Christianity and Lake Baikal

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The influence of Christianity on the life of the Baikal community and its attitude towards the nature is obvious. This is explained by the fact that since the time the Russians started to inhabit the area numerous temples and monasteries on the Baikal lakeside have been built.

They are the Posolsky Monastery (the 17th century), Blagoveshchensky church in Baikalo-Kudara (1793 – 1799), St. Nichola’s church in Listvennichnoye (the 17th century), the church in Bolshaya Goloustnaya (the 18th century). Many churches were built in the first and subsequent years of the area expansion as well as in the settlements at a distance of about 20 – 50 km from Lake Baikal; they are the Troitsko-Selenginsky Monastery (the XVI – XIXth centuries), Bogorodsko-Kazanskaya Church in Tvorogovo, Sretenskaya church in Baturino (1811) and others. There had been no Buddhist temples in the Baikal area until the beginning of the 20th century. These facts help to trace the contribution of Christianity to the environmental consciousness of people inhabiting the area, and the ministers of religion provided this process.

Modern ecologists often refer to the expression “the biblical attitude towards nature” with a negative connotation. The thing is that according to the Bible the Lord endued a man with power to rule the animal and plant kingdoms as well as enjoy their gifts. “And the Lord made the wild animals according to their kinds, and the livestock according to its kind, and all the creatures according to their kinds. And the Lord saw that it was good... And the Lord made a man in his image, in the image of the Lord he created him; a male and female, he created them. And the Lord blessed them and said: be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. And the Lord said: I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food; and to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food. And it was so. The Lord saw all that he had made, and it was very good (Old Testament. Genesis. Chapter 1, para 25, 27 – 31).

Despite the fact that th doctrinal beliefs suggest the setting of harmony between human-beings and animals that will be restored in messianic kingdom (see further on), and despite the Lord’s obligations to men to keep animals fed and His permission to let animals rest on Saturday, and while blessing Noah and his sons after the Flood, which had been a punishment for both men and animals as He repented of having created them, the Lord repeated his admonition: “The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything (ibid., Chapter 9, para 2 – 3).

The fifth book of Moses (Deuteronomy) classifies animals that could be eaten by men into deer, chamois, buffalo, bison, “all animals that are in water that have fins and scales”, “all clean birds”, etc.; likewise there were animals upon which a taboo was enforced: cattle, birds and fish, camels, rabbits, jerboa, pigs, eagles, vultures, kites, falcons, gyrfalcon, ravens, etc., as they were considered to be “unclean” (the Old Testament. Deut. Ch. 14, para 4 – 20). These sermons indicate the Lord’s efforts to limit men’s power over the animal world, their consumer instincts.

Another fact that is of interest is that the Bible doctrines prioritized men that cultivated their consumption of animals over those who hunted wild animals. According to the story about Isaac’s descendants Jacob and Esau, venatic tribes were less respected than cattle-breeders and farmers. “The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents”. The latter being a smart cattle-breeder obtained the birthright by false pretences, and the hunter Esau owed obedience to the cattle-breeder: “You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck” (the Old Testament. Genesis, Ch. 25, par. 27, Ch. 27, abs. 40).

Likewise the Bible pictures future coexistence of all flesh on earth. Thus, when the prophet Isaiah reveals arrival of the Messiah, a “branch from the stem of Jesse” (“man of God”), he notes: The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and power, the Spirit of knowledge and piety; Then the wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat, and the calf and the lion and the yearling will stay together; and a little child will lead them. And the cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. And the infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child will put his hand into the viper's nest (the Old Testament. Proph. Isaiah, par. 2, 6, 7, 8).

But the most remarkable is that the well-known Bible book of Ecclesiastes, one of the latest parts of Old Testament clearly and colorfully reflects the problem of interaction between the Lord, the world and the man:

The nobler part of man, 'tis true, survives

The frail corporeal frame: but who regards

The difference? Those who live like beasts, as such

Would die, and be no more, if their own fate

Depended on themselves. Who once reflects,

Amidst his revels, that the human soul,

Of origin celestial, mounts aloft,

While that of brutes to earth shall downward go?"

It is worth while mentioning that one of the most important arguments of the Russian clergymen about the interaction between human morality and nature originated on Lake Baikal and belongs to the priest Habakkuk, one of the founders of Old Believers. A man of deep convictions and high morality Habakkuk revolted against the church reforms of Patriarch Nikon and had to endure cruel sufferings until he died an awful death. His will and power are evidenced by the description of the closing stage of his life. Being already on the fire, which broke his existence as well as the lives of his three coreligionists, Habakkuk appealed to the audience in defense of his positions. And when Nicephorus, one of the executee’s, started to appeal for mercy, Habakkuk leaned toward him and began to exhort him.

