Saturday, July 7, 2012

Intersubjectivity's just another word for nothing left to lose

Don't worry, I'm still putting together more posts, but in the meantime:
Contrary to popular perception, the cause of the eclipse of myth as a way of knowing reality and hence as a path to wisdom is not the contrast between mythos and logos as epistemological instruments, the former allegedly naive and archaic and the latter critical and scientific. It is now widely recognized that the epistemology of empirical sciences, for all  its vaunted claims to objectivity and exactness, is deeply metaphorical. Even the rise of Greek philosophy—the discovery of logos—did not come about by leaving mythos behind. 
Indeed, Greek myths such as those in Hesiod’s Theogony already contain a striking degree of rationality, as is testified by the fact that among the gods there are personifications of concepts such as wisdom, right, lawfulness, justice, and peace. Whereas it is true that Heraclitus and Xenophanes explicitly attacked the accepted mythologies, Sophists such as Protagoras and Prodicus made use of myth as an explanatory tool. Plato himself regarded myth as an ally in the working out of a philosophy. For him, myth not only offers illuminating insights into realities that elude precise explanations but also is particularly appropriate for expressing changing features of the world of becoming. 
It is true that the distinct form of mythos is narrative and that of logos is discursive reasoning. However, this difference did not of itself lead to the depreciation of mythos as a way of knowing. Rather this was due primarily to the move from orality to literacy. With the rise of writing and literacy, orality through which myths and stories are transmitted declined and as the result of this decline the way of thinking in abstract terms and the tendency to viewing the world in mutually exclusive terms increased substantially. Not only the knower became separated from the known, but also the literate from the illiterate. With Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, this separation became vastly exacerbated... 
The invention of the printing press aided and abetted the rise of modernity. In return, modernity favored reading and writing over storytelling and listening; information and proofs over stories; texts, preferably portable (e.g., pocket edition and paperback) that can be read in private and controlled over the free and unpredictable to-and-fro of conversation; the written contract over an oral agreement. The printed text becomes the privileged path to knowledge and wisdom. 
The truth is now inscribed and located in the text, and because it is written down, the truth remains unchangeable and permanent. Indeed, unless recorded in texts, nothing is reliable, authoritative, and true, as is suggested by the expression “as it is written” (today, the equivalent expression is “as seen on TV”!). Furthermore, those who can read texts are “authorities” and have power over the illiterate. The latter are dependent on the former to know what the text says, or more precisely, what they say what the text says. 
In the process, the written text itself becomes the channel of truth and wisdom and the source of power and privilege. Coming to know the truth is made possible only though an objective and scientific interpretation of the text, especially classics and sacred scriptures. As a consequence, truth becomes a commodity at the disposal of the intellectual elite and the powerful class, and logos is an instrument for reasoned and discursive argument. 
By the same token, oral myth-making and storytelling are considered an inferior, imprecise, primitive guide to truth and wisdom. It is no accident that since the 19th-century myth has often been sharply distinguished from history which alone concerns with reality. Mythic consciousness is judged to represent an inferior and primitive stage of mental development incapable of expressing an abstract philosophical truth which should now be made accessible by means of demythologization. 
Even though logos as a path to knowledge and wisdom is in practice reserved for a few, it is thought by modernity to be universal, at least potentially, since everyone can be taught how to read and hence have access to texts. Furthermore, when wedded to technology, logos became principally instrumental reason, and out of this marriage was born the myth of progress. But as has been hinted, the child has become totally unruly and unpredictable, and its future, to judge from the havoc it has played on the human family in the 20th century, remains under threat.

Hard to keep from quoting the entire paper. Highly recommended.

Friday, July 6, 2012


First: love the questions and comments my last post got! Please keep 'em coming; just because I take forever to respond doesn't mean I've forgotten or don't care.

Now to business! Eve asked a great question: "Were there ever married holy fools?"

I started writing this hours ago and it's turned into a beast of an answer, so I'm going to break it up into a series of meandering posts. Because I'm doing this for my edification as well as yours, I'm letting myself go off on tangents (within reason)-- I'll try to include a tl;dr summary at the beginning of each post and a master one at the end when I've exhausted the ten different essays I'm going to write in the course of answering this question.

TL; DR Version of "The Mad Widow"
- St Xenia became a fool-for-Christ following her beloved husband's death, possibly in an attempt to "compensate" for the fact that he died suddenly with neither Confession nor Communion
- Xenia's adoption of her husband's name and clothing after his death can be read as a harbinger of her theosis; in taking on aspects of his life she empties herself and obliterates her ego (think about that next time you see a crowning at an Orthodox wedding!)
- that Xenia's love for her husband is a driving element of her narrative makes hers an unusual vita; most female vitae include virginity chosen at a young age, forced or abusive marriages, or say very little about the husband at all
- love of the poor and love of man-made beauty need not preclude one another (hiya Calvinists)
- Orthodox glorification isn't exactly the same as Catholic canonization but I won't tell you why til you're older

Essential Russian!
iurodstvo  - holy foolishness
klikushestvo  - a shrieking ailment indicating witchcraft/sorcery-induced demonic possession 

Transliteration note: in my opinion "Kseniya" makes much more sense than "Xenia" (from the Russian Ксения), but "Xenia" is the standard English transliteration, so out of respect for local tradition (read: *search optimization*) I'll stick with that one.

Upon seeing Eve's question, I thought immediately of the widow holy fools, like the famous St Xenia of Petersburg. St Xenia gave away all of her possessions and wandered the city as a beggar after her husband's death sometime in the mid-18th century. I actually had the great privilege of visiting the chapel built over her grave in Smolensky Cemetery in Petersburg in 2010.

