Voices from Russia

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Spirit of Vladyki Nikodim and the Church of the 21st Century

Left to right: Bishop Germogen Golubev (1896-1978), Metropolitan Pimen Izvekov (1910-90) (later, Patriarch in 1971), Patriarch Aleksei Simansky (1877-1970), Metropolitan Nikodim Rotov (1929-78), Archbishop Leonid Polyakov (1913-90), and Bishop Mefody Menzak (1914-74) at the reception hall of the patriarchal residence at the Troitsky Lavra in Zagorsk (now Sergeyev Posad) in 1965.


For me, I speak as someone who didn’t know Vladyki Metropolitan Nikodim personally, but as one who studied his works and received much inspiration from them. There’s no doubt that he left a number of lessons for the new generation of archpastors, pastors, and laity of our Church, lessons that are very important for the building up of church life in the 21st century.

The first lesson was his ability to fearlessly, honestly, and in all circumstances do God’s work, defending the right of Christians to live and act according to their faith. He entered into difficult dialogues with Soviet officials, and, at the same time, he skilfully brought the weight of the Western media and world public opinion to protect the rights and interests of believers. Vladyki Nikodim’s actions clearly show that the Church must never be isolated in its dialogue with the state. It should always respond to the will of the people and state the truth boldly and honesty, which impresses even sceptical foreign journalists and public figures. There have always been powerful critics of the Church in the world. Yesterday, they were the officials of an officially-atheist state; today, we see “new atheists” amongst intellectuals, the economic and media élite, nationalist circles in some countries, and officials that are leftovers from Soviet times. We can never engage in dialogue with such people fruitfully and we can never defend our beliefs if we do not seek the support of the people, unless we make clear what we mean using domestic and foreign media. Our Church doesn’t wish to be an arm of the state and it shouldn’t be such. However, a Church of the people becomes their conscience and spiritual leader; it means that we can fulfil our mission, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6. 12). The words of Metropolitan Nikodim shall inspire our path to victory, “A sincerely religious man… relates to the world of reality as a complex process in the great and continuing struggle between the forces of good and evil, a struggle in which he himself participates, because he hears the sound of God’s call in his heart, a call to reject evil and become a strong advocate of Divine justice and goodness” (Человек Церкви (Chelovek Tserkvi: A Man of the Church) Moscow, 1998. p. 89).

The second lesson of Vladyki Nikodim was his desire for dialogue, coupled with fidelity to the truth of Orthodoxy. Today, many explain the need for dialogue with people of other faiths and beliefs on pragmatic grounds. We need to encourage each other… dialogue needs to respond to the common challenges of our time, build up a harmonious social life, extinguish conflict, and to solve the everyday problems of religious communities and individuals. We truly need to do this, especially in a society where people of different religions and different views coexist with one another (and whose company we can’t and won’t avoid, except for those who call people to hide in metaphorical caves). However, the primary impetus behind Christian dialogue must be completely different, and Vladyki Nikodim knew that. “Extravagant brotherhood” as a means to unify people was the dream of many Russian religious philosophers. This meant that they tried to share with those near and far the incomparable sense of collegiality (соборного) of the assembly that comes amongst Orthodox Christians during the Divine Liturgy. This should inspire us when we leave the church and be the goal of our communication with those who do not share our faith. Vladyki Nikodim wrote, “We seek unity and peace, inner peace in the hearts of mankind and peace in the outside world amongst all people and nations. We strive for unity, but, unity is not an external, human, or mechanical concept; we seek a deeper unity, the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, which comes to us through the Lord Jesus Christ, who is above all and through all and in all” (Человек Церкви (Chelovek Tserkvi: A Man of the Church) Moscow, 1998. p. 80).

