Art and Faith

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Ilya Repin. A Religious Procession Amongst the Oak Trees. 1878


A Religious Procession Amongst the Oak Trees

Ilya Repin



This painting gives a perfect opportunity to say a word or two concerning the relationship of popular religion as compared to intellectual conceptions of the faith. To aid in this, I’d like to quote a paragraph from a work by Orlando Figes, Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2002 ISBN: 0-312-42195-8), from Chapter 5, In Search of the Russian Soul, p. 297:

The Russian Church is contained entirely in its liturgy, and to understand it there’s no point reading books: one has to go and see the Church at prayer. The Russian Orthodox service is an emotional experience. The entire spirit of the Russian people, and much of their best art and music, has been poured into the Church, and at times of national crisis, they’ve always turned to it for support and hope. The liturgy’s never become the preserve of scholars or the clergy, as happened in the medieval West. This is a people’s liturgy. There are no pews, no social hierarchies, in a Russian church. Worshippers are free to move around… as they do constantly to prostrate and cross themselves before the various icons… and this makes for an atmosphere not unlike a busy market square.

There one has it. The Church proceeds from the hearts of the faithful, it doesn’t depend on the speculations of professors and theologians. There are some groups in the diaspora that’ve wandered far from Orthodox verities by following the notional ideas of academic gurus rather than the tradition of the Church. Of course, the most obvious examples are Alexander Schmemann in the OCA and Peter Gillquist in AOCANA, but, one must understand that such people as Gleb Podmoshensky and Panteleimon of Holy Transfiguration Monastery are cut of the same cloth. That is, they substituted their intellectual speculations for the lived wisdom of the Church. I wish you to know that I consider the right-wing version of such to be as dangerous and soul-corrosive as the left-wing sort. BOTH depart from the Royal Path taught by the Church; BOTH tend towards Protestantism. Do NOT be fooled by the externals of the rightists, they are MORE Protestant than the leftists. Yes, the theological innovationism and foolish tinkering with the liturgy of the leftists is obvious and blasphemous. However, it’s done openly, and, as such, can be observed, taken measure of, and countered. The right-wing obsession with “correctness” obscures the fact that they are putting themselves up as judges over the Church, just as the leftists do. As they’re less obvious, they’re MORE dangerous.

The Church in America has been wandering in the wilderness since the formation of the OCA in 1970. It wasn’t a body founded in the hearts of the people; it was an intellectual construct dreamed up by Alexander Schmemann, and supported enthusiastically only by a small coterie of intellectuals at SVS and grasping apparatchiki at Syosset. If you were to ask most faithful of traditional Orthodox background, they’d wish (the overwhelming majority, that is) a return to the practises of the mother church. Only a small group of intellectuals and converts oppose this (in all fairness, not all converts are part of the group mentioned, only a minority), and they’re as anti-Russian as they’re anti-Orthodox. Everything’s to be sacrificed to their opium dream of “autocephaly”. The Synod of Bishops of the OCA didn’t discipline a bishop for ordaining a registered sexual offender. I believe that they didn’t do so because the dissonances that would result would shake the OCA to pieces and that the healthy portion would go to Moscow and the pro-autocephaly convert/intellectual fringe to AOCANA. The OCA doesn’t trust its people, yet, the people are the basis of the Church, as Professor Figes correctly pointed out. Therefore, since the OCA doesn’t proceed from the people, as everything in Orthodoxy ought, it can be deduced from the evidence proffered that it’s become a Western Protestant (with tinges of Roman triumphalism, nonetheless!) body with an Orthodox ritus because of the intellectual distortions of Schmemann et al. I believe that more and more people are coming to this realisation, and that the days of the OCA are numbered.

I don’t know what’s going to replace the OCA. However, it can’t persist in its current form, and the present structure is unstable and liable to collapse at any moment. Anyone who believes anything coming out of SVS and Syosset is a fool, and I say such openly. A double fool would be one who listens to the recent blather of Paul Meyendorff concerning the 1917 Moscow Sobor. Get real, Mr Meyendorff! That sobor was superseded by the 2000 Jubilee Sobor of the MP, which was able to complete its work, and it issued forth a complete vision of the Church for the 21st century… one that is totally at odds with the Protestant notions of Mr Meyendorff! The 1917 Sobor is of antiquarian interest only. It has NO relevance to us today. It NEVER completed its work! So, if you hear talk of this sobor from certain circles, ignore it. What should you do? Go to the liturgy. Receive Holy Communion. Pray. Do good deeds. Follow the example of the saints. As St Hilarion Troitsky the New Martyr said, bez tserkva, nest spaseniya (without the Church, there’s no slavation). Of course, he was just quoting the wisdom of the Church. As I’m always saying, look at the good trees, look at the bad trees… you know what to do!


Ilya Repin. Burlaki (The Volga Bargehaulers). 1873

Burlaki (The Volga Bargehaulers)

Ilya Repin



Burlaki is probably the most famous work by Repin, and it is probably the most famous Russian painting in the West. I fear that it is well-known in the West because it confirms many of the misconceptions and distortions concerning Russia common amongst Westerners. Russia wasn’t a totalitarian state. It angers me (and other Russians, as well) to know that the only exposure to our visual culture is this work (technically brilliant as it is, and justly famous). Our culture and civilisation are more humane and beautiful than this. Go figure…


Ilya Repin. A Portrait of Graf Pyotr Stolypin. 1910

Filed under: early modern,fine art,human study,portrait,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

ilya-repin-portrait-of-graf-pyotr-stolypin-1910.jpgA Portrait of Graf Pyotr Stolypin (Ilya Repin, 1910)

Graf (Count) Pyotr Stolypin (1862-1911) was one of the greatest figures in Russian history. He was prime minister of Russia from 1906 to 1911, and he combined a firm hand against Red terrorists with encouragement of prosperous peasant smallholders and the extension of the zemstvo  (local governing bodies) system throughout Russia. He was assassinated in 1911 by a man who had ties to both the Reds and the Okhrana. Because of this, many believe that Graf Stolypin was murdered by reactionaries who resented his emphasis on local government and peasant prosperity. The fact that his murderer was hanged within a fortnight with no proper trial or formal investigation lends credence to this theory. I believe that it may be true. This is certain, though… Germany feared him as the man who could build Russia into the strongest state in Europe.

This portrait by Repin certainly depicts the strength of will and determination of Graf Stolypin. Many Russians had faith in his ability to transform the country without violence, and his death was sincerely mourned by all except Reds and reactionaries. President Putin is very close in character to Graf Stolypin, and he has had the opportunity to transform Russia peacefully, a chance that Graf Pyotr was not given.

Bogdan Villevalde. They Fell into Captivity. 1885

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

They Fell into Captivity (Bogdan Villevalde, 1885)

Here is a scene from the First Great Patriotic War against Napoleon. Russia led the forces of the victorious coalition, and Tsar Aleksandr Pavlovich marched into Paris at the head of his army in 1814. He dictated an honourable and compassionate peace at Versailles that lasted until 1914 (there were minor conflicts before that of course, but, no general European war).

Who were riding at the head of the Russian forces? Why, the Cossacks, of course! They barged into French cafés, put their feet up, lit their pipes, pounded the table, and hollered bistry! (quickly!) for service. By the way, this is how the word bistro for a casual restaurant serving light meals entered the French language.

Oh, I forgot… the extremist Ukrainian nationalists tell us that the Cossacks were suppressed in 1795… then, why were the very real living-and-breathing Cossacks in the vanguard of the Russian forces marching to France? Hmm… time to listen to facts, people.

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