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Head of Russian Church’s Hard-Hitting Interview All Christians Need to Hear

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We found this Christmas day (January 7th) interview highly interesting – the Patriarch says some truly remarkable things here. He argues that Russia is, and was for most of its history, a deeply selfless nation, helping others out of a sense of Christian duty.

He rejects liberalism and moral relativism, and predicts apocalypse unless people turn away from these false prophets. He talks about the Ukraine and Syrian conflicts and much else. Highly recommended.

The full transcript follows below.

Our contributor Gil Doctorow has written about this very insightfully here and here. The interviewer was Dmitry Kiselyov, Russia’s #1 news anchor, who asks excellent questions.

We can’t help but be struck by the difference in programming between Russia and the West – the interest and attention given to Christian issues by the establishment in contemporary Russia is extraordinary, certainly in contrast to the rampant Christophobia of the Western media.

Here is a 5 minute excerpt where he talks about how Russia has acted selflessly to help others over the centuries:

Here is a 4 minute one where he talks about how the world is headed for disaster unless the West makes some big changes:

And here is the full interview, only in Russian, unfortunately


Explanation: This translation was done by running the official Russian text of the interview through Google Translate, which we then corrected for style by non-Russian speakers. Therefore, we cannot vouch that this translation is entirely accurate, however it seems to us that it came out surprisingly well, and is very understandable to us in English.

One possible reason why this might be so is that Kirill has the unusual ability of speaking in grammatically perfect sentences, and paragraphs, without the usual idiomatic expressions, not to mention ‘ands’ and ‘ums’. It is really quite extraordinary when you see him doing it in Russian – he is somehow able to speak the way other people write, a skill that has also been attributed to Henry Kissinger.


Kiselev:

Your Holiness, on the planet is not something that is not calm, but the impression that the world is going crazy. In these conditions, your word has always been inspiring, so I want to share with you one of my own reasons: Russia will be alive as long as it retains its identity. To what extent is it so? If so, what is Russia’s specificity today


His Holiness:

Of course, each person has his own identity, there are no two identical people, and each country also has some kind of identity. Probably, this factor is formed under the influence of various circumstances – if we talk about Russia, then this is the size of the country, climate, history, and so on. 

But there is something that underlies the motivation of the absolute majority of our people if they listen to the inner voice, which we call the conscience. 

I think that the uniqueness is largely determined by the fact that Russia is conscientious, although this sometimes created problems for our country.

Here are some very vivid, well-known examples of how conscientiousness prevailed over pragmatism. Crimean War, the defense of Orthodoxy in the Holy Land, Nicholas I. One of our listeners will say: “Yes, but it was a geopolitical program.” But it was not geopolitical ideas that inspired people to protect holy things and protect the Orthodox in the Holy Land, but their conscience. 

And the Balkan wars under Alexander II? Thousands and thousands of ordinary Russian people went to fight for the Slav brothers, and together with them the generals and members of the royal family – is that only pragmatism? Why, for the sake of pragmatism, is a person capable of dying? Never in my life! 

This movement to meet the danger, in order to protect – also from the voice of conscience. And Nicholas II and the beginning of the First World War, when we interceded for the Serb brothers? Someone can also say “pragmatism”. But would people go to war if it was only pragmatism? So, in the history of Russia this conscientiousness is seen very clearly. And the Balkan wars under Alexander II? Thousands and thousands of ordinary Russian people went to fight for the Slav brothers, and together with them the generals and members of the royal family – is that only pragmatism? 

Why, for the sake of pragmatism, is a person capable of dying? Never in my life! This movement to meet the danger, in order to protect – also from the voice of conscience.

And Nicholas II and the beginning of the First World War, when we interceded for the Serb brothers? Someone can also say “pragmatism”. But would people go to war if it was only pragmatism? So, in the history of Russia this conscientiousness is seen very clearly. And the Balkan wars under Alexander II? Thousands and thousands of ordinary Russian people went to fight for the Slav brothers, and together with them the generals and members of the royal family – is that only pragmatism? Why, for the sake of pragmatism, is a person capable of dying? Never in my life!

This movement to meet the danger, in order to protect – also from the voice of conscience. And Nicholas II and the beginning of the First World War, when we interceded for the Serb brothers? Someone can also say “pragmatism”. But would people go to war if it was only pragmatism? So, in the history of Russia this conscientiousness is seen very clearly. – also from the voice of conscience. And Nicholas II and the beginning of the First World War, when we interceded for the Serb brothers? Someone can also say “pragmatism”. 

