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Tuesday, December 4, A.D. 2012
Convent of the Entrance of the Theotokos

Happy feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple! Today’s readings include the Magnificat from Luke’s gospel:

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

The feast involves the child Mary’s dedication to the Temple—where the Holy of Holies made of stone is greeted by the Holy of Holies made of flesh. In this way, the feast complements well the entrance into monastic life by women who seek to follow the greatest icon of human obedience to God, the Theotokos herself. Let us, then, celebrate that religious vocation by looking at some simple joys and beauties in monastic life. Here are two such photographic meditations, beginning, appropriately enough, with pictures of the Convent of the Entrance of the Theotokos in Ivanovo by Alexander Brown and Anna Olshanskaya.

You may also read Mr. Brown’s page in rough English.

When my brother Aaron and I visited Russia, we used several guidebooks to get around. We soon discovered that Lonely Planet’s guide was geared toward us as young, budget-challenged adventurers, while Fodor’s book assumed that its readers were wealthy, respectable types on holiday—who moreover fit every W.A.S.P. stereotype. When we were visiting a monastery near Saint Petersburg, the Fodor’s guide siggested that we find the monastic bakery to enjoy some freshly baked “tasty bread.” We love bread—especially fresh “tasty bread.” Hence, we tracked down the monastic bakery. What we found, however, was the prosphora bakery that supplied the monastery with bread for the Eucharist. The bakery also sold small prosphora to visitors who wished to submit commemorative loaves for the liturgy. This was the “tasty bread”! Aaron and I were both horrified and humored. We had already developed an image of the Fodor folks as smug and cluelessly distant, and their “tasty bread” recommendation recapitulated everything we felt about Fodor’s at once.

So, when I sent the pictures of the women’s monasteries to my brother, he responded:

I like the one of the nun with a cellphone. I think she is reviewing the tasty bread on Yelp.

We shall laugh forever at Fodor’s expense.

There are many beautiful pictures on the linked pages, but I really enjoy the scenes with dogs and cats as well as the perched parakeet. There was a great multitude of cats at the monasteries. In particular, I remember well how the cats seemed to live in blessed harmony with the nuns at the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow.

And there are folks who opine that there are no beasts in heaven! Accordingly, you may wish to read Robert Flanagan’s short article, “Humans and Animals in the Kingdom.” The Lord is Pantokrator, not merely the transcendent chief psychologist.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, December 4, Anno Domini 2012
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