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.
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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.
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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.

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