Ria Novosti has an interesting article by Russia Profile on the Russian Orthodox Church and how it has weathered the two decades since the Soviet collapse: “Through Thick and Thin.” I found its section on enculturation fascinating:
Today observers usually describe what is happening with the church by using the term “revival,” meaning a return to what was lost or destroyed after the 1917 revolution. Some people think that the last 20 years saw natural and steady growth of the church’s influence on society and the state. Others believe that this was a time of mistakes and lost opportunities for full-scale revival. However, a close look at the events taking place in church life shows that they least of all resemble a recovery of what was lost.
In reality, every single sphere of religious life demonstrates new phenomena that did not exist in the early 20th century. Take new religious schools, such as academies, seminaries and other theological institutions—before the revolution, they primarily educated the offspring of the clerical order that no longer exists today. Religious schools are actively developing and avidly absorbing the achievements of European theology. They are even getting ahead of Russia’s secular schools in the Bologna Process—a gradual unification of academic standards for European bachelors’ and masters’ degrees.
A similar situation exists in icon painting. In the early 20th century, Viktor Vasnetsov’s mystical and romantic modernism was seen as the inaccessible acme of religious painting. Even well-educated contemporaries did not know or understand East Christian icons with their deeply-ingrained symbolism. What is happening now is not a revival of the Vasnetsov School, but a return to icon painting per se—in all of its different periods and styles. Church architecture has also been reborn in the past 20 years using new technology and catering to new tastes.
These are just the most striking examples of the trends seen everywhere in church life, showing that what is happening is not the mechanical recovery of something lost, but a process of enculturation—the creative entry of the church into the modern and post-modern culture of Russia and other CIS countries.
There are many good signs. It will take much time and much prayer to restore Christendom in Russia. Moreover, Holy Russia has always been an ideal rather than a historical reality. It is a model of Zion incarnate—the communal equivalent to the Theotokos’ exclamation, ἰδοὺ ἡ δούλη κυρίου γένοιτο μοι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμα σου / ecce ancilla Domini fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum—an icon of an obedient and faithful people that pious Russians try to emulate.