to our first day at Camp Radonezh located just a few kilometers down the road from Optina Monastery. It is so far a great combination of two great loves of our family– camping and monasteries in a rare combination of both.

We begin and end the day with traditional services in slavonic. The campers take turns reading the ancient, yet timeless prayers. It is striking that though so many different editions of the prayer books are present, they all say the same prayers in the same order. We have not prayed these prayers in English long enough to achieve this level of unity (just over 150 years). There is something truly powerful about entering a language that has been prayed for over a millennium. Continue reading

Old And New Jerusalem

June 30, 2019
In honor of the 5th Anniversary of the Repose of Fr. Herman Podmoshensky

What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem? The famous quip from the first century critic Tertullian was meant to dismiss any possibility of cross-pollination between these two ancient cities and cultures. On the one hand, Jerusalem, city of the Savior and of the chosen people who gave Him birth stands as a symbol of separation from the world and all its lusts. On the other, Athens, city of the gods beyond numbering and of philosophies beyond counting, stands as a paramount symbol of this world and its festival of vanity. Such was the diametric opposition that these two cities represented.

Монастырь_Оптина_Пустынь

I felt a similar separation between America and Russia the first time it was presented to me by one of my spiritual fathers whose repose we remember this day. In hearing of Holy Russia, Third Rome, and the Holy Elders in a 19th century monastery called Optina, I could only respond, “What hath Madison Avenue to do with this new Jerusalem?” Continue reading

From Communism to Community

russia-st-petersburg-kommunalka-communal-kicthenSaturday, June 22, 2019
Eve of the Sunday of All Saints

Today is day 2 of our extended family visiting from Surgut: our cousin with her four children and us with our five. With three adults and nine children, we have turned our three room apartment into a kind of kommunalka, a living arrangement from Soviet times in which several families/individuals shared a common kitchen and bathing facilities. That’s all it takes is for one of these nine children (ages 3-17) to start loosing their cool and the whole household can become unbearable. Continue reading

Strangers in a Strange Land

205001.pMonday, June 17, 2019
Day of the Holy Spirit

I have blogged before about the challenges of culture shock, dealing with the strangeness of visiting a culture not your own. Just as we expect to find many things we love from back home but don’t find them, there are many things to discover in the new culture that pleasantly surprise us. For example, I had been coming to Russia for several years before I discovered the American ex-patriot community in Moscow, those raised in America who for whatever reason, either personal or business-related, have chosen Moscow as their primary residence. It’s a reminder that there are more reasons to live here in Russia besides the desire to collude in American elections. Continue reading