I saw this gem on FB:
In most western countries, we’re familiar with street-preachers, but yesterday, for the first time, I witnessed a Russian variation on this theme… a bus-preacher. I jumped on a bus to Belogorsk to celebrate International Women’s Day with members of the Crimean Tatar community there. International Women’s Day is MASSIVE throughout the former USSR. Anyway, in the minutes before the bus embarked, a Christian missionary got on the bus, and started delivering a spiel about salvation to the passengers. However, this guy wasn’t just your garden-variety street-preacher. His spiel wasn’t all just bluster and pious sentimentality. He actually knew his stuff. He referred to the writings of various Byzantine and Hellenised early Church Fathers, most particularly Gregory the Theologian. Most of the passengers on the bus emitted little or no response, but at the end of his spiel, something happened which surprised me… the passengers began to applaud.
To give some context to this, 57 percent of Russians identify as Orthodox Christians, but most aren’t particularly devout. Many are occasional, but not regular church-goers. Therefore, whilst it’d be reasonable to suppose that a lot of people on the bus broadly shared this young gentleman’s worldview, they probably didn’t share his level of devotion. Having spent a few years here, and having developed some sense of what makes the people tick, I can speculate that, even if most of the passengers agreed with the young missionary’s worldview, that wasn’t the central reason why they applauded. Whether they agree or not, Russians just respect and admire forthrightness. Within reason, Russians would applaud ANY person who was willing to stick their neck out and profess to the world something which they sincerely believed… within reason, it wouldn’t matter so much what the propositional content of the person’s worldview was, as Russians just respect and admire sincerity and forthrightness.
That helps to explain why the general standard of conversation here is so good. Russians disdain banality, and there’s absolutely zero horizontal censorship. When I lived in Lexina, before the referendum and the Crimean reunification with Russia, I used to go out to the balcony to smoke. Between the apartment-blocks, there were benches where grandmothers used to sit, energetically discussing history and alienation and partisan resistance. The proximity of the apartment-blocks worked like an echo-chamber. Everybody within a radius of 200 metres could clearly hear this furious debate between these grandmothers. The air was thick with down ’n dirty political discourse. As I was smoking and listening to these grandmothers express their opinions to the whole neighbourhood, it made me chuckle to myself, thinking “Western liberals think that self-expression is suppressed here”. 🙂
Padraig Joseph McGrath
Here are some of the comments:
- Well observed! I’d add that Russians admire spirituality and depth, so any manifestation of it is very much greeted.
- I agree. Even in secular contexts, that respect for forthrightness is, in itself, an indicator of духовность.
- I’d really be concerned for the safety of any brave soul who decide to “censor” these babushkas or any other across Russia… such a person wouldn’t survive to see another day… they’d probably prefer to be dead! I’d never cross them!
- I had a Russian friend in the USA some years ago when I still lived in the USA, who’d always say that he never felt as free as when he travelled back to Russia. It wasn’t that he was censored or oppressed in the USA, but in Russia he could express himself forthrightly without any political correctness. Therefore, you’re correct.
- Knowing them Russkies, they were more than likely applauding his scholarship more than his forthrightness.
- That was certainly a part of it… Russians respect scholarship, bigtime.
What more need I add than to remark that this is “read n’ heed” in a major way?