Log in

No account? Create an account

Φωνη βοωντος εν τη ερημω: ετοιμασατε την οδον κυριου

This is meant as an informal blog.

When it comes to religious items, I would stress that these are my personal opinions, and not those of the Russian Orthodox Church which I belong to.

Most of what I write is 'friends only' (pod zankom). This is because the informal rules governing public questioning of Church positions are considerably tighter in Russia than they are in Western Europe. There is no tradition of 'loyal dissent' as there is in the Anglo-Saxon world. Which is why I am fairly careful before opening the door.

Russian friends: feel free to comment in your own language... I read Russian, but writing is just too difficult...

Для русских гостей -
Вы можете оставлять комментарии на русском языке, избегая слишком сложных и слэнговых оборотов.
Также в ответ на мои комментарии на английском можно отвечать по-русски.

Back from Russia
Back from Russia this week from a 14-day tour that took me to four cities: Moscow, Voronezh, Tutayev and St Petersburg.

On returning I drew up a list of no less than 40 people who made me welcome and whom I need to remember in my prayers. Most I already knew personally. Only two people I wanted to meet and was unable to, both in St Petersburg. It would be incorrect to mention any one person of family in particular. A big thank you to everyone equally

A lot of kids this time, which is always fun, generally very well-behaved, several of them hitting adolescence, leading me to wish parents strength and patience. Two people who were unwell last time I visited now seem a lot better, a couple of new ones are going through the mill health-wise and psychologically and need to go on my special needs diptychs.

The big surprise successRead more...Collapse )

Paganism and Russian Orthodoxy
I looked out of my bedroom window last week in the Russian city where I was staying. In front of me was a large, square building, recognizable as a church by its union cupola and some traditional ornamentation, and the people going in and out on for radonitsa, celebrating the first time prayers for the dead are permitted liturgically after Easter, and including visits to cemeteries. On this occasion, and on other occasions during my stay in Russia, the dividing line between Christianity and pre-Christian paganism, seemed particularly thin. The Slavs, like many ancient peoples, had a tradition of visiting family members' graves during the springtime and feasting together with them, and I sensed that this was a direct follow-on.

There is a lot of the ‘pagan’ in Russian Orthodoxy,
Read more...Collapse )

Battering God ?
A couple of days ago my priest host in a small Russian town and I were invited at the last minute by the local bishop to serve liturgy with him the next morning. Normally in Russia, to take communion at the liturgy one is supposed to be present at Vespers the previous night. It was too late. My host asked the bishop how we should prepare.  Just read the usual evening prayers, triple akathist and the usual preparation prayers. My friend read the lot in Slavonic: it lasted nearly an hour as we asked forgiveness and help variously from God the Father, Christ, the Mother of God, and our guardian angels, presenting ourselves as wretched, worthless sinners perhaps twenty times.

The liturgy we prepared for ... I'm on the far left.

Parallel with this I am reading Catherine De Bar, one of the great French Catholic mystics in the 17th century flowering of French Catholicism before Louis XIV heavy-handedly put down ‘Quietists’ and Protestants. Her idea is of being aware, in silence and trustingly, of the presence of God, already in us. Minimum words.

I recently read Norwegian Protestant pastor Ole Hallesby’s classic ‘Prayer’. His line is that we simply
tell God what we need, and then leave our requests in trust with him, not anxiously presenting them to Him over and over again.

Which is the right approach – the Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant one? If I am a member of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19) and a brother of Christ (Matt. 28.10), is it really necessary for me to batter God, and His mother and my guardian angel like this for an hour? For me, this is essentially the language of someone ‘outside’, whereas I hope that I am, by now, ‘inside’.

Russian woodworking et al.
Ursus is in Moscow, catching up with Russian friends, redelivering books which got lost in the post and tins of varnish to finish icons painted in Brussels. I am sure that the path to hell is paved with the dirty grey or dark red flecked marble slabs which pave the interminable underground passages of the Moscow metro.

To treat myself I went into the Russian North exhibition in an annexe of the State Historical Museum just off Red Square.  I have twice been to the Russian North and both times fell in love with it. They showed a film of a group that is rescuing wooden churches in the North: I’d love to go again, as I did 4 years ago, but it involves rough camping, which I don’t like, and most of the woodwork is chainsaw stuff, and Russian rough scaffolding gives me vertigo.

