Icon and mirror


 

Jesus said to her, “did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”

                                                                                                                                                                   John 11:40

 

The Russian culture has been historically inseparable from Orthodoxy. In the middle ages, Orthodoxy was dominating the Russian spirituality

and determined almost all social areas including ideology, politics, education, ethics, literature and art.

Even though today Orthodoxy has lost this kind of initial versatility in the society, it is still an important part of the Russian culture.

Thus, the society and religion have a complex relationship, influencing each other and remaining sovereign at the same time.

In my opinion, this relationship is particularly interesting because of the strong reference of Orthodoxy to traditions

and translating them into the social consciousness.

 

Russian Orthodox Christians is skeptical about feminism. Despite advances in women’s rights in Russia since women gained the right to vote in 1917,

in the world of Orthodoxy women still play a clearly defined role. Orthodoxy requires a woman to be humble. And this humility is reflected

in all areas of life. I think that this is a cornerstone in the image of an orthodox woman, a source of her power and her Achilles heel at the same time. 

Either way, orthodox emposes a firm social role on a woman. Does this mean infringement of rights or exemption from impunity?

 

These questions and reasonings were the starting point in my photography project “Icon and mirror”.

For me, the values brought by Christ have been always more of the female nature. Softness, mercy, love, forgiveness, healing, caregiving

are typical female qualities to me. I think that Russian religiosity has shifted the focus of attention from Christ to the Virgin,

making her the one to embody these best Christian virtues.

 

“Icon and mirror” is a wordplay, metaphor, as both items always reflect images put in a frame,

whether it is an icon mounting, mirror frame or social frameworks.

I was interested in a huge gap between an idol made of a woman in the form of the Virgin and real treatment of a real woman.

Therefore, in my project I decided to talk to different women, have a look into their lives and see how they feel about their position in the church today.

 

The city of Voronezh located in the very heart of Russia and its region was chosen for a reason. Here, the heritage of Russian traditions is passed on

from one generation to another reinforcing the foundation of Orthodoxy and the traditional image of a woman as well.

There are also plenty of orthodox organizations and communities here and I met a lot of orthodox female activists.

All these women are striving to teach the knowledge of God, are striving to serve. Their active position and the role in the church assigned to them 

by the tradition often contradict each other, but are constantly competing with each other. The oldest in Russia theological seminary is also in Voronezh. 

The students of icon painting and choir conductors’ faculties are only girls. I asked seminarians about their dreams and how they see their careers.

One girl told me, "My dream career is a family. I want to marry well and have seven sons." "What if you have a girl?" I asked. 

The student shrugged, "No, it must be only sons".

 

Since 2003, priests' wives have been involved in the life of Voronezh diocese. There is a women's council.

Unfortunately, this is the only practice of this kind in Russia today. The chairwoman of the women's council, Presbytera Tatiana Volodko says,

"They are reluctant in other regions to do the same for some reason. Women are too passive." Does it mean that it is always women to blame?

Anyway, women themselves often believe so. It is a kind of a vicious circle. Listening to Tatiana, I was asking myself if there was a link between

orthodox humility and mundane passive attitude, if that was the very crossing point of a society and religion?

 

Anyway, I think that humility should come from the heart as a result and a crown of the Christian life and one should not raise it in women

with restrictions dictated by the tradition. While a lot of established rules in the church have such an implicit effect.

However, now orthodox Christian women in Russia are becoming more active participants of the church life.

Their inner energy and striving to serve are so strong that maybe it is them who are meant to catalyze the balancing

of a traditional image of an orthodox woman and an image of a modern orthodox woman

in the society with some non-typical for women in terms of the orthodox ideology qualities.