Часовня Ксении Блаженной, Смоленское Кладбище, Санкт-Петербург
St Xenia's Chapel, Smolensky Cemetery, St Petersburg (source)
St Xenia's Chapel

Blessed Xenia is the patron saint of Petersburg and is especially beloved among women, who pray to her for intercession in family troubles. While being a wife or mother is never simple, in a country whose gender balance is still recovering from a century of warfare, where less than twenty years ago life was so difficult that male life expectancy plummeted to 56 (and even today is ten years below that of western European countries), where alcoholism kills millions every year, and children begin drinking heavily before high school, the cross women bear as the rock of family and society must be especially heavy. 

When I was there, the line to simply touch the walls of the small chapel was incredibly long-- women, young and old, all in head scarves, some with children, some with canes. I remember one woman posing a sickly young boy on crutches in front of the chapel for a photograph-- I can't know because I didn't ask her, but if she'd been documenting a pilgrimage for her parish I wouldn't have been surprised; many people travel from great distances to visit the shrine. Many light candles, some leave prayer notes-- I have been to few pilgrimage sites, and don't know whether that is common practice in Orthodoxy, or a particularity of supplication at St Xenia's Chapel (my instinct suggests the latter).

From the parish blog of the Righteous St John of Kronstadt Orthodox Church**:
"В советские времена в часовню нельзя было попасть – доступ поклонникам был закрыт, но люди все равно шли, прикладывались к ограждению с верой. С тех пор сохранилась традиция – поклонники обходят здание часовни с молитвой, прикладываются и целуют стены."
(Translation mine, proceed with caution.)
"In the Soviet era, it was forbidden to go into the shrine - access was closed to worshippers, but people went all the same, venerating at the fence [built by the Soviets to keep people from the chapel -TKB] in faith. Since then the tradition has been preserved - worshippers go around the chapel building to pray, venerate, and kiss the wall." 
Not every saint gets her own chapel, much less before she's been officially glorified (see below), but it is an honor perhaps especially worthy of St Xenia, who herself assisted with the construction of a church in the very cemetery in which she would later be buried. At night after the workmen had gone home, she would either bring large stones to the construction site, or carry the stones meant for the highest levels to the top of the scaffolding (depending on which vita you read). I like this story in particular because it illustrates that asceticism and appreciation of beauty need not contradict one another-- she herself went about in rags, ate little, and gave constantly of herself, but also dedicated her energy to building a new house of God in a city already full of them. Extremism in the pursuit of beauty is no vice!

On Orthodox Glorification
Entire essays could be written on this alone, but for now I'll say simply that overall the Orthodox approach to numbering the saints is more decentralized and less defined than that of the Catholics. I was shocked when I first found out that Xenia hadn't been glorified until 1988 (to be fair, in 1978 by ROCOR, but that, too, is quite late). Her figure has loomed large over Russian history and culture since not long after her death around 1800; pilgrimages to her grave site began in the 19th century, and attachment to her was so strong that not even Soviet Leningrad could erase her from the hearts and memories of the faithful. I haven't looked into her case specifically, but from what I've read about the institutional glorification of other saints, the Church seems content to observe "local" veneration for quite long periods of time before beginning any official proceedings. Unexpected blessing of this approach: we can watch scenes from St Xenia's 1978 glorification service on Youtube!

FOR HIS SAKE: Sacrificial Foolishness?
Unusually for a female saint, the vitae are very clear that she loved her husband very much; some even imply that her holy foolishness was prompted by mad grief. Even more curiously, she responded only to her husband's name (Andrei Feodorovich); some stories say that she went about in his clothes. While she was not glorified by the Russian Church until 1988, veneration of her among the people is said to have begun even during her lifetime. We do know that by the end of the 18th century, locals referred to the street on which she and her husband had lived as Petrov Street, which was her husband's surname.

Some vitae say that taking on her husband's name, as though she had completely forgotten her own (and perhaps she had), is an illustration of the depth of her humility (see: kenosis); others feel less of a need to editorialize. Unfortunately I'm only looking through what's quickly available online, so I can't find out for how long that particular theory's accompanied her vita. I can say the adoption of the husband's name is quite idiosyncratic and not something I've seen elsewhere, although there are many stories of holy women in which either their birth names are not given, or no name is given at all (sometimes, in fact, as a story grows in popularity, an anonymous saint will be given a name, as with the Egyptian monk we now revere as Isidora).

An element sometimes emphasized in Xenia's story is that her husband died unexpectedly while drinking at a party and in a state of sin (without having taken the Blessed Sacrament). Some write that it was Xenia's concern for the state of her husband's soul that drove her to such fervent prayer, others that the suddenness of his death gave her eyes to see the frivolity and selfishness of her life and the strength to change course.

THE OLD BALL AND CHAIN: Of Witches and Wives
More typically widow saints (as relayed in the vitae) were forced into marriages against their will, or express no particular feelings about their husbands at all-- their deaths are rarely portrayed as joyous events, of course (a subtle tone of relief is sometimes conscioned), but as welcome developments giving the widows the freedom to pursue a more perfect holiness.

Holy foolishness among women, whether married or not, deserves examination in its own right, particularly in a country some of whose rural populations maintained belief in sorcery past the Revolution. The problem of klikushestvo (the shrieking ailment) in particular comes to mind. As Linda Ivanits explains in Russian Folk Belief, klikushestvo is "primarily a woman's condition characterized by howling, cursing, and falling to the ground during the liturgy, in the midst of church processions, or in the presence of icons, incense, and other religious objects," and usually signifies demonic possession brought on by malevolent sorcery. It was considered distinct from "hysteria" by peasants and doctors alike, and did not merit the same treatment. 

Not all holy fools were prone to loud outbursts or wild displays in church, but some certainly were. According to Ivanits, klikushestvo was a well-known ailment in villages throughout the Empire, with records of klikushi (shriekers) going back to the 16th century.   

The difficulty of distinguishing holiness from sin is almost definitionally present when studying iurodstvo, but concerns about witchcraft, hysteria, and the suspicion with which female wanderers must have been regarded makes those who were known as holy fools during or shortly after their lifetimes all the more incredible. Even the gift of prophesy, often cited to legitimize the holiness of the fool (and which Xenia, for example, is always noted to have had), was far from universally regarded as one given by God.

