16 December 2010


Choir concert ticket: "Sing, Slavic Soul!"

Last Sunday, Judy and I rode the subway a couple of times in central Moscow. On our way to Gorky Park metro station, I felt such tension in the subway car that I suggested we get off and wait for the next train. One thing that struck me was that non-ethnic-Russians were clustered together as if for safety. The second train we got on was not much better--there were two guys, for example, wearing full-face ski masks, with only their eyes showing, in a warm car. At one station, we saw a large crowd of football fans singing, but that's not unheard of--we thought little of it and eventually, after the Sunday meeting with Moscow Friends, got back to our starting point without incident.

Only after getting home did we hear about the events of the day before on Manezh Square, whose ripple effects we'd apparently been feeling. Yesterday, as rumors spread of a planned reaction from young people from the Caucasus, the police moved in force to clamp down on the area around Kiev Station, detaining from 800 to 1000 people (mostly ethnic Russians), and restricting movement into the subways and shopping centers. One daughter of an acquaintance of ours couldn't get home from her job there until about 2 a.m.

This evening, I found this sticker (right) pasted on the inside of our building's locked front door: "Whatever team you're a fan of, remember that before anything else you're a RUSSIAN." The link at the bottom goes to this nationalist Web site (English page). The site's commentaries on the recent events in Moscow don't blame the Caucasus people directly and are not full of racist invective; instead they blame the authorities for corruptly freeing the attackers who killed the Spartak fan Yegor Sviridov and in general for creating a situation in which, as they charge, ethnic minorities have more rights than ethnic Russians.

Another commentary on the site defends the vast majority of football fans from the hooligan stereotype that they charge has become typical for the mass media.

With all this swirling around us, last night we went down to the Kristall Cultural Center at the corner of Soviet and Karl Marx streets and enjoyed a truly magnificent evening of music. The Festive Patriarchal Men's Choir of St. Daniel's Monastery (Праздничный патриарший мужской хор Свято-Данилова монастыря) came to Elektrostal for the first time in its long history of touring the world. For about two hours we listened to extraordinary choral music--voices only. The first half was mainly spiritual songs, including music by such liturgical composers as Pavel Chesnokov, and spiritual poems in beautiful musical settings. Adjectives fail me--I was in heaven! Most of the second half of the evening consisted of popular folk songs performed with equal mastery, ending with "Silent Night" in three languages and two songs of blessing.

In one of today's classes, the first thing students wanted to know from us was how we felt about yesterday's concert. We openly shared our admiration and appreciation. Two of the students said more or less the following: "We had given up on Russia. We thought Russia had no future. Of course the physical country has a future--something will remain--but my hopes for the country were dim. The concert changed my mind. Where there is such beauty, there is strength." Many of the others agreed with these sentiments.

It didn't take long for students, unprompted, to make the connection between this beautiful strength and the events out on the streets of Moscow. "The trouble is," said one student (with apologies for my imperfect memory) "that those kids on the street don't know about this strength. They don't know what being Russian can really mean." We talked about why there were so few young people at the concert (other than students of our Institute). One young woman told how her friends thought she was crazy to go to something like this concert. It didn't fit their categories of what is and isn't interesting. Another thought that, because it was an Orthodox monastic choir, people worried that the audience would be in danger of being preached at. In fact, the young, engaging conductor of the choir gave a low-key, informative, and 100% delightful introduction to most of the pieces. He gave helpful spiritual background when it was appropriate, without a note of preachiness. He also introduced soloists--who were uniformly excellent, including possibly the best tenor we've ever heard. In short, the music itself carried the evening, spectacularly.

All of our students who'd been to the concert said that the first half was the better half. I confessed that I was torn--the whole evening had a unity that held me spellbound. As I told the students, when believers sing songs of praise, the Holy Spirit is present--and is a factor in people's experience of the music. But I said that this didn't mean the Spirit left when the second half began; the same believers were pouring their souls into that part of the evening, too.

Clearly, an evening of inspired music is not a sole and immediate cure for racism, ethnocentrism, and a defensive, aggressive nationalism. But it can be a wonderful start. Can the beauty and strength of Russia's cultural heritage become a part of the country's healing and resurgence, without being subverted by political agendas? I hope so! In the meantime, our students are talking with their skeptical friends about yesterday evening. I hope that the choir makes a return trip soon; let's see if we can encourage a broader cross-section of our city to attend.

A couple of sample songs from the Danilov Monastery choir:

Свете тихий (строчное)
Хвалите имя Господне (знам. в гарм. П.Чеснокова)

Letter from Santo Domingo to all churches, from the recent conference of Peace Churches.

International microfinance top nonprofit ranking, thanks to Martin E. Marty.

Afghanistan items: One blogger's critique. And another what-others-must-do editorial, "On borrowed time." I do not understand this type of editorial at all. "Mr. Obama and his advisers--military and civilian--clearly have to do more to change the thinking in Islamabad." How can Americans make this change: by convincing the Pakistanis that we know better than they what is best for them? (Is this actually likely? Should Pakistani intelligence "cut ties" with people we don't like even though they must certainly deal with those people after we go? Does American intelligence itself maintain ties only with certified Boy Scouts?) Or perhaps we mean that Pakistanis should change their thinking simply because we know what's better for us? How persuasive is that? What's really disheartening about this editorial is that it proposes no solutions or ways forward that would not have already been pursued by the principals involved.

Here's my simplistic attempt to balance some of the negative political reporting from Russia. (And by the way, Russia did not invent football hooliganism!)

A sample from an intriguingly-titled book, Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture.

Would a Bible that included Martin Luther's canonical hesitations be one you'd "never find in a Christian bookstore"?

Justice and mission: theme of the latest issue of Redcliffe College's online mission journal. (Download individual articles or the whole issue.) My favorite article so far: "Inspiring churches to act on climate justice." (PDF.)

Power Vertical: "Whistle blowing blogger."

Sheer sweet nostalgia:

1 comment:

'Mela said...

Love your post, Johan!
I am thankful for this glimpse...

I am listening to the first men's choral piece, it is absolutely beautiful...
God is Love, and Music is Love!