Page 10, 15th June 1979

15th June 1979
Page 10
Page 10, 15th June 1979 — From Russia with repellant meanness

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Locations: York, Moscow, Bristol, Winchester


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From Russia with repellant meanness

THE CATHOLIC HERALD wanted to send Mr Alex' Tomski to cover the Papal visit to Poland hut the Poles refused him a visa and gave no explanation. He is a Czech and can understand Polish.

That makes him a bit undesirable. he also works for Keston College, Kent. which devotes itself to the study of Religion and Communism. It is most emphatically not an antiCommunist propaganda outfit but a serious and scholarly research unit. It has released a rather nasty story,

An Orthodox nun in Russia. Valerie Makeyeva, has just been sentenced to indefinite confinement in a psychiatric institution for the criminally insane. Her crime was that she made monastic belts on which she embroidered the opening words of the 91st psalm, He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High . .

These belts are traditionally a part of a Russian Orthodox monk's habit. They are worn under the cassock and they are worn more and more by believers or by secret monks who, having taken their vows, live in the world because there is no place in a monastery for them.

Valerie Makeyeva was first arrested in 1949 when she was a church helper. Her own mother informed on her and she got four and a half years for anti-Soviet agitation and was declared schizophrenic.

She entered a convent after her release, but Khruschev closed it down. She returned to Moscow.

There she organised a sewing circle to make the belts which she sold for about 35 or 70 pence. There was a great demand for the belts which could not be bought anywhere else and she used the money for homeless nuns.

The manufacture of church articles in the Soviet Union can only be carried out in the workshops of the Moscow Patriarchate. The range of articles actually manufactured is inadequate, and the quality is appalling. They may be sold in registered churches only.

For example, icons coming out of the Patriarchate's workshops are small, ugly and are photocopies stuck on pieces of cardboard. Body crosses are mainly plastic and aluminium, and badly made. The traditional Russian Orthodox enamelled crosses are virtually impossible to obtain.

Church candles have no wax in them and they smoke and stink. Incense is manufactured from waste products of the soap and scent industries and has a cheap smell and irritates the eyes and throat. Imported incense is used only when archbishops or the Patriarch are celebrating the liturgy.

There is a drastic shortage of funeral cloths and an insufficient supply of the headbands (on which are the words of a prayer) which are placed on the forehead of the dead before burial.

Many church articles are not manufactured at all, although the Patriarchate 'makes annual contributions of millions of roubles to secular foundations and undertakings. The Patriarchate is at the mercy of the state and can do no other, Mother Valeria was charged with the illegal manufacture of handicrafts. There is a special appeal to all nuns. Orthodox and Catholic, to speak out in her defence. There is a nervous meanness about it all which is peculiarly repellant.

Vandalism in church

THE (ANGLICAN) Church Information Office is again lamenting the vandalism and robberies suffered by their churches. In 1976 the Ecclesiastical Insurance Office received 2,000 claims and 4,000 in 1977. The number seems to be holding steady just now. Which in such matters is a good sign.

Churches are fairly obvious targets. Some people get pleasure simply out of grossly misbehaving in a special place and many a vicar has appalling stories to tell.

More than that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between vandalism and theft. After all, if you're going to pinch the cross you might as well smash the place Many churches now have a porch from which the altar and church can be seen. However, it is kept locked and you must say your prayers through a grille or glass. We have such a porch and over the years have suffered only lightly.

Some one once threw all the C.T.S. pamphlets about, and someone cut down some ,young flowering trees which are now growing in a pleasing bushy shape and someone else once heaved a stone throught a very large glass window which did cost rather a lot to replace.

Obviously things like collection boxes are ak%is fair game. But the robberies can he quite systematic. Someone unbolts the door during the day and then comes back at night with a "working party".

In this way even Jacobean oak altar tables have been stolen and oak furniture now fetches lovely prices.

Some practical suggestions for parish churches have been made. The obvious one is to keep the church locked when no-one is in attendance, A card on the door can tell you where the keys can be obtained. which is rather sad.

One of the pleasures of England is church crawling and if in every village you have to seek out some surly amateur doorkeeper. half the pleasure is gone.

You know the, pleasure — the great metallic crash as you lift the door latch, the iron complaint of the heavy door as it opens, the haunting Protestant smell of brass and hassocks and damp books and green baize coming at you like a wave and always the excitement of not knowing what you will find. And then 20p in the box for the pamphlet guide and across the road to the Cross Keys to read it in quiet comfort,

Again you should not put out the-silver on the altar during the week. You put something less attractive in its place. though brass candlesticks, especially if they have not got the name of the church on them, fetch a decent price.

Then of course a lot of the silver that has been given over the centuries lives in bank vaults. If you see the high altar of a rich and old Anglican church arrayed like a divine sideboard, you will know why.

Such a showing of salvers and tankards and cups and ewers! Even we, in some great concelebrated Mass, can do almost as well with clusters of chalices and ciboria set out for the banquet. I It has come to a pitch where one does not like to report that some church has a special treasure for fear of attracting some boring thief.

Of course there is the overwhelming temptation to sell a major piece in order to stop the roof leaking or get the choir some fancy new cassocks. But you have to have special diocesan permission to alienate Church property.

Or you can collect it into great displays as they do in Winchester and York.

In Bristol the whole of the church of St Nicholas has been turned into a most elegant ecclesiastical museum. Much to be recommended if you have a

church to spare and almost every. one does nowadays.

Then there is fire. and churches burn well. The pews, the organ., the gallers., the screen, the roof timbers — all combustible.

This is madness, of course. and can only be controlled by locking or watching. There are some three to four hundred church fires a year and some leaving only the walls standing.

