The Case of the Disappearing Kasha (Cream of Wheat)

This is the first post of our oldest son, a translation of a book of stories from Russian author V. Dragunskiĭ entitled Денискины рассказы (Dennis’ Stories).

This story took place in Moscow. So, if you’ve been to Moscow, do you know the Kremlin? And, if you don’t know, it’s like a big  group of famous buildings and gardens. It will come later in the story.

So, the main person in the story, is a boy named Dennis. He woke up in the morning and brushed his teeth and got changed as usual. Then, he went and looked at what was on the table to eat for breakfast. His mom brought him a full bowl of kasha. He said “I hate this stuff; I can’t stand it!”  His mom promised him that if he ate his kasha, he would be able to go to the Kremlin. Dennis thought, “I love that place, but how can I eat this kasha? Maybe it doesn’t have enough salt.” So he put some salt and he tasted it again, but it tasted even worse than the first time.  Then, he thought that it wasn’t sweet enough. So he added some sugar and he tasted it, but the kasha was even worse than it was before. Finally, he thought that everything tasted good with horseradish; so he added horseradish and stuffed all the kasha into his mouth. It tasted so gross that he went to the window, opened it, and dumped out all the kasha into the street. Just then, his mother came in and said, “You are such a good boy; you ate all of your kasha. Okay, then get on your coat and let’s go to the Kremlin.” Continue reading

Eating Manna at the Monastery

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July 2/15, 2012, Placing of the Honorable Robe of the Most Holy Theotokos at Blachernae (5th cent.)

I always feel uncomfortable when someone asks about my favorite food in Russia, for like the Israelites in the desert, it is not so much about what’s on the menu as the relationship with the Provider. Manna, what the Israelites ate in the desert, literally means “What is it?” But a better question than this is, “Who gave it?” For in both cases of manna and monastery food, they clearly come from heaven.

At the Divyevo trapeza, the free one offered to all pilgrims, the menu never really changes: soup, bread, tea, and that ever useful, multi-purpose, everywhere present KASHA. True confession that I have never really liked kasha, probably because of its plainness. I probably have asked the disdainful question of the Israelites about it as well, “Just what exactly is it?” In America, its humility places it on the bottom of the breakfast menu. We really only know one kind of kasha, oatmeal, and no one but a health nut ever really orders it. Yet there is something about kasha which makes Russians love it, for among other things, it is ordinary food which gives strength and endurance to pilgrims.

Food, reminds the apostle Paul, does not bring us near to God. We are no better if we do not eat, or if we do eat (I Cor. 8:8). It is rather the setting or context that can help us in our salvation. Our family has never had a meal in a monastery that did not taste delicious because of how it was consecrated by love for God and prayer. The lives of the desert fathers and the record of the deplorable things they consumed testifies that God can indeed turn stones into bread.

While we in America obsess over the right restaurant or the perfect gourmet experience, we miss the point. Kasha, like the ancient Manna, directs our attention away from gourmet obsessions toward thankfulness for whatever God provides.