In an exclusive interview with RT, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, shared his ideas on the difficult situations of Christians in the Middle East, the US presidential election, and European multiculturalism.
RT: Your Holiness, first of all, let me congratulate you on your upcoming birthday. Thank you for taking the time to discuss these important –even global –issues with us. Let us talk about Christian affairs outside of Russia – specifically, about the Middle East and Northern Africa. As everyone knows, the dramatic events associated with the armed conflicts raging in the Middle East, especially in Syria, pose a threat not only to government leaders, individuals, secular regimes, etc., but to the Christian faith itself.Several months ago, you had a historic meeting with Pope Francis, during which you called upon the international community to stop the extermination and expulsion of Christians from these regions. Do you believe that enough is being done to stop this? Have you noticed any improvement since the time you made that statement? Or do you believe the situation has deteriorated?
Patriarch Kirill: I have on many occasions been forced to raise my voice – on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church – in defense of those whom I would call the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. Of all the minorities in the region, it is Christians who have been suffering the most. The statistics show an appalling dynamic: there used to be 1.5 million Christians in Iraq – now there is less than 150,000. There used to be half-a-million Christians in Syria, and now they have vanished without a trace, whether they were killed or fled the country. But the Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity, and of Christian culture. Which is why killing Christians or driving them out of the region isn’t just a crime against religion and against human rights and freedoms: it is a civilizational disaster. Because once Christian communities vanish from those countries, life there will change in every respect. Prior to the current crisis, the governments in those countries, including secular governments, had to reckon with the presence of Christians and devise their policies in a way that would ensure some kind of sectarian balance. Now there’s no need to maintain a balance. And who knows what may happen to the remaining Christian population in those countries.
So you could say our meeting with the Pope was centered on our shared concerns regarding the situation in the Middle East. We were genuinely concerned, and we were both convinced that decisive action must be taken to save the Christians in those countries. Not only Christians, of course – it is important to end bloodshed as such, and I want to make it clear that we care for all those who are suffering. But while Islamic communities are not about to go extinct in those countries, Christians actually are.
So our joint declaration included a statement to this effect. Unfortunately, the subsequent developments have not brought about a political solution for this issue, although we now coordinate our Middle East efforts more extensively with the Pope. We know that the expulsion of Christians continues in those countries, among other things, and that civilians in general suffer because of what’s going on in Syria and Iraq.
It is perfectly clear that, if the nations currently engaged in the interventions in Syria and Iraq are truly committed to eradicating terrorism, and if that stated objective is their only true goal and there’s no hidden agenda, then it shouldn’t be a problem for us to join efforts and work together. After all, what is ISIS [Islamic State, formerly ISIL]? We once defeated the Nazi powers through collective efforts, and they had half of Europe enslaved. So it seems to me it should be fairly easy to do away with ISIS, and thereby resolve the refugee crisis and all the other disasters and tragedies that are rooted in this conflict. But we are not seeing that happen. So all that is left to us as Christians is to pray and, of course, work together with everyone, so that all the nations involved realize that collaboration is instrumental. We keep hearing that the coalition has its own approach, and Russia has a different stance. Well, now is the time when we can’t have two conflicting positions any longer; we need to align ourselves with each other.
That’s why I was glad to hear what US President-elect Mr. Trump said in this regard. He clearly underlined the necessity to tackle Islamist radicalism and terrorism. Hopefully that’s the objective we will move towards, in terms of Russia-US relations as well. Terrorism poses a real threat for the entire world, including Russia, the Middle East, Western Europe, and the US, which was hit hard in the early 21st century. It’s high time we pool ideas, join forces and co-operate to solve this problem that many countries and peoples are facing.
RT: We’ll get back to Western politicians in a minute, but let’s talk about Donald Trump. You said you hoped that his administration would be able to make progress with this problem. However, quite a few people believe Donald Trump is a bigot. He’s a controversial figure in the US and the world, let’s put it that way. So do you believe that once he assumes office that US-Russia relations will get better and we’ll be able move forward and resolve the situation in the Middle East, like you said?
PK: Based on what Mr. Trump said in the course of the election campaign, we can see that he does have the intention to establish a dialogue with Russia, including first and foremost when it comes to combating terrorism. That’s good; it opens up new opportunities for cooperation, which is what I hope we’re going to have in Russia-US relations in order to tackle this. I can’t really say anything about Mr. Trump beyond that. I don’t know him personally, and I don’t know much about his life, so I can only judge based on his statements, which were in stark contrast to other politicians’ stances. There was no hope in what others were saying, while Mr. Trump’s words give us hope. It’s very important for leaders of key global powers to instill hope for a better future with their policies.
