Voices from Russia

Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Prophet on His Motherland


Icon of St John of Kronshtadt (1829-1908).

The life of the heart is found in love, its death is found in rage and hostility to one’s brother. The Lord keeps us on this earth so that the love of God and the love of neighbour would penetrate our hearts: He awaits this from all of us. This is the purpose of our being in the world.

My Life in Christ

St John of Kronshtadt

A man who is embittered against us is a man with a wound; it is necessary to place a bandage of love over his heart.

My Life in Christ

St John of Kronshtadt

Against the Current

The earthy life of St John of Kronshtadt was spent in an era that saw Russia rapidly lose its sense of historical existence. The crisis of Orthodoxy, autocracy, and national character that reached its apogee in the revolutionary events of 1917 was already visible by the second half of the 19th century. Such diverse observers as Metropolitan St Philaret of Moscow, St Feofan the Recluse, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Konstantin Leontiev spoke about the state of spiritual distress in Russia and predicted an imminent catastrophe. However, the largest part of the pre-revolutionary society had the unshakeable confidence that such calamities could not overtake such a great power as Russia.

Seen against this backdrop, one can discern that the ministry of St John of Kronshtadt was prophetic, indeed. On the one hand, perhaps, we can see the activity of St John as the most ambitious attempt to stop the slide of Russia into revolution and encourage it to perform its true mission, the one appointed to it by God. On the other hand, we cannot help but feel that the way of thinking and modus operandi of the “Father of Kronshtadt” is relevant in contemporary Russia, it is imperative for the present generation of Orthodox faithful.

In the contemporary Orthodox community, there are frequent cases where the revival of liturgical and community life of the Church is opposed to its social service, civil, and political roles. Today, even the words of St Seraphim of Sarov, “Save yourself and thousands shall be saved about you”, are often wrongly understood and are used as a “justification” for self-centred selfishness and social and civic passivity amongst Orthodox believers. But, sometimes, on the contrary, the political and social activity of the laity suppresses or even displaces their desire to participate in the sacramental life of the Church.

St John of Kronshtadt teaches us to overcome all current divisions and shows us a wonderful example of a combination of the many different ministries that Christians are called to carry out. The life and works of St John show us that the conflict between concentrating on the inner world and engaging in social (including political) activity, between the national and universal, as so many Orthodox believers today believe, is a fable.

“Of the Means by which a Christian Maintains His Hope…”

Long before the time of Fr Alexander Schmemann, it was St John of Kronshtadt who raised the question of the necessity of reviving the active Eucharistic life of the Church, and he took steps to practically tackle this in his pastoral ministry. In pre-revolutionary Russia, it is no secret that the tradition of regular and frequent reception of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, as established by the Apostles, was widely and openly neglected. St John wrote, “It pains my heart, when in many churches, at the call of the deacon calling the people to receive the Holy Gifts, ‘With the fear of God and with faith, draw near’, sometimes, no one is willing to come forward and take them”. In his diary, St John taught, “Of the means by which a Christian maintains his hope, including prayer, the frequent and sincere prayerful confession of his sins, and the frequent reading of the Word of God, the most efficacious is the frequent communion of the Holy Life-giving Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ” (from My Life in Christ). Concerning those who argue that they do not often take communion because they feel themselves unworthy, the holy father’s answer is quite strict, “Some people think that it is supposedly sinful for laymen to receive Holy Communion frequently… That is blasphemy, nothing but blasphemy! Do you not wash your face and body in the bath every morning? Do you not need to wash your soul regularly as well, as it is defiled by sin every day?”

“A Bright Ray of God’s Love”

The social activity of St John of Kronshtadt is an unfading exemplar of what people in the Church should do to ameliorate the moral disorders of society. St John began his ministry in Kronshtadt by making visits to the homes of its poorest and most oppressed inhabitants. “Following the command of God, in an environment of gloom, there appeared a bright ray of God’s love. The newly-ordained young priest of St Andrew Cathedral, Ioann Ilyich Sergiev, began to minister to those in these hovels, shacks, and poor flats. He comforted abandoned mothers, nursed children until their mother recovered, helped people with money, and admonished and preached to drunkards. Often, he handed all of his salary to the poor…” wrote a famous biographer of St John, I. K. Sursky.

It is important to note that the attitude of St John towards cases of mercy was far from the so-called “theory of small cases”, so popular today, which affirms the self-sufficiency of individual philanthropy, but, rejects systemic and large-scale social projects. The House of Industry, which was built and opened in 1882 by St John, was by no means a small parish almshouse; rather, it was a large production complex employing several thousand people, which provided them with work and an income. St John of Kronshtadt, being indifferent to money and wealth, was not poor. He rebuked infringement of private property rights and fighting against the Russian state as the most serious crimes, and he ridiculed the ideas of “Christian communism” and socialism, which ideas, even now, some are trying to jumble together with Orthodoxy. By his entire life, St John proved that the Church desires that none should be poor, but, rather, that they should have a sufficiency, that people could manage money as he himself managed money, but, he taught that money must not master man.