No, Russia is not the place to go for superb woodwork. There is none of the oak panelling you find in Belgian or French churches and marquetry à l’italienne.There are  no confessionals for woodcarvers to display their art. In Russia you may find some good carving in churches which survived the 1917 revolution, but then mostly heavily painted or gilded. A lot of the new stuff looks like it’s been done by computer.

In the north, in particular, the furniture is quite crude. You could not pass a joiner’s or cabinet maker’s exam with it. Clearly done with a limited set of tools. But it is tastefully decorated.

The real beauty is in the woodcarving: again painted, with a simple, but moving refinement.
The exhibition also has some marvellous metal and enamel working and decorative jewellery.  but that’s for another time. It ia also very tastefully arranged - though a little more explanation in English would have been nice.

Consummatum est – Es ist vollbracht
These words (the last words from the cross in Latin and German) came across my lips, out of season (four days late) as I got into the train back to Brussels from our annual Easter Monday liturgy of all clergy with our archbishop.

Finally I am through the long set of Easter services starting on Maundy Thursday with the commemoration of the Last Supper, through the Burial Services on Friday, the beautiful Vespers + liturgy of Saturday morning, with the first announcement of the Resurrection, Easter night itself, Easter Sunday vespers (bishop, priest and me), and our Easter Monday bash.

In one sense it went pretty well. As senior deacon I read the long composite Gospels pretty cleanly (Slavonic read in a very ‘Anglican’ manner); on the Saturday we (just about) avoided mishaps with the inevitable ‘force-feeding’ of struggling kids brought to communion once a year, on Easter night I’m not sure whether it was the altar or the choir which was in command, I suspect the latter; on Monday the archbishop blew a fuse as every year because none of us has the archiepiscopal liturgy off by heart, but this year I just let it blow over.

In the next few days, as the tension goes out of my body and I start sleeping regular hours, and recover the balance between church and private prayer, Easter will catch up on me. With an increasing sense of having touched something incredibly deep, something which is beyond theology, something which is almost beyond Christianity as an expression of God in action in mankind and creation. With an almost pagan sense of the importance for the salvation of the world of doing the rite and doing it properly. Of an area where shaman and priest/man of God merge.

Christ is risen!   Христос воскресе!  Χριστὸς ἀνέστη!  Le Christ est ressuscité!  Christus is auferstanden!


Reading the specific Lent and Holy Week canons at home this year, in English and in full, and not in church struggling with bad air and Slavonic, I am struck by the large place given to Mary the Egyptian and then, during holy week, to the prostitute who covered Christ’s head with precious ointment and wiped his feet with her hair.

Yes, a converted tart provides a lively image, which preachers and painters can make much of. But I suspect this emphasis speaks to something more. A sense of something very precious, a virginity, that has been lost, ultimately by just about all of us, and which Christ represents. Something we look for, certainly not in the innocence of a baby or small child, and not really in pre-fall Adam (we are never quite sure whether his testicles have already fallen), but in a fully-fledged, knowing-what-the-world-is really about adult.

It is this ‘adult, but still pure’ which fascinates us in Christ, and which speaks to something which we long for beyond the ‘moral injury’ that the pretty much inevitable compromises of adult life impose on us. And which possibly marks the start of a vital sense of ‘compunction’ beyond the traditional concepts of right and wrong, commission and omission which ultimately vitiate and short-change 'doormat-to-communion’ confession.

The children in the temple
It is the children who carry the day in the story of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. The ones who so irritated the chief priests and scribes by continuing the shout ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ into the Temple. Children who had caught a sense of festival and expectancy, without knowing too well what it was all about. Too young and innocent to be caught up in the mixed and confused expectations of the crowd that followed Christ into Jerusalem and then seems to have dispersed pretty quickly. Innocent and unknowing.

And certainly too young and innocent to know that the Jewish system of which they are physically at the epicentre is on its last legs.
Read more...Collapse )

Planned trip to Russia
God willing, I travel to Russia immediately after Easter, arriving Tuesday 30 April later in Moscow and staying there until at least Sunday 5, and then hitting St Petersburg on Friday 10 or Saturday 11 May, and leaving on Tuesday.
The plan is to see as many friends as possible. I will contact the main ones directly, but if I forget anyone – that is if you want to see me – send me a message. Russian phone number is unchanged from last time.

Obiter lecta (read en passant)
‘The mark of a healthy and authentically Christian community is not large numbers, inspiring worship, or dogmatic theology, but the way in which power is exercised within it.’

From a newly-published book 'To Heal and Not to Hurt', based on 15 people's accounts of serious damage incurred by them in the Church.