But would people go to war if it was only pragmatism? So, in the history of Russia this conscientiousness is seen very clearly. – also from the voice of conscience. And Nicholas II and the beginning of the First World War, when we interceded for the Serb brothers? Someone can also say “pragmatism”. But would people go to war if it was only pragmatism? So, in the history of Russia this conscientiousness is seen very clearly.

Kiselev:

Many believe that Russia is trying to play a disproportionate role in the world, and there are even some risks for our country. So is the cross able?

His Holiness:

“The cross is not supposed to be abandoned,” the Orthodox Church teaches. If Russia takes on this cross, then God will give and the forces to carry it. Most importantly, that what we have just said about, namely, the moral dimension in politics, is never absorbed by purely pragmatic goals, far from morality. And if we are in politics, in life, in our social order, we will strive for justice to triumph so that the moral feeling of the people is calm, then we will certainly have to bear a certain cross.

I will not go into details, but, of course, there are people in the world who do not agree with our position. But once again I want to say: if God places the cross, he gives and the forces to bear it. The mere fact of carrying this cross is of great importance for the whole world, for the entire human community.

Kiselev:

And yet you spoke recently about the apocalypse. Responses were very different, we are able to interpret, you know. But still, to what and how to prepare?

His Holiness:

Apocalypse is the end of history, and it was not invented by Patriarch Kirill. If you open the Bible, it is clearly stated there that the end of the story will come, and, in general, this is very logical, because every person at any moment will die. 

Many of us are concerned about the end of the world, but we do not realize that our own demise separates us from the end of the world not by some extended period, but by a very specific period of time – as the Bible says, the days of our seventy years , and if in the forces – eighty years (see Ps 89:10).

By the way, there is an incomprehensible, but, apparently, nonrandom regularity. People do not like liberal views when the Church deals with two topics: when the Church speaks of the devil and when the Church speaks of the end of the world. Therefore, I expected such a reaction. But the question arises why such a reaction arises. And it arises for the same reason that modern culture tries to push aside the theme of death. 

The theme of death as an entertaining is present in every film, but we do not like to seriously consider the end of human life and do not like to talk about death. And this is not only for us – in the West even more. There, and the coffin is not opened during the farewell ceremony, whether in the temple or elsewhere; The less we talk about it, the more relaxed for everyone. And why? But because this topic requires philosophical reflection,

Well, now in essence. When will the end of the world come? When human society ceases to be viable, when it exhausts the resource to exist. In what case can this happen? In the event that the total domination of evil comes, because evil is not viable. A system in which evil prevails can not exist. And if evil increases, if evil pushes out good from human life, then an end will come.

And why this need to talk today? Today we are experiencing, from a worldview point of view, a special period in history. Never before has mankind put good and evil on the same plane. There have been attempts to justify evil, but there has never been an attempt to say that good and evil are not absolute truths. In people’s minds, both good and evil were absolute truths, and today they have become relative. 

When can evil grow uncontrollably in human society? It is when such a point of view, putting good and evil on the same board, triumphs on a global scale. And since today we are not even at the beginning of this process, and a certain stage has already been passed, how can the Church not talk about it, how not to strike the bells, how not to warn that we have entered the terribly dangerous path of self-destruction?

Kiselev:

But we have had periods in history when good and evil turned out to be indistinguishable, for example, the murder of the royal family, the 100th anniversary of which we will soon celebrate. What does this date mean? And when will all the examinations end?

His Holiness:

I’ll start with the last part of your question. Examinations will end when they are completed by specialists and say: here are the results of all the studies. Nobody deliberately drags out this process, but no one is forcing scientists who are eager to answer exhaustively the questions that constantly arise. 

You know that there was a conference in the Sretensky Monastery where I attended, and for me it was extremely important to hear both the reports of scientists about the work done and the questions that they were asked. And the experts said: “We do not have a ready answer. We are not sure, we need to explore something else, which will open the possibility of reaching final conclusions. ” That’s when this happens, then we will make decisions at the Bishops’ Council, taking into account, of course, the opinion of those who still have questions to answer.

Well, now about the tragedy of regicide. I have a question that I would like to formulate, and maybe there will be someone who will help me answer it. 

In 1905, the emperor issued a manifesto, which opens the possibility of realizing the widest freedoms. A multi-party system is being created, the State Duma is being established. The tsar-autocrat opened this possibility – not a revolution, tsar! After all, there were those who said: “It is not necessary to do this; on the contrary, it is necessary to break all opposition. ” But the king goes to meet those who wanted to change the political system. It provides ample opportunities. 

