Tuesday, October 16, 2007

To Russia with love

After the Rosary Crusade on Saturday I went with a friend to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens. Naturally we went to the shop first and the first section I looked at was the icons (mainly because the books were all in Russian) and was intrigued to see the design. We in the West are so used to seeing Greek icons that we assume all Eastern iconic art is of that style, so when I saw icons with Western imagery I had to buy one of Our Lord. I later discovered that this is actually common of Slavic icons.

Then we went into the church. The only Eastern church I had ever been in before was the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral off Oxford Street and that had pews in it like a Catholic church. I remember being told at school that Eastern churches don't have seats so after seeing the Ukrainian church I thought they had brought them back, but clearly that is just because they are incommunion with Rome and have possibly taken on Latin ideas - they also have confessionals. The Russian church had no seats but was full of icons, including one of all the Saints of the British Isles. The Royal Doors weren't as impressive as those in the Ukrainian Rite church but they were still glorious as one would expect them to be.
As you walk back to Cromwell Road you see the dome of the Oratory poking above the houses and you are remined of Rome. I noted on the way back how ironic it is that we move from Rome, past the heretics to arrive at the schismatics. Pray for the unity between East and West.

God Bless.

3 comments:

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Zan said...

In the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church we have pews because of, which you guessed right, Latinization. Pews are actually a protestant innovation, they did not exist for the most part prior to the reformation. That's why in many pre-reformation cathedrals pews look so out of place. Some big chruches in Rome have no pews too, they never being installed.

The Slavic Icons are interesting. In the UGCC we for the most part use the traditional Greek Icons, I was very shocked when I first saw Western Icons that I proclaimed them not to be Icons! (I was even more surprised to find out these are Slavic since being a Slav I had never seen any before). Here in the United States almost all of the Ruthenian Catholic parises (Ruthenians, who call themselves Rusyns and come from the Carpathian mountains, are similar to Ukrainian Catholics) built prior to the 40s have these Western style Icons too.

Back in the 18th/19th century there was a huge Westernizing movement in Russia, due to the fact that that the aristocracy were all Francophiles but were forbidden by law to become Roman Catholic (I have learned the hard way that the Russian Orthodox Church can be very anti-Catholic). So due to this western attitude from the upper class the Russian Church became very influenced, western religious paintings were made into Icons and the Russian folk liturgical melodies were replaced by western masterpieces that were incorpated into the Divine Liturgy. I have a CD of a Russian Divine Liturgy sung by the Patriachal Choir, I recognized a lot of the melodies as being stolen from various Italian operas! So at a Ukrainian church you will have a far more traditional Slavic experience than at more than a few Russian churhes, generally speaking.

Michael Astley said...

There is certainly a misconception among many that all icons are Byzantine. There are icons of the Slavic style, and Coptic icons are different yet again in their style. Personally, I find mnay Byzantine icons to be quite gaudy, at least to my British eye. Some of the older Western icons are much lovelier, ISTM. There are modern icons being written in the style of the Gallican and Saxon iconographic styles, often with very pleasing results. Aidan Hart incorporates something of this style into his work, which is really rather good.

Incidentally, have you seen the ROCOR cathedral in London? I have the great privilege of being able to serve there when I visit, thanks to the hospitality of the priests and servers there. It is nowhere near as large or ornate as the Moscow Patriarchal cathedral but it is beautiful in its own way, especially the lower church. The icons and central chandelier are yet to be completed, and the iconostasis is still in its early stages but it is lovely to see a church at this stage. The small choir is very good and they're very welcoming. There is an assumption that you will speak Russian, which always takes adjusting to for me because my parish is predominantly English-speaking, but once you explain that you don't speak Russian, they will modify accordingly and are very friendly and welcoming people.

It's just a stone's throw from Gunnersbury station if ever you're in the area. A good time to go may be in early March next year. Our synod of bishops will hold its session in London and participants are likely to be at the cathedral on the first Sunday in March.

Pax,
Michael