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Guest Post: Impressions of Easter 2017, Rural Russia

[ by Mark Osiecki — posted by Charles Cameron ]
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I found this semi-private post by my friend Mark Osiecki quite wonderfully written, insightful as to mood in rural Russia, and deeply moving.

In my mind, the arches formed where religion and science meet are among the loftiest in the “hundred gated cathedral of kind” that Hermann Hesse wrote of in his novel Magister Ludi, aka The Glass Bead Game, and this post, with its arch between engineering and eucharist, strikes me as a fine example of the possibilities. With Mark’s permission, I’m reposting it here.

**

Feodor and I.

Nearly identical in age, we arrived essentially simultaneously into this existence, but within parallel universes…his The Cold War Soviet, mine The Cold War United States. But we laboured professionally within a common belief system…his sect, nuclear physics and reactor-powered plants, mine mechanical engineering and heavy industrial process. Despite our governments’ endeavoring to differentiate their brands of benevolent service to us, we moved in remarkably similar worlds.

The Engineering, after all, is united in its own universal mysticism.

Therein reside incantations…rich in their use of sigmas, alphas, rhos, thetas… symbology universally recognized by all trained congregants. On our respective sides of this planet, we would re-contrive those classical formulae with ritualistic rigor, condense the results into icon-like drawings and present them to sage masters who would ask us “Will this work? Can persons walk under or past this without peril? Is this for the greater good?” We were trained to curtly answer “yes”, of course, confident in our interpretation of The Commandments as bestowed by a Euclid, a Newton, an Euler, a Moore, an Ohm perhaps. Sadly, though, we plied this belief system with the knowledge that it had all too often been deployed not in fact for the greater good but rather to release the great unseen forces hidden within those incantations into enormous, physically destructive effects, eventually bringing grievous harm and agonizing death to many.

But we, we rationalized, incantated for some greater utility. After all, the greater people somehow desired and benefited from the results of our labours. And thus, we and those consuming the products of our work were able to sense no complicity in the release of such destruction.

*

The Supreme Soviet, one day, stopped.

The Engineering continued despite that passage, but The Orthodoxy – a disallowed belief system – somehow immediately re-emerged adjacent to The Engineering despite the Soviet’s travails over many generations to erase all sentimentality for it. One day soon thereafter, it occurred to Feodor that his inclination towards incantation and application of Commandments could be deployed via The Orthodoxy, also towards the greater good. Thus, he abruptly refocused his faith towards a new set of Unseeable Phenomena, got educated in it, and got to work.

So now, this Easter’s eve in a tiny rural chapel bounded only by hovels and two cemeteries, my friend Feodor is working. It’s 3:30am on what began as a blustery Saturday night, and we are gathered in the middle of nowhere. Two hundred or so consumers of his work have assembled before him in a space where a certificate next to the front door declares its legal capacity of 60. Half of the congregants – people of my generation or older – had come to this belief system after the collapse of the Supreme Soviet un-disallowed it. The rest, mostly younger, were born into it. Now, we here are compressed together, so tightly that we are slightly deforming each other. Every time the person in back of me waves her right arm in signing The Cross – once every thirty seconds or so over several hours – she caresses that image onto my back. My pelvis is in warm, intimate contact with the back of the person in front of me. Were the man next to me attempt to reach in his pocket, I would feel every nuance of that movement, as though his wriggling fingers were en route to one of mine.

Group confessions were jointly said earlier this evening, but this compacted mass of believers is not static. Folks come and go. Most will stay for the entire five-hour fete, with an overflow crowd cresting just about now. A cantor announces that if anyone missed the earlier confession, they may step forward and Feodor will somehow work them in during the balance of the service. If you have ever studied fluid dynamics and observed images or videos of how temperature difference diffuses through a dense medium, you would recognize a similar visual phenomenon here. The contrite shimmy their way forward but you don’t actually see them. Rather, you see the reactions of those already-confessed souls parting to make way for them…a glance over a shoulder, a twist of a torso, a fluttering open of normally closed eyes.

The service, despite its playing out in a language I struggle to grasp, is at least structurally familiar to me. Readings from testaments are performed, a consecration is rendered, praises are sung. A cleansing remorse is conveyed and then sensed as accepted. I take refuge in that familiarity. As the night passes to morning, a subtle crescendo of hopefulness builds within… this certain, family-given sense of being, communicated via a belief couched in the unbelievable.

**

Thanks you, Mark.

4 Responses to “Guest Post: Impressions of Easter 2017, Rural Russia”

  1. Graham Says:

    Interesting, even moving reflections.

    His opening did make me think of St. Leibowitz the Engineer.

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Ah, yes. I’m a fan of the Saint and his Canticle.
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    On the other hand, ie arguing that the engineering mindset is well suited to fundamentalism / extremism, there’s Diego Gambetta & Steffen Hertog, Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection between Violent Extremism and Education to be considered. My friend Mark’s guest post above provides a singular counterpoint to that idea.

  3. Jim Gant Says:

    Charles,
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    Thanks for sharing this.
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    Hope all is well.
    .
    Jim

  4. J.ScottShipman Says:

    This is a lovely post, thanks for sharing! Canticle is one of my favorite works of fiction.

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