"WILDFLOWERS OF GODRebellion and the Iurodivaya"
Potentially but not definitely including some or all of the following (and probably some things not even listed)...
  • Hell's Angels? the inherently transgressive nature of iurodstvo
  • All the world's a stage: transvestitism among the saints
  • That ain't a tiara: marriage and martyrdom in Orthodoxy
  • Neither Jew nor Greek, neither Cuban cigar nor light cigarette: why aren't there more female saints?
As always, questions and comments wholeheartedly encouraged!

*"Кто меня знал, да помянет мою душу для спасения свой души." - carved on St Xenia's gravestone.

**Didn't even notice the name until I looked to link back! Dear Batiushka John really is everywhere. This is, interestingly, a Moscow Patriarchate Church in Hamburg, Germany, with quite an interesting history
"In 2004 the Gnadenkirche [Grace church] church in the center of the city came to [converted to; joined] our parish. The miracle of gaining a large congregation in our own home in Hamburg was made possible by longstanding good relations between the Evangelical Church of Germany and the Orthodox Church of Russia. The parish bought the church land in Hamburg and transferred it for a nominal fee - 1 euro." (В 2004 г. церковь Гнаденкирхе в центре города перешла нашему приходу. Чудо обретения многочисленной общиной своего дома в Гамбурге стало возможным благодаря давним добрым отношениям между Евангелической Церковью Германии и Православной Церковью России. Приход выкупил земельный участок под храмом у города Гамбурга, а само здание было передано за символическую плату – 1 евро.) 
The story of both this building and the parishes its housed is fascinating to me; remind me to do a post focusing on it soon if I forget!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

[TSE] Holiness or Heresy: Evolving Models of Iurodstvo in Medieval Russia

Notes for the Reader
Excerpts will be posted unedited; will post my own commentary at the end. All senior essay related posts will be tagged "Batiushka Ioann". Footnotes will appear at the bottom of each excerpt. Prologue here.
Questions, critiques, and reactions of any kind warmly encouraged; I am looking to strengthen and improve. Please remember that this is essentially a hastily written draft.
Writing about theology and Church history as an inexperienced believer for a secular academic audience is harrowing. Don't ignore weaknesses and errors, particularly if they could be interpreted as heretical or blasphemous, but be cognizant of my constraints.

II. Holiness or Heresy: Evolving Models of Iurodstvo in Medieval Russia

The tradition of holy foolishness, a particularly enigmatic genre of sanctity, originates in the Gospel itself; Paul of Tarsus mentions a connection between foolishness and the Divine several times in his First Letter to the Corinthians, but of particular relevance is this passage: “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.”The lived tradition of foolishness-for-Christ began in Byzantium, but it was in medieval Muscovy that the practice became most well-known. The Russian holy fool (iurodivyi) soon took on a particular role: he was not merely a man conquering pride through madness and humiliation, but “a form of divine control over the state authorities.”This other-worldly rebuke of secular power is famously illustrated in the confrontation between Nicholas of Pskov and Tsar Ivan IV, in which the fool sends the Tsar a piece of bloody meat to chastise him for his massacres. Importantly (in legend, if not in historical fact), Ivan repents, and orders the city spared.

By the seventeenth-century, however, the protective aura of dread and wonder that had largely shielded the iurodivye from institutional persecution had begun to dissipate. Patriarch Iosif in 1646 barred them from entering churches, “since their shouting and squealing prevents Orthodox Christians from hearing the divine chanting, and they come into God’s churches like robbers, carrying sticks…”9  Instructive is the story of another Sergiev, called Ioann the Big-Cap of Moscow, whose life provides an example of the interplay between temporal authority and manifestation of holiness.

He was born around 1670 into a peasant family and spent most of his life wandering from monastery to monastery. Unlike many holy fools, it seems that he wanted to become a monk. Because of Peter I’s ecclesiastical reforms, Ioann, as an illiterate peasant, was prohibited from being tonsured—unless he could convince the highest court to grant an exception and obtain a Synodal dispensation. As Aleksandr Lavrov notes, “one may well wonder how an illiterate could ever have obtained the latter. For most people, therefore, the path to monastic asceticism was simply closed. For this reason, in examining religious recluses…we must consider as motives not only a certain sense of footloose self-determination but also the pressure exerted by the dominant religious culture that forced them to adopt alternative ways.”10  Unlike his forbears in iurodstvoIoann rarely ran afoul of authority, and was generally accepting of whatever treatment he was given: after the signing into law of a new regulation demanding that “there be no truck with anchorites and sanctimonious men with matted locks,” the Bishop of Vologda ordered him shorn, a castigation to which he meekly submitted.11 Nor could he be accused of heresy or schismatic sympathies: he regularly confessed and took Communion, and in spite of the tumultuous Sobor of 1666-7 in which the Old Believers were anathematized, he swore that he “recognized no schism” and “crossed himself with three fingers and not with two.”12 It seems that he was marked as a holy fool only by his heavy chains, iron cap, and aimless wanderings. All this notwithstanding he was captured in 1733 and “returned to his place of registration.”13

What happened in the 150 years separating Nicholas and Ioann? Despite late Muscovy’s low literacy rate (Gary Marker, estimating generously, pegs it below ten percent), highly public liturgical services combined with mass migration spurred by the Time of Troubles to disseminate tales of iurodstvo throughout and across cities and villages.14 As popular veneration grew, the Church became increasingly wary, striking names from prayer-books and speaking out publicly against the visible and behavioral markers characteristic of the iurodivye.15 Their renown was beginning to spread beyond her reach, and not in ways she welcomed. In Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond, Sergey Ivanov quotes the testimony of many foreign travelers to Russia who were surprised by the free reign given the iurodivye; some, like Isaac Massa, openly pitied the Russians for their gullibility: “…if I was the tsar I would order the last rite for her before it was my turn; but these Muscovites consider her holy; which is not surprising, since—alas—they are still mired in ignorance. May God enlighten them!”16

