Sunday, February 26, 2012
Russian Reserve (orig. Русский заповедник) 
Russian Reserve (orig. Русский заповедник), directed by Valery Timoschenko is a Russian documentary which played recently at the at the Peace on Earth Film Festival held at the Chicago Cultural Center between Feb 23-26, 2012. The documentary is about a Russian Orthodox priest, Fr. Victor Saltykov living in a remote Russian village, which he notes is statistically "the poorest village in the Russian Federation." Yet it becomes clear that seen through the right lens, it is an absolutely idyllic place to live -- fields, orchards, lakes, rivers, a nice white Russian Orthodox church in the center of town.
Many thoughts came to my mind as I watched this film.
I recalled, for instance, that the Servites, members of my religious order, from my Order's Mexican Province, made a similar choice some ten years ago to accept a missionary assignment to one of the poorest municipalities in all of Mexico -- in Acatepec in the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico among the Tlapaneco (Mephaa) people living there (video presentation of the Servites in Acatepec (Tlapa), Guerrero; interview, in Spanish, of Fr. Ruben Torres, OSM, one of the founders of the Servite Mission there).
I recalled my trips (3 each) to both the Servite mission in Acatepec as well as to the Servite mission in Acre, Brazil (in the Amazon) .
And I recalled my Slavic roots. My dad's mother was from a similarly idyllic little town, Obdenice in southern Bohemia (Czech Republic). My mother's father was Russian from the Kuban region of Russia.
The spirituality of the Russian Orthodox church is very well expressed in this film. It idylizes the life of the poustinik or pilgrim/hermit, who gives up everything to follow Christ. He/she lives simply, in the countryside, depending quite literally on what God gives him/her. A great book on the subject is Catherine De Hueck's Poustinia. Another great book is an anonymous text coming from 19th century Russia called "The Way of the Pilgrim."
In the film, Fr. Viktor, besides sacramental functions, tends cows, tends bees, instructs visitors how to cultivates potatoes. He notes that he has a special house setup for city dwellers coming out to visit him, noting that it takes a few days for "city dwellers" to get used to village life. With a smile he further notes that he had a couple visiting him some years back in which the wife initially demanded that her husband take her back home when they arrived. "Now she's the happiest (repeat) visitor here ..."
One then also recalls the Leo Tolstoy and the Tolstoyan Movement, recalling that even Mahatma Gandhi was influenced by this movement to celebrate simple, agrarian life.
At the end of the film, Fr. Viktor, who saw his little community (and others like it) as "little Noah's arks," summarized his philosophy in this way:
You don't have to save Nature, because it will outlast us,
You don't have to save the Church, because it will save us,
You don't have to save Russia, you just have to love it,
You don't have to save "the village,' you just need to live in one.
What a great and thoughtful film from a part of the world that most Westerners would know next to nothing about.
The two books that I referred to above are both available on Amazon:
Catherine de Hueck-Doherty, Poustinia
Anonymous, The Way of the Pilgrim
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