Art and Faith

Thursday, 29 May 2008

A New Head of Steam…

A Portrait of E G Mamontova Reading

Ilya Repin



Over the last few months, I seemed to run out of “inspiration” for new postings. I didn’t wish to post “empty wind”, nor did I desire to bore anyone with pointless verbiage. Well, I needed some fresh response. I realised that I’d let my reading slide. If there were no new challenges, of course, the well would run dry. Today, I started to read an exciting book on Russian cultural life by Solomon Volkov, The Magical Chorus (ISBN 978-1-4000-4272-2, 2008, $30 hardcover). Volkov’s quite controversial, you must take some of his assertions with a block of salt; I don’t recommend this book for an absolute beginner in the topic (a rank novice should start with Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes, a more balanced work).

However, for those of us with knowledge of the oeuvre and the dramatis personae, it’s a bracing read. Yes, he trots out the old warhorse claim that Rimsky-Korsakov was a flaming atheist. Not so. I wouldn’t call him a conventional believer, but to call him an atheist is going further than the attested facts allow. It often leads to, “Why is he saying THAT?” In short, it gets the creative juices FLOWING. The most interesting observation for us as Orthodox Christians is his short discussion of the émigré intellectual current known as Eurasianism. To put it in its most concise form, this school of thought believed that Russia had a special mission in the world because of its combination of both European and Asian elements. Some of its exponents were secularists, others, such as Georgi Florovsky and Prince Nikolai Troubetzkoy were Orthodox. This is especially important for those in the OCA as Aleksandr Schmemann claimed to be the intellectual protégé and continuer of the work of Florovsky in particular. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Schmemann spent his life distancing himself and his teaching from genuine sources of Russian Orthodoxy. Therefore, how could he be the disciple of Florovsky? I don’t recommend Florovsky to beginners; it’s academic theology, fully understandable only by one who has lived the Orthodox life in its fullness for some time. His work has nothing vital to salvation. There’s nothing wrong in it, just understand that he’s an intellectual talking about the faith, he isn’t an elder speaking from the heart. That being said, if one reads Florovsky and one also reads Schmemann (NOT recommended), the difference between the two becomes obvious with time.

Therefore, be wary when an SVS sort trots out George Florovsky (or G P Fedotov) as intellectual backstops to Schmemann’s fancies. I can assure you that these two very Orthodox scholars would’ve blanched at the Renovationism and American phyletism expounded by Schmemann at SVS. Do NOT argue with such sorts, for its counter-productive, but, know what they peddling is pure Hooey. I better keep reading. If I don’t, I’ll go dry again. May God Bless. Bog blagoslovit.


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