Art and Faith

Friday, 8 February 2008

Ivan Kulikov. An Old Ritualist Elder at Study. 1911

An Old Ritualist Elder at Study (Ivan Kulikov, 1911)

This makes a good contrast with A Portrait of my Father by Aleksandrov. Ivan Semyonovich Kulikov (1870-1945) was an almost-exact contemporary of Nikolai Bogadanov-Belsky, and shared his emphasis on the portrayal of peasant life (especially that of his native region of Murom in Vladimir Guberniya). In fact, next week, Mr Kulikov shall be my featured artist, as his work is such a varied depiction of peasant life.

Many Westerners are unaware of the Old Ritualists (staroobraztsy in Russian). In English, they are often called “Old Believers”. This is incorrect, as they only preserved old rituals, not ancient Orthodox beliefs. In fact, many lacked priests (the so-called bezpopovtsy, “priestless ones”) , and were, for all intents and purposes, Protestants with an Orthodox ritual.

This raises an important point for we Orthodox in America today. Many (not all) recent converts to the Faith are not Orthodox in spirit. They have the same relentless focus on the externals of church life as the Old Ritualists had. A Dutch nun recently remarked that it takes at least ten years for Orthodoxy to take true root in a Westerner’s soul. Therefore, most of the internet writing one sees on Orthodoxy is more grounded in Protestantism than in a churchly spirit. Many have been ordained far too early (especially ex-Anglican and Protestant clergy), or they have been encouraged to write when they have had nothing of substance to say. They are toddlers in soiled nappies attempting to lecture at the MDA!

Speaking of my own bent, I usually refuse to portray myself as a specialist on the Fathers or to put myself up as an expert on theology, for I am neither. I do know art, history, music, and lived Orthodoxy, so, I stick to that. In short, there is a basic humility in Orthodoxy missing in virtually all writing by converts in America today. In Russia, they have had much trouble with this in the context of the current revival there. Grounded clergy and laity intervene to save the Church from the juvenile wanderings of recent arrivals. This is called “young eldership”, and it is a DANGEROUS phenomenon.

Two Orthodox groups are particularly infected with it. The OCA is full of convert clergy jumped-up too quickly. Bishop Benjamin of the West is a prime example. He has refused to condemn the recent ordination to minor orders of a sexual offender by one of his colleagues, and he opposes an open investigation of the OCA scandal. I should note that Bishop Benjamin should have been guided by the actions of Vladyki Innokenty Vasiliev in Paris.

When the scandal around the schismatic Osborne arose, Vladyki Innokenty immediately held public meetings and had an open investigation (the report was issued some 100 days after the crisis broke). I say that Vladyki Innokenty was right, and Bishop Benjamin is wrong (utterly and completely). The scandal in England is now moot, and the few rebels (supported by the SVS faction in the OCA, by the way) have left the Church. The fact that Bishop Benjamin ostentatiously lives in a “homeless shelter” is just too false for words. He should show the obedience that St John Maksimovich gave his doctor!

However, the group most thoroughly infested with “young eldership” is the so-called Antiochian Archdiocese. The spirit behind virtually all writing emanating from this group is Anglican or Evangelical Protestant. The prime examples are Joseph Honeycutt, Frederica Matthewes-Green, and the entire Again lot. I agree completely and without reservation with the criticism of Professor Vigen Guroian that Ms Green is completely ungrounded, and I fear she is not alone. All good Orthodox Christians should avoid the writings of these people for I fear they are little but “Protestants with an ‘Eastern’ veneer”.

We have a choice. We may follow grounded Orthodox Christians such as Fr Vsevolod Chaplin, Deacon Andrei Kuraev, the recently-reposed Elder Ioann Krestiankin, Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, Mother Varvara of Pyukhtitsa, Professor Osipov of the MDA, and countless others in the solid Russian church. Or, we can follow the recent arrivals from Protestantism. I do not believe that the choice is hard…

Vladimir Aleksandrov. A Portrait of My Father. 2000

A Portrait of my Father

Vladimir Aleksandrov



Ever since I first saw this work, it’s been one of my favourite paintings. Mr Aleksandrov captures not only his father’s experience, but, also that of the entire Russian people. Look at the eyes… they are expressive, full of life, and have seen FAR too much for a normal lifetime. This man’s an ELDER, in all senses of the word.

The motherland never forgets…


Vladimir Aleksandrov. The Vetluga River. 2006

Filed under: contemporary,fine art,landscape/nature,rural scene,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

The Vetluga River (Vladimir Aleksandrov, 2006)

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