RT: About that contrast between Trump’s statements and other Western leaders’ statements. Many say that Trump doesn’t hesitate to openly speak his mind and call a spade a spade. You’ve spoken on many occasions about the persecution of Christians in this region, but Western politicians shy away from the subject. The reason could be that they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, or maybe it’s because of the Muslim communities in their countries or political correctness in general. Why do you think it’s not a widely discussed issue in the West? There is political correctness in Russia, too – take the legislation concerning insulting religious feelings – but to what extent do you think it prevents Western politicians from speaking about this freely?
PK: Of course, it’s in the way. It seems as if political correctness is meant to limit Christians’ freedom to practice their faith. For example, why should we use ‘X-mas’ instead of ‘Christmas’? The answer we got to this question is that we shouldn’t hurt the feelings of non-Christians. So we asked Muslims if they were offended by the word ‘Christmas’, and they said “no.” We asked if they were offended by decorated Christmas trees in the streets, and they said “no.” So if Muslims are okay with that, whose feelings are we hurting here? It’s likely it’s no one’s. In fact. Europe is a continent whose culture and even political culture is rooted in the tenets of Christianity. We are told that Europe was also influenced by Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, and that’s true, but, in terms of scale, this influence can in no way compare to the importance that Christian moral values, and the laws based on them, held for many centuries. So if Europe is now cutting itself off from its roots, it raises the question of whether this is motivated by political correctness or something else. That’s the question we, the people who lived through religious persecution in the USSR, ask. Back then it was also supposedly done in the name of human rights and liberties and a better tomorrow. But it was only the believers who the state had pressured up until perestroika. The capitalists, the bourgeoisie, the rich land owners – Soviet leaders stopped fighting them all and even the Soviet economy half-resembled a market economy, not to mention the New Economic Policy of the 1920s, but they fought the Church to the very end. There is no understanding why that was. So we’re very wary when, under the guise of political correctness and universal rights and liberties, we glimpse signs of discrimination against the people who want to be open about their Christian convictions.
RT: Why is it so hard to achieve peace and harmony between Christians and Muslims in Western Europe? Some say the reason behind this is what we call a clash of civilizations. Considering the recent migrant crisis and the problem of terrorism, do you think these cultures can co-exist peacefully, in the long term? Or should we face the truth and admit – like many politicians such as Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage do – that the policy of multiculturalism has failed?
PK: Multiculturalism has no future, because it implies different cultures mixing, different cultures and religions poured together and shaken vigorously to create a kind of cocktail. That would be impossible because of deep-rooted traditions. If multiculturalism implies weakening people’s connection to their religion and traditions, it automatically makes them victims of discrimination and forces them to be defensive; so this very approach contains a dangerous source of division, and I mean the fundamental division of the brother-against-brother kind.
There are other ways. Russia is a multiethnic country, but the idea of multiculturalism has never been promoted, not even back in the USSR. It was declared that we would have a new national identity as Soviet people, but everyone knew that Turkmens would stay Turkmens, Tajiks would stay Tajiks, Uzbeks would stay Uzbeks, Russians would stay Russians, and Jews would stay Jews.
This approach, which allows people to express their ethnic and religious identity freely, has especially flourished recently, in modern Russia. We’re not talking about any mixture or cocktail – we say that every person should stay who they are. But we all live in the same country, so all of us must observe the law and be nice to each other. And policies regarding this have to be aimed, not at erasing the lines between cultures and religions and making one cocktail out of it, but at ensuring support, rights and liberties are given to all – to each their own – so that a person of any faith can feel at home in their country, not among strangers. Implementing this model in the West could have paved the way for peaceful co-existence, but I fear that it might be too late now. It should have been done before Europe had to deal with this huge influx of migrants who represent different cultural and religious views, and who are opposed to the culture of the countries they’ve ended up in. A great deal of people have this internal resistance to Western values, and one of the reasons is this radical – I would even say aggressive – secularization. A religious person feels deeply uncomfortable living in an aggressively-secular society, same as we in the USSR felt uncomfortable living in an aggressively-atheistic society. When the aggression disappears, people start feeling affinity towards the society and country they’re living in.
RT: I’d like to hear your opinion on the current state of social institutions that the Church has traditionally upheld, such as marriage and family. Today, many of the historically Christian countries in the West are legalizing same-sex marriage. Some of them have even appointed special envoys for LGBT rights. Many in the West see it as progress and liken it to the situation with interracial marriages in the US, which used to be frowned upon and now are a part of life. So, many believe this is a step forward. What do you think of this trend?
