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In Russia, Orthodox artists work to revive religious sensibility

16 Oct 2017 – By Robert Duncan

Editors: A short preview of a documentary on faith in Russia today is available at https://youtu.be/tNKjR8w9Nm8. A full video accompanying this story can be found at https://youtu.be/-Y4yG2gqDOY

MOSCOW (CNS) — One hundred years after Russia’s communist revolution inaugurated an era of church persecution and state-sponsored atheism, an Eastern Orthodox novel recently won the country’s top literary prize, and a statue of the country’s first Christian emperor was erected outside the Kremlin walls.

The book and the statue epitomize a trend in contemporary Russia where artists from a variety of disciplines are hard at work to respond to rising interest in the country’s religious heritage.

“In modern Russia, there is an excellent trend: Our churches are becoming not only the centers of spiritual life, but also of cultural life,” said Alexey Puzakov, a leading conductor in Moscow.

“It is joyful that in modern Russia, one can express himself inside the church, both in a spiritual and a creative manner,” he told Catholic News Service.

The movement Puzakov highlights contrasts sharply with active participation in a parish. According to a recent study from the U.S.-based Pew Research Center, only 6 percent of the Orthodox population in Russia attends church weekly.

But, the study reported, 57 percent of Russians believe Orthodox Christianity is an important feature of national identity.

Religious devotion is reflected in a variety of artistic and cultural forms that are not all tied to the institutional church, Puzakov said.

“Human talent can be realized in different ways: through word, through painting and through sound,” the conductor explained. “All these are gifts from God that we cannot find in any hierarchy.”

Puzakov, who directs the Moscow Synodal Choir in performances by composers such as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, said performers and composers need the inspiration of faith in order to achieve excellence.

“The teaching of Jesus Christ is the root of all Christian art,” he said. “Good church singing is impossible without prayer.”

If, in the liturgy, for example, “a singer does not sing the words of the prayers from his heart, the result will be very formal, there will be no real synthesis of the liturgical rite and the prayers,” Puzakov said.

Another artist, Russian writer Eugene Vodolazkin, won his country’s most prestigious literature award for his 2012 novel “Laurus,” which is set in religious, medieval Russia.

“I wished to describe a way of life that is far from modern people,” Vodolazkin said, but one that is nevertheless attractive to contemporary readers.

Vodolazkin’s book details the religious quest of a “holy fool” in the Russian Orthodox tradition, a kind of ascetic who humiliates himself in the eyes of others to draw closer to God.

“Humans cannot live only through TV, the internet and shopping,” he said. “This all concerns a horizontal level [of living], while humans are looking for a vertical dimension to life.”





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