More serious are scenes from the iurodivye vitae in which they commit unpredictable acts of violence, such as Prokopii of Viatka killing an infant “to resurrect it later” and holding a knife to his confessor’s throat, or Simon of Iurevets strangling a priest with his bare hands.17 While in some sense these stories warn the faithful of the fundamental incomprehensibility of the fool’s actions, in another they are deeply subversive: “regardless of how the hagiographer tries to explain it—aggression against the priest is semantically significant as a sign of rebellion against the Church.”18

Here we see the tension between hagiography and mere narrative. The earliest holy fools were relatively isolated examples of eccentric holiness, fantastic aberrations that inspired awe and served as a kind of memento mirari, but as stories of their exploits were collected into vitae and became reified into a particular model for communing with the Divine, they took on the normativity of other saints’ lives, opening the door for ever increasing numbers of feral, bullheaded vagrants to roam the kingdom. Ivanov notes that “the emergence of at least one local iurodivyi almost inevitably called forth a wave of imitators.”19

While the prelates struggled to manage the destabilizing effects of popular iurodstvo, the iurodivye themselves were transforming. The first iurodivaya (female holy fool) appeared during the reign of Boris Godunov (1585-1598); like Nicholas of Pskov, she was wholly unafraid of anyone, including the tsar, and would often foretell future events.20 Despite the similarities, the modern observer must understand the strangeness of an isolated sixteenth-century woman taking on what had been an exclusively male role, particularly in an era still so concerned with sorcery that an explicit renunciation of it was included in the oath of allegiance to the tsar.21 Around the same time we also see hermits and nuns counted among the iurodivyethe inclusion of hermits is especially bizarre, since perhaps the defining characteristic of a holy fool is that he be among people—whether to humiliate himself, rebuke those around him, warn them of danger, or even simply arouse in them confusion or astonishment, but he that works to shut himself away from others, whether sane or mad, cannot properly be named among the iurodivye.

To more thoroughly understand how the holy fool changed throughout the seventeenth-century, it is instructive to break him down into his constituent parts. As previously established, he must be among people(“the world would rather have nothing to do with this madman, but he keeps on imposing himself on the world,”), he must be fearless (although he need not be aggressive or violent), and he may have special powers of prophesy, which he will use to warn the faithful, rebuke the sinful, prompt all to repentance, and, upon the fulfillment of prophesies, build confidence in his special relationship with God.22 His is a curious, worldly asceticism—he is almost always utterly impoverished and completely reliant on the charity of those around him, often rejecting it even when offered. He may starve himself, walk about naked or in chains, or incite violence upon himself. Typically he does not form close relationships with anyone, but he may have a spiritual confessor in whom he trusts and around whom he is at peace (though, as noted earlier, there’s no guaranteeing the safety of such confessors). He may wander across entire regions or stay within a particular village, but he does not own property, and incredibly rarely would he have any rank to speak of. He may or may not be schismatic; he may or may not be literate (though the latter is admittedly quite rare).

In short, he bears within him elements of the charismatic, ascetic, monastic, pastoral, apocalyptic, thaumaturgic, martyric—all that seem to be missing are the hermetic and the hieratic, curiously enough two opposite poles themselves, and yet their marked absence circumscribe who may or may not be called a holy fool. Now when in the seventeenth-century iurodivye adopt the wearing of fetters, a particular Russian modification to the tradition, we can contextualize the innovation somewhere between wholly irrelevant and paradigm shattering. Ivanov writes, “Byzantine holy fools did not wear fetters. That fetters came to seem necessary is a measure of the fading of that special aura which had earlier surrounded indecency and hooliganism in themselves. Thus later holy foolery sought new forms of legitimation.”23

That a holy fool might not only desire legitimation, but consciously hit upon how to secure it, might reasonably elicit no small degree of suspicion about the whole enterprise. However, when understood in light of, say, his prophetic role, it makes sense that somewhere he maintains a sense, not of dignity, but of whether and to what degree he is fulfilling his purpose.

Just as the iurodivye may seek irons to brace their message and purify themselves for their mission, the hagiographers understand that they, too, must bear the responsibility of effective communication, instead of hoping dumbly that they will be understood. Thus is explained, for example, the replacement of archaic names with more familiar ones in the seventeenth-century reprinting of a particular story about a monk and the Archangel Michael.24 Archbishop Feofan (Prokopovich) of Novgorod, Peter I’s chief apologist, likewise understood the potentially subversive power of the saints: hoping to marginalize what he deemed unacceptable models, regardless of existing traditions of veneration, he “ridiculed not only the holy fools of his day but even those already extolled by the Church as having been pleasing to God.”25

