In yesterday’s post, “Charlton’s Mormon Advantage,” I mentioned an old National Geographic article about Russia from A.D. 1914, “Young Russia: The Land of Unlimited Possibilities.” I am thrilled to see that National Geographic has put its archives online, and I admire the mode of exposition that retains the structure and feel of a magazine. I encourage you to read it. The experience is bittersweet for us who know what was to follow. Indeed, it is difficult to believe that such a different world existed a mere ninety-nine years ago. As I looked at the pictures of the people, I wondered what happened to them. Those children—did they grow up to be enthusiastic Party members? Did they die during the wars? Were they sent to Siberia? Did they starve in the famine? Did they survive the seige?
How lamentable is history! What Alcibiades did and what he suffered! We are but fleeting specks off the rails on a long journey, and the train passes so quickly.
This site’s Russian Week sadly nears its end, but today’s linked article is fun. Ellen Barry writes about Nikolai V. Zlobin’s middlebrow guide for Russians, America — What a Life!, in “A Hunger for Tales of Life in the American Cul-de-Sac.” I especially enjoyed this passage:
He devotes many pages to privacy, a word that does not exist in the Russian language, or in the airless human mass that forms when Russians wait in line. Americans, he reports, prefer to converse at a distance of at least four feet.
“I suppose that in a typical Russian line, your average American would lose consciousness,” he writes. “Any touch to an American is taken as a violation of his personal space, so in the U.S., as a rule, people do not take each other by the elbow and do not tap each other on the shoulder if they want attention, they do not embrace each other like brothers.”
I find the Russians similar to the French in many respects. They are often cold, suspicious of, and even hostile toward strangers, but once they know you, you may as well be a member of their family. You enter into their circle of trust—and protection.
When I lived in Paris, I would go daily to one of the neighborhood boulangeries or pâtisseries for food—restaurants were far trop cher for me except on special occasions. I did not complain—a fresh baguette with some butter, cheese, or hazelnut spread from the local grocery made a fine meal. I did buy sandwiches au Jardin de Luxembourg frequently after class, but they were good deals. Anyway, I noticed that the service at these establishments fell well short of cordial for a few weeks. Then, as the workers saw that I was not just passing through, they started to treat me ever more hospitably. The bakery ladies would even save certain loaves for me when they knew that I would not make it in until evening. I spent the first summer in a girls’ dormitory in Montparnasse, which was co-ed during the summer months. Then, when the school year proper started, I moved to the Latin Quarter. So, I had to go through the same thawing process with the local shops. Just as in Montparnasse, after a few weeks, I became one of theirs.
Aaron and I experienced something similar in Moscow. The market by our hotel was staffed by a colorful Russian family. The daughter vacillated between icy and angry at the beginning of our stay in the capital. After a few weeks, though, my brother and I had become welcome guests in the store. We did not know the woman’s real name, but we decided to call her Ivana Petrovna. When one travels in a foreign country, he compiles certain moments, stock images, and a cast of characters in a mental collage whereby he remembers that land. “Ivana Petrovna” forms a part of Russia’s impression on me. Many blessings to her, whoever she is.
RIA Novosti has photographs of GUM decorated for the holidays.
GUM—Главный универсальный магазин, “main department store”—is the huge, stately shopping mall on Moscow’s Red Square. You may read about the mall’s history on its site. Here is a video of the seasonal swag:
The Soviets transferred the popular celebration of Christmas to their secular New Year’s Day according to the Gregorian calendar that the Communists imposed on the country. Russian cultural celebrations continue to revolve around the new year, while Christmas is mainly observed only religiously. Some folks find this satisfactory, as it shields the nativity feast from commercialism. I find it a sad reminder of the fragmentation that persists due to the wicked theomachists and their foul deeds. May their endeavors come to naught!
Defensive driving is extremely important in a land where vodka flows freely. Here are numerous harrowing clips of Russian road disasters.
Yes, I remember the fear that I felt on Russian highways very clearly.
Evidently, everyone shown in those clips lived. God takes care of idiots, drunkards, children, and Russia.
I shall continue today with the Slavocentrism of yesterday’s post. As I wrote in ”Женщина” and “Russian Jumper,” Russian dames are a force to behold. When they are young, they look dangerously beautiful. When they are old, they look unbelievably tough. It is no wonder they survived the Tatars, serfdom, and the Communists. Here is a short video of a seventy-two year old who trains with the Kenig Turknikman Association in Kaliningrad:
Not bad for an old lady.
Russian Turknikman Associations feature many impressive videos online; search “turnikman” for examples. I wonder if these Russian Turnikmen are related to the German Turners. In any case, the popularity of communal athleticism in Russia provides another sign that Russia is becoming a healthier, stronger society. Khrushchev may have been right in a way. They just need to get rid of horrendous European rap!
Expedition 33 to the International Space Station ends in a few weeks, though NASA’s astronaut and Roscosmos’ cosmonauts will remain in space for months as they transition into Expedition 34. NASA’s Flickr page offers photographs of Expedition 33, including the Russian Orthodox blessing of the latest crew and of the Soyuz rocket right before last month’s launch.
