Forgotten Treasures

But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

― C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

snowedinOf all the children’s picture books we have read or reviewed for our yearly  Best of the Best, none stands out more dearly to me this time of the year than a tale about a family in the early 20th century in the American Wild West. They settled in one of the most desolate regions of the West, the open, wind-swept prairies of Wyoming, and the story opens with their yearly ritual at the onset of winter: saying goodbye to their community schoolhouse, buying gobs of paper and pencils at the town store, and raiding the local library for pounds of books to last them through the isolating months ahead of closed roads and home-bound activity. Continue reading

Small Towns, Magnanimous People

IMG_0271Well, I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob’ly die in a small town
Oh, those small communities…

No, I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be.

 — Small Town by John Mellancamp

I never understood my friends who always dreamed of leaving the small town where I grew up. Did they honestly think that a change of scenery, a bigger city with more opportunity would change their identity? I personally never wanted to leave my small town. But like Abraham, circumstances prevailed against my better judgment and I was driven from my people and sent to a land that would be shown to me. From the land of my fathers, I came first to Boston where I could more deeply discover the land of holy Orthodoxy. Continue reading

Untamed Virgin Forest

St. Serpahim of Sarov Feeds a Wild BearJune 27/July 10, 2012

St. Sampson the Hospitable

When I first started teaching at St. Herman of Alaska Christian School in Boston, I remember the headmaster charging me with the duty to impart to the students a sense of untouched virgin forest as far as the eye could see; for this is what the first settlers to America witnessed upon arrival to those shores. They witnessed it and then quickly went about the process of taming this wild country. The English need for gardens, finished houses, and walls to guard them all would have none of this un-ploughed jungle. Later ideas of industrial progress turned domesticating nature into a right and almost a virtue.

While the Russian people have done their share over the centuries of clearing lands for farmhouses and villages, their attitude towards wild, untamed forest has been generally quite different from America. Part of this must have something to do with owning 1/6 of the world’s landmass. Trimming the verge or keeping the lawn mowed is a little overwhelming when one considers this immensity. Still, I think there is something else in the Russian relationship with the natural world which extends beyond the needs of practical stewardship.

I am rereading the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov in our preparation to travel to Divyevo on Thursday. Like many ascetics of the deserts of old, his struggle in the wilderness towards repentance brought him into intimate contact with bears and other wild creatures that usually fight or flee at the sight of a human being. But the reason for his popularity among Russians and many converts in America (who take on his name) has to do with something particularly Russian. When monks like Seraphim wanted to flee the world to pray and draw closer to God, they didn’t have the isolation of the Egyptian desert. Instead of sand, they invented a northern thebaid: the dense and impenetrable Russian forest. The Russian ascetic’s dream, it turns out, is similar to the American pioneer who was disenchanted with the drab, colorless life of industrial cities. Both wanted to find a home where wild things and the human spirit could roam.

We visited today one of the last undeveloped, deep forested  areas of Moscow called Bitsevsky Les. While it can hardly be called “untouched”, its proximity to public transportation makes it a great place for a chance encounter with one of St. Seraphim’s forest friends. And though our forest wasn’t quite virginal, it still testifies to the majesty of its Maker.