Faith & Humor – Notes from Muscovy (5 of 6)

Father Artemius graduated with a degree in philology from Moscow State University, which is named after the great Russian scholar and educator Mikhail Vasiliyevich Lomonosov …

An excerpt from Faith & Humor:

Whenever the priest opens his mouth, silky soft grasses spread around the ground, sweet-smelling flowers bow their heads, young leaves dripping with sap cling to their branches in silent admiration, birds in heaven fold their wings and fall silent, daring not to go on with their wonderfully sweet songs, wild beasts, thick of fur and long of tail, freeze midstride and sniff the air, pricking their ears in awestruck surprise, and creatures of the sea lay motionless, moving their tails ever so slightly as they emit tiny bubbles. Humans record the priest’s sermons on tape and video cassette recorders and print his books in the thousands. But some bewildered and rubbed their temples, trying to grasp his meaning.

“It’s very simple,” an admiring member of his congregation said. “Our reverend father is under a lot of pressure and he is very busy. He has forgotten plain Russian words and is using only old Russian ones, because at the university he used to get straight As, both in Old Russian and Church Slavonic. It would be better if we had a translator for him. For instance, when our reverend father says: ‘Be it known to Thee that Thou hast to shake from the soles of Thine shoes the dust of atheism even as Thou sheddest pride and dangerous self-regard,’ he simply means that we must give up our sinful ways. See how simple it is? Nothing to puzzle over.”

pp.121-122

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.

Faith & Humor caused a sensation when it was published in Russia. As Kucherskaya writes in her introduction, “At one convent, the book was burned at the stake. Meanwhile, at a Seminary in another small town, it was added to the curriculum that helps future priests understand problems within the Church.”

Author Maya Kucherskaya artfully mixes fact and fiction, myth and history to offer a compelling, loving picture of a world of faith that is often impenetrable to outsiders. Yet Faith & Humor is not simply a book about the Orthodox Church, or about Russia rediscovering its faith after 70 years of state-sponsored atheism. Certainly there are elements of that here, and certainly Faith & Humor is an enlightening window into the “mysterious Russian soul.” But at its core, Kucherskaya’s book is a light, funny, insightful work of fiction about people who ardently believe something and who carry this belief out into the real world.

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