Icon of the Mother of God of Port Arthur

“The Threshold of the Heavenly Motherland”

Amazingly, the vigorous political position of the Kronshtadt Pastor complemented his liturgical, pastoral, and social ministry. St John taught, “You must remember that the earthly motherland with its Church is the threshold of the heavenly motherland, therefore, you must love your country zealously and prepare your soul for heaven, in order to inherit eternal life there”. In an era that saw a crisis of Russian statehood and the onslaught of the destructive revolutionary forces, St John of Kronshtadt preached, “Through the medium of our sovereign ruler, the Lord shall bring good to this earthly kingdom, and, particularly, bring blessings and peace to His Church, not allowing godlessness, heresies, and schisms to possess it. The greatest villain of the world, which will appear in due time, the Antichrist, cannot appear amongst us, because of our autocracy, which restrains outrageous decadence and the absurd doctrine of the atheists.

There was another important lesson of St John, who was, amongst other things, a member of the Union of Russian People (!). He attempted to save the Russian national consciousness from those disgraceful sorts who expounded a crass nationalism and anti-Semitism. Let us recall his words concerning the Kishiniev pogrom. “What and whose spirit did the people of Kishinev show to the Jews? It was the spirit of the devil. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His (Romans 8:9). If they lack gentleness, humility, obedience, or respect for authority, they are the slaves of the devil, and they inherit his lot as well. Know this, brother Russians! What spirit should you show? Love your enemies!” (My Thoughts on the Violence by Christians Against the Jews in Kishiniev (1903))

We know that St John, who was utterly convinced that the Orthodox Church is the only true Church, nevertheless, healed not only Orthodox believers, but, also those from the heterodox confessions and sectarians, who, frequently, found not only physical heath, but, also, spiritual healing, leading many of them to convert to Orthodoxy. The attitude of St John to the earthly motherland precluded any sentimentality. “Russia is in rebellion, it suffers cruelly from a bloody internal struggle that is terrible in its cost. It suffers from godlessness, anarchy, and extreme moral degeneration. Its fate appears to be wretched, which leads us into hopeless depression. But, the providence of the Almighty will not abandon Russia, even in this sad and disastrous state. His righteous punishment shall lead to a revival”.

Today, we still base our hopes on the words of the Kronshtadt Pastor, “I foresee the restoration of a powerful Russia, even stronger and more powerful than it is today. Russia shall be erected anew on a firm foundation anchored on the bones of the martyrs; it shall be like the olden days, strong in its faith in our Lord Christ and the Holy Trinity”.

30 December 2008

Sergei Volobuev

Editor of the social-science website Sotsialnoe Bogoslovie (Social Theology)

Kirill Frolov

Press Secretary of the Union of Orthodox Citizens (Soyuza Pravoslavnykh Grazhdan (SPG))

Voda Zhivaya: Sankt-Peterburgskiy Tserkovny Vestnik (Living Water: St Petersburg Church Gazette), January 2009

As quoted in Interfax-Religion



Two Quechua Women from Bolivia Accepted Orthodox Baptism in Moscow


A woman of the Quechua people of South America

Immediately following Christmas services, in one of the Orthodox churches in the southern districts of Moscow, two women of the Quechua people of South America accepted Orthodox baptism. “We talked with them about the faith, and they read the Creed of the Orthodox Church in Spanish, which I downloaded for them from the Internet”, said Fr Daniil Sysoyev, the rector of the parish of St Thomas the Apostle in Kantemirov, in an interview with our Interfax-Religion correspondent, describing how he served the Sacrament of Baptism for these women. According to Fr Daniil, the two women from Bolivia, a mother and daughter, who accepted baptism, were in Moscow pursuing studies. They learned about the Orthodox faith from one of their friends, who is of the Inca people from Peru and a long-term resident of Moscow. In baptism, the women took the names of Maria and Yelizaveta, in honour of St Mary Magdalene and Grand Princess St Yelizaveta the New Martyr. “Quite possibly, this is the first time in history that Quechua people embraced Orthodoxy”, Fr Daniil noted.

8 January 2009



Russians did not Limit the New Year’s Holidays to Parties and Christmas Trees


Over the New Year holidays, Russians not only saw traditional presentations and New Year’s trees, but, they also participated in tournaments of fairytale heroes in Yekaterinburg, exhibited collections of family keepsakes in Kaliningrad, played a little “Old Russian Village Football” in Novgorod, and kids saw The Nutcracker in Cheliabinsk, and 1,200 kids came to the Archbishop’s Yolka in Kostroma.

