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As lot of ink has been spilled over the last few days, particularly on and, on the value of Mother Maria Skobstova’s art, and by extension of her saintliness.

Dare I suggest that all this has the makings of a ‘proxy war’. The real question is not Mother Maria, but the true value of the Christian and Orthodox witness of the Russian émigré community centred in Paris. Was this émigré community indeed as worthy a representative of Russia and of Orthodoxy as it had presented itself, and was fêted, as being, from the 1920s through to the 1980s? Had it not in fact largely run out of spiritual steam by the 1960s, living on its capital, with its Orthodox tradition increasingly hijacked by the exile community as a means of maintaining an identity threatened by exile, and distorted and reduced in the process? Was not its theology uneven, at times brilliant, at other times close to heresy? Has its contribution to iconography not been little short of disastrous? Did an aversion to monasticism fatally unbalance its spirituality? And apart from French francs in an economically critical period, how much could and did the émigré community really give back to its native Russia?

The attack is being led, it seems to me, by the native Russian Christian intelligentsia, which is bitter at the French émigré community for trying to steal the show in Moscow and St Petersburg, in its eyes more on the strength of aristocratic names and French francs than real spiritual worth, and of forgetting that ‘you were dancing in Paris salons whilst we were in the gulag’. The battle is a nasty one, involving pride, jealousy and identity on both sides. The obvious targets are the figureheads of the emigration - Bulgakov, Berdaiev, Florenski ('adopted' by the emigration even if he stayed and perished in Russia), Ouspenski, Krug, Mother Mary and others. Whether it is a battle worth fighting is another question....

I hesitate to take sides, and most certainly not in public: the émigré scene is complex, spiritually and psychologically, with a lot of grey between the black and the white. There have been some excellent figures in the emigration, theologians, pastors, artists and servers of the poor and sick, but some rather second-rate figures may, I suspect, have been exalted rather more than they would have been in a more ‘normal’ situation.


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October 2015

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