Metropolitan Nikodim Rotov (1929-78) ordaining Yevgeni Zhdan (1942-2002) (later Archbishop of Nizhegorod and Arzamas) to the diaconate in 1976

Moreover, this apostolic openness is the best means of Orthodox witness. In his contacts with non-Orthodox and non-Christians, Metropolitan Nikodim always declared nothing but the truth of Christ. Today, with sorrow, we remember how quickly enthusiasm evaporated in the inter-Christian dialogue, a mission that occupied the late Metropolitan to the highest degree. In the 60’s, many believed, not without reason, that the unity of those who call themselves followers of Christ was achievable in the short term. Let’s not forget that many Western Christians were ready to return to the faith of the ancient undivided Church as preserved in Holy Orthodoxy. This caused Vladyki Nikodim to say, “The only way to reunite Christians of various denominations naturally in the unity of faith is to return to the dogmatic teachings of the ancient undivided Church in the era of the Seven Ecumenical Councils… As we know, very soon, another spirit arose in the Western world. It was a spirit of secularisation, of accommodation, of hidebound commitment to the ‘institutional’, and of pseudo-mysticism, which grew up between the 18th and 20th centuries” (Человек Церкви (Chelovek Tserkvi: A Man of the Church) Moscow, 1998. p. 99). However, I wholeheartedly believe that if we go on the path that Vladyki Nikodim trod… not using cold “diplomacy”, nor earthly concerns for “religious organisations” and their leaders, but, through the sincere testimony of the truth, we can gather this disparate lot into a single flock of Christ. Today, we hear the cries of those who are “spiritually thirsty” in the deserts of atheism and in the “post-Christian” milieu.

Finally, the last lesson that he taught us was that he created a school of pastoral ministry, which many venerable archpastors and young students in seminary embraced. Furthermore, their path in church service, which often emulated Vladyki Nikodim, confirms the wisdom and correctness of the educational system that he created. They gathered around a brilliant man, who at the same time, didn’t dismiss Christ, and didn’t put everything dependent on constant communication with him. Today, in our Church, we lack such schools. Some attempts to create them were frustrated and students dispersed after the death of a teacher or his retirement from teaching. Unfortunately, a state of division remains the norm, expressed in un-Churchly individualism or cults of personality. This, in fact, doesn’t unite us; rather, it divides us. Let’s hope that people will appear in our Church who’ll be able to create new schools of pastoral ministry and church service, and that spiteful and malicious people won’t place obstructions and interference in their way, as they did to Vladyki Nikodim.

Church life in the 21st century, as at any other time, requires perseverance and sobriety; it requires wisdom and energy. Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves (St Matthew 10. 16), the Lord Jesus teaches us. Now, during a period of revival, we need to pay particular attention to the podvigs of the archpastors and pastors of the period of persecution, a period in which the Church, although it underwent outward oppression, showed both God and man the extraordinary breadth and height of its soul. Let the legacy to the spirit of Metropolitan Nikodim be that he was one of the shining beacons of our struggle, cut short in the midst of the raging sea of life. Truly, we can say of him in the words of the Saviour, He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light (St John 5. 35).

3 September 2008

Fr Vsevolod Chaplin




The World through the Eyes of Orthodox Women

On 3-4 December, Moscow will host the First all-Russia Forum of Orthodox Women. Organisers expect more than a thousand participants at this event. It’s news in itself that the conference will bring together women from all over the Church; meanwhile, it has caused a great deal of fear amongst Orthodox, even amongst those invited to the forum. Can it not it lead to a further division of our already atomised society? Why divide women from men, and Orthodox from people of all other faiths and beliefs? Truly, our society is atomised to the limit, so, it is difficult to split it further; it has become a pageant of individualism. It splits even such simple and clear associations as trade unions, and political parties do not survive to register before the election. The reason frequently cited is, “We were unable to agree”. What’s the problem? Surely, it can’t be so difficult to come to an agreement?

In the public sphere, the principles of political correctness and “tolerance” are dominant. People accustomed to speaking their mind, now, try to offend no one so as not to demean or offend anyone. Perhaps, this helps to maintain our interethnic, inter-religious, and, if I may say so, inter-gender peace. However, sometimes, people are so passionate about these principles that it reaches absurdity. At a public event, there was a woman, a widow with two young children. She spoke about her life and argued that it would be good to increase maternal benefits. Then, a voice came out of the hall, “What about single fathers? They, too, have responsibilities! Are you against paying benefits to fathers, as well?” It would seem that there is an easy response to this remark. Invite a single father to the same event and give him a microphone. Let him tell about how he looks at his problems. Alas, it’s not so simple. It immediately squelches the woman, and she starts a confused babble on the subject, “Well, yes, fathers, men… They, too, have rights”. Everything she held is gone. Her opinion, her view, and her position… all that they asked her to speak about at the podium lies destroyed.