In the early 19th Century, "Mad" Martin, the brother of the great but eccentric painter John Martin. made a huge bonfire of furniture and fabrics and books in the choir of York Minster. And Europe nearly lost one of its supreme treasures.

St Jude—the obscure

I HAVE never really thought of the Daily Telegraph as a foreign side chapel. I mean the slightly unfashionable sort where the walls are hung with little votive offerings, with silver hearts and waxen legs and walking sticks all in a row.

But their personal column, which used to be called by rough outsiders the agony column, is in fact a repository for grateful prayer.

I find the içiea of these votive offerings going up to some press lord a little eccentric, but it at least seems always to be done with simple initials at the end, so it cannot be religious exhibitionism.

A kindly reader has sent me several examples. One goes, "Grateful thanks to St. Thomas More. English Martyr for election success." And it's signed.

But it cannot be what it seems to be. They did not have any election success. And I'm quite sure that the saintly Lord Chancellor would not have compromised himself by helping that lot. Gave me quite a turn.

But most of the piety seems to be directed to St Jude. Like — "Thank you St Jude — LW.", and in the next box on the same day, "Grateful thanks to St Jude and St Anthony — S.A.M." And, "St Jude — Thank you for favours — JAB." But why St Jude'? I used to think he was titled Jude the Obscure, but that is the title of a Thomas Hardy novel of penitential dullness and gloom. Certainly he is patron saint of hopeless causes. But why?

People who read this column for the gossip, the opinionation the irreverence or the ideosyncratic illiteracy can stop here. All the reference books I looked up about St Jude run on about an epistle he may have written in excellent Greek, probably at the end of the first Century after Christ. It appears to he against false teachers, but against the immoral rather than the heretical, against people who deny Christ by their actions rather than by their convictions.

It is not accepted in the Eastern Churches because it quotes some early, apochryphal writers not accepted as holy writ. It was accepted in the West in the 4th Century and some of the writers found about it are as opaque as the Epistle itself.

It is the smallest of the General epistles and its authenticity was the source of long controversy which caused a lot of pleasure to those who like that sort of thing.

Barring that, St Luke in his gospel lists him as one of the 12. Mathew and Mark do nut, but mention a Thaddaeus who is thought to be the same person. lie is recorded as the brother of James.

Modern scholars appear to believe that there were two Judes, one who was an Apostle and another who was a kinsman and follower of Christ. The latter it was, they think, who wrote the Epistle.

Not one of my sources explained why he was the patron of the hopeless and a very much sought after Saint. Perhaps in deep distress you turn instinctively to so shadowy a figure upon whom you can safely unload misery and inadequacy.

Tabernacle dissension

POLLY TOYNBEE is a former colleague,the daughter of a dear friend and about the best feature writer that the Guardian has in its brilliant crew. Recently she interviewed a vicar from Willesden. It seems to have been less than a meeting of minds or spirits.

Polly is so honest that she would ruin a minor story fur the sake of the truth — and that to a journalist is the equivalent of a gardener pulling up a beautiful plant because it is in the wrong place.

In writing about the proper use of the naves of churches I used a part of a report of hers about the proper reverence for and utility of churches Personally i am all for their being used as the natural meeting place for reasonably decorous assemblies of the people of God.

This vicar, the Rev. Leslie .1. Whiting from Willesden interviewed by her. I wrote in May 4th's Charterhouse that "A Vicar of High Church tendencies in Willesden is so appalled bs women upon altars that he removes the Sacrament when pious women come to do the necessaries.

The vicar insists Polly got it wrong and writes in part ... "One statement in the article (Polly's) which was particularly abhorrent to me was , "when the cleaning lady comes, Whiting carefully removes the Sacrament to a side chapel to ensure that it remains uncontaminated by a female body".

"This was a complete assumption on Polly Tuynbee's part and is completely and utterly wrong. My congregation's respect and regard for the Blessed Sacrament is such that nobody feels it is right to use mops, buckets and hoovers at the foot of the Sacrament.

"The fact that we have a lath caretaker is coincidental. The Sacrament would still be moved if, as is very often the case, the person doing the cleaning is a male.

"Here at St Matthew's, we all feel that no one would want to show disrespect to the Queen in Buckingham Palace by hoovering immediately around her feet, neither do we want to show less respect to our Blessed lord. "In fact on one occasion I remarked io the cleaner "I don't suppose our Lord would mind, after all, we are being hygienic", and the reply came back in no uncertain terms, "Maybe He doesn't, Father, but how dare we assume that'""

I apologise. He says that he has many Roman Catholic friends

who might get the w rung impression.

In the Anglican Church when wandering around medieval churches I have always delighted in the company of those cheerful and usually mature ladies in flowered aprons who are for ever polishing the brass, mopping the encaustic tiles and attacking the carpets with various weapons. They are invariably helpful.

In our own church. as in all that I know of, of every sort, church cleaning is at once a chore, a pleasure and a privilege. We do not remove the Sacrament.

The ladies talk a little, though they are flat out with the hymn books and the dusters and the brooms. Mothers sometimes have to bring their children who hehave like children. I think Fr Whiting is frighteningly wrong even in his correction. But if he had been misunderstood and if I have perpetuated error and if I have caused pain, then I sincerely apologise. I never before realised how far apart in matters of the heart were the Roman and the High Anglican churches.

Goodness me, there have been times when I have laughed out loud, clapped my hands in applause, sat talking with a friend upon non-sacred subjects, considered what, on earth, I could put in the next Charterhouse, waved across the nave to someone I liked, been grinned at by several bishops as they trundled past in a heaviness of gold vestments and all in the face of' the tabernacle.

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