Merry Christmas and happy feast of Saint Stephen!
Russia—Beyond the Headlines had an interesting story a few weeks ago about a reindeer opportunist near Moscow: “Reindeer farm looks to expand beyond Santa season.” A former submarine sailor and his family, through a typically Russian twist of fate, ended up with a reindeer herd that has become his livelihood. The reindeer farmer Alexander Bondarchuk started a reindeer centered amusement experience named the Northern Fairy Tale, which blends agricultural, cultural, zoological, and fantasy tourism in a destination that I now want to visit. Who doesn’t want to ride in a reindeer-pulled sleigh? I found a YouTube video from a visitor:
It is worth pondering that such a delightful story would not have been possible before the fall of Communism. A free market allows Bondarchuk to channel his entrepreneurial creativity and energy to give himself and his family rewarding employment and thereby to enrich his community and to entertain his customers with a reindeer attraction. I am no neocon, but there is something to be said about giving men the space—the freedom—to actualize their talent. May the former bearers of Communism’s many horrors flourish in the new day.
Russia-InfoCentre also features a piece and video about the park: “Visiting a Reindeer Farm.”
A destination for the post-Yule blues, perhaps?
The Daily Mail published some lovely photographs of the Solovetsky Monastery earlier in the week: “The enchanted island of mist and snow: Life in the Russian monastery which belongs in a fairytale.” Glory be to God that the monastery is once again a place of prayer—though I am sure that it remained so even under the Soviets. Fr. Pavel Florensky was one of Solovki prison’s many inmates.
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.
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.
Last month, I internetically stumbled upon The Moscow Times’ photostream, which features about one hundred pictures. They bring back memories.
Speaking of the Russkies, I decided over the weekend to learn more about past and present Russian governmental structures. I still cannot understand the Soviet system; it was ridiculously messy. Such was appropriate for scam politics in a state where there was no rule of law. The new constitutional order seems to follow the American regime somewhat, with a bicameral federal legislature, the Federal Assembly, consisting of the State Duma as the lower house and the Federation Council as the upper house. As far as I can tell, the members of the Duma are not elected to represent a particular district. Rather, the people vote for parties in a national election, and each party’s representation in the Duma depends on the proportion of votes that each party receives. The parties themselves choose which party members represent the party in the Duma. The Duma must start all legislation, which is like our House of Representatives insofar as all tax bills must begin in the House.
There are many shortcomings to the American system, but I find it superior to the Russian regime in a number of ways. The peculiar election system for the Duma does not allow for a connection between the voters and their representatives; for there are no candidates. There is also no need for parties to campaign or to be as responsive to each local region, as the election is national. Less populous regions must garner less attention than they do in the American system, where geographical representation in the federal government is assured even outside the Senate. Moreover, the Duma system puts much power in the hands of the parties’ elites. Such a system contrasts much with the American system, where “all politics is local.” Of course, there are many American critics of our provincial tendencies, but they are wrong. The quirkiness of the American system allows other factors such as personal acquaintance, character assessment, and local concerns to contend with and even to trump ideology, and I think that such makes for a healthier political regime, especially as democratic peoples are endemically susceptible to perverse ideological fevers.
The Federation Council is like our Senate in that each Russian federal subject sends two members to it. A federal subject is like an American State, though it can be a number of various entities with different degrees of autonomy. In this, the federal subject more closely resembles the localities in many States, where different types have different levels of power (a township as compared to a village or city in Ohio, for instance). Yet, each federal subject has an equal representation in the Federation Council. The Russian upper house also resembles the original (and better) American Senate in that its members are not elected by the voters but rather chosen by the federal subject’s government. The local legislature chooses one member, and the governor chooses the other. This seems like a good idea in that it gives power to local authorities who have an interest in keeping power decentralized, but Putin altered the balance when he pushed for the Russian President to be able to appoint governors. Since then, the president has chosen each governor. As each governor chooses one of his federal subject’s members in the Federation Council, half the council is indirectly subservient to the president. Clearly, such is a perversion of the Federation Council’s intended role, but it is an example of how Putin centralized political control during his presidency. He may have thought such necessary, though, to keep regions of non-Russian ethnicity from secession.
A significant difference between the Russian and American systems is that the Russian upper body cannot initiate any legislation. It may only affirm or veto the legislation of the Duma, but the Duma may override a veto with a two thirds vote. In this, the Russian system appears to resemble the British parliament after it emasculated the House of Lords. The upper house may only obstruct; it may not lead. I also read that a two thirds vote is needed to override a presidential veto, but I am not sure if that large majority is necessary in both houses or simply in the Duma.
I have a question for Russians or those knowledgeable in Russian. What is the difference between собор (sobor) and совет (soviet)? Both appear to mean meeting, council, or assembly. I know that an ecclesial council is a sobor and that it was a Земский собор—an assembly of all the land—that put the Romanovs in power after the Time of Troubles. Of course, we all know the use of soviet. Yet, is there a difference in meaning? The Federation Council is Совет Федерации (Sovet Federatsii), and the Federal Assembly appears to be a version of sobor, Федеральное Собрание (Federalnoye Sobraniye), though I am not sure.