Where does the strange opinion come from that says that if we recognise the existence of Orthodox in Russia and their point of view on different issues, we thus denigrate Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and non-believers? How does speaking about the specific needs of women, inherent in their sex, harm any man, or, hurt radical feminists who believe that there should be no differences between men and women? Does calling Russians “Russian” thereby insult Jews, Tartars, Buryats, or Uzbeks? People can’t agree and work together not because they are different, but, because most of us give a false account of ourselves due to our following the principles of political correctness. It doesn’t allow us to speak in our own voice, to represent ourselves; we can’t speak with an “average man’s” point of view. As a result, we don’t hear the voices of Orthodox housewives, young Russian patriots, or the National Education Workers’ Union in public opinion; we hear an “average man’s” opinion, the voice “of Everyman”. It’s absurd and unnecessary, because it’s no one’s opinion, it really isn’t. No one knows what anyone else truly thinks, so, the problem of knowing what others truly mean remains. Therefore, no one can come to an agreement.

Woman being baptised by a Russian Orthodox priest in Sevastopol

It will be a good thing if the upcoming forum becomes a podium for Russian Orthodox women to express their views on a wide range of issues. Some fear that it would provoke non-Orthodox women, together with men of religious or non-religious views, to take to the streets shouting slogans of protest against violations of their rights. However, we should fear something different, that is, what if the work of the forum results not in an articulate and inspirational message, but, what if it does nothing but issue bootless slogans such as “Glory to Mothers”, “Woman… the Guardian of Love”, “Russia… the Home of the Most Holy Godbearer!” and so on? That is, we would say, “We bow in respect before the podvig of motherhood”, but, the mom with a large brood would find that she would still lack the help and support she needs. We’d say, “The main purpose of a woman’s life is her family!” However, shall we overlook the millions of women, single not by their own fault, yet again? It would be wonderful if the women at the forum managed to unite and to lay a foundation for subsequent real action, benefiting from the extensive practical experience of many of the participants.

I wonder why an Orthodox women’s forum has only assembled now, twenty years after the beginning of the religious revival in Russia, whilst activities with a similar format, the Christmas Readings and the World Russian People’s Council occurred regularly since the early 90s. Probably, because, so far, there have been two dominant stereotypes about the role and mission of women in the Church. One of them, the patriarchal, claimed that women in the Church should just remain silent and be deferential to their husbands. If one held this, it would be strange to provide a platform to express the point of view of Orthodox women. According to the other, the liberal-feminist, since, as women have the right to vote and a right to education, men and women are equal, and, therefore, it makes no sense to speak of a specific women’s viewpoint. In general, this view holds that any separation by gender is discrimination.

Orthodox anthropology believes that men and women share the same human nature, but, are physically and spiritually, and, therefore, existentially different. At the same time, it does not imply subordination of one sex to the other. However, in order to understand this, you don’t need to be either a theologian or a psychologist, but, rather, to simply have common sense. However, no matter how much talk there is about gender equity and the crushing victory of feminism, yet, in reality, a modern woman has to choose one of two things. She must either “become a man”, abandoning her feminine psychology, and, often, even her physicality, or, become a marginal figure who doesn’t go beyond the kitchen threshold. Well, at best, the latter is a comfortable ladies’ club. One hopes that the upcoming forum will avoid such a trap and that it will not turn into a mob screaming, “I am myself!” Moreover, the event can express the worldview of millions of Orthodox women. Certainly, that is worth listening to.

1 December 2009

Olga Gumanova



Declaration of the First all-Russia Forum of Orthodox Women

In Moscow, on 3-4 December 2009, those participating in the First all-Russia Forum of Orthodox Women indicated their desire to join forces in church work and in work for the spiritual and moral regeneration of society.

The revelation of the Incarnation came to the world through the Most Holy Godbearer Mary, whom Christian tradition venerates above all the saints as “more honourable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim”. Unlike the apostles, Christ did not call the holy myrrh-bearing women, but, they followed him to save and serve his community. These women were the first to know the joy of hearing about the Resurrection of Christ and brought it to the apostles. They were the first in a series of female Martyrs, dedicated and loyal to the Church. [We see in Church history that] zealous women who were the equals of the Apostles brought Christianity to many different lands. Suffice it to say the Grand Princess St Olga was the first Russian ruler to adopt Christianity, and St Nina baptised Georgia.