The Duma is turning not so much into an arena for solving political issues as it is in the arena of the struggle around the tsar, around the autocracy. What just was not said then to the emperor!

It is now widely believed that the king was weak. But let’s think: he was internally weak or internally strong person? After all, he had the power to kill the State Duma with one clap, disperse all parties, reintroduce censorship, – he had real political power. But he did not use it. 

Our liberal historians still water Emperor Nicholas II with mud and extol the Emperor Alexander II. But who did more to open the possibilities for a democratic discussion of problems, the participation of society in the formation of state policy – Alexander II or Nicholas II? Of course, Nicholas II. But see what happens! 

He is overthrown, as he himself said, “all around betrayal,” then brutally destroying the whole family, the name is mixed with dirt, and even those who approach him without a particularly negative feeling say: “We were weak”. But if he were a weak man, he would not have accepted death as he had accepted it.

Why is the royal family canonized? Not for the fact that Nicholas II was a good ruler, a wise diplomat or military strategist. He is glorified precisely because he took a Christian death. And not only death, but all this part – the terrible part – of your life. 

He was under arrest, suffering insults and oppression. Yesterday’s tsar, who had lost everything, and such calm diary entries, a calm Christian view of what was happening to him. And this was inherent not only to him, but to all family members.

Hence, regardless of the political evaluation of its activities, people should have respect for the life path of the emperor. Especially in liberal people, but nothing like this happens! Even in the year of the century of revolutionary events, nothing appeared on the screens, except for the film, which throws another lump of dirt into the face of the martyr. That’s why people were indignant over the appearance of this picture! Really nothing else was found? Again, the liberal circles gave birth to this film, – and where is the merit of the emperor of the emperor?

In response, I do not propose an analysis of his political activities, I do not sum up any results of his rule. I’m just talking about a very important part of his life, connected with the rights and freedoms of subjects of the Russian Empire, and about how his life ended. Of course, all that happened to the emperor of the emperor, what happened to our country, should make us think about many things.

Not all, however, enough revolution

Kiselev:

In the civil war that is now in Ukraine, kill every day. The Russian Orthodox Church prays for Ukraine, for healing the split, but what else can be done?

His Holiness:

By itself, prayer is a very powerful moment. I understand that non-religious people can not understand this, but those who passed through the experience of prayer know that the heavens answer. I have said many times that if the boss deceived us once, we can forgive him. If, after coming into the office and asking for something, we did not get help for the second time, then we are already very skeptical about the prospects for further contacts. But if the third time we were deceived, then this ends up.

Throughout life, people constantly turn to God with prayer and remain faithful to the end of the days. This means that he receives an answer that the sky is not closed to him. And in this sense, when we say that we are praying for peace, for reconciliation of people in Ukraine, for overcoming the fratricidal conflict, we put our confidence in the words that the Lord will at some moment put mercy on the Ukrainian people and internecine warfare will cease.

In addition, our Ukrainian Orthodox Church plays a very important role. Today it is the only peacekeeping force in Ukraine, as she has flocks in the east, in the west, and in the center of the country. It can not serve the political interests of certain groups, parties or geographical regions of Ukraine. It is called upon to carry to all the message that is able to transform the minds and hearts of people and, in particular, to promote reconciliation.

As for the whole of our Church, we, to the best of our ability, tried to facilitate the return of the prisoners. By the grace of God, on the eve of the New Year and the birth of Christ, there was a massive exchange of prisoners of war, although not as we would like. Therefore, we believe that this is the first stage of the exchange of prisoners of war program, in the implementation of which our Church has been actively participating from the very beginning to the present day.

Kiselev:

Another hot spot is Syria. In the course of the war, many people, including Christians, died there. Did you manage to help something, and what’s next? It’s not only Syria, it’s the entire Middle East …

His Holiness:

Already in 2014, it was clear that conflicts on the territory of Syria were being incited by radical forces which, if they came to power, would begin by liquidating the Christian presence in this country. That is precisely why the Christians actively supported Assad and his government, – because in the country a certain balance of forces was secured and that is very important. People felt they were being protected.  In 2014, notwithstanding warnings about the danger, I nonetheless decided to travel to Syria.

I was in Damascus and led a church service there, and I saw what enthusiasm there was among the people. In conversations both with Muslims and with Christians, meeting with politicians, I understood that if the Islamic radicals come to power in Syria, the first ones who would suffer would be the Christians. As already happened in Iraq, where 85% of the Christians were either killed or driven out of the country. I visited Iraq still under the regime of Hussein, including in the northern regions, in Mosul. I visited the ancient Christian monasteries.

