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St. Patrick's Day--the Counter-Reformation point of view. Holy Mother Russia



Now Cameron Sawyer accuses me of being a Calvinist; this is a canard which will not be saved among the elect. He says: "I would say that this is a rather Calvinist point of view, not necessary representative of all Christian traditions. Indeed it is a very ancient tradition for great festivals (religious or otherwise) to be celebrated with drunken revelry and gluttony. The Church commandeered many of its festivals from pagan traditions, and in most sects and during most of the centuries of the Church's existence, drunkenness and gluttony were at least tolerated if not encouraged during these most looked-forward to celebrations especially Mardis Gras (called maslenitsa in Russia), Christmas dinner, Easter supper, all of these preceded, in Orthodoxy, by a fast (even maslenitsa*) precisely in order to enhance the pleasure of the gluttony and drunkenness.

The way we celebrate St. Patrick s day in America is perhaps a travesty in that the religious aspect is totally lost (together with any shred of good taste), and the revelry taken to an inappropriate extreme, but that doesn't mean we have to go to the other extreme. Come to Russia, Ronald, for Easter; we'll fast for a week for the bitter end of Lent, then I'll take you to our little church in Bryusov pereulok (the very same ancient little church to which Solzhenitsyn and Rostropovich used to sneak out to pray while Solzhenitsyn was hiding out from the KGB in Rostropovich's apartment a couple of doors down from where I live today), where we ll stand holding candles and listening to the chanting and singing, and follow the hierarchs around the church for the krestny vkhod , then about 3AM we ll walk home through milling crowds of happy Russians (who greet each other, perfect strangers, with the challenge Khristos voskhresen! Christ is risen! and the response: Voistemu voskhresen! Verily he is risen!) and break our fast with a noisy throng of friends and family eating kulich, pancakes, and eggs and drinking a lot of vodka until daybreak there will be plenty of noise and laughter and this is very far indeed from celebrating quietly at home , but I guarantee you ll feel glad to be alive like perhaps no other time in your life and, ironically, through the traditions of our pagan ancestors, and perhaps we will even feel the miracle of Christ' s resurrection with an immediacy which, I would argue, cannot be felt while kneeling alone in the dark on a hard, cold stone floor, as might have been advocated by certain dour German-speaking late medieval reformists (who will remain nameless)".

*(Maslenitsa, which lasts for a whole week, goes back in Orthodoxy to Byzantine times and was a rowdier affair in olden times than it is now. People wore masks, and cross-dressed men in women s clothing and vice versa drank a lot of wine and vodka, attended public feasts and jousts, and ate immense quantities of pancakes with butter, honey, sour cream, caviar. Maslenitsa in former times was ended by burning a straw man in effigy when the last ember of the effigy died down, Lent had begun. Maslenitsa, unlike Western Mardi Gras, is preceded as well as followed by a fast.)

My reply: I am not one of the nameless because I am not a late medieval reformer, whatever you may think. I am a man of regular hours and habits, so I cannot accompany Cameron. on his midnight wanderings. I said I do not believe in miracles, but I do believe in mysteries: church music, notably Russian, is one of them. The greatest is the trinity of the Christ mystery, Gothic architecture, and Handel's "Messiah" or Bach's "Passion": from three different times and three different places, a synthesis almost as great as H2 + 0 becoming the miracle of water. Carnival is the worst example of a religious celebration reverting to paganism. Not liking mobs or large cities, and the crime and corruption they breed, I reserve a special place in hell for New Orleans, the epicenter of American carnival. That is not Calvinism; it is just good taste.

Ronald Hilton - 3/15/02


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