Women have a special calling to service to God and mankind, due to their ability to produce new life, to be mothers and creators of families. In every age, Christian tradition has treated the role of women with special respect. However, today, in a rapidly changing world, the presence of women in society has increased significantly. They not only continue to be mothers and homemakers, but, also, play an increasingly prominent role in society. “The Church believes that woman should not merely imitate man and be in competition with him, but, she should develop all the gifts that the Lord has given her, including those peculiar only to her nature… The desire to eliminate or minimise natural differences in the social sphere is against the mind of the Church”, stated the Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted by the Jubilee Archpastoral Council in 2000.

The participants of First all-Russia Forum of Orthodox Women believe that there is a need to bring together Orthodox women to address the problems that shall shape the future of Russian society. After discussing the questions related to morality in the media, the curriculum in our secondary schools, charitable work, overcoming the social ills of society, and the crises in the family, forum participants considered it necessary to:

  1. Promote the development and implementation of government social programs to support the family and motherhood, increase family subsidies with periodic indexing [to account for the rate of inflation], the right to good-quality health care, ensure that families have access to an adequate number of nurseries and schools, and strengthen compliance of the labour legislation concerning leave for female workers for childcare.
  2. Facilitate the establishment of mechanisms of influence to allow Orthodox women in representative bodies at various levels to ensure that political decisions are not contrary to Gospel values, but, rather, are in congruence with them.
  3. Protect the rights of parents to self-determination in matters of religious education of children in schools: the right to choose public or independent schools, the right to freely choose to study religion, the right to take a holiday on major religious feastdays, the right not to be taught by educators who advocate views incompatible with Orthodox views of religion and belief, and the right to protest if anyone tries to treat with a child contrary to Christian beliefs.
  4. It is necessary to protect families from excessive state interference in their selection of general worldview, their preference of what kind of lifestyle to adopt, and their choice in how they decide to raise their children. This is subject to the usual concerns about the quality of parental care and the health and safety of the children.
  5. To support projects that are opposed to the stereotypes of the consumer society broadcast to our children and youth through the media.
  6. Oppose vices prevalent and causing harm amongst our young people… alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling, debauchery, pornography, and the trafficking in women and children.
  7. Develop recommendations for the creation and development of modern social and informational resources designed to inculcate the spiritual and moral values of Orthodoxy amongst children and youth.
  8. Place before the relevant government authorities and the Church hierarchy, with the support of the existing Orthodox media, all problems affecting critical social issues, highlighting the problems of the spiritual life of the family.
  9. Support new laws to affirm spiritual and moral values amongst young people and to protect children from information that is harmful to their health and development.
  10. Place before the relevant state and public organisations the problem of discrimination against housewives, which exists in fact in Russia, where housewives are the most socially disadvantaged group.
  11. Promote the holidays of the patron saints of the family and marriage: Ss Peter and Fevronia, St Iuliana Lazerevskaya, the Holy Royal Martyrs, St Yelizaveta Fyodrovna the New Martyr, and others.

To implement these and related tasks, it is important to regularly conduct such forums, as well as regional meetings, as is already routinely practised. For the preparation of such forums and the implementation of the provisions of this document, we invite all concerned to begin the process of forming a Union of Orthodox Women, with a significant number of specialised structures. A special planning group should develop the principles of the Union and its management system. The participants of this forum calls upon all Orthodox women with an appeal to maintain a shared vision, to give strong evidence of their faith in all areas of life, and to take an active Christian position.


4 December 2009



Video: Lyube. Не валяй дурака, Америка (You Dumb-asses Aren’t Going Anywhere, America!)

Filed under: music,patriotic,performing arts,rock,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

A rousing rock rendition done in folk style of an energetic anti-American song. “дурак” (durak) in Russian is an insulting usage for “stupid person”, thus I Englished it as “dumb-ass”.  Thanks to Sasha Ressetar for the link to this.

Editor’s Postscript:

I had an interesting exchange of e-mails with several other acquaintances who have facility in Russian. There are four of us… four different titles in English… and each of us has a somewhat different “take” on the song. Translation is an art form… for myself, I am of the “idiomatic” school, that is, I go for meaning, not word-for-word congruence. That deserves a post of its own… and it’s going to get it. Kudos to George from Toronto for kick-starting this creaky old mind of mine. Why do other folks get all the good ideas? The only thing that I do is flesh them out… damn!


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