Habakkuk together with his family was sent to Transbaikalia in his time and fought through troubles. When Habakkuk describes his tragic, forced journey to Siberia in 1650, he paid a special attention to the beauty of Lake Baikal: “From the shore rose steep hills and sheer cliffs. I have dragged myself twenty thousand versts and more, but never have I seen such high mountains. And their summits are crowned with halls and turrets, pillars and gates, walls and courts, and all are made by the hand of God. On those hills grow garlic and onion; the bulbs are larger than those of Romanov onions, and very sweet. And there is also hemp, sown by God’s hand, and in the courts, beautiful grass and sweet-smelling flowers grow. There are wild fowl in great number; geese and swans floating on the lake, like snow…” After expressing his impressions Habakkuk appealed to the philosophical wisdom: “And all this has been created by Christ for the man, so that he should find pleasure in it and praise God. But the man, who is enslaved by vanity – his days pass like a shadow; he leaps, like a goat; he puffs himself out, like a bubble; he rages, like a lynx; seeks to devour, like a serpent; at the sight of another’s beauty, he neighs like a foal; he is wily, like the devil; having filled himself, he falls asleep without observing the rule of prayer. He puts off repentance until the day when he is old, and then he is vanished, I know not where, into the light or into the darkness. It shall be revealed upon the Day of Judgment. Pardon me, as the man has sinned more than any other…”[3, p. 32, 33, emphasis mine – A.K.].

From our perspective, the value of this religious and moral monologue is in Habakkuk’s idea about the beauty of nature which should elevate the spiritual world of a man and accordingly make him feel grateful to God. But the priest believed that a man was not ready for that. The contradiction in the triad of Nature – God – Man is against a man.

Dealing with the Christian realities in the Lake Baikal area we should mention another bright personality, St. Innocent, the bishop of Irkutsk and Nerchinsk. He was the first Siberian wonderworker to be glorified by the Russian Church and he was born in Kulchitsky family in Ruthenia. After he graduated from the Kiev Theological Academy, he served as a celibate priest in St. Petersburg, and in 1727 he became the bishop of Irkutsk, staying in the Ascension Convent. St.Innocent worked miracles all his life, by means of his sermons and deeds he instilled men love and mercy for all flesh as well as contributed much to prosperity and morality of the Siberians.

The Posolsky and Selenginsky monasteries were responsible for interaction between religion and business practices and in some way for environmental management. As far as we touched upon the first issue, let’s take a brief review of the second one.

The Troitsko-Selenginsky Monastery is one of the most ancient monuments of the past in the Baikal region. It is walled with towers and battlements. Far back in the past monasteries in the Baikal region were built like fortresses after the manner of prisons. The decision to build a monastery on River Selenga was made by the Czarist government on February 22, 1681. Thus, a special fortifier was sent to this area. It was the elder Michael (Turusov), accompanied by the Abbot Theodosius, and the elders from Moscow who had a special mission to build a monastery run by Czar Fyodor Alekseevich. He arrived here "beyond Siberia, to the Daur lands" in 1681 and was appointed to the post of the Archimandrite. The same year they witnessed the construction of one of the first stone buildings beyond the Baikal region located on the left bank of the Selenga by Moscow highway; that was the Troitsky church that laid the foundation for architectural ensemble of Troitsko-Selenginsky monastery whose construction and later reconstruction continued up to the beginning of the XXth century. Later on, the church saw the rise of a small settlement around it, namely Troitsk, and its inhabitants paid a tribute to the monastery first and later they took turns and served the monastery for 25 years. That was in practice until the abolition of serfage. In the 60s of the XVIIIth century the settlement numbered 7 houses, by the middle of the XIXth century the population numbered 74 men and 94 women.

Lake Baikal and the monastery have close ties as the monastery owned the lakeside ancestral lands, namely Kotokelskaya, Kudarinskaya and Timluiskaya which were known to have vast timberlands and fish areas: farm fields, hayfields, labor rents income on fishing, salinas and mills. If calculated, the monastery ruled over the territories stretching for 300 km as well as respective rent paying water areas. Besides, the monastery’s cornloft was well provided with rye, wheat, barley, oats, peas, and hempseed; and the donations made up a significant part of its income.

Being a host, the Selenginsky monastery led the same life and kept the same rules as any Siberian or Russian prayer house: free people could lease out lands for a long period of time at a low price. It supported wanderers as well, securing them at their position by marriage. All this was reflected in the “fairy-tales-notes”: “they all reckoned in peasantry, their cloistral pay was spent on marriage, and thus they were assisted with different kinds of loans: money, bread, cattle, cropland, and everything on the loan of the monastery and moreover considering granting housing loan”.

