Our churches are alive with the beautiful, moving sounds of such hymns as Abide with me, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, Lord of All Hopefulness and hundreds of others.
Yet as a life-long champion of diversity, I’m happy to report that in Russian churches one can be regaled with slightly different songs – also beautiful and moving, but in a somewhat different way.
The other day, St Isaak’s Cathedral in Petersburg housed a most spiritual and elevating choral concert.
St Isaak’s, in case you’re wondering, was designed by the French architect Montferrand and completed, at a cost of thousands of lives, in 1858.
Under the Bolsheviks, it was deconsecrated and used as a museum of atheism. Its centre piece, as I recall, was a Foucault pendulum, proving that the Earth rotates, rather than resting, as all Christians are known to believe, on the backs of three elephants or perhaps whales.
After the Bolsheviks restyled themselves as democrats, masses got to be celebrated in St Isaak’s again, but only on major feasts. The rest of the time, it still functions as a museum (though probably not of atheism) and an occasional concert hall.
The cathedral’s hideous neoclassical architecture is a more ornate answer to the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., which establishes an umbilical link between the two cities. This bond was further reinforced a few days ago.
A mellifluously polyphonic Petersburg choir delivered a rousing rendition of a song that, some purists may insist, was out of place even in a mostly deconsecrated cathedral, even though it does sound like a liturgical piece.
My feeble poetic ability isn’t up to the task of conveying the subtle nuances of the lyrics, so I shan’t even try to translate them in verse.
But this is what the first stanza says: “Our sub with a nuclear engine and some ten missiles each a hundred megaton, crossed the Atlantic and I tell the gunner, “Aim,” I say, “Petrov, at the city of Washington.”
And so forth, all in the same vein. (The Russophones among you can admire this work of art in the original: http://classic.newsru.com/russia/26feb2019/lodochka.html).
Someone must have forgotten to tell the Russians that Church Militant doesn’t necessarily mean Church Militaristic, but you must admit the lyrics do resonate, although perhaps not as much as the actual missiles would.
This is a clear case of art imitating life. For, in his message to the Federal Assembly the other day, Vlad ‘Botox Boy’ Putin expressed the same idea, though eschewing art:
“So that no one will blame me in the future, I’ll say it straight, to make it clear in advance what we’re talking about. Russia will be obliged to develop and deploy weapon systems that could be used not only against the territories from where a direct threat to us emanates, but also against the territories housing the centres where decisions are made to install missiles threatening us.”
Vlad then outlined the said weapon systems in some detail, but he didn’t feel compelled to spell out which objectionable centres he had in mind. Since he was responding to America’s decision to pull out of the INF Treaty, it went without saying.
Threats to nuke Washington and New York are common currency in Russia, and have been since Khrushchev, admittedly in his cups, boasted that Soviet scientists had created a nuclear device capable of wiping out the whole of the US in one blast.
But hysterical shrieks along those lines are now in a crescendo, making one wonder what kind of finale will follow. This may be nothing but empty bluster, but Western leaders would be ill-advised to treat it only as such.
One of the most hysterical shriekers is Dmitry Kisilev, the daily presence on Russian TV who’s known to his admirers as ‘Putin’s Goebbels’. In fact, he may be credited with striking the first chords some five years ago, when he explained that “Russia could turn America into radioactive dust”.
Then again, Mr Kisilev does sometimes talk too much, which loquacity has brewed some trouble in his family.
A few months ago, he proudly announced that his nephew Sergei had undergone some military training and then fought in the Ukraine. That bit of avuncular pride created a bit of a problem for the younger man.
You see, in common with many fire-eating Russian patriots he prefers to live elsewhere, perhaps because real beauty is best appreciated from afar. In that spirit, he became a German citizen, though evidently without breaking all ties with his motherland.
Now the German authorities were as impressed with Kisilev’s boast as his Russian audience was, although in a different way.
Sergei was arrested, charged with breaking arms laws and committing a crime threatening the security of the Federal Republic, convicted and sentenced to a long prison term.
This shows that ships aren’t the only things that loose lips can sink, which useful lesson I’m sure will go unheeded by Russian powers-that-be.
I’m not going to issue apocalyptic predictions, nor suggest how they may be prevented from coming true. My aim is more modest: outlining a background to the febrile bellicose hysteria gripping Russia.
This is being expertly whipped up by the Kremlin and its propagandists. Are they preparing the long-suffering population for war? Sorry, I did say I wasn’t going to broach apocalyptic themes.