I saw the piety of the people and was overjoyed that in Muslim surroundings the Christian churches existed in peace. Now practically nothing of this remains – the monasteries have been destroyed, the churches were blown up. The same could happen in Syria. Therefore the participation of Russia was connected not only with solving questions about which I do not have full competence and about which I do not consider it possible to speak, relating to the stabilization of the situation, and not to allow…..military threats, not to allow power to be seized by the terrorists.

There was a very important idea – to defend the Christian minority. Back in 2013, when Moscow was celebrating the 1025th anniversary of the Christian baptism of Rus’, the heads of the Orthodox Churches arrived. When they met with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, one of the strongest messages concerned precisely the request that Russia take part in the defense of Christians in the Near East. And I am happy that this happened. Thanks to the participation of Russia a genocide of Christians was averted.

“Now there arises the question of restoring peace in this country, justice, security, solving a huge number of economic issues. And, what is especially close to us, – the restoration of churches, monasteries, monuments, including Muslim and ancient monuments.  Our Church is participating in rendering humanitarian assistance. We are working both in our own name, and in addition we have a bilateral agreement with the Catholic Church to jointly provide humanitarian assistance. In other words, we are acting in various areas, – I hope they will make their contribution to real assistance to those who are still suffering in Syria.”

Kiselev:

In this regard, the following question is logical. Now the volunteer movement is becoming popular. But the priest is a volunteer. Besides that he prays, he also deals with a lot of other things. In addition, we are helping Christians in Syria – what is happening here in our territory?

His Holiness:

Maxim the Confessor connects two concepts, love and will, strong-willed qualities of the person. If love impregnates the will, we speak of such people: a man of good will. That’s all that volunteers do – it is a manifestation of goodwill, when volitional efforts are reinforced by feelings of pity, compassion and love.

For the Russian Church, the creation of volunteer movements is very important. During the atheistic period, the system of solidarity within the Orthodox parishes of our country was destroyed. People could not meet, could not talk, could not create any organizations – all this was forbidden and strictly controlled. 

This contributed to the development of a kind of religious individualism, when in the temple there was, in fact, the same thing as at home – I myself pray, I turn to God, and everything that surrounds me does not directly concern me. So, the creation of volunteer movements in most parishes (if we talk about Moscow), this individualism destroys.

 People begin to recognize themselves as a community and make joint efforts to solve the tasks that they must solve, including for the sake of conscience and for the sake of their Christian vocation. The volunteer movement among young people has a very great perspective. You know, this changes and, I think, will change the climate not only in Orthodox communities, but also in our society.

Kiselev:

In two months or so, elections for the president and head of state will be held in Russia. How does the Church relate to elections?

His Holiness:

The church is very, very positive, – because the election existed in the Church earlier than in the state. Patriarchs chose and, by the grace of God, still choose. In addition, our councils are acting and making decisions through voting. Therefore, voting, elections – this is what is inherent in the Church.

If voting is permissible in the Church, then why should believers think that this is inadmissible in a secular society? It is not just permissible, but it should be welcomed when the people take part in the election of their highest leader or their representatives to parliament. For some, this is the only way to somehow influence the situation. Many people think: “Well, how can I influence, I am alone, and there are millions of people there.” But this is not so! Voices of millions are created from the voices of the units. Therefore, I would urge everyone, including Orthodox people, to participate, especially in the upcoming presidential elections. It is very important.

Kiselev:

Your Holiness, President Putin is setting a task to build a digital economy in Russia. Where is the church here?

His Holiness:

In our church, the theme of the digital economy is associated with two concepts. On the one hand, there is the concept of efficiency, this is insisted on by secular people, especially managers. Undoubtedly, the introduction of digital technologies will ensure greater effectiveness of the decision-making process, which, of course, is good. But the Church has another concept – security. And we are talking not only about the possibility of malicious forces to use digital technologies in order to render irreparable damage to the country, society or any of the people – this is the entire technological level.

I would now talk about the spiritual level. The Church is very concerned that modern technical means can totally limit human freedom. I will give a simple example. We have hot heads, who enthusiastically talk about the need to eliminate cash and go exclusively to electronic cards. This will ensure transparency, control – well, all those arguments that many are well aware of. All this is so. But if suddenly, at some point in history, access to these cards will open in response to your loyalty? Today, in order to obtain citizenship in one of the European countries, people who wish to naturalize, obtain citizenship or a residence permit, are offered to watch a video, which tells about the life of this country, its customs and laws.

