As the trailer says, "Father Anatoly can see into the future, but what can he do about the past?" Anatoly's combination of holy fool-ishness (sometimes to the point of scandal), complete lack of awe for the authorities, and flashes of spiritual power, are tied to a wartime incident in which a German naval officer forces him to shoot his own skipper. Because of this coerced act, and his own cowardice, his spirit perhaps became very deep--or perhaps he simply went off the deep end. Piety, pathos, and comedy trade off in this redemption play, set in a land so cold and barren that any form of asceticism seems almost beside the point. But there's always something else you can give up, as Anatoly's sole disciple discovers.
Russian Orthodoxy quietly permeates this film--and that "quiet permeating" is what I really want to talk about. Much of Russia is permeated by Russian Orthodoxy, and I'm wrestling with ways of understanding and coming to terms with that reality. There are sectors of the Orthodox Church that would like to enforce an Orthodox monopoly on expressions of Christianity in Russia. (Ironically from my point of view, that sector is not opposed to sharing monopoly status with Judaism and Islam as historic faiths of Russia, but draws the line at other Christians.) But in a cultural sense, a near-monopoly already exists.
What could I possibly mean by the word "monopoly"? The closest analogy I can think of in the USA is the claim by some evangelicals and fundamentalists that the USA is a Christian nation, or that it was founded by Christians. Neither is true, but in any case it is a very deficient parallel, because most people who take that line are not linking it to one single official expression of Christianity and denouncing the rest. The pamphlet The Church on the State (Церковь о государстве), which I bought at the Vysotsky Monastery in Serpukhov, proclaims the identity of church and state in Russia and pronounces all Western Christians as apostate.
Many Orthodox people would not actually go that far. But this identification of nation and communion is an important reality, and I'm thinking about how unproductive it would be to either ignore it or try to "fix" it.
For one thing, I'm not sure that the categories we might use to compare the Russian experience with the American experience are actually comparable. It's not as if Russia has one Western-style denomination with little or no competition while the USA has a riot of choices. Russian's aren't giving their loyalty to a denomination; it is not the specific hierarchy and church bureaucracy that commands the loyalty of Russians, and, to risk a generalization, they've not given up their historic ambivalence about the virtues of the clergy. Nor do the majority of Russians look to the church for instruction in discipleship, or for any kind of regulation in personal behavior. (And that's not even dealing with the issue of rates of regular church attendance, which are 10% or less, last time I checked.) One Orthodox convert I know was a Russian Baptist but left that church for her present Orthodox affiliation because the Baptists minded each other's business, while the Orthodox downplay rules in favor of simply growing closer to God.
The American modular lifestyle and consumerist approach to spirituality also makes the categories hard to compare. For better or for worse, we Americans have made religion a private affair--except, of course, for presidential candidates. We privately choose the denomination and church that best suits our apparent needs now--we don't look to the larger community to tell us where to belong. That is sometimes true in Russia as well, but there's clearly just one default option for Christian Russians, or Russians interested in being Christian. Anything other than Orthodoxy is somehow strained, strange, and increasingly defensive.
The "default option" is everywhere--in the culture, in the monuments (the highway sign marking the beginning of the Noginsk district has an icon on it), and in the partial enmeshment of church and state. It is embedded in the concept of the collective, of group solidarity. With this symbolic monopoly, any minority Christian fellowship risks looking like a cult in comparison: gathering a few faithful off in one corner, while most of the rest of Russia partakes of the public feast of Orthodoxy--some choosing a four-course meal, others enjoying just the dessert, or perhaps even just the ever-present aroma.
So what is the utility of having a separate denominational fellowship at all? Actually, very little, if the purpose is to compete with the Russian Orthodoxy that actually exists. I don't see the purpose of Friends in Russia as setting up a competing structure or a competing culture. The fact is, when it comes to educational and discipleship resources, much of what the great Orthodox teachers offer is superior to the thin stuff we've sometimes come up with. (And at other times it is astoundingly close to what Friends teach!) Since we have the exact same Savior, we are simply brothers and sisters helping direct the attention of spiritually hungry people to that Savior. And no cultural monopoly, no matter how pervasive, can ever guarantee actual spiritual efficacy to every human being under its umbrella. And the more coercive its claims, the weaker its spiritual integrity.
If the ongoing work of discipling and encouraging a spiritually hungry person is best done within Orthodox fellowships, there is no loss in saying so. None whatever. If that ongoing work is best done within a Quaker context, then we should make that context warm and accessible, and without unnecessary and invidious comparisons with other choices open to the new believer.
I'm suggesting that it is perfectly possible to be a Quaker within an Orthodox culture, and I'd love to have the reflections of others. As I see it, my own Friendly ties are not a competing form of Christianity, they're a set of relationships that give me accountability for good stewardship of resources. Among those resources are inspiring testimonies of Quaker discipleship--how we specifically link faith and practice--but these are our legacy for the whole Church, not just for us.
While we're on the subject of Russia, Sean's Russia Blog has had several important recent posts: First, Sean Guillory on the false parallels between 1917 and 2007; and seventeen intellectuals comment on the disappearance of the November 7 holiday commemorating the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. I used the latter document today in my American studies class, as we considered the fact that both our countries experienced world-changing revolutions.
Lauren Winner reviews two books: Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body and Marks of His Wounds: Gender Politics and Bodily Resurrection.
Somewhat related: Church Marketing Sucks continues to encourage churches to learn from Dove's recent ad campaign. (Thanks to Monday Morning Insight.)
Friday PS: For Russian readers, here's a link to a much-discussed article by the late Georgi Chistyakov,"Откуда эта злоба?" ("Where does this anger come from?"), about the more militant anti-ecumenical attitudes within the Russian Orthodox Church leadership. Teaser:
Today, Orthodox religiousness includes--as an almost integral component--a struggle against Catholics and Protestants, exposing them as enemies of our faith and of Russia. It also includes a complete aversion to ecumenism and, more generally, to any openness in relation to other confessions. The word "ecumenism" begins to take on an abusive character, treated as the principal twentieth century heresy, and participation in this phenomenon is taken as evidence of complete non-Orthodoxy.This spirit is evident in the pronouncements of some hierarchs and seems to be behind some of the vandalism and church closings experienced among Protestants here, but is emphatically not part of the spirituality of most Orthodox Christians I know. Making patriotism and Orthodoxy identical is clearly a program being deliberately pursued by some and resisted by others, while millions simply bide their time.
PS#2: I found a translation.
Dessert!! The essence of Chicago distilled into 9-1/2 minutes of music for a German television audience. According to one of the commenters, this clip is from 1970 and the lineup is Walter Horton (harp), Willie Dixon (bass), Lafayette Leake (piano), Lee Jackson (guitar), Clifton James (drums, vocal). Third song (Willie Dixon) is cut off.