Art and Faith

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Nikolai Sverchkov. Hunting with Borzois. 1889

Filed under: 19th century,fine art,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

Hunting with Borzois (Nikolai Sverchkov, 1889)

This is a bonus illustration to go with the post below. I dedicate this, with all my friendship and respect, to all you hunters out there. Good luck on the trail.

Nikolai Sverchkov. Hunting the Wolf. 1873

Filed under: 19th century,fine art,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00


Hunting the Wolf (Nikolai Sverchkov, 1873)

Sverchkov is the “horsey/hunting” artist par excellence in the Russian milieu. His oeuvre consists of hunting scenes, mounted portraits, troikas dashing through the snow, etc. In fact, I do not think there is any major painting of his that does not contain a horse in it somewhere.

The hunt was an interesting social institution in pre-revolutionary society. For the duration of the hunt, all usual social distinctions were dropped, and precedence was determined by one’s hunting abilities, not one’s social status. In short, a nobleman would defer to a peasant with superior tracking skills, for instance. The hunters would go on foot leading their horses whilst their borzois were on the scent of the prey. When the dogs noticed the prey, the hunters would mount and commence the chase. Let us say that the prey sighted was a wolf, as in the picture above. The dogs would run down the wolf, then, one of the riders would dismount, seat himself on the wolf’s back, and secure his mouth with a chain. Another of the hunters would dismount and dispatch the wolf with his dagger. Not a method for the faint of heart, I would say! Using firearms was “not done”, and considered quite unsporting for “small game”. Of course, guns were “allowed” in the bear hunt and in the hunting of birds. I do not think that there would be many who would face a bear with a dagger…

Of course, it is “hunting season” now, so, one can see that it is a venerable institution, and that our men have been chasing game, drinking “hard likker” in tin cups, playing cards, and enjoying themselves thoroughly without their womenfolk for quite some time. May it continue, for it is healthy and without guile. Fie on all “tree huggers” who oppose hunting. In any case, it gets the fellows out of our hair for the weekend…

Nikolai Dmitriyev-Orenburgsky. Grand Prince Nikolai Nikolaevich Enters Trnovo in 1877. 1885

Filed under: 19th century,fine art,historical,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

Grand Prince Nikolai Nikolaevich Enters Trnovo in 1877 (Nikolai Dmitriyev-Orenburgsky, 1885)

The above is a scene form the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-79. The combined Orthodox armies had advanced through the Balkans and were within striking distance of the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (which is called Tsargrad in Russian). Trnovo is in Bulgaria, and it was on the route of march of the liberating armies. The populace was overjoyed at having the rule of the Muslim oppressor overthrown. This painting is not a propagandistic exaggeration. The joy was genuine, heartfelt, and sincere. Many Westerners were (and are) unaware of the thorough brutality and bloodthirstiness of the Turks (if you are in doubt, ask any Greek or Armenian and you shall get the full story), so, they propped up the “sick man of Europe” (as the declining Ottoman Empire was known). Most of all, the West did not care if the Balkans groaned under the excesses and rapine of the bashi-bazouks. Russia was to be stopped at all costs, and if a few insignificant Balkan peasants fell under the Ottoman boot, well, so be it (sounds eerily like Kosovo… the more things change…).

The Orthodox forces had advanced through Bulgaria after their victories at Plevna and the Shipki Pass. There was pressure on the Ottoman eastern frontier from Russian forces as well. In short, Russia was in a position to impose a peace upon the Porte that would free their Orthodox compatriots from the Muslim yoke. England (“perfidious Albion”, to be sure, in this case) objected because it feared Russian control of the straits (that would give the Black Sea Fleet free access to the Mediterranean). Germany objected because it supported the pretensions of the Hapsburgs in the Balkans. The countries of the West, in essence, formed an anti-Russian alliance. Russia could not face the combined forces of the West alone, so some of the gains of the war were lost at the Conference of Berlin. That is, parts of the Balkans groaned under Muslim oppression until the First Balkan War of 1912. The shortsightedness of the West came back to haunt them in the First World War. Because the Turks controlled the straits, it was impossible for the Russian and Allied forces to come together.

