Thursday, December 04, 2008

My grandmother's religion, as reimagined by Millions of Dead Cops

I came across a truly awe inspiring religious website, Death to the World. It's a the site of a Russian Orthodox Hardcore 'zine based here in Cali, and it is blowing my poor cracked little mind.

I was raised Russian Orthodox, and the church I attended was more Russian than Orthodox. The joke was Russian Orthodox Christian, in that order.

The Russian Orthodox Church I grew up in was full of pinched faced little old ladies (one of whom spit on the exposed toes of my then-sister-in-law, who had the satanic-inspired chutzpah to wear sandals in church, driving the men to distraction with her ingrown toenail). It was sighing about a Russia that never existed by people who had never been there, or were last there when there was a Tzar and St. Petersburg was called Petrograd.

The kids were pale, puffy kids from the Avenues in black derby jackets, -- the official jacket of Bay Area rockers/stoners/low rider/cholos, c. 1982 -- with discreet AC/DC patches. They spoke with Russian accents, despite being born in California.

We suffered through lent, through liturgies and vespers chanted in Slavonic, through weird feast days on which you weren't allowed to eat anything. It was old, old, old, not American, not fun, kind of seedy and tired.

It was not punk rock.

That's why this site is so jarring.

Interestingly enough, two members of the best Stoner Metal band in the universe, San Jose's very own Sleep were Orthodox monks at different times.

Now, the monastic aspect of the Orthodox faith IS deeply profound and aspects of the theology (which I didn't pick up on until after I stopped going to church) emphasize a break with the world. It's sort of Augustine, but more Russian -- the world of human is damaged and broken, so human institutions are naturally corrupt. We are all sinners, no getting around it, but we can indirectly experience the holy through reflection. That's why Russian churches tend to be so otherworldly; to force a conceptual break with the world.

I've met a few monks growing up, mostly at a church camp run by a more liberal branch of the Church (more liberal? Hard to believe, I know) and they were the real deal: beatific guys with ZZ Top beards leading simple lives. I remember one was actually a Romanov and a wicked first base man in softball. He played in his hassock.

It's interesting that someone Orthodox had the idea to draw the in the teen angst rejection of the world (I'm being flip. I'm sure the kids that are involved are smart and earnest) into an ancient spiritual traditional.

Who knows how it would have affected me if someone had made that connection when I was listening to hardcore. I might be sporting a ZZ Top beard right now.

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Blogger said...

Does your recent posting trend have anything to do with the death of Patriarch Alexiy II ? Does a death like that affect you? As a non religious person I don't know.... Is it akin to the Pope dying for his followers?

9:44 AM  
Blogger Greg Mills said...

You know, I lost touch with Alexiy years ago. He's a II now?

Actually the Orthodox church is more loosie goosie than Rome. There is a lot of local autonomy. I mean, if Alexiy were to come to town, there'd be a nice lunch and everything, and mass would like three hours long instead of two, but he's not anything like Il Papa.

He's more of an administrative head that a conduit by which YHWH thunders his commands.

(Word Verification: Mayism. Which is a lovely sort of ideology if you think about it. May is such a great month.

9:52 AM  
Blogger said...

What would they serve at said nice lunch? I'll make plans to crash it.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Greg Mills said...

Uh, cold cuts. Piroshskis. Pietdeshok (kind of like cross between a piroshki and beef wellington), pelimeni (Russian wontons in dill broth), potato salad (german), cabbage salad, carrot salad, 7 up, tea, chicken cutlets in gravy, black rye, little tiny slices brown bread.

10:32 AM  
Blogger said...

Shit ya- I'm in. Gonna have to start watching my community paper for the next Russian Orthodox luncheon...(or will the agnosticness leech out of my pores and give me away?)

10:36 AM  
Blogger Greg Mills said...

I had a strange experience going to a Russian festival with a friend who is not Russian, but a Russian literature major.

The festival was at the Russian Center in San Fran, and it was run by people from the church. My friend and I sat through a presentation of amateur Russian dancing and extended ballilika presented by the potato people of the church I grew up in, while my friend talked in clinical detail about sexual practices.

Strange intersection.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude, reversed out type in long blocks of copy? I want to read it all but my mind pushes in the clutch and my eyes disengage.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Stephanie J. Dodaro said...

Oh god. The derbys and the Sunset and the Irish gangs. And all the fog. And the endless churching. And also, the corner of 24th and Mission was so goddamn lonely. Van Ness Street. And all of Geary Street. Oh god, it was so blank.

Not to flog a dead Dias Irae, but that was some serious Dias Irae shit right there.

Hi! It's your blog!

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Jeremy Z said...

This is blowing my mind. I'm going to read it all.

Incidentally, I'm loosely Russian. Lemme know if you ever go to another Russian festival, I'd love to check that out.

And I can't wait to get that Sleep record.

12:16 PM  

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