Besides, the monastery ran a parochial school, the first one in the region. The monastery had a rich library of theological literature, but there also were secular literature in it, for example, a moral book which is widely known all over Russia "Honest Face of Youth, or Guidelines for Little Things of Life” intended to teach writing skills and rules aristocratic children and issued at the time of Peter I.

No doubt the destruction of churches, which took place from the late 20s up to 30s, had a negative influence on the moral values of the Russians residing in the Baikal region. As a result the reputation of churches and priests was destroyed; mercy, patience, respect towards family and the elders were not in demand any more, and the attitude towards the environment also underwent changes. The opinion that people themselves were in charge of this antireligious “revolution” was a mummery. The active participation of the nation in this “revolution” has a very simple explanation. At Komsomol meetings and other similar meetings people eagerly clamored to close down this or that church, “a stronghold of obscurantism”, but these people cited on someone’s suggestion not on their own initiative. The authorities, of course, were obliged to respond "to the voice of" the people and the government representatives were always present at the meeting to observe it and make sure the right decision was made.

The format of closing churches down was always the same. For instance, like in this abstract of the CEC of BMSSR meeting record dating back to 16/03/1935:

“1. For the past two years the Pokrovka Church has not been in use and moreover its property has been stolen due to lack of security. No heating. Failed to pay the insurance payment during 1934 – 1935, which resulted in debt amounted to 86 rubles 70 kop. No repair. The general meeting of citizens of Pokrovka solicited for converting the church to a club.

The Bureau of Kabansk DEC dated back to 16.02.1935 (record № 9) decreed to dissolve the Pokrovka church and use it for cultural purposes.

Resolved: To confirm the decision of the Kabansk DEC…”.

Dozens of churches were closed down and ransacked in the middle of the 30s in the Baikal region. But the same fate befell other religions as well. In 1935 6 datsans, located on the eastern shore of Lake Baikal, were closed down, followed by the next four datsans in 1936 and 3 in 1937. By the end of the 30s there were no working churches in the Baikal region. The state antireligious policy resulted in dissolution of religious associations of all confessions; some churches were destroyed, some were converted to clubs, dormitories, warehouses, etc. Thus, it resulted in begging the religion question both in the country in general, and in Eastern Siberia in particular.

The destruction of the church which took place in our village called Pribaikalsky Oimur was described by my uncle-cousin K.G. Karnyshev, a writer, in his autobiographical sketch "Fiery Sunset". He calls the sunset “fiery” because the wooden church, built at the time when the village was founded, burnt to the ground; it had been treacherously set on fire by some deliberate criminal (in the village people knew exactly who it was). “The church was beheaded before the fire came. Its bell and cross were pulled down with a rope. They fell to the ground to human weeping. Then the icons were thrown out of the church. They wanted to build a fire and burn the icons. The geezers ran around wailing, and did not let the fire flare up. Only few of the icons were saved from damage. The undamaged ones were waggoned and taken away from the village. And no one knew what happened to them. Perhaps they were burnt in fire or sunk in the bog. But the vandals did not stop at that. Their fingers itched to do evil, and the church was in their road. So they set a lighted match to the church at night and now they could rub their hands as they got the desired”.

As K. Karnyshev states, the doers of the “execution” were maledicted and anathematized by people. And all who destroyed the church were exposed to the divine scourge and died an awful death. But I beg to differ here from the opinion of Konstantin Grigoryevich. Firstly, because according to the rumors in other settlements the vandals suffered acutely (for instance, in Bolshaya Kudara). But these myths did not correspond to the facts and the "blasphemers’" lives ran in quite an “ordinary” manner. Secondly, it was the spirit of the times to hold atheistic views and moreover it was taken for granted as well as advanced, prestige phenomenon among youth and politically-minded people. In the previously issued story by K. Karnyshev “Stoves” the author speaks about himself and his father: "Daddy would build stoves on Sundays. To some extent it was a sign of the denial of God, and he was the first one to do that in Zavernyaikha (the street in Oimur where they lived – A. K). Our icon shelf was emptied. Mom implored dad to keep at least one icon there. And the ascetic face of Christ, surrounded by halos, looked sternly and angrily. The berry eyes singled out with fresh button-like blackness. I always had the feeling that there was someone on the icon-shelf who peeped at me and that’s why I usually got off the table crossing myself. Dad never knew about it. I had no idea that next year I would completely forget about my religion, and that I would feel shame at the fact that once I crossed my fingers on my chest”.

