Art and Faith

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Mikhail Scotti. Minin and Pozharsky. 1850

Minin and Pozharsky

Mikhail Scotti

1850

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This painting portrays the two leaders of the Russian national resistance to the Polish invasion of the early 17th century. Kuzma Minin (on the right) was a butcher of Novgorod (some sources say he was a blacksmith), whilst Dmitri Pozharsky (on the left) was a boyar. This happened in the context of the Smuta (“Troubles”, in English, the era is known as “The Time of Troubles“). The Rurikid dynasty died out, causing great instability in Russia. The Polish Rzeczpospolita (not only present-day Poland, but also Lithuania, Byelorussia, the Ukraine west of the Dnepr, and parts of western Russia near Smolensk) saw this as a chance to gain territory at Russia’s expense and to impose Catholicism in place of Orthodoxy. The “Counter-Reformation” in the Rzeczpospolita was particularly virulent (especially in the reign of Sigismund III); it destroyed the once-widespread religious tolerance in Poland. On 9 October 1596, the treacherous Metropolitan Kirill Terletsky signed the notorious “Union of Brest”. The unrest over this in Kiev was so fierce and vehement that the Uniate turncoat metropolitan had to flee to Vilna. This religious aggrandisement was part of a complicated series of wars and manoeuvres between the Polish and Russian states. There were Polish invasions in 1605 and 1607, but the main conflict erupted in 1609. Polish forces entered Russia and marched into Moscow in August 1610, placing Władysław, the son of King Sigismund, on the throne. However, they couldn’t take the St Sergei-Holy Trinity Lavra, which put up a heroic resistance from September 1609 to January 1611. The monks took an active role in the fighting, so the monastery didn’t fall to the Catholic invader. The Poles seized Patriarch Germogen; when he refused to embrace Catholicism, they starved him to death. At this time, the people called Minin and Pozharsky to lead the opolchenie, the host raised to drive the Poles out of Moscow and restore the throne to Orthodox hands. The Russian host besieged Moscow, whilst the Cossacks drove off Polish relief forces. On 1 November 1612, the Russian host forced the surrender of the Polish garrison in Moscow, after a long siege of over a year. On 21 February 1613, the Zemsky Sobor (Assembly of the Land) elected the 17-year-old Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov tsar at the Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma (it’s interesting to note that the last ruling Romanovs were murdered in the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg in 1918). The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia until its fall in the Revolution of 1917.

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The epic movie 1612 in five parts, with English subtitles… good stuff

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A new national holiday, the Day of National Unity, was first celebrated in Russia on 4 November 2005 to commemorate how all classes of society combined to defend faith and motherland. Actually, it was a revival of an old Tsarist holiday abolished by the Sovs. At the same time, an epic movie, 1612, on the theme of the war to defend Orthodoxy and Russia appeared in the cinemas. You can’t underestimate this episode, for it, along with the Battle of Kulikovo in the 14th century laid the foundations for the Russian national identity. Besides this, the courage of Minin and Pozharsky ensured that we’d have an Orthodox faith to practise. If it weren’t for the defeat of the Poles, we wouldn’t be Orthodox today. We’d be Uniates on the Galician model, at best. At worst, the Poles would’ve destroyed our ritual as well. You could see this in how they brutally imposed the Unia in all their territories. Look at the Galician Uniates today! Mostly, they can’t have married clergy; they must follow the Roman line in everything. The brave leadership of Minin and Pozharsky saved us from that. I must note that the Rzeczpospolita declined after it started to oppress its Orthodox inhabitants. In the 18th century, it was so weak that Austria, Prussia, and Russia partitioned its territory amongst themselves. Poland didn’t rise again until 1918, in a much shrunken form, centred on the Polish ethnographic territory. These men saved our faith, and we owe their memory an inestimable debt of gratitude. If they’d been pacifists, the papist Poles would’ve trampled our faith into the mud. The martyrdom of Patriarch St Germogen shows that abundantly (nevertheless, one should never be disagreeable or nasty to current Uniates. They aren’t responsible for the past, nor are they responsible for the kowtowing of their hierarchies to Rome). Be wary of all single-cause groups in the church, but be especially wary of those who parrot fashionable shibboleths (both rightwing and leftist) to curry favour with the heterodox. We deserve better.

BMD

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I Swear to Defeat the Enemy!

I Swear to Defeat the Enemy! (Soviet poster, period of the Second Great Patriotic War (World War II))

This poster illustrates not only the determination and resolve of the fighters of the Second Great Patriotic War, it points to the courage and perseverance of all soldiers at all times. Our soldiers today have the same fighting spirit; they are in no way inferior to their fathers. Sadly, our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have had their hands tied by nonsensical “rules of engagement” laid down by lawyers and politicians far from the zone of combat. To give a sorry example, a unit of SEALs was in Afghanistan on a covert mission deep in enemy territory. Some civilians chanced upon their camp. The usual military practise is harsh, but, unfortunately, necessary (it is one of the reasons why one does not go to war lightly). If such civilians are found, they must be killed without mercy. Otherwise, the mission is blown, and the risk of the unit being destroyed becomes exponentially higher. That is precisely what happened. The civilians were allowed to live, they went and informed the Islamist bandits of the position of the SEALs, and most of our brave men died for no good reason. That is why the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned into fiascos. Our men are forced to act as though they were in an American suburban neighbourhood, when they are actually deep in “Indian country” (to use the current military slang). I weep for our men, and especially for the unnecessary deaths that have resulted from such silly and misguided rules. My heart bleeds for all the families that have lost loved ones due to this insanity (for I must call it what it is). Vechnaya Pamyat for all those fallen in battle, but, I say so especially for those who died so that stateside politicians could polish their “reputations”. THAT is evil.