And so the reader of the hagiography is not one, but at least three conceptual steps from the saint himself—his idea of the saintly model is based on the text, but colored by his own associations and biases; the text is whatever happens when the hagiographer’s particular knowledge, abstract ideal, and writing skill intersect, and alone of the three that particular knowledge itself is nothing more than the memory of how the saint chose to present himself, he himself mediating his holiness through his preconceived ideas of piety, sanctity, and the good. Throw in hundreds of years between subject and scribe, or thousands of miles, or both; let the writer be ineloquent, uneducated, and myopic—or selfish, manipulative, and bright, or anything but a saint himself, and one might wonder how it is the Church has consistent models at all not drawn directly from Scripture (not that that isn’t fraught either, as some Protestants will attest). Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra explains:
But the life of a saint cannot be reduced to an article in a Dictionary of Biography or to a chapter in Church History; it is a verbal icon of the saint that, while telling the story as accurately as possible, lets the hidden aspect of the work of the Grace of God in the saint shine through. Just as an icon can only be venerated in the context of worship with the appropriate dispositions, so the life of a saint can only be read in the Church with the eyes of faith and not according to the criteria of secular scholarship. … Although in the life of ascesis and inner prayer (noera prosevchi) all forms of imagination are excluded, our tradition, seeing how strong imagination and representation are within our nature in its fallen state, makes its own their power, which for man without God is a source of division, and transfigures them in iconography and in hagiography, so that they become a genuine means of entering into communion with God and with His saints.26
The Church therefore protects her models, but does so through active contemplation and consciously particular forms of veneration. Archimandrite Justin Popovich calls the lives of the saints “applied dogmatics… In reality they are the testimonies of the Acts of the Apostles, only continued throughout the ages.”27 Veneration of a saint takes many forms, as Hieromonk Damascene (Christensen) writes, “Besides our private prayers for them, the Church offers us many other ways of communing with them as our friends and honoring them as our preceptors. We sing their troparia, we venerate their icons, we perform services to them, and with a blessing from a Bishop we can even compose services in their honor.”28

The lowly parish priest, however, has rarely been recognized as one of the “gold and precious stones that adorn the raiment of the Bride.”29 If he is considered it all, it is only in light of the necessity of his function. He is a man with a job, in fact, a man constituted solely of his job—one that is sometimes sacerdotal, sometimes pastoral, but nothing of particular interest. The historical Orthodox white priest is reduced broadly to the political and ecclesiological regulations circumscribing his sphere of influence and setting the boundaries of his quality of life. The much-noted absence of glorified white priests prior to Father John’s certainly contributes to this—there are no vitae, no folk stories. But what did the priests themselves make of their vocation, particularly if, as (Saint) Justin Popovich explains, “the Lives of the Saints contain in themselves Orthodox ethics in their entirety,”?30 The intense debates surrounding the nature of the clerical caste beginning in earnest in the early nineteenth century show a church wrestling with the nature of the sacerdotal genre: trying to overcome its lowly status, arrive at an agreed upon mission and purpose, and make of a hodgepodge of canon law and worldly regulation a relevant and inspiring model.
- - - - - - - - - -
7. The King James Bible, I Cor 3:18-19.
8. Ivanov, Sergey. Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006: 285.
9. Ivanov, Sergey. Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006: 311.
10. Lavrov, Aleksandr. "Witchcraft and Religion in Russia, 1700–1740." Russian Studies in History 45.4 (2007): 23.
11. Lavrov, Aleksandr. "Witchcraft and Religion in Russia, 1700–1740." Russian Studies in History 45.4 (2007): 26.
12. Lavrov, Aleksandr. "Witchcraft and Religion in Russia, 1700–1740." Russian Studies in History 45.4 (2007): 24.
13. Lavrov, Aleksandr. "Witchcraft and Religion in Russia, 1700–1740." Russian Studies in History 45.4 (2007): 26.
14. Marker, Gary. "Literacy and Literacy Texts in Muscovy: A Reconsideration." Slavic Review 49.1 (1990): 89, Moon, David. "Peasant Migration and the Settlement of Russia's Frontiers, 1550-1897." The Historical Journal 40.4 Dec. (1997): 859-893.
15. Ivanov, Sergey. Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006: 309-311.
16. Ivanov, Sergey. Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006: 312-313.
17. Ivanov, Sergey. Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006: 324-327.
18. Ivanov, Sergey. Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006: 326.
19. Ivanov, Sergey. Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006: 318.
20. Ivanov, Sergey. Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006: 312.
21. Ivanits, Linda. Russian Folk Belief. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, Inc, 1992: 87.
22. Ivanov, Sergey. Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006: 357.
23. Ivanov, Sergey. Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006: 344.
24. Ivanov, Sergey. Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006: 332.
25. Lavrov, Aleksandr. "Witchcraft and Religion in Russia, 1700–1740." Russian Studies in History 45.4 (2007): 27.
26. Makarios of Simonos Petra. The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church. Vol. 1. Chalkidike: Indiktos Publishing Company, 1998. 6 vols.
27. Popovich, Justin. Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ. Belmont: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1994.
28. Christensen, Damascene. "The Place of Lives of Saints in the Spiritual Life." The Orthodox Word 37.6 Nov. (2001): 261-281.
29. Makarios of Simonos Petra. The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church. Vol. 1. Chalkidike: Indiktos Publishing Company, 1998. 6 vols.
30. Popovich, Justin. Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ. Belmont: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1994.
- - - - - - - - - -
These notes serve two main purposes: to remind me what to fix when I go back and edit, and to seek your input on specific issues of concern to me. They will not always be interesting. 

- I could read and write about holy foolishness all damn day.

- draw parallels between "popular" religion of (some) of the holy fools and Fr John's "populist" liturgical style?

- dissemination of tales of iurodstvo contra various forms of press coverage as Fr John gained nororeity?

- Do I footnote too obsessively? I was never really taught any norms on when not to footnote.

- Every bloody time I read this sentence I have to read it twice to get it right: "Despite late Muscovy’s low literacy rate (Gary Marker, estimating generously, pegs it below ten percent), highly public liturgical services combined with mass migration spurred by the Time of Troubles to disseminate tales of iurodstvo throughout
and across cities and villages." Need to just rewrite it already.

- really like the idea of exploring the tensions between hagiography and narrative/folklore and/or biography. revisit later in paper, expand, something?

- proud of coining the phrase memento mirari. just saying.

- holy fools bred imitators, Fr John (unwittingly) spawned cultist devotees. explore/theorize about difference? social status, press, liturgical role, rural v urban, thaumaturgy.

- parallelism: break down what an Orthodox priest is later in the paper in the way a holy fool is broken down here? not enough focus on what the priesthood is, not enough of a sense of how the paradigm is broken in later sections.

- still love that the wearing of irons is a specifically Russian mod.

- do I veer too much into apologetics?