The LGBT theme is very vividly represented in this video, and after viewing the question is asked: “Do you agree with all this?” If a person says: “Yes, I agree, all this is normal for me” – he passes the screening and becomes a citizen, or obtains a residence permit. If he says “No”, he will not. And what if access to finance is restricted by this kind of conditions? These are the dangers that the Church today speaks at the top of its voice.

Kiselev:

Still, back to the Christmas theme. In these days, of course, the tables are laid, and the difference is visible. Someone, so to speak, lobsters are not enough, and someone is happy and chocolate. Nevertheless, we are talking about the unity of society, although the stratification is evident. Is not this stupidity a unity?

His Holiness:

“The stratification of society is a huge problem. All this today is present in our lives. Socialism tried to solve this problem, but let’s be honest: he did not solve it. I found another certificate of my aunt, who lived in the village in the 1950s. She did not have a passport, but she somehow miraculously escaped to Leningrad to visit relatives. She talked about the horrific situation of the village of that time-all this was in a socialist society!

 Therefore, the problem of social imbalances has always existed. But the stability of society and social justice, as we have discussed from the very beginning today, depends, first of all, on overcoming this gap. Than this gap is larger, the more destabilization of society, the more negative energy, the more rejection from all that occurs in society, in the country, the more criticism.

But with what you said, you can not be reconciled. It is necessary to set the task of overcoming these contradictions. Once again I want to say that the rich and the poor will always be, but it is very important that the gap be reduced, and that poverty does not mean a person’s grave situation, on the brink of survival.

Of course, the state of many pensioners also causes anxiety. Anxiety is caused by the fact that many people lose their homes at the end of their life, they are thrown out of the apartments by “black realtors”, businessmen who seize their property. The state should provide for a very clear system that would insure people from this kind of life situations. And God grant that the development of the economy and proper domestic policy contribute to overcoming the huge division between people with wealthy and have-nots, and that justice is more and more penetrated into the bowels of our national life.

Kiselev:

Well, congratulate you on your holiday, Your Holiness.

His Holiness:

I would like to whole-heartedly congratulate our viewers on the coming Christmas. The world in which we live is not easy, and our conversation with you has highlighted many problems. But here’s what I would like to say. The Nativity of Christ, the coming into the world of the Savior is the beginning of a new era, a new era. This is an event that gives a person great strength and strengthens his sense of optimism. At the Christmas services we sing a wonderful hymn “God with us.” These are the biblical words: God is with us, understand, languages(see Isaiah 8: 9), that is, “understand, O people, for God is with us.” Indeed, through the coming of the Savior into the world, God is with us, and by establishing a connection with the Lord, we are able to acquire very great strengths for solving problems in our life – personal, family, social. Let the blessing of God abide over all our people and over our country.

Kiselev:

I am sincerely grateful to you for this amazing interview.

His Holiness:

Thank you.

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New skeleton find could reveal more about Vesuvius eruption

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The remains of a man presumed to be aged 40-45 were found under metres of volcanic rock roughly where Herculaneum’s shoreline used to be, before Vesuvius’ explosion in 79 AD pushed it back by 500 metres (1,640 feet).   

He was lying down, facing inland, and probably saw death in the face as he was overwhelmed by the molten lava that buried his city, the head of the Herculaneum archaeological park, Francesco Sirano, told the ANSA news agency.

“He could have been a rescuer”, Sirano suggested.

As Vesuvius erupted, a naval fleet came to the rescue, led by the ancient Roman scholar and commander Pliny the Elder. He died on the shore, but it is believed that his officers managed to evacuate hundreds of survivors.

The skeleton might have otherwise belonged to “one of the fugitives” who was trying to get on one of the lifeboats, “perhaps the unlucky last one of a group that had managed to sail off,” Sirano suggested.

It was found covered by charred wood remains, including a beam from a building that may have smashed his skull, while his bones appear bright red, possibly blood markings left as the victim was engulfed in the volcanic discharge.

Archaeologists also found traces of tissue and metal objects — likely the remains of personal belongings he was fleeing with: maybe a bag, work tools, or even weapons or coins, the head of the archaeological park said.

Other human remains have been found in and around Herculaneum in the past decades — including a skull held in a Rome museum that some attribute to Pliny — but the latest discovery can be investigated with more modern techniques.

READ ALSO: Study finds 2,000-year-old brain cells of man killed in Vesuvius eruption

“Today we have the possibility of understanding more”, Sirano said.

Researchers believe that in Herculaneum temperatures rose up to 500 degrees — enough to vaporise soft tissues. In a phenomenon that is poorly understood, a rapid drop in temperature ensued, helping preserve what remained.