This may have been one of the factors leading to the events of 1917. Because of these events, and the new Soviet government that arose as a result, one of the most shameful episodes in Russian history took place. In the aftermath of the First World War, there was conflict in Anatolia between the Greeks and the Turks. The Greek forces advanced beyond their lines of communication and were defeated at the Battle of Dumlupinar near Ankara. They retreated to the Greek-populated enclave in Ionia centred on Smyrna. Then, Lenin stabbed them in the back. He sent arms to the Turks, which enabled Mustafa Kemal to overrun the Smyrna enclave, and a great massacre of Christians resulted, which included Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Smyrna. The Greek population was killed or driven out.

I am proud to say that we Russians have always stood beside our Greek compatriots. Nevertheless, I am humbled that this one act of perfidy led to such a disaster. I doubt that President Putin would do such, and that is one reason that the West hates him, for he sees himself as the protector of the Orthodox pleroma, and rightly so. When President Putin visited the Holy Mountain in 2005, the fathers met him at the Great Lavra and gave him a rousing welcome. We may follow the fathers of Holy Mount Athos, or we can follow the pied pipers of Western journalism. I prefer the fathers of the Mount, what about you?

Vasili Nesterenko. An Elder from Mount Athos. 1998

Filed under: Christian,contemporary,fine art,Orthodox,religious,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

An Elder from Mount Athos

Vasili Nesterenko



If any place can be called the beating heart of Orthodoxy, it’s the Holy Mountain of Mount Athos. Not only do we Orthodox consider it such, so do our opponents. Many have criticised the staunch adherence of the Mount to tradition, especially the rule that only males may come on pilgrimage there. “How nasty! How mean-spirited! How bigoted!” Well, I say that such carping is misguided at best, and is itself guilty of what it accuses the good fathers of Athos of. In short, it is the usual rot without any foundation in fact. Mount Athos is known as “the garden of the Mother of God”. The last time I looked, the Most Holy Mother of God was quite female. Therefore, the argument that the fathers of the Holy Mount are anti-female falls of its own weight. There are stories that the fathers even forbid female animals on the Mount. Such tales are pure moonshine. If the fathers on the Mount milk goats and make cheese, then, the animals must be female (unless, of course, the fathers have discovered a discrete species where the males give milk (not likely))! The reason we women are forbidden on the Mount is quite simple, truly. The good fathers there wish no distractions from their monastic life. They wish to devote all their time to their obediences and prayer. The good fathers are wise and prudent in this. They don’t consider themselves “holy”, they know they’re great sinners, and they wish to have no occasion for sexual temptation (a good and wholesome precaution).

During the 1960s, many liberals were confidently predicting the imminent end of monasticism on the Mount. “Oh, look at how young men aren’t coming to the monasteries, and the ones who do are uneducated and ignorant”. Yes, for some time, it appeared as though the above was true. Then, in the 1990s, a new flowering of the monastic life burst forth on the Mount. Young men started coming in such numbers that the average age of the monks dropped sharply in just a decade. Not only that, many of the newcomers were university graduates, some with advanced degrees. This “new blood” strengthened, not weakened, the adherence to tradition on the Mount. Instead of dying, the Mount’s flourishing. There’s a reason why Renovationist elements in Orthodoxy vehemently hate the Mount and its fathers (although they shall never do so publicly, for fear of antagonising the faithful). The fathers on the Mount are not silent in the face of Renovationsim or syncretism. When Benedict XVI, the Pope of Rome, visited Bartholomew in Istanbul, the fathers issued a sharply worded protest. The fathers on the Mount refuse to use the bowdlerised Typikon issued by Istanbul in the 1920s. They continue to use the traditional Typikon of St Sabbas (as do the Russian churches, by the way). Even though they are under the Patriarchate of Constantinople (for now, at least), they continue to use the traditional Orthodox calendar in place of the Romanised calendar in use by the Phanar (and some other modernists). Dear Lord, it appears as though the fathers on the Mount oppose everything that the Renovationist element in the church propose as nostrums. Good for them! Sanity does prevail, after all. Simply observe, if you will. The Mount’s flourishing, and their critics are… well, not in a good way, to put it mildly.

Look at this picture, and you’ll see why I have optimism for the future of the Church. The fathers of the Mount are in the vanguard of those who treasure and keep the traditional lived faith of our fathers. We’re well served, indeed. As for their Renovationist detractors… just look at their aged faces and reflect on how they attacked the Athonite fathers for being “old and set in their ways”. God has a sense of humour…


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