- should I explain what
sainthood means in Orthodoxy? probably.

- the enthusiasm of this quote always makes me smile: "We sing their troparia, we venerate their icons, we perform services to them, and with a blessing from a Bishop we can even compose services in their honor." Is it wrong to picture a hieromonk jumping up and down at the thought of writing a service for a favorite saint, or even while reflecting that his Church might allow him to? Took restraint not to make that period an exclamation point.
- do I need to explain that "glorification" and "canonization", and sometimes "veneration", in context of discussion of saints, mean the same thing? is it on me to explain how Orthodox theology of sainthood differs from the Catholic understanding? ergh. the differences aren't even constant across decades and Churches. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

[The Senior Essay] Introduction

Notes for the Reader
Excerpts will be posted unedited; will post my own commentary at the end. All senior essay related posts will be tagged "Batiushka Ioann". Footnotes will appear at the bottom of each excerpt. Prologue here.
Questions, critiques, and reactions of any kind warmly encouraged; I am looking to strengthen and improve. Please remember that this is essentially a hastily written draft.
Writing about theology and Church history as an inexperienced believer for a secular academic audience is harrowing. Don't ignore weaknesses and errors, particularly if they could be interpreted as heretical or blasphemous, but be cognizant of my constraints.

Icon & Iconographer:
Father John of Kronstadt and the Emergence of Sacerdotal Sanctity in Late Nineteenth-Century Russia
I. Introduction

In Dionysius of Fourna’s eighteenth-century iconography manual, one finds a curious instruction: “Draw a monk crucified on a cross, clothed in a tunic and a monk’s hat, barefoot and with his feet nailed to the footrest of the cross; his eyes are closed and his mouth shut. Just above his head is the inscription: ‘Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.’”1 He continues, describing the monk’s chest, stomach, legs, and so on, at each point specifying a different prayer (“Create in me a clean heart… Prepare your feet in the Gospel of Peace…”), before explaining how to depict “the all-devouring Hell,” the “Maker of lust,” “Death and the grave,” and finally Christ Himself, above the Cross. “Then write this title: The life of the true monk.”2

It makes for a striking icon, not just because the monk is in place of Christ, but because he is no particular monk at all. He is a cipher, an image to which all monks must aspire (and indeed this icon is most commonly found just outside monastic refectories). More than most this icon highlights the monastic genre of holiness—it is a didactic icon, not meant for veneration of and communion with any individual saint, but for contemplation of and instruction in the ways of a particular model of sanctity.

It is commonly heard among Orthodox Christians that saints are living icons, and in fact it is with this idea that Nadieszda Kizenko begins her recent biography of John Sergiev, the renowned “Father John of Kronstadt”, who was glorified as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1964, and by the Russian Orthodox Church herself in 1990.3 He is now remembered best as a sort of latter day defender of “Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality,” the reactionary cultural program championed by Tsar Nicholas I and his Minister of Education Sergei Uvarov, so counter to the revolutionary atmosphere that surrounded Father John in the last years before his death in 1908.4 Yet to reduce the complexity of his life to a flat religious conservatism is to ignore his greatest “creation”, as Kizenko puts it: the salvation of his own soul.5

As the son of a sacristan and a graduate of the St Petersburg Theological Academy, Father John was certainly familiar with the communion of saints and the depth and variety of holiness manifest thereby—despite this, he seems to have forged his own path to sanctity, eventually becoming the first parish priest to be venerated by the Russian Church.

This together with his many other idiosyncrasies (matrimonial virginity, living thaumaturgy, ascetic priesthood) has contributed to the idea that he is sui generis, or at least something approaching the founder of a new genre of sanctity. In 1909 Archbishop Nikanor (Kamensky) of Kazan wrote of him that “because people are different now, they need to be acted upon in new ways that are peculiar to them.”6 Even within his own era he was widely recognized as a breaker of established categories of religious life, and the wonder and confusion attendant on his ‘boldness before paradigm’ continues to this day. Yet a historical examination of the evolution of other genres of blessedness reveals that Father John’s trajectory was actually quite in keeping with the meta-tradition of expressive flexibility present in the Church since her founding. Genres of holiness, like icons, are didactic, and evolve, reify, and dissolve in response to the unpredictable contingencies of human society—they are models to be appropriated and internalized by the faithful, not for the sake of orthopraxy, but to guide them towards the fullness of right belief.
- - - - - - - - - -                             
1. Dionysius of Fourna. The 'Painter's Manual' of Dionysius of Fourna. Torrance: Oakwood Publications, 1990.
2. Dionysius of Fourna. The 'Painter's Manual' of Dionysius of Fourna. Torrance: Oakwood Publications, 1990.
3. Kizenko, Nadieszda. A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000:1.
4. Pipes, Richard. Russian Conservatism and Its Critics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005: 99.
5. Kizenko, Nadieszda. A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000:183.
6. Kizenko, Nadieszda. A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000: 184.
- - - - - - - - - -
These notes serve two main purposes: to remind me what to fix when I go back and edit, and to seek your input on specific issues of concern to me. They will not always be interesting. 

- I hate the title. The paper was already a few days late when I wrapped it up, so I put down the first thing that came to mind and ran it over to the Slavic Department. My working title was "Living Icons, Dead Saints", but that sounded vaguely blasphemous to me.

- Came upon the monk icon entirely by happenstance: I was in the stacks rummaging about for books on the rural clergy and found a big gorgeous book almost entirely of full color illustrations of icons and liturgical art. It was in Russian, but I checked it out anyway. I'd flip through it when I wanted a distraction and stopped short the first time I saw the crucified monk. An ingenious friend of mine found a high quality PDF of the entire book online despite not speaking a word of Russian, and weeks later, when I was struggling to think of a hook to get the essay started, the crucified monk came back to me. Read more about this kind of icon here, and email me if you'd like a larger version of the image to the right.

- I usually like to have clever subheadings for each section.