There is no point in having a question out with the “blasphemers” who are long dead as they were a part of mass social and psychological phenomenon, and ostracizing them will result in nothing but negative emotions overtaking their descendants. And what we need here are mercy and forgiveness which we have always been taught by great and small gods of different world religions. And all energy of mercy as well as love for those who are close to you should be bent both to humans and environment. The similar thoughts pervade K. Karnyshev’s art.

The same fate befell many churches in the Baikal region namely Mostovaya church, the church in Maly Dulan, Tankhoisky church, Babushkin church, Kabansksky church, etc. It was a full-scale attack. A long-term blockade was imposed on the places where it was hard to gain a quick victory: the believing communities were forbidden to hold any meetings intended to solve pressing problems related to life and church. Later on those communities were accused of stagnation.

The thaw in relations between church and state, which took place during the World War II, contributed to a certain revival of particular religious traditions, rituals, and festivals. We, the boys of the 50s, were born and lived at the crossroad of two eras – “old Russian” and “scientific and technical”, and we experienced all that. What was the most remarkable thing about religious holidays is that we had a bellyful with cookies served by good housewives at them. Moreover there were village-specific holidays, and people paid visits to each other: Baikal-Kudara celebrated the Annunciation, Oimur – the Day of Kirik and Ulita, etc. This rule of alternation was quite efficient: it was a chance for both sides to show generosity and hospitality one time and act as guests another one.

I still recall the holidays associated with the nature and Baikal. First of all it was the Trinity. This holiday enjoyed a great popularity in the Baikal region even in the Soviet times. It was associated with folk customs and rites, but the people were reticent about the fact that originally it was a church fete. The feast of the Holy Trinity marked the revitalization of the land as spring and summer clothed the land with verdure. Some old rites were manifested in this feast, namely:

• the decoration of birch twigs with colorful rags and bright ribbons;

• the evening festivities with rollicking songs;

• the decoration of trees with floral wreaths, etc.

The holiday to Mother-nature was an open-air celebration.

Another important event was the celebration of the Prophet Elias feast day on August, 2. Elias was known as the lord of thunderstorms, thunder, lightning and accordingly “the provider of life-giving moisture”. The Slavs associated the name of the prophet with one of the most fearsome gods – Perun, the lord of thunder and lightning, that could destroy all the unwanted and hostile around. On the Prophet Elijah feast day people always witnessed storms, thunders and lightnings; the sudden squalls from Lake Baikal often broke tree branches and pulled down fences. Fishermen did not dare to fish omul as Elijah swaggered people into dread on that day.

Speaking about religious holidays and their origins one should mention their interaction with the pagan deities of the Slavs which existed before the introduction of Christianity into Russia. As noted above, Elijah replaced Perun and took the responsibility for his duties. John the Baptist borrowed quite a number of ceremonies on bathing festivities to honor the sun, light, water and fertility; Blasius replaced Vйlez – the “cattle” god, St. Nicholas replaced some water deity, perhaps, Rod, etc. This process is well reflected in a writing of the Roman Catholic Cardinal Daly dated back to 1418: “The Russians brought together Christianity and paganism in the way that it was hard to understand which one was dominant”. Whatever the case, we value the importance of pagan deities as they personify natural powers, and the revival of their archaic features in myths and legends can contribute to nature protection.

Many Buryat intellectuals both present and past are known to take a negative attitude towards the Christianization of the Buryats which, in their opinion, resulted in violation of the nation’s unity, thwarted progress of national identity and precipitated the process of the nation’s assimilation. Ts. Zhamtsarano, M.I. Bogdanov, A. Dorzhiev, D. Banzarov and many others hold to this opinion. There is a deal of truth in it but however we should bear in mind that the adoption of Christianity introduced the elements of Russian and European culture into the life of the Buryats as well as contributed to strengthening of economic ties and to advancement of education.

While describing the activities of the Buryat missionaries the authors of the monograph “Outstanding Buryat Leaders” note that “under Czarism not just a religion and rituals were introduced by missionaries, but also the values of Christianity and European culture, thus contributing to the development of spiritual world and mental abilities of adults and children in the region. The documents indicate that they often took the lead in opening schools, distributed Russian books, newspapers, and magazines and were merciful of the humbled. Preaching Christian moral and ethical standards they fought against shamanist traditions of excessive use of alcohol at religious ceremonies, as well as the mass destruction of animals”.

See also

Literature

  1. A.D. Karnyshev "The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal"© BSU Publishing House, 2011

Выходные данные материала:

Жанр материала: English | Автор(ы): Karnyshev A.D. | Источник(и): The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal. Ulan-Ude. 2012 | Дата публикации оригинала (хрестоматии): 2011 | Дата последней редакции в Иркипедии: 30 марта 2015

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Тематический указатель: Irkipedia English