Voices from Russia

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Appropriation of God


An icon for the feastday of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple as painted by St Andrei Rublyov

Editor’s note:

Yesterday was Candlemas, one of the Great Feasts of the Church. It ends the Nativity Season, and we know that the Great Lent is on its way. This article is tied in with the feast, as you shall see.


The guest of today’s programme is the singer and noted performer of Russian folk music Tatiana Sinitsina. We offer you the story of how Tatiana Sinitsina turned from non-belief to religious faith. Although baptised at birth, Tatiana was able to embrace true faith in our Lord only 36 years later, and this completely transformed her inner world and her very attitude to life.

Tatiana was born on 15 February, the day of the Orthodox holiday of Candlemas, or “The Feast of the Purification of Our Lady”. This holiday is a symbol of the meeting of the Old and the New Testaments, a meeting with God. This Church holiday comes from the story in the Gospel about Simeon’s first meeting the infant Christ. Let us remind you of that story from the Book of Luke.

Tatiana was born on 15 February, the day of the Orthodox holiday of Candlemas, or “The Feast of the Purification of Our Lady”. This holiday is a symbol of the meeting of the Old and the New Testaments, a meeting with God. This Church holiday comes from the story in the Gospel about Simeon’s first meeting the infant Christ. Let us remind you of that story from the Book of Luke.

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him after the custom of the law, Then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according Thy word: For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel!

“Only many years later, when I started going to church, I learned a chant about the day when I was born, 15 February”, says Tatiana Sinitsina. “Only then, I understood why when I was a non-believer, although baptised, I always experienced a particular excitement when attending concerts of the Yurlov Capella, especially during their performances of church chant. I realised that this chant had lived within me from the very start, as a kind of ‘tuning fork’!”

Tatiana Sinitsina is an old acquaintance of ours. Back in the early 1970s, our producer Vladimir Diomin, who was a tireless seeker and inspirer of musical talents, brought over to our department a young and very charming girl with grey eyes and a brilliant smile. That was Tatiana. There was such a “halo” of kindness about her that we immediately took a liking to her. Vladimir Diomin said, “This is a promising young singer, a performer of Russian folksongs, formerly a worker at a Moscow textile factory”. The only thing that seemed to disturb her inner harmony was that she was obviously handicapped.

“Unfortunately, Tatiana suffered from polio since childhood”, said Vladimir Diomin. “This illness has lasted for the rest of her life. Nevertheless, she is a strong person. She never gives up. Despite the fact that she often suffered much pain, she was always actively involved in artistic endeavours. God gave her a wonderful voice, powerful and beautiful. Even the most celebrated performers of Russian folk music quite obviously envied her. For example, the legendary Lydia Ruslanova told me that Tatiana was a genuinely Russian singer”. It is hard not to agree with these words. Listening to Tatiana Sinitsina, every Russian becomes immediately and deeply aware of their Russian roots. Far from every performer can boast of being able to achieve this.

Tatiana’s rise to popularity began in 1973. “Tatiana was still a student at the Ippolitov-Ivanov music college when we decided to prepare a programme for her entry at the First All-Russia Russian folk music competition”, Vladimir Diomin recalls. “Indeed, although she only received a second prize, one can safely state that Tatiana led all the others at the competition for nobody received a first prize that year. Every song that Tatiana performed awakened rapturous applause from the audience. It was a tremendous triumph! At the final concert of the contest Tatiana sang the then-popular song by Yevgeny Ptichkin, I Love my Land. [When she was done], the hall raved”.

Upon finishing studies at college, Tatiana Sinitsina became a member of the principal Moscow concert organisation. Success always accompanied all she did, although she performed alongside the famous variety stars of that time as well as opera celebrities. Tatiana Sinitsina said, “Although they were all accomplished stars, while I was but a beginner, they accorded me respect, and treated me with warm regard. Maybe, it was because the folksongs I performed were a piquant note against the background of the formalism of the celebrated performers. However, I rejoiced not so much in my success, as in my proximity to these famous artists. I felt like a schoolgirl in their midst, and I experienced reverence towards them. In the variety theatre of that time I occupied an empty niche, since folksongs were rarely performed at the time”.

Health problems did not permit Tatiana Sinitsina to continue an active concert career. “I left the stage in 1994, pensioned off as an invalid”, says Tatiana. “I had already stopped performing for a long time due to health problems, but I did rare concert appearances combined with teaching at the same music college where I graduated”.

A turning point in Tatiana’s life was in 1986. “Seemingly by accident, that summer I visited friends in the countryside. One evening, they all began getting ready to go out, saying to me, ‘Why are you sitting there?’

‘What’s happening?’ I responded in turn.

‘Tomorrow is Trinity (Pentecost, an Orthodox colloquialism: editor’s note). We are going to attend Vespers’.

‘But, I have never been to church before’, I said.

‘So, now you shall!’ they told me.

A monk from the Holy Trinity St Sergius Monastery, who was also visiting with my friends, said emphatically, ‘You must go; you have to be in church’.