- There are many formatting/style issues. Inconsistencies off the top of my head: whether and where to capitalize words like saint, icon, communion, church, and pronouns referring to God; how to refer to clergy; transliteration of names and words left untranslated; whether to translate names. Input from anyone with experience writing about the Church concerning academic writing conventions will be much appreciated.

- Don't like the word "founder" here: "at least something approaching the founder of a new genre of sanctity". Something like "herald" or "vanguard" is closer.

- Overall this is a very vague introduction and doesn't actually explain much about the essay (this will become clearer as you read more chapters). This is because I myself didn't know much about the essay when I wrote it, but once the rest of the essay is swept through and edited, it can be fixed.

[The Senior Essay] Prologue

I've been kidding myself since I submitted my senior essay to the head of my department in April that I'd go back and fix the many, many problems with it, but at this point I think the best approach is to make things...interactive (Academia 2.0).

Before we begin, some back story: as a Russian and East European Studies major, I was required to write what's called a "year long senior essay". That means that in both the fall and spring terms there's a spot on my transcript called "The Senior Essay"-- it's worth as many credits as a normal Yale course, but instead of going to lectures I was expected to research, write, and consult with an adviser of my choosing on my topic, culminating with the submission of "a substantial article, no longer than 13,000 words, excluding footnotes and bibliography."

A few words about my major: there are essentially two Russian majors at Yale-- mine, and the actual Russian major. This is something of a relic of the Soviet era, when there was both more of an interest in and demand for Russianists with strong backgrounds in history, politics, and the social sciences. My major requires courses in Russian history and social science focusing on Russia and/or eastern Europe, and at least four years' worth of language study. In my department, one's language proficiency could in theory be in a language other than Russian (Polish, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, etc), but because those languages are taught rarely or not at all very few people take that route. The other major requires only literature courses-- a lot of them-- at least two of which cannot be in translation (which, I'll point out, are not courses my Russian would've permitted me to take at any point in my Yale career).

I am the only person I know who picked a major her very first semester in college and never once entertained switching-- I briefly fantasized about doubling in history, but Yale is made very uncomfortable by double majors, and I didn't have the discipline for it. Why REES over Russian? The emphasis on history and politics was very attractive to me-- in fact it was sitting in the very first lecture of "Russia from the 9th Century to 1801" freshman year that I decided to be a professional academic Russophile-- and the less stringent language requirement didn't hurt either. 

Good thing, too, because over time REES became my own self-styled Orthodox theology/Church history major. While Yale does have a religious studies department, it's not any kind of place to study traditional Christianity, and I had little interest in courses like "The Sociology of Religion" or "World Religions and Ecology". Because it's such a small department (5/3021 in 2012, I believe) my Directors of Undergraduate Studies (they rotated often; kind of a Defense Against the Dark Arts type deal) were pretty flexible about allowing courses outside the department to count towards the major. "The Rise of Christianity: East and West?" I remember one saying. "Sure, it's foundational." I didn't end up taking that course, nor did I need the flexibility-- by the time I left there were very few Slav history or poli-sci classes I hadn't taken. Still, my professors knew that I had a strong interest in the Orthodox Church, and it was a comfort and a kindness that they didn't try to push me into a more conventional focus.

Typically responsible students start thinking about the topics of their senior essays toward the end of their junior years, to approach professors about being their senior advisers, if nothing else. One's relationship with one's senior adviser ought be relatively close-- not only ought he have some degree of expertise in the proposed topic, but he ought be someone with whom one either already has or can build a dynamic of comfort and mutual trust.

As some of you may know, after my junior year I was forced to take a year off, and while I could've thought ahead and contacted professors about my senior essay during my time off, I was too worried about being readmitted at all to take such a bold step. In August 2011 I was readmitted, though, and come September I was in quite a pickle-- there aren't too many Russianists at Yale, and even fewer with anything beyond a rudimentary knowledge of the Church. I hadn't thought anything through very much, let alone done any preliminary research, when my DUS called me in to ask how the adviser search was going. Everyone I'd asked (read: everyone who knew anything about Russian history) was already booked and couldn't take on any more advisees, and I couldn't very well not write about Russia! Owing to my unique circumstances my DUS agreed to "advise" me until our head honcho Russian historian (who was really ideal for me to begin with) got back from sabbatical the next term.

Suffice to say I did no work at all that first term, BS'd a two page long "prospectus" in December in which I babbled about Ober-procurator Pobedonostsev and the Holy Synod to avoid an F on my transcript, and had nothing at all to show my actual adviser when we first met in January. He rather promptly threw out the Pobedonostsev idea and told me that if I was going to research primarily in English, and wanted to write about the Church, I was essentially limited to Father John of Kronstadt or Vladimir Soloviev. I'd heard of them both, but knew more about Soloviev, so I started with Nadieszda Kizenko's biography of Father John, A Prodigal Saint. I finished it in about three days and never really looked back-- sorry Volodya!

While I did a reasonable amount of research, the essay itself I wrote over the course of a very strung out week, with the bulk of the writing happening in a 72 hour period. The more I read, the less it seemed there was to say about Father John-- whatever I was looking for, I wasn't finding, and entire books I'd read as background and taken heartbreakingly extensive notes on became completely irrelevant and unusable. By the end I was near constantly fantasizing about running off and wandering the country reading tarot for cigarette money. 

Eventually I did vomit something out, and I think there's a bit of potential tucked away in here somewhere. Let's find out together, shall we?

Because you know you want a drink

I have a confession to make: I didn't plan to follow yesterday's SCOTUS announcement very closely. I suppose I'm cynical enough to look suspiciously on even the most conservative ruling, and modest enough to admit that I have sufficient knowledge of neither Constitutional law nor the legislation itself to contribute meaningfully to any conversations.

