What The Filioque?

Seriously, what is going on in Russia? Why are Orthodox Christians, fresh out of the Russian Federation, reluctant to ask for blessings for travel, memorial services for their departed loved ones, or any of a number of other prayers offered by the Church, simply because they do not have money? What sort of situation have they become accustomed to that leads them to think that they will be refused if they cannot afford it, or that they would be expected to pay a fee for such things in the first place, or that would cause them to greet with such surprise the glad tidings that there is no charge? I can understand some people making some sort of donation to the church as a token of gratitude but that should come from their heart, no? This seems a different matter.

Has anybody else encountered this? Does it make anybody else feel as unwell as it does me? Have I painted a bullseye on myself by daring to mention it? Something smells foul to me.

2 responses:

Jon Marc said...

From my experience one of two things could be going on. The backdrop to all of this is that the Church of Rus' at the local parish level has been impoverished for centuries thanks to the economic state of the region, the anti-Church appropriations of the Romanovs (most notably Catherine II), and the persecution by the Soviets. As a consequence, the Church has for quite some time charged for individual services. Anyone can go to confession and take communion, but every church I visited in Russia and the Ukraine (with the exception of the Old Believer parishes) had posted at their candle desk a list of services (weddings, baptisms, supplications, et cetera) and how much needed to be donated for them to be served (aka how much they cost). The argument supporting this that I've heard is that people rarely tithe or voluntarily give money to the Church, so 'minimum donations' have to be set.

Now, onto the two things! The first is my godmother's approach. She knows she doesn't have to pay for services or commemorations and that technically there is no cost for such things, but she won't submit a proskimidia list without having a $1 to give for each name on it. When the priest comes to bless her house she'll slip him money and if he refuses it, then she'll stuff him as full as she can of food and send more him with him. She knows it's voluntary, but she can't imagine asking for this or that without sacrificing something for it.

The second thing that could be going on is simply that the people you've encountered have been burned by parishes in the former USSR. I had American friends who were just popping in to check out an Orthodox church who get scolded to within an inch of their life for not having a headscarf and skirt on. The same babushki who jump on foreigners do the same to the locals - it's a decently big part of why so few people attend services in the former USSR.

Hope this helps! It's mostly just kind of sad in the end :-/.

Jon Marc said...

That should've been "send more home with him" and "got scolded" - sorry 'bout that!

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