Saturday, May 08, 2010

Russian Spirituality in Rome

For whatever reason, whenever I see a reference to "Russian spirituality" as the title of a book, article, discussion or otherwise, I find myself drawn. Perhaps it is in part because one of my favourite books is an Eastern Orthodox spiritual classic called The Way of a Pilgrim which chronicles the journeys of a Russian pilgrim as he travels across the Russian landscape, carrying only dried bread, the Sacred Scriptures, a copy of the Philokalia (an Eastern spiritual classic which we might loosely compare to something like the Imitation of Christ in the West) and his chotki (prayer rope), attending the divine liturgy and seeking out "startsi" (spiritual masters) looking for guidance in understanding St. Paul's admonition to "pray without ceasing." (1 Thessalonians 5:17) This ultimately leads this pilgrim to the matter of the Jesus Prayer, or prayer of the heart.

Similarly, many years ago when I was beginning to take the spiritual life more seriously, amongst other things, I developed a fondness for Catherine Doherty's work, Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer. For those not familiar, Catherine Doherty was born in Russia and lived there in her earlier life. As part of an aristocratic family, she fled during the course of the Bolshevik revolution. She would ultimately end up in Canada and was received in the Catholic Church along the way. This said, her earliest formation was steeped within the traditions and spirituality of the Russian church and this comes out in her various writings; writings such as Poustinia.

Two other titles that are on my own shelf which relate to this topic, but which I have not had adequate time to dip into are G.P. Fedotov's compilation, A Treasury of Russian Spirituality, and Helene Iswolsky's Christ in Russia: The History, Tradition and Life of the Russian Church. Perhaps one day.

All this I write by way of preface, for within the past few days, the matter of the Russian spirituality has arisen rather frequently. What I particularly wished to highlight was a report I first noticed on Zenit, which details some interesting events to take place in Rome around this very topic: Russian Spirituality to be Celebrated in Rome. Here we learn that in an event which is sponsored jointly by the Moscow Patriarchate, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Pontifical Council for Culture, "Catholic and Russian Orthodox leaders will together organize a celebration of the "Days of Russian Culture and Spirituality in the Vatican," which will take place later this month... The event... includes a photographic exhibition, a symposium and a concert in honor of Benedict XVI." The purpose of the event is "to highlight the cultural, religious and ecumenical dimension and take a step forward in the dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics." A worthy goal indeed.

Here is a full report from the Vatican Information Service:


VATICAN CITY, 7 MAY 2010 (VIS) - At midday today in the Holy See Press Office, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, presented two initiatives due to take place on 19 and 20 May: the "Days of Russian Culture and Spirituality in the Vatican", and a concert in honour of Benedict XVI.

The events are being promoted by the Patriarchate of Moscow, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Archbishop Ravasi explained how between 14 and 20 May, Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, president of the Department for External Church Affairs of the Patriarchate of Moscow, will head a delegation as it visits various Italian cities: Ravenna , Milan , Turin , Bologna and Rome .

In Rome on the evening of 19 May, Archbishop Hilarion will inaugurate a photographic exhibition by Valdimir Chodakov on the Russian Orthodox Church today. He will also attend a symposium on the theme: "Orthodox and Catholics in Europe today. The Christian roots and the shared cultural heritage of East and West". Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Archbishop Ravasi are also due to participate in the symposium.

At 9 a .m. on 20 May, Archbishop Hilarion will preside at the divine liturgy in Rome 's Russian Orthodox church of St. Catherine Martyr . At 6 p.m. on the same evening, the Russian national orchestra and the synodal choir of Moscow will give a concert in honour of the Pope. The concert, promoted by Kirill I, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, will be held in the Vatican 's Paul VI Hall.

This is purely speculation, but speaking personally, I believe the Orthodox Church generally, and the Russian church specifically, hand in hand with the Catholic Church, may have some important part to play in relation to the secularist challenges being faced today.

Image source:

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: