Voices from Russia

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Who Stole the Keeshka?

Filed under: Christian,cultural,Orthodox life,religious,Russian,USA — 01varvara @ 00.00


A proud Polish keeshka… as can be told by the spelling “kiszka” on the wrapper. Great stuff… eat it up, yum!

Firstly, what do I mean? Keeshka, or kishka, or kiszka, or kiška (all these spellings are all pronounced identically, by the way) is the general Slavic name for blood sausage. Virtually all people of Slavic ancestry love the stuff (I certainly do, I scarf it down slathered with sharp mustard and horseradish, with kapusta (sauerkraut) and vareniki (pierogies) on the side. It is best partnered with a cold beer!). This is an allegory.

Let’s get in the mood… here’s a link to a well-known polka song by Frankie Yankovic popular in Slavonic America. It’s only two minutes… it’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Listen? Great stuff, huh? That’s the sort of thing that all Slavs in America grew up with. If it wasn’t Frankie Yankovic, it was Happy Louie or Heavy Chicago. Everybody from Russkies to Polacks to Czechs to Slovaks to Hunkies and (yes, sir) Germans all listened to this happy-time music. If you spoke of the hupaj-szup (pronounced “hoo-pie shoop”), we all knew what it meant… a great time was to be had by all!

Now, no one would be against that, you would think. Think again…

There is a species of Amerikantsy konvert that becomes livid whenever anything ethnic is mentioned in the precincts of an Orthodox parish. All of that sort of thing is supposed to be leached away and thrown out the door, because it is “seeker-unfriendly”… I kid you not! One of those sorts said so to me in an e-mail. Well, we Orthodox have the following to say:


Now, that the expostulation is over, let’s get down to business. Many converts come to the Church with a screwball idea of what it is based on their unguided and unfocused reading. It is often compounded by the maunderings of pseudo-startsy clergy (often disgruntled ex-Evangelical Anglicans) on the internet. Despite what some konvertsy think, the majority of Orthodox in the USA and Canada are from traditional Orthodox nationalities or Americans married to them. We are a generally-tolerant and welcoming lot… we’re neither hand-shaking Evangelicals nor high-pressure Pentecostalists, but, we’re not closed-minded and cold-hearted bigots, either.

Although non-ethnics are a minority in American Orthodoxy, they are a majority of those posting on the internet. Furthermore, many of these paladins have less than five years in the Church! It may be news to some of these sorts, but, it takes time to get one’s bearings in any given situation. It is why you have to be a resident of the US for five years before you can apply for citizenship. You have to know the language and have knowledge of the country as well. It’s the same in the Church, as well.

beer and kapusta

Now, here’s some good Slavonic grub… galumkies with kapusta washed down with a can of cold beer!

The konvertsy get an unrealistic picture of what Orthodox Christians are like from their reading. What they thought was the Osmond family is the Addams family, instead! What is worse, we like it that way! The ol’ still for the samogon is bubblin’ in the backyard; Uncle Fester lugs in a pot full of galumkies and Grisha and Sasha are rolling in the barrel; Happy Louie is blasting from the stereo; and Uncle Milosh is sleeping it off underneath the dining-room table with the dog (I’m giving the Slavonic version of Orthodoxy, as that is what I am familiar with… the Greek guys are just as much fun, just different). Oh, dear! It’s NOT Christians versus lions in the Coliseum, is it?


Such people have to understand that they are joining a particular group of people with a shared history and customs… a history and a tradition that are not going to be tossed overboard on the whim of some newbies. This is what is meant when we say that Orthodoxy is “enfleshed”. That is what “incarnational” means! Orthodoxy comes in human vesture. Don’t these sorts understand that our Lord Christ came in human form, as well? If the Lord Christ came as an ordinary human-being, well, it stands to reason that His Church would be found as a lot of ordinary humans with ordinary customs and history. You can’t separate out the “ethnicism” from the “spirituality”. You kill the Church when you do that, you remove the “body” from the “soul”… and a disembodied soul is a ghost, as one of the Fathers said.

Yes, Russian Orthodoxy is different from Greek Orthodoxy, but, that difference took CENTURIES to develop. It wasn’t a “just add water and stir” American conceit. A friend of mine said the following to me in an e-mail (bear in mind that he is an American convert as you read it):

I’d rather be called a Russian than an American any day.  It’s very clear that “American” bears a particular connotation for superficiality, materiality, selfishness, and irreligiousness (or, at the very least, improper religiosity), particularly among Orthodox from elsewhere.  It’s something that’s obvious, plain as day, and needn’t be defined when they use it.  The example I heard last night came from a young Serbian woman, who was describing the deathbed baptism of a lady with cancer, and the joy and release from pain that she experienced as soon as she communed, and, then, she died that night.  Baptism and Communion had been her goal for years, but, many things stood in her way, not least her fear of doing it alone.  She moved to America from Bulgaria, and married, but, her husband was atheist. Though he didn’t forbid her, she didn’t want to enter the Church alone, “and her friends were all Americans”, said the Serbian girl telling the story, without further explanation.  But, everyone knew exactly what she meant:  that Americans don’t care about such things, and will ridicule those who do.  Such an offhanded usage is really telling.  Our culture is screwed.

Hey, guys, we don’t hate you… but, we are not going to let you bring the Americanist contagion into the Church. Take the time to truly know what we are. It takes at least five years for the rhythms of the prayers and liturgy to actually live in you. Be silent until that happens. Unfortunately, if you go off half-cocked, you’ll regress. If you are in a Greek parish, learn Greek… if you are in a Russian parish, learn Russian… it shall open up for you truly Orthodox vistas unavailable to the English-speaking.

We of the Orthodox nationalities aren’t perfect… our clergy are not sinless… trust me, there was a revolution in Russia for good reason! None of the Orthodox countries are inherently “holy”. But… there is manifest holiness to be found, much more so than in America because it is rooted in a long Orthodox history. In short, we’ve made our errors… tons of them! If you listen to us, you might avoid them.

Nassau Meat Market

The Nassau Meat Market in Greenpoint in Brooklyn… the home of great folks and great kielbasa!

So, sit down to a Metaxas in Astoria, or, to a raki in Chicago, or to kielbasa and beer in Mayfield. Ain’t it grand? You got some extras with your religion… isn’t that a GOOD thing?

So… who stole the keeshka? Don’t worry… Yashu (or Jaszu or Jašu (it means “Joey”, by the way)) brought it back! It’s where it belongs. There’s enough for all of us…

A cheer to the lot of you, the weekend is upon us.

img_0001Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Saturday 3 October 2009

Albany NY


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