Although much smaller than Pompeii, its better-known neighbour outside the southern city of Naples, Herculaneum was a wealthier town with more exquisite architecture, much of which is still to be uncovered.

READ ALSO: Where are Italy’s active volcanoes?



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Lou Reed: The Velvet Underground: an inside look at the band that gave a voice to the outsiders | USA

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The importance of The Velvet Underground has been endlessly discussed. They are, with a nod to The Beatles, the modern rock group par excellence. Formed by Lou Reed and John Cale in New York in 1965, the band was immediately endorsed by Andy Warhol, with whom they would collaborate until 1967, although his influence would never leave them. The Velvet Underground were a sixties group that, during its five years of existence, failed to fit into their era for a single day. While others sung of love and good vibrations, they designed a revolutionary and perverse alternative for rock.

It was an alternative that remains valid to this day, half a century after the group was mortally wounded by the departure of Reed in August 1970. To corroborate this, Apple TV will premiere The Velvet Underground in October. Directed by Todd Haynes, the documentary is full of never-before-seen footage and interviews with people who were in the thick of it at the time, more than compensating for a dearth of movies about a band that can be described as legendary without fear of slipping into musical nepotism.

Lou Reed in ‘The Velvet Underground’ documentary.
Lou Reed in ‘The Velvet Underground’ documentary.

The documentary arrives in good company. At the end of September I’ll be your mirror: A tribute to The Velvet Underground & Nico was released, an album of cover versions of the group’s influential debut album when the line-up consisted of Reed, Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker. A posthumous work by producer Hal Willner, who died of Covid-19 in 2020, it features contributions by Thurston Moore, Sharon van Etten, Iggy Pop, Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett and Michael Stipe, among others.

Speaking about the original The Velvet Underground & Nico, released in 1967, Haynes said in an interview with Uncut magazine earlier this year that it is music that makes you think about how fragile identity is, and also about life. The journalist Susana Monteagudo concurs with Haynes. “The Velvet Underground were the first punk group in terms of transgression of codes and creative freedom,” says the author of books including Illustrated History of Rock and Amy Winehouse. Stranger than her. “As well as practicing the philosophy of do-it-yourself and rejecting the commercial course of the music industry, they subverted the establishment by making dissidence visible on every level, not just in artistic terms. They embraced the marginal and they were too nihilistic, cynical and sinister for the Flower Power era.”

The Velvet Underground did not belong to their time, but to the future. Cale wanted to fuse rock and roll with experimental music. Reed’s lyrics were open to the influence of writers like Burroughs, Delmore Schwartz and John Rechy. They were a loud and screeching band, but they also composed melodic songs. This contrast is most evident on The Velvet Underground & Nico, which contains some of the group’s most beautiful songs. I’ll be your mirror and Femme Fatale are sung by Nico (who also provides vocals on the chorus of Sunday morning, originally written for her but eventually sung by Reed), one of the most conflicting elements of the band.

For trans artist Roberta Marrero, Nico, the German model and singer who died in 1988, was an “icon of undisputable beauty, as well as being a pioneer who opened the door for other greats like Siouxsie.” In spite of her beauty, Nico did not fit the prevailing pop girl model of the time. Her singing style was far removed from traditional rock and openly reflected her Germanic and Gothic roots. Her inscrutable personality was married to a talent that after she left the Velvet Underground would manifest itself in unclassifiable works such as The marble index (1969), whose idiosyncrasy – tearing up the blueprint of pop music and exploring musical latitudes reserved for men – would inspire Kate Bush and Björk, as well as more contemporary artists such as Julia Holter, St Vincent and Anohni.

The Velvet Underground, clockwise from top left: Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale, Moe Tucker and Nico.
The Velvet Underground, clockwise from top left: Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale, Moe Tucker and Nico.

The Velvet Underground also broke with the heterosexual tradition of rock music. In Monteagudo’s view, in addition to creating a literary imagery “where there was room for homosexuals, trans women, prostitutes, junkies and outsiders in general,” they were also “a band not exclusively made up of males, and men who at the same time did not identify with a heteronormative masculinity, especially in the case of Lou Reed. They integrated and normalized diversity in their sphere because their way of life was linked to this concept. It was also the dawning of the ambiguous, the queer.” Marrero believes that “they brought non-normative sexualities to the forefront, such as sadism, more so than homosexuality. Although when I think about it, I’m waiting for my man could be talking about a gigolo and not a drug-dealer. In reality, it’s very ambiguous.”

