Monday, December 13, 2004
On The Mark -- Reporting from Russia VIII
Religion. While visiting some of the spectacular monasteries here, it's hard to believe that during Soviet times they were used as storage facilities or left empty because religion was forbidden. Religion is back in full force now with the Russian Orthodox church's stamp firmly on the population. In the small village of Zhadonsk (note: not sure of English translation spelling), a place that many Russians call the second Jerusalem, one can find a monastery that towers over the village. Not that it's a skyscraper in design, but it is colorful and tall by comparison with the rest of the homes in this location. And this was the only place I visited where most of the people live in homes vs. apartment dwellings that one sees in the cities. People in Russia flock here to be fully immersed (in the nude) in the natural spring healing waters (even when it's -12 C) that are eternally blessed by the saint who healed people at this location centuries ago. They also participate in services in the monastery, services that last for several hours and where you are not allowed to sit (there are no chairs or benches) -- you must stand at all times. You also won't hear an organ or other kinds of musical instruments, since they are forbidden, although there is a choir. They also don't see any "blending" of the religions. Through an interpreter, I requested a blessing for my father, a devout Catholic, who passed away recently. The church leader at this monastery was consulted, and my request was refused.
Tax Dollars at Work. Driving on the highways of Russia is quite a bumpy experience. They're dark at night with little or no lighting. You feel as though you're riding an all-terrain vehicle in the backcountry because, although the roads are paved, you'd never believe it unless you got out and walk on it. Then you notice all the potholes that take their toll on tires and shocks. And speaking of tolls, while driving with friends we approached a toll booth. I remarked that, in the USA, typically the fees collected at a toll road ensure that the road is better maintained and overall it's a better driving experience. My friends all laughed for several minutes. "Here," they said, "the toll roads are worse than the regular highways because the government 'assumes' these taxes will be used for the road so no governmental funds are provided. Instead, the tolls are pocketed, so the roads are actually worse because they receive no repairs or maintenance."
Posted by On The Mark at 10:51 AM