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.
As a reprieve from the week’s dour take on education, please allow me to wish those on the old calendar a joyous liturgical new year! To celebrate the day and to keep with the academic theme of the week, I would like to present the Orthodox Christian School Association. Its directory of schools is the most comprehensive one that I have seen, though I do not know if all the linked school have affiliated with the organization.
As one would expect, there are fewer Orthodox institutions of higher education. To my knowledge, there are only two colleges—Hellenic College in Brookline, Massachusetts and the newly formed Saint Katherine College in Encinitas, California. Rose Hill College existed in Aiken, South Carolina for a few years. Its dean, James Cutsinger, offers an account of the college’s short life: “The Once and Future College: Rose Hill in Theory and Practice.” I also had friends who were involved in organizing an Orthodox great books college in northern Virginia, though, like Rose Hill, a shortage of funds led to the project’s demise.
I wonder why there are so few Orthodox schools in the country. Were Orthodox immigrants content to send their children to the already established Roman Catholic schools? Were they too poor in the beginning to create an Orthodox school system? Of course, the masses of Roman Catholic immigrants did not have riches, either, but they did have legions of consecrated religious men and women who were willing to work as voluntary slaves in the Roman institutions of the country. The Orthodox Church does not have religious orders, and the lack of Orthodox charities not connected with a parish is the result. Only since the cultural revolution of the 1960’s have Orthodox Christians decided to build their own schools. I expect that this process will continue, though the small, dispersed population of Orthodox Christians in America presents obvious obstacles to school formation. May their efforts be strengthened!