This divorce from the prevailing canons also had a lot do with the presence of Maureen “Moe” Tucker. Her drum work with the band anticipated a trend that would not take hold until 1977, with the explosion of punk. From that point on, the female role in groups ceased to be principally pigeon-holed into certain instruments and roles. In Monteagudo’s opinion, Tucker is “a key element of this breaking of stereotypes and, as such, a figure to be held up by feminism. Her playing style, as unorthodox as it was influential, is one of those achievements that should be emphasized by the movement. Furthermore, her androgynous image and her discretion made her a counterpoint to Nico’s glamour.”

Revered by bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain, who dedicated a song to her, and as Marrero asserts, a precursor to drummers such as Hannah Billie, formerly of Gossip, Tucker is, along with Cale, one of the survivors of the Velvet Underground’s original line-up. Due to her social media stance on Donald Trump and gun ownership, Tucker has also become the band’s least popular member.

Warhol’s influence was a determining factor behind The Velvet Underground developing such a peculiar personality. In the strictly musical sense, the band projected through their instruments some of the ideas on repetition, improvisation and saturation that the artist applied to his experimental movies. On the literary side, the people who frequented Warhol’s Factory left their mark on songs including That’s the story of my life (inspired by Billy Name, the Factory’s archivist) Femme fatale (inspired by the ‘it’ girl Edie Sedgwick) or the Reed-penned Candy says, which is about Candy Darling, an icon of the trans community.

“When Candy says was released in 1969 nothing changed,” says Marrero, “but I think it was a marvelous celebration of trans culture on the part of the group. It is one of my favorite songs. You have to read the lyrics in a historical context because all that stuff about being trans and hating your body is a discourse that is now quite outdated in our community.” Marrero also notes that, years later, Reed was in a relationship with a trans colleague, Rachel Humphries, the two sharing a “romantic relationship that was utterly silenced by the hetero-ciscentric music press.”

When he started his solo career Reed would again talk about Candy Darling and other trans actresses on Walk on the wild side, one of the hits on his acclaimed 1972 album Transformer, a record that finally delivered many of The Velvet Underground’s artistic ideas to a wider audience. By that time, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Suicide, Modern Lovers and New York Dolls we ready to do the group’s legacy justice.

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A Treasure of Old Christian Paintings in a Russian Church in a Remote Forest

Voice Of EU

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One of the editors of RI actually visited this church this summer, and we can assure you, it is REMOTE!  Brumfield, in his understated way, doesn’t describe the condition of the road leading to this village, but it is barely passable at times.  The number of remarkable architectural and other treasures hiding in the Russian hinterlands, especially in the north, is rather extraordinary.


This article is from a series by the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA.

Brumfield is the world’s leading historian of Russian architecture.  He makes frequent trips to Russia, often to her remote regions, and records the most unusual examples of surviving architecture with detailed, professional photography.  

His most recent book is a real treasure, Architecture At The End Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon).  This truly beautiful book was made possible by the support of a US philanthropist, and its true cost is 3 times its retail price, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.  Here is our 2015 review of it.

Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work possible, and providing such a great platform for his beautiful photography.  We recommend visiting the RBTH page, which has a slide show for each article with many more pictures than we can fit in here.

Don’t believe in miracles?  Well, we can assure you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly just that.  You can find a complete list of his articles on RI here.

The original headline for this article was: The Church at Korovye: Abandoned Treasure of Russian Art


The turbulence of the past century has left many abandoned architectural monuments in Russia’s regions — parish churches, former estate houses, log houses and churches in villages where no one lives. However modest, they all reflect the history of their area, and some of them are — or were — masterpieces of creativity.

One of these monuments is located in the tiny village of Korovye near the Viga River just off the road to Chukhloma. Although the village name is modestly derived from the word for “cow,” its church has the imposing and unusual dedication to the Convocation of the Mother of God. Within the abandoned church is one of the most unusual displays of religious art in all Russia. On the walls of the main structure, the artist in effect created a miniature Renaissance palazzo for the display of the sacred images.

The village of Korovye was originally known as Verkhniaia pustyn (“Upper wilderness”), a reference to one of the three monastic retreats founded in the Chukhloma area by St. Avraamy Gorodetsky. Dissolved in the middle of the 18th century, the small monastery’s two wooden churches — dedicated to the Convocation of the Virgin and to Elijah the Prophet — were converted to use as parish churches. In 1797, parishioners provided resources to rebuild the former as a large brick church that would serve a group of 34 villages (most of which no longer exist).

