From Murder to Mercy

IMG_5512Now 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

IMG_5286June 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

A Routine Vacation

Arrived yesterday to Moscow for our family’s seventh time in the land of the Rus. Mama Friar and our brood of four preceded me by two weeks. It is a great place to vacation as we have established patterns that we easily settle into here. A young family such as ours needs routine even when we are attempting to be adventurous and break out into something new.

Our daily schedule while we are here in Moscow runs more or less as follows. Wake up to morning prayers followed by tea and kasha. After breakfast, the middle of the day is usually a museum or show that is reachable by public transportation (bus, trolley, or subway). We return late afternoon to our apartment for tea and refreshments. Kids go with a designated adult to one of several local (and colorful) playgrounds while the others prepare dinner. In the evening, we gather for the most relaxed meal of the day and the most likely time to receive guests: suppertime. Continue reading

Divine Mirth & Russian Clowns

Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian… I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality [of the Lord] a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.

 —Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, Chapter 9 conclusion

Thus ends the reverently joyful tome of Orthodoxy that led me to the true Church. And thus begins my discovery of the best kept secret of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is not found in austerity or great sacrifice, deeds of great reknown:

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.

— Psalm 51:16-17

And what could be more humbling than a grown man making a fool of himself, or rather a grown man revealing the wisdom of God through the foolishness of this world? Continue reading

24 Days of Christmas

IMG_3540The secret is out or at least it should be. Those of us celebrating Christmas on the Old Calendar (O.C. January 7) are still very much within the season, the 12 appointed days of celebration after the event, which makes it a total of 24 if you count somewhat the 12 days celebrated after December 25. So if you are the type that thinks Christmas comes and goes too quickly, think about visiting a Russian, Serbian, or even a Bulgarian Orthodox Church on the Julian Calendar. Then hold on to your tree, keep up those decorations, and don’t throw away that fruit cake because the O.C. gives us another 12 days to party! Continue reading

Being Told What to Read

No one, including yours truly, likes it very much, but without it, our respective worlds would become incredibly cramped and selfishly narrow. I am personally very grateful tonight for some Russian friends who have been telling me for years to read Russian books by Russian authors, even if I have to succumb [temporarily] to the English translations. For a long time, I fought every Dostevsky novel, every Gogol compendium, every maddening Chekov anthology. Even now that I am married to a Russian, I still resist. But little by little, by obeying the advice of my Russophile friends, my resistance is wearing thin. Continue reading

The Harvard Square of Moscow

Novokuznetskaya metro station

What is it about a city square which gives it such life and vibrancy? More often than not it happens not by some kind of grand design imposed from without, but by a more organic development from below and within the city itself. One of these great urban centers of culture in Boston is Harvard Square with its proximity to the oldest American university, its abundant street musicians, libraries and bookstores, museums and laboratories, and everything else that contributes to a volatile, teeming place to meet and get inspired. The Zamoskvorechye region near the Novokuznetskaya metro station is the Harvard Square of Moscow. Continue reading

“Perhaps We Could Drink Some Tea…”

I have given up finding the perfect cup of coffee in Russia. Such a thing just does not exist in a culture so based on drinking tea. A wikipedia article I researched reports that 82% of Russians drink tea on a daily basis.

Sure they have coffee available for the token foreigner who shows up and prefers it, but it is always an after-thought, a concession, appealing only in its exotic qualities. Tea is the native drink for Russians. Has been for over 300 years, and it is always available in large doses, the larger the better. Continue reading

Celebrating an Anniversary with Singing

We celebrate the anniversary of our host’s marriage in the Orthodox Church. By all rights, not the “real” anniversary date since people in the Soviet Union were almost all married civilly, outside the church and then after the fall of communism came back to have their union blessed by a proper church sacrament. You wouldn’t know that this was just their second wedding anniversary from the celebration and the songs that accompanied it. The old-timers really hammed it up in a big way. Continue reading