If you look at the photo gallery, the priest blesses the American Kevin Ford, as well.
Russian society is slowly becoming what we should expect of an industrialized Christian nation. I imagine that Britain was that sort of society before the nihilistic degradation of the twentieth century wrecked its culture. Do Englishmen still recite the first epistle of Saint Peter, “Fear God; honor the king”? At least, Christendom is patching itself back together in the East.
Happy Columbus Day to my fellow Americans! Our effeminate, overly apologetic (for others, of course, not for oneself) age abhors the day, but it is a celebration of our civilization’s conquest of the New World and of the new nations born therefrom.
Another famous traveler, though fictitious and more appealing to the liberal Zeitgeist, is the Doctor. Instead of the Santa Maria, he uses the TARDIS to get around. Instead of conquest, he forever gets entangled in local business on behalf of the locals (or for some of the locals, much to the chagrin of others). Like Columbus, though, he has been occasionally charged with genocide, monomania, and crimes against humanity. In short, the Doctor, like Columbus, is an interesting person.
To celebrate the day, I suggest that you set course for Brooklyn, where there is a Doctor Who themed bar—The Way Station. Girl Gone Geek offers a thorough review of the joint along with many pictures (see the full set below the post): “A TARDIS Lands in Brooklyn - The Way Station Bar Interview.” I love the wall homage to the fourth Doctor.
Adam and his bride arrived in Saint Petersburg today. That means that all three of us brothers now have been to Russia’s northern capital. Before the couple departed the States, I recommended that they visit some of the city’s lovely religious edifices that Aaron and I visited several years ago.
When one visits a European city, he should make sure to see the cathedral. Confusingly, several Russian churches are named cathedrals when they are not. The word sobor (собор) is often translated as cathedral, or the bishop’s church. There is a Russian word for cathedral—caphedral—from the same Greek word, but a sobor is really just an important church . . . sort of like the Roman Church’s use of the word basilica. Moreover, true Russian cathedrals appear to retain the name and status of a cathedral even when the bishop gets a new (and often bigger) temple. Instead of wrecking the old building and constructing upon it, the Russkies consecrate another temple, which thus proliferates those lovely domes and bell towers throughout Russia’s great cities. By contrast, the Western tradition differentiates such churches. The ever informing Wikipedia states:
Cathedral churches may have different degrees of dignity:
A parish church which was formerly a cathedral is known as a “proto-cathedral”.
A parish church temporarily serving as the cathedral or co-cathedral of a diocese is known as a “pro-cathedral”.
Two churches jointly serving cathedrals of a diocese are each known as “co-cathedrals”.
The church of a diocesan bishop is known as a “cathedral”.
A church to which other diocesan cathedral churches of a province are suffragan is a “metropolitan cathedral”.
A church under which are ranged metropolitical churches and their provinces is a “primatial cathedral”.
A church to which primatial, metropolitical, and cathedral churches alike owe allegiance is a “patriarchal cathedral”.
The removal of a bishop’s cathedra from a church deprives that church of its cathedral dignity, although often the name is retained in popular use, as for example former cathedrals acquired by the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (which lacks episcopal structure). Technically, such churches are proto-cathedrals.
I am ignorant as to whether there are corresponding Orthodox terms. That said, I counseled my brother and sister-in-law to see the following.
Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, in Saints Peter and Paul Fortress, has tombs of the imperial family after Peter the Great. It is the tallest Orthodox temple in the world due to the bell tower. It served as the city’s first cathedral until A.D. 1859.
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral is the city’s second cathedral, from A.D. 1859 until its confiscation by the Soviets. It is the largest church in the city, and its dome is one of the largest in the world. Visitors may ascend the dome for spectacular views of Saint Petersburg.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan is the current cathedral, modeled on Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Aaron and I were able to attend the divine liturgy there. I do not know how many temples served as Saint Petersburg’s cathedral during the Communist period. The Cathedral of Prince Vladimir functioned as the cathedral at the beginning of the Second World War.
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood / the Church of the Resurrection has a similarly colorful style as Saint Basil’s in Moscow. It was built on site of Alexander II’s assasination, and it serves as a memorial to him.
The Alexander Nevsky Lavra and its neighboring cemeteries are requisite stops for visitors. The lavra is one of the most important monasteries in the Russia, and the cemeteries contain the graves of Russia’s illustrious.
I also recommended that, if they had enough time, they see the Church of Saint Catherine, the main Roman Catholic church in town, the Trinity Sobor, Our Lady of Vladimir Sobor, the Chesma Church with its candy cane style, the Dormition Sobor, and the Smolny Sobor, which was a beautiful Russian baroque convent that now houses an educational and art complex. Aaron and I attended vespers at Our Lady of Vladimir, where Dostoevsky was a parishioner. The service followed Rachmaninov’s setting, which I find to be some of the most beautiful music ever composed.