memorial-to-general-lev-mikhailovich-dovator-in-his-home-village-of-khotino-in-byelorussia.jpg

Memorial to Major General Lev Mikhailovich Dovator (1903-41) in his home village of Khotino in Byelorussia

Furthermore, I believe that those who lead our forces on the operational and tactical level on the battlefield are good and worthy men worthy of their fathers. I would recommend to all who are leaders (and not “managers”) to emulate the courage of General Dovator, one of the heroes of the Second Great Patriotic War. He did not sit in a rear-area bunker. He did not send others to do things that he refused to face himself. Rather, he led from the front. In August and September 1941, he led daring raids into the Fascist rear areas with his cavalry corps. He led from the saddle, he always took the same risks as his men, and he was loved and respected as a result. During the fighting around Moscow in December 1941, he was killed whilst he was on a personal reconnaissance of the front lines. I believe that we have leaders with the courage and charisma of General Dovator, but, they are hampered by the squeamishness of politicians and lawyers. Let the military run wars, for they are trained to do so. In any case, those not being shot at have no right to speak!

Parenthetically, General Dovator was of Jewish nationality. This should put paid to the ludicrous lie that Jews are by nature cowards. His troops were, in the main, Cossacks, and they would follow him to hell and back. Anti-Semitism in Russia was never as extensive as some in the West have proclaimed, it was strongest in the Western regions, in the lands of the Polish Partition. Indeed, the strongest anti-Semitism was found outside the borders of the old Empire in Galicia, a dirt-poor hillbilly region that was notorious for its ignorance and backwardness. In any case, in future, you are going to see works painted by artists of Jewish nationality (Isaak Levitan, the great nature painter, and Leonid Pasternak, one of the early impressionists (he was the father of Boris Pasternak, author of Doctor Zhivago)). They are a valuable part of the Russian artistic heritage.

Many nationalities made up the Empire, the Soviet Union, and the present Russian Federation. They all contributed to the legacy of Russia, and all bear equal honour. I might add that Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff were of Russo-German background, as is His Holiness Patriarch Aleksei (his family name is Rediger). This mixture of cultures led to a creative ferment that led to one of the great cultures of the world. Be wary of anyone who promotes one nationality above another, for the example of Russia shows that the opposite brings forth great fruit.

Marat Samsonov. Little Sister. no date (1960s?)

Little Sister

Marat Samsonov

undated (1960s?)

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This work is dedicated to all of the women serving in the forces. During the Second Great Patriotic War, many women served at the front. True, they were mainly not in the “combat arms” (although some did indeed serve as fighters, primarily as snipers, where women were found to have better aptitude for the task than men), but, they did serve in duties that put them into harm’s way, especially as combat medics and military police. The bravery shown by these women was inspiring, some won recognition as “Heroes of the Soviet Union”, and their performance should put to rest doubts about the ability of women to serve at the front (although most women don’t have the physical strength to serve in the direct combat arms).

For the Motherland!

unknown artist

2002

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Perhaps, one of the most famous all-female combat units (such did exist, in the aviation branch) was the 46th Guards Night Bomber Regiment under Major Yevdokiya Bershanskaya. Even the maintenance personnel were all women! When the unit was formed, Major Marina Raskova (one of the pioneer female aviators in Russia) said to the crowd of hopefuls, “Aren’t you frightened to go to the front? Don’t you know that these bad men on the other side will be shooting at you?” One of the women recruits shouted back, “Not if I shoot them first, Major Raskova!” The Germans dubbed this unit the “Night Witches”. They flew slow Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes on bombing missions that disrupted the German rear areas. Because the MAXIMUM speed of these craft was below the stall speed of most German fighters, they were difficult to shoot down. They were so effective that the Germans had to send special units to oppose them. It was the most highly decorated unit in the VVS (Voenny Vozdushny SIl, “Military Air Force”), and 23 of its members received the honour of being “Heroes of the Soviet Union”. Over 1,000 women served as combat aircrew in all units during the war. The most famous female fighter aces were Lieutenant Lydia Litvak (“the White Rose of Stalingrad”) (14 victories) and Lieutenant Yekaterina Budanova (12 victories), both of whom died in battle. Vechnaya Pamyat to the heroines Lydia and Yekaterina!

Captain Maria Smirnova (1920-2002), Hero of the Soviet Union, a hero-pilot of the “Night Witches”, she flew nearly 1,000 sorties against the Fascists…

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So, I extend my respect and appreciation to all women in the forces now. You have a glorious history, and you are writing a new chapter in those annals as we speak. Thank you for serving.

BMD

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