19 June 2014

Valentina Vasilyevskaya

The last time Judy and I attended Moscow Friends Meeting was twelve days ago. As usual, one of the first worshippers to show up that day was Valentina Vasilyevskaya. We knew we would not be at meeting for a long time, so we were glad to see Valya. Everything about her seemed completely normal--which made the news we received earlier this week completely shocking: she died last Friday.

We know very little about her biography; she gave us precious few clues in response to Judy's and my gentle probing. We did know that she was a poet and a translator, and that she had actively supported Moscow Friends' peace activities in the conflicts of the 1990's. But we mostly knew her from her vivid, unforgettable personality.

Week after week, she would stump into meeting looking (to my eyes) almost like a stereotypical bag lady, sitting in her usual seat across from us and placing her plastic shopping bags around her. She was usually silent all through worship, but occasionally she would recite just one or two lines of poetry that fit the ministry of the day.

After the meeting, during tea, she was not silent at all. Sometimes she brought a poem or short story to read to us. Usually, it was something she had written, such as a remarkable story about dreams that she read to us about a year ago. Another attender, Liliya, also often brings poetry, and our tea would suddenly become an amazing poetry forum.

She could quote long passages from other poets, both classical and modern. Her command of the Bible and of the scriptures of other religions was simply incredible. Her commentaries were often delivered with delicious humor. I remember her delightful lecture on the meaning of smiles in different cultures and countries.

She was also not silent about political matters, although she was adamant that the meeting itself should not get involved in partisan politics. When she thought her own government was making missteps, she didn't hesitate to say so, but she also challenged me very directly concerning the grants she said the USA government was making in Russia to support Orange Revolution plotters. I have vivid memories of Valya getting up from her chair and literally getting in my face with her penetrating questions. I can't say those challenges were fun, but I'd give anything to be able to come back to Moscow Meeting and have her challenge me again!

Eternal memory, Valya. I have this feeling that you're bringing some of your questions right into God's presence.

Russian-speaking readers can see a small sample of her writing, "Quaker verses," here.

On the TV tower overlooking Pécs, Hungary.
Photo by Tony Frei.
Many thanks to the 27 readers who've responded to last week's tenth anniversary survey. I'm particularly grateful to those who've written comments along with their multiple-choice responses. Probably next week I'll respond to some of those comments here, but for now I'll just say that "lines are still open"; feel free to add your thoughts.

After eight exhilarating and exhausting days in Hungary, we're in Vienna, Austria. Leaving Hungary marked the beginning of our sabbatical year. Next week I hope to write from Stuttgart, where I lived with my German grandparents as a young child while my parents were in graduate school in the USA. I've not seen Stuttgart since I returned there as a teenager, so I'm sure there are some surprises awaiting me.

A not-so-silly Silly Daddy.

"A military band on a Quaker university" provokes a lingering restlessness.

What is happening to our "American protectorate"? A blunt commentary from the reality-based Tom Engelhardt.

"A journalist's moment of truth in a Nairobi slum."

"No Illusions Left, I'm Leaving Russia."


Liz in the Mist said...

Do you know how people outside the y early meeting can get the board game?

Johan Maurer said...

Hello! I've passed along your question to the clerk of the relevant Northwest Yearly Meeting board. More soon, I hope.