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Letters from Heaven

Letters from Heaven: Popular Religion in Russia and Ukraine

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 304
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    Letters from Heaven
    Book Description:

    Letters from Heavenfeatures an international group of scholars investigating the place and function of 'popular' religion in Eastern Slavic cultures. The contributors examine popular religious practices in Russia and Ukraine from the middle ages to the present, considering the cultural contexts of death rituals, miracles, sin and virtue, cults of the saints, and icons. The collection not only fills a void in religious scholarship, but also responds to current theoretical challenges.

    Reflecting critically on the heuristic value of popular religion and on the concept of popular culture in general,Letters from Heavenis characterized by a shift of focus from churches, institutions, and theological discourse to the religious practices themselves and their interconnections with the culture, mentality, and social structures of the societies in question. An important contribution to the fields of religion and Eastern Slavic studies, this volume challenges readers to rethink old pieties and to reconsider the function of religion.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7664-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    One might well ask: Why put together at this time a collection on popular religion? When two leading European philosophers were choosing the theme for their seminar on Capri in 1994 they independently decided on religion, believing it to be the foremost concern of our times.¹ Although it is clearly the case that religion has become increasingly prominent in East European historiography over the past decade, our collection was not meant simply to reflect this current interest in religion among intellectuals.²

    Religion seems to retain its currency in scholarship, but another component of this collection’s subtitle, popular, has been less...

  6. Death Ritual among Russian and Ukrainian Peasants: Linkages between the Living and the Dead
    (pp. 13-45)

    In the preindustrial and early industrial worlds, people had to confront death frequently. The average life expectancy was much lower than it is today in developed countries, and sudden death, brought on by epidemics or famine, was a regular phenomenon. Individuals had to deal with the loss of not only the elderly, but also wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, and other adults in the prime of life – as well as children, many of whom died before the age of ten.¹

    Religious beliefs and the enactment of elaborate death rituals that provided linkages between the living and the dead helped the bereaved...

  7. Folk Orthodoxy: Popular Religion in Contemporary Ukraine
    (pp. 46-75)

    Ukraine today is experiencing a spiritual renaissance. Religion was officially banned for the seventy years of Soviet rule. As a result, current interest in organized religion is intense. Everywhere there are cathedrals and monasteries under construction or reconstruction. In Central Ukraine, most villages, even small ones, have opened up places of worship either by building new churches, restoring old ones, or converting existing structures that were not houses of worship into churches. The villages that I regularly visit are good examples. Ploske has built a new church on the site of an old, demolished one. Nearby Mryn has converted a...

  8. The Miracle as Sign and Proof: ‘Miraculous Semiotics’ in the Medieval and Early Modern Ukrainian Mentality
    (pp. 76-99)

    TheTeraturgema, a collection of ‘miracles’ compiled by Afanasii Kal’nofois’kyi, includes under the year 1636 the striking story of the cure of a blacksmith from Boryspil’, a certain Andrii Nahnoinychenko, who was possessed by a frightful demon.¹ At first the blacksmith was kept in prison, because he was such a pest to all about him, but later relatives brought him to the Kyiv Caves Monastery. He arrived with ‘face, hands, and whole body’ very scratched and lacerated, and he was bleeding from bouncing on the bare boards of the wagon that brought him – he had thrown out all the hay....

  9. Sexuality and Gender in Early Modern Russian Orthodoxy: Sin and Virtue in Cultural Context
    (pp. 100-125)

    As a rule, gender studies and Orthodox religious history have had little to say to one another over the years. Gender studies has not received a warm welcome in Orthodox circles, and historians of women, sexuality, and the body have had little positive to say about the strictures of official Orthodoxy.² Thus, it is difficult to get a clear sense of what the official Russian Orthodox line on gender and sexuality was during the early modern period, much less to hazard a guess at what popular religious notions might have been or how they affected lived experience. The task of...

  10. The Christian Sources of the Cult of St Paraskeva
    (pp. 126-145)

    The cult of St Paraskeva is one of the most significant – and the most studied – manifestations of popular religion in Russian culture.¹ Paraskeva is numbered among the saints of the Orthodox Church, and although her cult does not enjoy much official sponsorship in Russia at the present time, she remains in vogue in Greece and Bulgaria. The decline in popularity of the cult of St Paraskeva in Russia is a relatively recent phenomenon. Even in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, up until the early Soviet period, Russian peasants revered St Paraskeva, or Piatnitsa as she was often called....

  11. Popular Religion in the Time of Peter the Great
    (pp. 146-164)

    In October 1718 the Hanoverian diplomat Friedrich Christian Weber recorded an incident in St Petersburg that he believed to be representative of the changes in religious custom that resulted from Peter the Great’s Europeanization of Russian culture. A priest in the city claimed to have a miracle-working icon of the Mother of God, which he showed to the ‘simple and generous on-lookers’ secretly at night in his lodging. Peter got wind of this emerging cult and ordered the priest and the icon brought to the court. There the tsar had the icon placed in front of the priest and told...

  12. Letters from Heaven: An Encounter between the ‘National Movement’ and ‘Popular Culture’
    (pp. 165-200)

    The ‘letters from heaven’ or ‘heavenly letters’ were first brought to the attention of the Ukrainian educated public in Galicia in 1877, when Bilous, a publisher of popular books in Kolomyia, printed a fourteenpage pamphlet calledLyst iz’iavlenyi(A Letter of Revelation). Bilous was severely attacked by national-populist-oriented members of the Ukrainian clergy for printing the letters. An article signed by several ‘progressive’ priests makes the presumptive declaration: ‘We must say: (1) that no one in heaven wrote or writes letters; (2) that neither the patriarch of Jerusalem nor Mr Bilous ever received any such letters from heaven because all...

  13. For the Beauty of God’s House: Notes on Icon Vestments and Decorations in the Ruthenian Church
    (pp. 201-234)

    Any historic description of the interior of churches in Rus’,¹ any list of the furnishings and precious objects of a church invariably mentions necklaces, pendants, rings, and similar ornaments on icons. The custom of decorating sacred images is common to many religions. In Christianity it is known both in the Catholic West and in the Orthodox East. The practice is ancient, with roots in the earliest centuries. Theodoret of Cyrus in the fifth century writes about the cult of martyrs in churches erected over their relics. People come to pray for health, for children, for a safe trip, asking the...

  14. ‘Social’ Elements in Ukrainian Icons of the Last Judgment through the Eighteenth Century
    (pp. 235-250)

    In the heritage of Byzantine and especially post-Byzantine sacral art, the most complex iconography is that relating to the Last Judgment or, as it was called in Rus’, the Terrible Judgment (Strashnyi sud). The icon or wall painting of the Last Judgment was composed of numerous discrete, although thematically connected, elements or motifs, such as the Son of Man flanked by the Mother of God and John the Baptist, the throne of judgment upon which lay an open book, Adam and Eve worshipping on either side of the throne, paradise and the saints entering into it, hell and sinners being...

  15. Between ‘Popular’ and ‘Official’: Akafisty Hymns and Marian Icons in Late Imperial Russia
    (pp. 251-278)

    The phenomenon of miracle-working icons in late imperial Russia, especially those of Mary, the Mother of God, was representative of a large area of overlap between official and popular Orthodox cultures, however such a distinction might be drawn. The miracle-working Kazan icon of the Mother of God, for instance, which was associated with the fate of the Russian Empire with respect both to its eastern and western frontiers, was celebrated annually on 22 October. As an officially recognized national holiday, this day saw many business and government offices closed and liturgical services conducted throughout the empire. At the same time,...

  16. Contributors
    (pp. 279-279)