But already by 9am, from the obscurity of my sad little bedroom in suburbia, I'd been infected with the feeling of some kind of holiday-- mind you, my circle is pretty overwhelmingly politically minded, so I don't presume that everyone had this experience, but without seeking it out I was bombarded-- in my inbox, on Facebook, even on Tumblr-- by people reading, reflecting, raging, rejoicing. I knew that I could've started an unprefaced conversation about anything from the 10th Amendment to Citizens United with anyone on my gchat contacts list and he would've been right there with me. Maybe it's because I'm starved for civilization and human contact out here in Suffolk County, but I found that kind of unspoken shared awareness refreshing and even exhilarating. 

Before I knew it I was flipping through an ever increasing number of tabs, scanning liveblogs, collecting hashtags, and, of course, silently judging those friends who hadn't thrown themselves headlong into the rumbling tsunami of analysis and speculation as I had.

I didn't emerge with nothing but salt and a ringing in my ears, but I'll save my own spurious musings for another time-- for now, I thought I'd express myself a bit more creatively: in drink.  

The ACA-Tax
Because some types of inactivity are party fouls.
  • 1.5oz Fleischmann's* vodka, warm
Offer to everyone, force those who don't empty their shooters to pay.
*Other bottom shelf vodkas such as Dubra, Popov, and Poland Spring may be substituted. Embarrassing American attempts to imitate Swedish brands preferred. The truly daring and/or spiteful may use Malört.
The Marbury v Madison Twist
It'll get you drunk, but not in the way you'd hoped-- and the strength of your liver will never be the same.
  • 1.5oz tequila
  • 1.5oz gin
  • 1 oz club soda
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
Shake over ice, garnish with lime spiral, run in the opposite direction.

The Chief Justice
This foxy number isn't easy to read.
  • 1oz sweet vermouth
  • 1oz dry vermouth
  • dash Fee's Old Fashion bitters
Shake vermouths separately to chill, mix in glass, top with bitters, drink til you're sure that Roberts privileged judicial restraint over a solid originalist reading-- or that he championed dual sovereignty by succumbing to judicial activism-- or...

The man has one facial expression, and it's this
The Randy Barnett
Activity tonight, inactivity tomorrow!
  • 1oz absinthe
  • 1oz vodka
  • 2.5oz Red Bull
Believe me, you'll know the difference (even if you won't remember why).

Cards on the table, I involuntarily aaaaw'd when I saw this photo.
(Randy Barnett at Lysander Spooner's grave.)
The Commerce Clause
It'll let you be what you want to be and do what you want to do.
  • 2oz vodka
  • 1/2oz blue curacao
  • 1.5oz pineapple juice
The National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius*
Interesti-- wait, what the hell is going on? I... oh, fuck it.
  • 3/4oz Irish whiskey
  • 1oz red wine
  • 1/2oz Tuaca
  • 1/4oz lemon juice
  • two dashes Bitter Truth Creole bitters
Drain a coconut, dry on roof for 23 hours, disinfect with boiling orange flower water, let dry in slightly warmed oven. Pour in whiskey, wine, Tuaca, and lemon juice. Shrink wrap coconut, cook sous vide at 50°C for 14 minutes. Still in airtight plastic, bring to Congressional baseball game. From pitcher's mound, thrust coconut in the direction of home plate. After the second out, pierce plastic and strain into a chilled rocks glass with one large spherical ice cube two inches in diameter. Serve to Vice-President Biden.
*Loosely inspired by "The Twee Barber", courtesy of Nick Detrich at New Orleans's notorious Cure.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mission Brewery Shipwrecked Double IPA Review

From the website:
San Diego Style Double India Pale Ale
A amazingly balanced and hoppy beer, yet finishes as smooth as silk with no hint of high alcohol hotness usually associated with strong double IPA’s. Super citrus and grapefruit aromas and flavors from the generous use of Cascade, Magnum, Centennial and CTZ hops.
9.25% ABV.  75 IBU.  12 SRM.
Booze hound that I am, I'm a total sucker for double IPAs (also known as imperial IPAs): take a tasty, sophisticated IPA, up the ABV and the IBUs, and you've got yourself a double. If you don't like the hop bitterness in your typical IPAs, steer clear of this style-- to balance out the booze and hops there will sometimes be a malty sweetness, but this is first and foremost a bitter style.

This is my first Mission beer, and I wasn't too disappointed. Once again I don't have the right kind of glass-- I'd recommend a tulip for this one-- this is one of the best smelling beers I've had lately (more on that in a second), and it benefits from warming up a bit-- tulip glasses allow the warmth from your hand to wake up the flavors as you hold it. They're also gorgeous, allow you to fully appreciate your beer's color, and maintain the head better than would a pint glass.

So, back to the smell: incredibly sweet, but not in some kind of lambic beat-you-over-the-head-with-fruit way. It's just damn inviting-- the hops are there, but you really can't smell those 75 IBUs. When I was drinking this a few weeks ago I wasn't a huge fan-- maybe because I've been having a lot less beer lately I can appreciate this more, but when I took a whiff of this today all I could think was that every time I've just really wanted a beer, this is the smell I had in my head.

It's stronger on the tongue than the nose-- the bitterness jumps out pretty strong, but for a double IPA the hops are surprisingly subdued (note that this does not mean they're not very prevalent! just not as prevalent as I'd expect). This is actually a very balanced double-- the malt cuts against the hop bitterness in a very pleasant way, making for a very drinkable brew. The carbonation's about what you'd expect-- I like my IPAs bubbly, and this one just about hits the sweet spot-- I have occasionally come across craft beers that go too far in the frothy direction, and for my money the Shipwrecked gets it just right.

As it warms up the citrus blooms a bit but overall it maintains a pretty clean finish. If you don't like IPAs, you won't like this one, but if you do, and want to break into the imperials, I can't think of anything better. So far as strong beers go, this'll treat you better in the summer than a stout, and the sweetness definitely helps, but I can never really put my finger on what season I think IPAs belong in.