Friday, January 06, 2012

Russian Asceticism

I was rather struck by this picture on the always interesting  Fr Simon Henry's blog, it is a Russian Bishop taking part in the Epiphany Baptismal rites, in which Orthodox renew their baptism in remembrance of Christ's glory being shown forth at his baptism.
In many places where Holy Communion is rarely received  or even attendance at Sunday Liturgy is lacking this "renewal" becomes an annual marker of being Orthodox. In some parts in is a pleasant dip or sprinkling in Russia a rather fearsome an act of asceticism, reminiscent of the martyrs of Sebaste who were left to perish on a frozen lake. There are more photograph's here.Orthodox Epiphany : Epiphany in Russia

There is something manly about plunging into an icy pool in the middle of winter, I have been trying to think of Western parallels, apart from rigourous Lenten fasting or all night vigils, I can only think of St Patrick's Purgatory in Ireland or the blood and chains of certain unreformed remote Spanish or Italian Holy Week celebrations.
Coptic Orthodox men in Brighton seem to love to shame me by telling me of the vast numbers of fast days in their calendar and Muslims of their Ramadam austerities, there seems to be something about austerity, even physical pain that is attractive to men in the service of God.


FrBT said...


Happy New Year to you. May The Lord's Graces flow upon you.

Today is the Feast of The Epiphany, never mind all this moving about to Sundays business.

So may we all be blessed with the Holy Spirit that we will recognise the Greatness of The Lord Our God, God made Man.
May we all remember to bow our heads or knees, when we profess our Faith. God Made Man.

As for your wonderful pictures of the poor and rather cold Arch Priest and the icy water dip, I can bodly say - its not for me, I am too old.


The Bones said...

It is Epiphany today, right? So we are allowed to eat meat?

TRC said...

I would have thought it a photograph of a mitred Archimandrite or mitred Archpriest as he is wearing a phelon.

Nonetheless, impressive!

pelerin said...

Seeing these pictures I am glad I am not Orthodox!

Interesting question from the Bones. I watched some of the Papal Mass for the Epiphany this morning and then had a cheese sandwich as our English Bishops have moved the Epiphany to Sunday. This evening I shall be attending the TLM presumably for the Epiphany. So Feast day then Friday then feast day all in one day.

Why do we have to be out of step in this way? The Church is supposed to be universal

Ttony said...

What might be the possibility of organising an EF pilgrimage to Lough Derg?

FrBT said...


In answer to some of the questions may I please say;

Today's Feast has been moved to Sunday. Not that I regard this as correct - - but thank God I am not made a Bishop, because I would then be held to account for these bizzare movements of Feast Days in our calendar.

Therefore, the meat abstinence applies to this day. Why? Because the abstinence is only removed in the Octave of Easter and not during Christmas Tide.The abstinence applies to all Fridays of the year except for Fridays of Solemnities.Canon 1246. However Solemnities are defined in Canon 1246.1

How do I know? Because I did some research and some homework and then decided that the lamb loin steaks need to stay in the freezer until Saturday, for cooking after the Vigil Mass.

Any way the three Kings have moved very nicely in my Church. They have wandered around the Sanctuary.
They will make it on time for their respective places for Sunday.


tempus putationis said...

Hmmm, I have nothing against manliness, but perhaps it's rather a man's thing (though women sometimes join in to be good sports). Asceticism is surely a physical discipline to limit the power of the flesh to distract us from the real combat, which is spiritual. The cold water baths at Lourdes are challenge enough for me at present, though if the Church required me to bathe in freezing water, I believe I would.

Ma Tucker said...

Ha ha.
Show me a skinny mullah. Come on just one. Just one skinny mullah. Show me a skinny Orthodox Bishop come on, just one, just one skinny Orthodox Bishop. Some people are all jaw jaw about fasting but the proof of the pudding is plain for all to see. I don't know about you but I see these supposedly austere fasting little puddings everywhere. I don't buy it!

Nobody does penance like Roman Catholics. Nobody. As regards a frozen beard. It's just frozen water on his beard. Look at his little pudding face you can rest assured as you can plainly see there is no trace of frostbite. Men jumping into ice pools, well sorry Father but go to a decent spa and you will find they have ice rooms and plunge pools at 4 degrees.

Not impressed at all!

Anagnostis said...

