By The Reverend Clive Fairclough
The Anglican community in Russia regrets that the Reverend Clive Fairclough is returning to England’s green and pleasant West Country. We all wish him well, and yet we are sad because with his various pro-active outreach programmes, he showed us all that the Church is a living organism, not just something that exists within the 4 walls of a building at Voznesensky Pereuolok 8. His massive contribution meant that St. Andrew’s Church became St. Andrew’s Church and Centre. The Anglican faith was once more back with us in Moscow. Editor.
I have a passion for all things James Bond and so does my wife – Sean Connery and Daniel Craig anyway! Before I came to Moscow my family combined our farewell with a big birthday party for me. My birthday present was a limited edition 007 50th Anniversary watch. I couldn’t possibly reveal what gadgets it has, as one day, I might need them to get out of a tight spot! It turns out that’s what life here is all about.
I had many preconceptions of Russia including the beautiful Tatiana from the movie who turns out to be a double agent. Maybe there was a Rosa Klebb, the Russian agent from the movie, with poisoned-tipped high-heeled shoes in my new church! Another, was a vision of the mighty Russian Bear portrayed in the massive armed services, whom, for twenty years as the Soviet Army, were formally my sworn enemies. I am sure we all have a vivid imagination for what we might encounter either in full time work or as a trailing spouse as if the partner is a kind of animal on a lead! We won’t be going into what animals our partners might represent! These preconceptions changed as I recognised that Russia is just different.
In my sights, I have seen the West which has distrust of a huge Eastern continent which has, throughout its history, been threatened and attacked from all sides. And yet, in the nineteenth century the British Royal Family married members of the Romanov dynasty and we were close allies for a time. In being threatened, Russia has responded like a bear, in so many situations and yes there are stories of betrayal, intrigue, and brutality. However, we only have to look at our own histories and we can see the same. For me seeing Russia at very close quarters and as guests of this huge place, has been an adventure into the unknown. I have been on a search to find the Russian soul in the Motherland and I have found it in her culture, faith, and the honesty of its people.
The culture in which I was most interested on my search was through music, opera and ballet. I soon discovered that music belonged to the people of Russia. The Kremlin theatre which seats six thousand and built by the Soviets, for a very different purpose, offers great opera and ballet for just 800 roubles. Seeing and hearing the music of Tchaikovsky, my favourite composer, sung in Russian, in a Russian theatre in Russia really moved me as I experienced the truth of a deeply sensitive Russian. He struggled with his life (supported by a patron he never met), as a manic depressive, his marriage and his sexuality. It really enlightened me as to exactly what passion there was in the heart of this Russian. Despite a massive inner struggle he composed the Nutcracker an enchanting Christmas fairy-tale. It was the start of my journey.
My cultural quest continued by reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. In this novel I discovered romance, passion, and seeds of revolution both in political thinking and in agriculture. I also read about the author, his passion for equal rights and his extraordinary spiritual struggle. It struck me as being so modern as we often struggle ourselves with such issues. My cultural quest continued with an encounter with the extraordinary story of the Tzars who ruled Russia for more than three hundred years. I shared the lives of those families at court, at home, in politics and at war through the amazing author Simon Sebag Montefiore through his latest book the Romanovs. I drew many parallels with the British Empire stretching over many continents which boasted that the sun never sets across the Empire.
My search for the soul of the Russian really came to fruition as I experienced the Orthodox Faith. My journey of learning and personal encounters with our fellow Christians will stay with me forever. Their humility, their inner strength forged by a faith stretching over a thousand years. It endured war and peace as well as revolution. In some ways they were so like the early dawn of Church in England, although a much younger church, which suffered on its journey through the bloody times of the Reformation in Europe. However the Russian Orthodox Church has seen a huge growth and revival of its faith as can be seen by the restoration and building of new churches (three a week since 1994).
If you haven’t experienced Orthodox worship whether you are a believer or not, it is a must. All three senses are engaged. The story and worship of God is depicted in art, music with a single instrument, the human voice, and finally the waft of ancient incense is keenly smelt as prayers and blessings are offered. Worship is about encoring the living God and that what you experience in Orthodox worship. In fact, whenever I experienced this unique worship I didn’t really know if I was in heaven or on earth.
The highlight of my encounters with the Orthodox Church was when I accompanied the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Patriarch’s visit to London and his private audience with the Queen. The celebration in their cathedral in Kensington (a gift from the Church of England) of three hundred years of the Russian Orthodox church in Britain was extraordinary; offering a sense of common purpose of proclaiming the Gospel of Peace. Uppermost in the conversations between the Archbishop and The Patriarch at a private meeting at Lambeth Place was their shared compassion for Christian, and other, minorities in many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, where they have been systematically targeted and persecuted and their communities decimated. They also spoke of the importance of the Church as the keeper of tradition that is, the wisdom of the past, living in the present.
Finally, my search came to a conclusion when I met Russia’s people and their language. First encounters were of an unsettling abruptness but this, as I soon discovered, is largely due to a language which has both a different alphabet and a far smaller number of words that English. The seemingly direct approach is not reflected in what the Russian people are really like. When I reflected on Russia’s culture and faith, I discovered a resilience and a passion for survival despite anything, any foreign power, the harsh climate and all the suffering which the Russian soul endures with Grace and patience.
I found, in every case, that once you really befriend a Russian and once he or she trusts you, you have a friend for life. Perhaps the most moving encounter I have ever had of the Russian soul was when I watched the march of the Immortal Regiment on the May Day celebrations of the Great Patriotic War. It comprised thirty thousand people each carrying a banner with a picture of a relative lost in WW2 walking along the huge street into Red Square. For me, the Russian belief that through suffering we become stronger in ourselves and in our faith explains why the Russian people are so positive about life and living in the present in spite of the long history of struggle and war. They have survived like the eternal flame in Moscow’s Alexander Gardens.
‘From Russia With Love’ is what I will take with me when we move back home to rural England to the depths of the West Country. I have been profoundly challenged by what I have witnessed and seen gazing through telescopic sights to the West from the East. I have been changed and strengthened by my experiences of Mother Russia. My wife will be relieved that I am leaving without an encounter with the lovely Tatiana and so will I as she might have been a double agent.