Yekaterinburg: An Orchestra of “Wizards” and “Beasts” Gave a Concert

To mark the New Year, the Sverdlovsk State Philharmonic Orchestra prepared for children a magical adventure-play Poezd na Chunga-Changu (The Train to Chung-Chang), which was staged from 4 to 6 January, a spokesman of the Philharmonic told RIA-Novosti. Children and their parents waited for “wizards” to play live music, and enjoyed a presentation of dances, games, and quizzes, and for the most fearless and curious, a tournament fairytale characters, the spokesman said. At the time of the show, the hall of the Philharmonic Society became a fairyland forest with a New Year’s Tree, and serious musicians dressed as merry “beasts”, and the sombre black grand pianos were draped to match the multicoloured costumes of the players. The Philharmonic prepared a surprise competition with the Wizard of the Snows, games with funny animals, traditional round-dances with beautiful forest-maidens, and a sea of “beautiful and very familiar music”.

Kaliningrad: A Nostalgic Exhibition

With the help of local residents, the Fridlanskie Gates Museum of Kaliningrad assembled a collection of family Christmas and New Year keepsakes, which will be on display until the middle of January, a spokesman of the city press-service told RIA-Novosti. The organisers of the exhibition Traditions of Celebrating New Year and Christmas assembled Christmas toys and decorations made before 1970, as well as postcards and family photos of those years from Kaliningraders. Amongst the items lent by local residents were handmade toys. According to the museum spokesman, the main task of the organisers of the exhibition was to create an atmosphere of holiday magic, wonder, and expectations of fairy tales and miracles.

When this exhibition was first held last year, it attracted an unusual interest amongst the inhabitants of the city, so, it was decided to make it a traditional event. The basis of this year’s exhibition was last year’s collection, when Kaliningraders exhibited approximately 300 toys, to name just one category. Some of the items were immediately donated to the museum, whilst other owners asked for a guarantee of safety and a return of the items after the end of the exhibition. Amongst the objects on display, some were real rarities, Königsberg dishes with Christmas themes, greeting cards from the early 20th century, New Year’s toys made of pressed cotton from the 1930s to 50s, toys fashioned from ordinary light bulbs, “rain” devised from the copper wire, and much more.


Novgorod: “Old Russian Village Football”

The Folklore Festival Holy Days in Vitoslavlitsakh was held on 8 January at the Novgorod Museum of Wooden Folk Architecture, a representative of the Novgorod oblast administration told RIA-Novosti. The festival invited top-ten-best folk groups from the Novgorod region, as well as guests from other cities in Russia. According to tradition, Holy Days in Vitoslavlitsakh opens with the ringing of bells at noon, after which, those who are attended the festival take part in old amusements, games, and rituals revived by Russian folklore enthusiasts. In the streets of “Vitoslavlits”, people carol under the Christmas star, singing old traditional kolyadki. In addition, there shall be a match of Shchelyge (which scholars describe as “Old Russian Village Football”), skipping rope village-style, stilt races, and snow and ice games. All those who participate in the fun and games, both Novgorodians and tourists, shall receive poteshki, tokens that can be exchanged for prizes in a special “prize shop”.

For those who want to determine their future, the festival shall present a variety of divination methods in the old-style izbas and barns. The festival attendees, as in the old days, could choose to use straw, haystacks, fences, or laptyakh (bast sandals), or look under the dish, or use the hen or beans to guess their fate. Besides, old spinning wheels and looms shall be set up in the izbas, and all who will shall be able to try to use these for spinning and weaving. Visitors shall be able to take part in traditional single combats, and “warriors” from the local Novgorod military history re-enactment clubs shall give demonstrations.

Novgorodians and tourists alike will be able to ride the carousel and on horses. On the streets of the Museum of Wooden Folk Architecture, a Petrushka Booth shall be set up, and mummers and singers shall stroll amongst the guests. Master-craftsmen of traditional decorative arts shall present their handcrafted products. Under the supervision of craftsmen, people can try to make their own handcrafted gifts and fashion so-called “covers” from spill in the “doll shop”. The exhibits shall be open for several hours. At the end of the day, the festival shall conclude with “the funeral of Dudarya”, a straw effigy, which, in old Russia, represented the past year.

The Folklore Festival Holy Days in Vitoslavlitsakh has been held in Veliki Novgorod since 1993.