Attributed to the noted Kostroma architect Stepan A. Vorotilov (1741-1792), the design reveals a professional mastery unusual for a rural church. Whereas typical parish churches had a sprawling refectory with additional altars that pushed the main structure away from the bell tower, here all the components are tightly integrated.

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The structure rests on a ground floor that contained secondary altars and was used for worship in the winter months. Above the ground floor rise the essential components of a parish church: the main worship space with two rows of windows and five cupolas, a rectangular apse for the primary altar at the east end and on the west, a compact refectory and magnificent bell tower over the main entrance.

This sophisticated, technically demanding design created a coherent visual tie between the primary components of the church: the bell tower and the core structure with five cupolas. The main interior space on the upper floor was dominated by an elegant neoclassical iconostasis. 

The majestic character of this design was demonstrated when the Convocation Church was chosen for a visit by Emperor Alexander I and his wife Empress Elizabeth on their way back from a visit to the Urals territory in the fall of 1824. Indeed, during the first half of the 19th century, this church could claim to be the most imposing in the Chukhloma region, surpassing even those in Chukhloma itself.

A fire in the late 1890s damaged much of the interior and led to a major renovation that extended from 1903 to 1906. On the ground floor, a refectory (containing altars to Elijah the Prophet, St. Nicholas and St. Avraamy Gorodetsky) was expanded on the north and south sides. The expansion was artfully hidden by a grand staircase that curved upward from both sides to the main portal on the second level of the bell tower. This skillful renovation — and particularly the stairway — gave the church a still more imposing appearance as it soared above the two main streets of the village.

Yet the great miracle occurred on the interior, whose walls were repainted under the direction of a Moscow artist identified as Anufry A. Bakhvalov, a native of this area. Although the work of Anufry Bakhvalov is little known, the scope of imagination represented by these wall paintings is extraordinary, even daring. The artist did not simply depict the religious subjects in a Renaissance-based style typical of academic painting, he painted the subjects within imposing Renaissance frames situated between neoclassical columns with lavish composite capitals — and all of this in trompe l’oeil (on a flat, two-dimensional surface). At some points, Bakhvalov even painted the shadows cast by the illusory frames. The interior space had become a miniature Renaissance art gallery.

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Surviving fragments of the paintings on the north and south walls include full-length figures of St. Vladimir, St. Catherine, St. Nicetas and St Macarius on the lower level between the windows. The upper level of the north and south walls is devoted primarily to a portrayal of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with their symbols — another unusual artistic decision. (The Evangelists are often depicted on spandrels beneath the main dome, but spandrels are absent in this structure.) On the south wall are John (now effaced) with the eagle, and Mark with an endearingly vivid depiction of a guardian lion. On the north wall are Matthew, compelling in his concentration and assisted by an adoring angel; and Luke with the bull (both largely destroyed). The north wall also contains a depiction of Christ with Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus — one of the most moving episodes in the Gospel account of the life of Christ.

Equal to the Evangelists in their artistry are the three scenes above the arch in the west wall: the Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes (Christ feeding the Multitudes) on the left side; Pentecost (Mary and the Apostles) in the center; and a vivid depiction of Balthazar’s Feast on the north side of the west wall. Throughout, there is evidence of the artist’s knowledge of Renaissance art, particularly in Balthazar’s Feast, which depicts armed horsemen storming through the gate of the burning city. On the east, the apse contained a depiction of the Last Supper, now almost effaced.

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The ceiling vaults in their height represented a culmination of the visual program. Although much has been lost, fragments remain of the august display of the Synaxis (Gathering) of the Archangels, part of the larger concept of the Convocation of the Virgin. Crowned archangels and angels gather on the north and south flanks, while the east flank was devoted to the cartouche with the Crucifixion (destroyed). The west flank presumably had a depiction of the Mother of God enthroned.

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Unfortunately, the Convocation Church’s glory days were soon eclipsed by the rise to power of an avowedly atheistic regime. Although it survived longer than many other churches, the Convocation Church was closed in 1937 during a renewed wave of terror against religion. Subsequently the icons were removed, and the ground level was used as a storehouse for various purposes. The cupolas were destroyed, and in the 1980s, the area of the church was apparently used as a detention center for juvenile delinquents.

Unprotected and exposed to the elements as well as vandalism, the artwork of the upper level began to collapse. Recently, the roof of the church was replaced and the arch in the upper west wall was reinforced with a firm wooden brace. The upper level has been swept of debris, but the interior is still exposed and under threat of further deterioration. The fate of the remains of this extraordinary artistic creation is still in question.

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