Russian culture: Keys to Understanding

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The Core Values of Russian Culture

The essential values of Russian and European civilisation have a common basis, which is Christianity. This is why they coincide in general features.[1] At the same time, there are significant differences in the way these values are perceived in Russian culture. What are they? We shall try answer this question. Thus, Russian culture promotes
worth of the human person, i.e. a person, their independent and individual worldview, set of opinions and perception of existence, represents a fundamental value.

This is seen in many different phenomena of Russian culture:
Great poets and writers are traditionally viewed as shining beacons of spirituality. In this regard, let us recall Pushkin’s poem The Prophet in which the spiritual thirst of the poet is quenched when he undergoes a transformation and when he calls for a spiritual and civil mission, to spread the word of God in his poetry. This perception of a poet remains relevant in Russian literature to this day which can be proved by the well-known verse by Yevgeny Yevtushenko:

You know, the Russian poet isn’t just
a poet. Russia’s bards are those who’re fated
to be by civic notions agitated,
for whom a lack of peace and rest’s a must.[2]

The elders have a special meaning for the Russian people and a special place in Russian religious practises. The eldership is not a uniquely Russian tradition – it is one of the most ancient institutes of Eastern Orthodox monasticism which implies “the strongest ties” between the elder (starets, i.e. a monk who is of an advanced spiritual life and is blessed by God) and a novice whom he led along the path of spiritual growth and prepares for monasticism.[3] However, from the 18th century, “a new type of eldership”[4] formed, and it developed as elders “opened” to the laypeople, offering guidance and communicating with them; sometimes elder priests (not monks) even lived among the laypeople.[5] This new type of eldership met the need of the Russian people to communicate with someone special and spiritually advanced, a charismatic person “upon whom spiritual gifts were bestowed”, who had achieved a venerated status.[6]

[1] Likhachev D.S. Tri osnovy evropeiskoi kultury i russkii istoricheskii opyt [Three Foundations of European Culture and the Russian Historical Experience] // Likhachev D.S. Russkaia kultura [Russian Culture]. M.: Iskusstvo, 2000. 440 p. P. 45–49.

[2] Yevtushenko Y. Bratskaya GES [Bratsk Hydroelectric Station] // Yevtushenko Y.S. Selected Works: in 2 vol. M.: Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, 1980. Vol. 1. P. 375.

[3] Khoruzhy S.S. Dukhovnie osnivy russkogo starchestva [Spiritual Foundations of the Eldership in Russia] // Fenomen russkogo starchestva. Primery iz dukhovnoi praktiki startsev. [Phenomenon of the Eldership in Russia. Examples of the Elders’ Spiritual Experience]. M.: Publishing Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, 2006. 272 p. P. 5.

[4] Ekzemplarski V.V. Starchestvo [The Eldership] // Dar uchenichestva [The Gift of Discipleship]. A collection under the editorship of P.G. Protsenko. M., 1993. P. 220.

[5] Khoruzhy S.S. Dukhovnie osnovy russkogo starchestva [Spiritual Foundations of the Eldership in Russia]. P. 13 – 15.

[6] Ibid. P. 20.

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