Therefore, I went. However, I felt very awkward there, and after a short while, I went home. When they all returned from the church service, the monk said to me, ‘Was it too difficult to remain standing through the entire church service?’

‘It is not that’, I answered. ‘Not hard, but embarrassing. I felt as though I had not been invited’.

Then, he said to me, ‘Oh, if it was not hard, but only embarrassing, then all is not lost’.

Afterwards, they invited me to the Holy Trinity St Sergius Lavra and other holy places in the Moscow oblast. I found it quite interesting, but no more than that. Then, came the winter of 1987. As a performer of Russian folksongs, I received an invitation to sing at the Christmas concert at the Publishing Department of the Moscow Patriarchate. My repertoire did not contain a single Orthodox piece, so I felt quite awkward. At this point, a miracle occurred.

Practically on the eve of the concert, one of my friends paid me a visit. She brought me a record that she had bought recently, which contained Christmas songs. What is more, there were notes with the corresponding lyrics. I was very happy and relieved to have something I could perform before an Orthodox audience”. In 1988, the country celebrated the millennium of Christianity in Russia. In connection with this, the Publishing department of the Moscow Patriarchate regularly organised evenings of church music, to which they invited writers, artists, and musicians. Amongst them was Tatiana Sinitsina.

“So, gradually, I was being initiated into the Orthodox world. At first, I became acquainted with it as a unique layer of Russian art. Afterwards, the previously concealed true depths of Faith, its very essence, began to open itself to me. This happened not only to me. After those memorable concerts, I know of many other cultural figures that turned to God and gradually became believers. As far as I am concerned, Father Innokenty Prosvirin, whom I met at the concerts, gave me his blessing to prepare a solo programme of church chants for the millennium of Christianity in Russia. In the process of preparing it, I learned a great deal about Orthodoxy, and I began to comprehend it with my heart and mind.

Whilst I was researching musical material for my solo concert, seemingly by accident, but in fact, it was Providence, I came across some so-called folk psalms, or “church verses”. The very name “church verse” stresses the precedence of words over music. This genre of church music existed in olden times in Russia, Ukraine, and Byelorussia. Orthodox people sang the church verses outside church, usually at home. They were an expression of the sentiments of believers. Having discovered for myself this genre of Russian church music, I thought at the same time with regret that at music college and at the Academy nobody told us anything about it. They had deliberately concealed a significant layer of our culture from us. This was the result of state atheist propaganda”.

…The soul appealed to Our Maker, “Have pity on me, dear Lord! … Let Your light illuminate my soul! … Protect, Heavenly Father, Your vineyard!”

This verse became the first of many in Tatiana’s concerts of church music. Tatiana said that she once performed this psalm at a charity benefit dedicated to the restoration of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. When she finished singing, the great Russian composer Georgy Sviridov came to see her backstage. He thanked her for her performance and asked, “Where did you find this gem?”

“That these ancient church verses found their way to the hearts of our people today is certainly not an accident”, Tatiana said. “The hand of Providence is obvious here, a hand that reaches out to us, and calls on us, to aspire to true spiritual heights. The church verses depict the subtle motions of a believer’s soul and events from the Holy Scripture in an accessible form. In manner of performance, they resemble ancient Russian epics. The difference is in the theme. The Russian epic tales spoke of Russian bogatyrs, epic heroes, and their magnificent deeds. On the other hand, the church verses dwell on spiritual matters. Thanks to the church verses, the essence of which I perceived with all of my heart, a transformation took place in my soul, a turn towards Christian life.

When I performed these folk psalms, I constantly discovered something for myself in the word of the Lord. As I found out, I am not alone. People would come to me backstage and speak to me of the revelations that came to them while they listened to the church verses in my performance. I realised that these psalms were rather like a catechism. As though in confirmation of this thought, I then came across church verses that seemed in the form of questions and answers. The simplicity of the melodies highlights even more the profundity of meaning. I love the verse titled The Lord’s Ascension, which comes from the Moscow oblast”.

The Lord’s Ascension. The Lord ascended to the Heavens with the seraphs and cherubs, with all the forces of Heaven. While the people on Earth grew anxious, how would they now live without their Heavenly Father? But the Lord said to them, that although He was leaving this Earth, He would never forsake those, who had Faith in Him…

Despite the handicap of her illness, Tatiana leads a full and busy life. She has many friends who eagerly visit her and take her with them on trips. However, Tatiana has come to appreciate solitude. Tatiana says that she does not grieve over her forced isolation at home, because the other, inner life, the life of the spirit, is so fascinating that words cannot express it. That inner life is much more important for the soul. She is so anxious to safeguard that inner sanctuary that more often than not she simply refuses to give interviews, although many want to meet her.

Tatiana likes the following church verse of remembrance. May the Lord mention you and your kin in prayer, for Our Father remembers all His children by name. Father, inscribe their names in the Book of Life, and may they enjoy eternal memory.

24 November 2006

shvetsova-tatianaTatiana Shvetsova

The Christian Message from Moscow

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