There’s a fast food chain in Moscow called  “Stardog.” Here’s the word “star” in Cyrillic: стар. I consistently read “Stardog” as “Crapdog”. Probably I will never eat there.

Trains are great. Children are whiny. I have a cold. Moscow slowfood is expensive. 

Oh yeah–by the way, I’m in Moscow. Nathan’s in Cherepovets working. My train to Voronezh leaves tonight. Fortunately, I’ll only be there for a total of 2 non-consecutive days.

Lonely Planet describes the city as follows: 

“Upon reaching the industrial shores of Voronezh, your first reaction may be to swallow in dread. Black, belching smokestacks line the riverbank, and in addition to the smog, an opaque gritty pessimism hangs over the town. Indeed, Voronezh is a city scraping and clawing its way out of the Soviet era, with few immediate signs of success. Construction is rampant in this large city, giving rise to everything from gleaming new churches to cookie-cutter apartment buildings – but all the scaffolding cannot conceal the poverty that afflicts most citizens here.”

Read more:


But at least Voronezh got a page.

Anyway, from Voronezh I am hoping to catch a train to the village of Staraja Tishanka, where a community of True Orthodox Christians are awaiting me. These guys started out basically the same as the Orthodox church, but broke off when the church became a pawn of the Soviet state. That didn’t turn out so great for them, since their priests kept getting imprisoned and killed, so over time the different TOC communities went underground and established a more separatist and communal (ie. no priests in the traditional sense) church. Staraja Tishanka was one of a handful of village formed expressly to give TOCers a place to live and practice their religion if/when they finished their time in prison camps for their beliefs.

They aren’t really separatists anymore–the village where I’m going has about 4000 people, only 20 of which are part of the TOC. There used to be more like 400 TOCers here (by official count–there could have been more), but, as I understand it, when the USSR fell, the TOC lost a lot of its draw. Also, they’re abstinent, so, like the Shakers, they’re not self-sustaining, and basically no one wants to join them. 

Here’s a picture of some of the members, taken by the man who helped me arrange my visit:



Oh yeah, also they think the second coming already happened, and that we live in a post-apocalyptic age. Probably they weren’t thrilled when their Christ (otherwise known as Fjodor Rybalkin) died in WWI. 


Here’s a description of their services (forgive my poor translation):

There isn’t a liturgy, but on Sundays Fjodorovtsys meet in the “church”, where they read psalms, the Gospels, and, since the death of Arsenij Ivashchenko (one of their founders) in 1984, his essays. Then they sing psalms, hymns, and spirituals. Here’s what has to say about it: ‘The big room is full of Fedorovtsys–there are about 40 of them. They stand and recite the first poem [I guess like the Collect?], which is specific to the day or saint, and ‘Our Father.’ Then they sit down: men in front, women in the back. After reading the Gospel, the church elder asks, “What should we sing?” One man sings a song, and another another one [not clear whether they do this at the same time–I certainly hope not], but for the uninitiated it all sounds like dreary polyphony. The general theme is ‘Desolation, desolation, all covered with bush, all paths, then all the towns overgrown with thorns.’ Then they discuss business matters: who will work in the potato field this week, whether to buy a pig, someone’s fallen ill and needs to be sent to their family.'” Since they think Judgement Day already came and went, they don’t worry about getting into heaven–they received Fjodor, thereby securing eternal life. You’d think they’d be happy about it. 

Why on earth would anyone want to go spend a week with the most depressing fundies on God’s once-green, now thorn-ridden earth? Well, of these 20-40 members, 20-40 of them are very, very old. New members are rare. These guys won’t be around much longer, and in the meantime, HOW OFTEN DO YOU GET TO TALK TO PEOPLE WHO SERVED TIME IN PRISON CAMPS, STUCK WITH THEIR BELIEFS, AND SURVIVED?