PK: I’m deeply wary of it. What’s happening in the Western countries is that, for the first time in human history, legislation is at odds with the moral nature of human beings. What’s good and evil? Sin and righteousness? These could be defined in both religious terms and non-religious terms. If you take a good character from English, American, or Russian fiction, you will see that all of them possess the same qualities. Why? We have different cultures and different political systems, but for all of us good is good, and evil is evil, and everyone understands who the good guys are, and who the bad guys are. So how do we distinguish? With our heart, with our moral nature. This moral nature, created by God, served as a foundation for the legislation which is designed. Laws defined moral values in legal terms, telling us what’s good and what’s bad. We know that stealing is bad and helping people is good, and laws define what stealing is and what the suitable punishment for it is.
Now, for the first time in human history, the law allows something that doesn’t correspond to our moral nature. The law contradicts it. It’s not the same thing, of course, but we could compare this to an extent to the apartheid in Africa or Nazi laws – when the law went against inherent moral values, people rebelled. They knew it wasn’t right; it was artificial; it was part of some ideology and not in sync with their moral nature. So the Church can never approve of this. We say that the Church can never redefine good and evil, sin and righteousness, but we don’t condemn people who have different sexual preferences. It’s on their conscience and it’s their business, but they shouldn’t be discriminated against or punished, as used to be common practice in some states. However, under no circumstances should this be accepted as a social norm no different from the social norm that stems from our moral nature, meaning marriage between a man and wife who create a family and have children. That’s why we believe this new trend poses a significant threat for the existence of the human race. The Church has to address this and say it’s a bad thing, but we’ve seen that authorities in some countries have been trying to silence clergymen. One Protestant pastor went to jail for calling same-sex marriage a sin in his sermon. Again, this is very reminiscent of what was happening under Soviet totalitarianism. In the countries that declare their commitment to freedom of speech, you can get punished for expressing your opinion. That’s a dangerous trend, and I hope it will peter out and the natural order of things will prevail. I don’t even want to think about what might happen to us otherwise. Our prayers and our work are so that humanity lives on and follows the principles dictated by our moral nature.
RT: Speaking of Protestants… During your meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, you expressed your concerns over the Church of England’s recent liberalization, namely its decision to ordain women and its rather modernist stance on marriage and morality. But how can you make Christian values appeal to modern-day youth that keeps turning away from the Church, especially in the West. How can we bring them back?
PK: I don’t think that the tendency of young people rejecting Christian values is a natural process. It is the result of their minds being influenced in a certain way, and we are not talking just about youth here. Just look at what’s out there – movies, television, literature. There is a clear ideological paradigm aimed at dismantling religious and moral values. And it is not always a direct confrontation. They just paint this happy, full life – without God and without the moral obligation to weigh your actions listening to the voice of conscience. It means that God is being purposefully forced out of a person’s life. It is not just some accidental trend. But it’s actually turning out this way. We know that history can unfold in different directions. When evil in this world reaches a certain point, it begins to prevail. In those cases good appears to lose. Today Christians are a minority. The values we preach are either dismissed or ignored. Why? Because we encourage people to move upwards, walk uphill, while popular culture asks people to go in the opposite direction, move down. If a person is guided by his instincts, if civilization is built on this foundation, then of course the majority will follow this road, because it is so much easier, it doesn’t require effort or work. People want this easy life. But the Bible says that “narrow is the way that leads to life.” And this narrow way to salvation requires bravery. But if this way disappears, humanity will fall into a pit. Jesus did not convince everybody with His preaching. In fact, His earthly life ended on the Cross where He was crucified. Of course, He then rose from the dead… But some might see Him as a failure. If you don’t believe in Christ’s resurrection, then the end of His life doesn’t seem very impressive – he was executed. The same with all the apostles, except for St. John. They were all executed. So basically they seemed like a bunch of losers, they lost everything. But the message of Christ and His apostles has survived for 2,000 years – it keeps inspiring people. It has often inspired artists and writers who created their works despite this external pressure. But what’s more important is that Christ enters the hearts of many people. We see how people in Russia are starting to believe, this phenomenon is truly historic. The Church is being restored, young people are being converted. When people choose this narrow way, it will most definitely lead them to the stars. It is the road to heaven, to the very top. It is always difficult but it is the way of salvation.
RT: Your Holiness, thank you very much!
New skeleton find could reveal more about Vesuvius eruption
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.
“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?
Lou Reed: The Velvet Underground: an inside look at the band that gave a voice to the outsiders | USA
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.
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 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.
A Treasure of Old Christian Paintings in a Russian Church in a Remote Forest
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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