Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Nostalgia or Tradition?

We are bound by tradition, not by nostalgia. Tradition is, of course, the passing on of some genuine and discernible thing—be it an idea, an action, a view—while nostalgia is a yearning for a golden age that did not exist. The religious parallels are obvious, but do we not appreciate this distinction everywhere?

Brideshead Revisited, a novel I mention often on this blog, is often panned by critics writing both from their armchairs and from desks of prominent journals for its supposed nostalgia, its gilded and impossible vantage point of the fleeting Christian and aristocratic era. Brideshead Revisited is many things, but not that. There is a yearning, more to youth and better times with friends than for the age of the Dukes' of Marlborough and Buckingham real world significance. I can sympathize with this preference. We all can. It is quite real.

Contrast this with some pockets of Old Believer Russians. As far as scholarship says, the Old Believers were right in asserting that the then-used Slavic liturgical books were closer to the original Byzantine liturgy than the contemporary Greek Church's, which were foisted upon them and which caused many deaths, an unhealed schism, and discontent among the laity whose main means of encountering the Almighty was the exercise of the liturgy. Today, however, the most notable Old Believers are "Russian Amish," those vagrant communities clinging to 17th century Russian clothing and bread making methods, not those who use the old Greek rite. They may use it as far as they can (priestless or priest-full), yet their main function is to preserve Russian life as it was at the time of Nikon and Alexei. This is nostalgia for a pure Russia that never was.

We value traditions everywhere: in the Church, family, and in other aspects of life. Compare the modern phenomenon of electric bell towers with this chime duet played at my old university, where the students have taught each other the craft year after year, class after class for over a century.

In all aspects of life pass on the good things you have received.

NB: A great many Old Believers have reconciled with either the Greek Orthodox Church, ROCOR, or the Russian Catholic Church (yes, there is one). I think we can say that their motivation was primarily religious.


  1. Considering how many parallels there are between the 20th Century Roman Rite reforms and the Raskol, will there be priestless sedevacantist communities 300 years from now perpetually stuck in the 1940's/50's?

  2. The big difference is that the Russian Old Believers, the Amish and the "Petite Eglise" in France are communities. "Home alone" (priestless) sedevacantists are individuals and will not survive their own deaths (sorry, that's a no-brainer). Has anyone come across the Great Invisible Empire of Romantia, invented by some intriguing ladies in the 1990's? It brings a smile to the face - "Yards, not metres - Insist on Imperial" and the Imperial Home Service cassettes you would play on a tape recorder hidden inside an old 1930's wireless set.

  3. Sorry, forgot the link -

    1. Visited the link. My reaction can be surmised as:

      But you are mostly correct. There are sedevacantist communities in the midwestern United States but they lack the the sense of community required to survive as anything more than a closed-off cult. The Old Believers and Amish from everything I've heard are actually quite friendly to outsiders.