I hope that the newlyweds enjoyed a long day—a long day, indeed, during the white nights of Petersburg.
While in Jerusalem, we decided to visit several Palestinian towns, including the obvious choice of Bethlehem. I read a lot about the security wall situation beforehand online, but the information did not seem consistent. I knew that we had to go to the Arab bus station by the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, but it turned out that there were at least three different lots for the Arab buses. However, the lines to Bethlehem were in the “main” bus lot near the streetcar station for the Damascus Gate. I also read that we should take bus 21 to Beit Jala or minibus 24 to Bethlehem. The shelters for the buses are only about twenty-five feet from each other. So, we decided that we would take whichever bus arrived first. I am glad that we took bus 21. Minibus 24 evidently takes you to the security checkpoint outside Bethlehem, but then you have to walk or to catch a taxi to town. Bus 21, however, takes you through some lovely mountainous countryside south of Jerusalem before arriving in Bethlehem not far from Manger Square. On the way, we were able to see the Herodion in the distance. The bus goes through the checkpoint, and you only have to deal with security (having soldiers board the bus for inspection) on the way back into “normal” Israel. Once we arrived in Bethlehem, Arab taxi drivers repeatedly told us that it was a long walk to Manger Square, but it was not. I wonder if they misrepresent on purpose or if they think that Americans are too weak to walk ten blocks. We enjoyed seeing the Christian neighborhoods in the lovely desert rain.
We spent the morning in the Church of the Nativity. While waiting in line to visit the chapel of the Nativity, we were behind a Russian pilgrimage group and in front of a German group. We were Poland, and the two groups were quietly positioning all the time for more Lebensraum. We held our own turf, though, thanks to my ample experience in dealing with foreign queue weasels. The German tour guide explained Orthodox liturgical practices to her fellow Teutons as they waited, while the Russians prayed by the icons in the southern chapel where the entrance to the crypt is located. Once we were below, the Russian group sang while their two priests led a moleben. I was grateful that my visit to the cave of the Lord’s birth had a traveling Russian choir for its soundtrack. After we venerated the cave, we visited the attached Roman Church of Saint Catherine as well as its crypt, which includes the cells and tombs of Jerome and his followers. This was a surprise for me. I knew that Jerome translated the scriptures in Palestine, but I did not know that he lived next to the Church of the Nativity.
After we left the Nativity complex, we went shopping at Blessings Olive Wood Factory on Milk Grotto Street next to the Milk Grotto. Along the street are dozens of vendors, but we passed them to get to the place that was recommended to me before I went to Israel. There, a hospitable Palestinian Christian family sells wood carvings that they make in the workshop next door. It was fascinating to see their skills in action as well as to peruse their beautiful merchadise. The olive wood carvings that peddlers sell in the Old City come from the craftsmen in Bethlehem, who sell their goods directly to you for much cheaper.
After souvenir and gift shopping, we visited the neighboring Milk Grotto, run by the Franciscans and also tended by Sacramentine Nuns. In addition to the grotto, there are numerous chapels as well as ruins from previous churches at the site.
By the time we finished visiting the Milk Grotto, it was past lunchtime. We headed back to Manger Square to eat at Afteem, where they sell what is considered the finest falafel in Israel. The atmosphere, service, and food were excellent. I recommend it to anyone who visits Bethlehem. It must pass for a local gem, too, as an Arab family was celebrating a birthday feast for a little girl when we were there. The family who runs it appears to be Palestinian Christian, as well—there were several icons inside the restaurant, which closes for business on Sunday.
After lunch at Afteem, we walked around town. I had originally wanted to visit the churches in the Shepherds’ Fields, but I did not want to haggle with the vulturous taxi drivers, and we did not feel like ambling in the countryside that afternoon in the rain. I visited the Judean desert, where drought is normal, and it rained every day! As we were walking on streets named King David, Paul VI, Carmel, Manger, and Star, several people asked why we were not in a taxi. One young shopkeeper even offered to drive us to the bus station himself. We returned by foot to the bus stop and took 21 back to Jerusalem. And, yes, I did hum the carol in my mind while visiting those not so dark streets.
Happy feast day to my friend Andrew and to all Andrews, Andreas, and their various forms on the new calendar!
If you plan to go to the Holy Land, you may find the Franciscans’ Christian Information Centre very helpful. The Franciscans have maintained the Latin presence in Palestine for centuries, but they offer useful pilgrimage information for all Christians. Perhaps it is due to my own family’s Franciscan heritage, but I find Francis’ disciples to be the most genial of Rome’s orders—the most Orthodox, dare I say. Franciscans manifest a sacramental, cosmological approach to the world, and they combine heart with their intellect. Their love, joy, and gratitude reminds me very much of Orthodoxy. One sometimes finds Orthodox criticism of Franciscan spirituality, wherein the polemicist contrasts Francis with Seraphim of Sarov. Yet, I think that the comparison is fitting, though not in a negative way. Both men typify the best of their traditions. May they pray for us and for Christian unity in truth and in charity.