Kostroma and Cheliabinsk: Celebrating Orthodox Christmas

The Orthodox Church did not remain on the sidelines of holiday celebrations, as it presented concerts and brought the kids to the Christmas tree to give them lots of gifts. On 7 January, the Yolka for the pupils of the Orthodox parish Sunday Schools was held at the Glinka Opera and Ballet Theatre in Cheliabinsk, according to the press-service of the city government. 500 kids were invited to the affair, including students at the Cheliabinsk Orthodox gymnazii (a gymnazia is a traditional high school: editor’s note), the children of Orthodox parishioners, and members of youth groups. They saw a performance of the Christmas fairytale The Nutcracker. After the concert, the kids received gifts, including sweets, soft toys, Christmas cakes, and a specially-prepared colourful collection of Christmas Fairytales. This special book has 92 pages and it was published in a press-run of 5,000. It contains tales for children of Orthodox families, well-known writers from Cheliabinsk edited it, and children’s drawings were used as illustrations.

The Archpastoral Yolka was held on 8 January in Kostroma. In addition, the kids and their parents are waiting for a charity concert to be held three days hence, a spokesman of the Diocese of Kostroma told RIA-Novosti. He told us that more than 1,200 kids came to the Yolka, students of Sunday schools, members of the Orthodox Youth Centre Kovcheg (Ark), and children from the diocesan, oblast, and municipal orphanages and boarding schools. Archbishop Aleksandr of Kostroma and Galich gave his Christmas blessing to all of the children who attended. The traditional charity Christmas concert will feature the Archiepiscopal Choir of the Epiphany-St Anastasia Cathedral, the Blagovest Academic Chamber Choir and Chorus, the Kostroma State Orchestra of Folk Instruments, and other ensembles. The concert shall include a presentation of the Christmas Oratorio written by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev. All proceeds from the charity Christmas concert will go towards the restoration of holy places and construction of churches.

8 January 2009



President Medvedev: The Official Position on the Gas Crisis with the Ukraine


President Dmitri Medvedev (1965- )

On Wednesday evening, during a telephone conversation initiated by the Ukrainian side with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko, in the course of the conversation, President Dmitri Medvedev pointed out the following to the Ukrainian president:

  • For Russia, the question of gas delivery to its European customers is considered a part of its fulfilment of its economic obligations and it is not a political matter. Unfortunately, this problem became a “hostage” to disputes in the Ukrainian leadership and its inability to take appropriate measures under the prevailing situation.
  • Russia never pulled out of talks with the Ukraine and is ready to resume them at any moment. President Medvedev called on President Yushchenko to give the relevant instructions concerning this to the government and energy authorities of the Ukraine.
  • If gas deliveries to the Ukraine are to resume, Naftogaz must sign the necessary contracts with Gazprom. The gas price under the agreement shall be fixed at same level with the prevailing European market price. No discounts or privileges shall be stipulated [by the Ukrainian side].
  • President Medvedev pointed out to President Yushchenko that European consumers did not receive transit gas pumped via the Ukraine due to illegal diversion of gas by the Ukraine, which is absolutely inadmissible, and it is at odds with earlier signed agreements between Russia, the Ukraine, and European consumers, or to other international treaties.
  • The outstanding gas debt, President Medvedev noted, was still unsettled. These arrears must be settled by the Ukraine in full and in the shortest possible time.
  • President Medvedev said that if gas supplies were to resume, it is necessary to set up a control group consisting of representatives from the energy authorities of Russia and the Ukraine, observers from the European Union, and members of the international law firms who represent the interests of Gazprom and Naftogaz.

President Medvedev called on President Yushchenko to take urgent and immediate action to settle the gas dispute by reaching the necessary agreements to guarantee an early resumption of the delivery of Russian gas to European consumers.

8 January 2009

Voice of Russia World Service


Editor’s Note:

One wonders why Yushchenko is playing this particular game of “chicken”. One reason is obvious, even to the slow learners. Yushchenko fears an improvement of relations between the USA and Russia under President Obama. To be blunt, Mr Obama needs his hands free to deal with the economic meltdown caused by the Clinton/Bush neoliberal financial policies. He shall have neither the time nor funds to deal with neo-Fascist popinjays in the Russian Near Abroad.

In short, Yushchenko is attempting to hold Europe at knifepoint whilst GWB is still president (as he shall be for the next 11 days). GWB would like nothing better than to leave a further mess for President Obama to clean up, on top of the nasty Augean Stable he left on Wall Street, for sordid, petty, and partisan reasons. That is, the Bushie neocons are encouraging Yushchenko in his crackbrained brinkmanship, backed by the Galician Uniate diaspora amen corner.

This can spiral out of hand all too easily. Shall this be GWB’s legacy, the collapse of the very puppet states that he and his neocon paladins propped up? The next two weeks shall tell us. Unfortunately, my crystal ball is broken…


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