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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Christ Cathedral Symbolized Tsarist Chauvinism

In response to "A $300 Million Church," by Dimitry Popov, July 9.


Dmitry Popov's comment on the rebuilding of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was exhaustive on the practical reasons against the reconstruction, but did not explore its political aspect. Now, as last century, there is a political and ideological delusion surrounding the construction: The conviction that this was and is the most apt symbol for Russian Orthodox tradition or for Russia's return to it.

As regards the present project, Mayor Yury Luzhkov needs reminding that the context of associations that surrounded Orthodoxy and the tsarist state were often no more healthy when the cathedral was standing than that surrounding their Bolshevik successor when the building was destroyed.

Popov aptly mentions that the original building was built entirely with government funds, rather than public subscription, as they would have the people believe and that the project was completed nearly seventy years after the 1812 victory over the French to which it was supposedly dedicated. Throughout its short life, the cathedral was not unanimously loved by the Tsar's subjects. Its autocratic, official air made Marina Tsvetaeva shudder. Among its many liberal intellectual critics, Alexander Herzen, who loathed it, associated it with that sinister strain of tsarist Orthodoxy expressed in the threesome coined by Sergei Uvarov in the 1830's: "Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality."

We see a distorted incarnation of the same trio in demonstrations nowadays, in which icons are carried alongside neo-fascists nationalist symbols and communist calls for a return to "order." Uvarov's threesome could in today's context be re-translated as "Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationalism."

The close association of this trio is all too often forgotten: No one notices that as the politicians blithely pin this easy Orthodox identity on Russia, the other two aspects linked to it before the revolution are also appearing together now. Take President Yeltsin's authoritarian decree giving extra power to the police, for example, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's new strain of Pan-Slav nationalism. It is dangerous to play with historical images for the sake of present popularity: Often the most idealized myths from the past bring with them more sinister counterparts.

The other point not mentioned by Mr. Popov was that, while it stood, the building was considered an eyesore which dwarfed a true architectural wonder, the Kremlin, on the Moscow skyline. Not least among its critics was the group of well-known architects and artists who wrote a letter to Stalin a year after the cathedral was destroyed, to protest against another imminent demolition -- that of the Sukharev Tower. "Last year, when the cathedral of Christ the Saviour was destroyed, we said nothing, because that was a piece of bad architecture," they wrote. "But the Sukharev Tower is a beautiful work of art, and should be preserved."

This is not to say that it was right to destroy the cathedral: Only that, in doing so, the Bolsheviks knew they were destroying associations with what was worst about the Tsarist regime, namely that organic link between church and state, orthodoxy and autocracy, religion and political propaganda.

Orthodoxy has never existed before now in Russia without autocratic tsarism, and suspicions of a similar marriage should come to mind immediately as we watch the present authorities starting to promote it. This project is not a logical step forward from the realization that communism was a mistake and the wish to return to Russia's lost culture and religion. And, in the present muddle of ideologies, it seems superfluous to be reconstructing a monument to a victory over the French, just as Russia is sidling up to become the eighth member of the G-7! Surely for the moment it is right simply to encourage the restoration of small parish churches on the genuine, popular initiative which is being fostered at the moment? Then Orthodoxy will be given the chance to grow naturally and to find its place in the Russian republic.

An Orthodox priest, Mikhail Ardov, writing in Izvestia (July 13, 1994) quotes from the Bible against Luzhkov's project and speaks the most common sense I have yet heard on this topsy-turvy, government-promoted Tower of Babel: "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it" (Psalm 127, 1).

Georgina Wilson


We Had It Really Bad


As an eight-month resident of Moscow and daily reader of The Moscow Times, I have been meaning to comment much sooner on the stories some readers may think to be funny, but which may offend others. First, we had the parmesan cheese situation. Most recently, the lack of hot water and "Thimble Baths" was on everyone's complaint list, followed by pukh which still flies in abundance. My hot water has been off since July 5, although it was scheduled to go off on July 7. Too bad for me if I did not manage to get the laundry done in time. As I thought about my problem, I saw the light, and began to feel much better.

Born and raised in East Germany in the aftermath of World War II, I remember not only not having hot water, but also not having electricity most of the time. We heated the water on a coal stove.

The problem was that we did not have any coal either. We did homework by candlelight during the winter months. I remember ice flowers on the bedroom walls and frozen and broken water pipes. We had no vacuum. We beat our rugs. Refrigerator? The first one I saw was at age 16 in West Germany. We just shopped every day and protected perishables with a net from flies.

The milk never got sour. It did not last long enough with a 1/4 liter of skimmed milk allotted per child every two days. Adults didn't drink any. Those of us who survived somehow remember that we were always hungry. The scars on my hands from skin disease caused by malnourishment are proof even now.

So, what is the big deal about the few inconveniences we have here? Please excuse me, but this is far better than what I used to know, growing up. I am siding with those who are offended about foreigners' gripes. Can we not extend a little courtesy and respect to our hosts? We then don't have to worry about being politically correct or even about conspicuous consumption.

Monika Cornielle