Oooh, Ma! Touchy, touchy! Asceticism is almost entirely absent from Roman Catholicism. Witness the farcical fuss recently over the instruction to substitute a fish for a sausage one day a week (having to be "told" to do it, as much as the derisory nature of the obligation itself, says everything). It's this, as much as anything, that separates you so radically from anything the Fathers might have recognised as an authentic spirituality.

Ma Tucker said...

Anagnostic, when I was in the UK I knew many Catholics who ate fish on friday. Please do not mistake our Bishops request for it's re-introduction as a sign that it ever actually stopped among Catholics. Certainly some people will be led by this announcement but I would imagine most will continue to do what they always did, eat fish on friday.

Having squealed my way up Croagh Patrick last year I can tell you Catholic asceticism is alive and well judging by the numbers I encountered.

Anyway, jumping into a cold pool of water is far easier than forgiving your neighbour for murdering your children or abusing your faith. Persecuted Catholics do this every day all over the world.

Sharon said...

bizzare movements of Feast Days in our calendar.

From what he said in Feast of Faith then cardinal Ratzinger would agree with you.

I married into the Greek Orthodox community - you don't marry a GO, you marry a community - and from my limited experience external shows of cultural piety are very big among the Greek Orthodox.

Dymphna said...

Thanks Ma Tucker for speaking for Catholics. It's so rare that anybody does.

Anagnostis said...

"Anyway, jumping into a cold pool of water is far easier than forgiving your neighbour for murdering your children or abusing your faith. Persecuted Catholics do this every day all over the world."

So it's either/or, is it? Very Protestant, that.

Vainglorious assertions aside, may I remind you that the overwhelming majority of Christians facing persecution and martyrdom, every day, all over the world, throughout most of the past millenium, are not, in fact, Catholics?

Anagnostis said...

Rorate Caeli, that bastion of arrogant RC self-regard, devoted an entire post to the restoration of "Friday Abstinence", requesting meat-free recipes from readers wishing to help Catholic families struggling to embrace this tremendous Sacrifice.

Two days of fasting a year (fish and dairy permitted)? Do me a favour...

Anonymous said...

Brother Anagnostis, rightly do you take us Cathoics to task for our laxity and lack of fervour in the modern world. Your words are a reminder to us that being entrusted with the fullness of Truth and being in communion with the sucessor of Peter is a sacred trust, not a mark of personal superiority, and we are all called to the heights of holiness. Thank you for your fraternal correction. May I now respectfully remind you, in the same Spirit, that humility is higher than any penance, that self-righteousness empties out all merit from asceticism, and above all that the greatest of the spiritual gifts is Charity. God bless you.


Sharon said...

Well said Gupta.

Anagnostis said...

Thank you, Gupta - very edifying and correct; I would, however, draw your attention to the fact that none of the arrogant, prideful or uncharitable statements here are from the Orthodox side.

Actually, there's nothing "meritorious" about fasting in any circumstances, nor in any other ascetical practice - it's medicine, that's all: take it or don't take it - but by all means avoid boasting about "doing it better than anyone", or sneering at the "pudding faces" of those about whose observances one permits oneself to entertain suspicions. Otherwise, claims to be in possession of the "fullness of the faith" will always be conspicuously at odds with the evidence.

BTW the phenomenon of Trad Catholics working off the misery and frustration of their own situation by lobbing cheap shots at the Orthodox seems lately to be acquiring the character of a syndrome. I wonder what that tells us about the "fullness of the faith".

Anonymous said...

My apologies Anagnostis, I had not properly read all the comments. The one to which you were evidently reacting was indeed silly, intemperate and uncalled for. We cannot generalize about the holiness or otherwise of any group.

However, it is equally unhelpful and unnecessary to respond in kind to that sort of thing. The Church's claim to teach Truth in its fullness is not vitiated by the poor witness of individual members of the Church, otherwise all Christian doctrine would be falsified by the weakness of Christians of whatever kind. Unfortunately, being taught the the "fullness of the faith" does not always go hand in hand with "fullness of faith" in every soul.

In any case, we should not be trading insults and jibes, especially as both Catholics and Orthodox share authentic communion with our Eucharistic Lord. We should surely be trying to learn from each other's strengths, pray humbly about each other's perceived faults, and urgently seek re-union for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.

But I must stop "preaching" now before I am tripped up in pride myself :-)