One of our favorite destinations on pilgrimage is Russia. We have made many friends on our journeys to this vast country which is home to 144 million souls, some of them Catholic, but most of them Russian Orthodox and under the leadership of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill.
The Russian Soul
One thing we have come to appreciate about traveling to Russia is the uniqueness of what, in the last century, came to be called “the Russian soul.”
In Russia a person’s soul, or dusha, is the key to that person’s identity and behavior, and this cultural understanding is what is described as “the Russian soul.” It is one of depth, strength and compassion, and, according to Dostoevsky, tied to suffering.
Dostoevsky’s ideas about the Russian soul are closely connected with Eastern Orthodox Christianity, its ideal of Christ, His suffering for others, His willingness to die for others and His quiet humility about it.
Yet, the Russians do not understand suffering for its own sake; depressed people have a dampened spirit and are without inner strength. Without a healthy spirit the Russians would not have survived through the most tragic history among living nations.
On the contrary, they love to share everything and especially the joy of living (folk music depicts that aspect of the Russian soul, “chastushka”). Our pilgrims to Moscow have experienced this beautiful character of “the Russian soul” and Russian spirituality; they have been welcomed with some of the most extravagant home-cooked meals and enjoyed some of the most lively, joy-filled gatherings in Russsia.
The faithful of the Russian Orthodox church have a deep desire that their lives be touched more fully by fellowship with the living God, and to do this they venerate and follow the traditions and teachings handed down by the Fathers of the Orthodox Church in a way that seems foreign to many Westerners. We who are so accustomed to innovation and novelty sometimes find it surprising that Russian Orthodox spirituality is so bound up with the teachings of the past.