Several weeks ago, wandering through our little village, my friend Sarah and I stumbled onto a tiny Russian Orthodox church. It was perfect timing, because the service was just beginning. We donned headscarves from a box by the door and stood, enthralled, as a priest walked around the room, waving a censer of incense in front of the four elderly women in attendance and chanting in old Russian. We continued standing as he went behind a curtain and kept chanting. From an unseen balcony above our heads a woman would chant in reply, her voice drifting down almost like angels from heaven. It was all very beautiful, and the nearest equivalent I can give to the sounds would be Gregorian chants. We stayed for about 30 minutes, but not knowing how long the service would last, we slipped out early and spent the next 15 minutes talking about how fortunate we were to find that little church.
A few weeks later, a different friend, Denise, and I were also wandering around the village. Denise asked if we could go to the church, because I'd been raving about how beautiful it was. We made our way to the edge of town, where this time the service was just ending. Wanting to peek inside at the icons hanging on the walls, we edged toward the door. The same four old ladies shuffled past us, and last of all the priest came out. He was wearing a long, black robe, and had a beard that reached to his waist and a ponytail just as long hanging down his back.
As we stood in front of the church, he approached us, a welcoming smile on his face. Then, he asked if we were spies. At first, we didn't understand, but when he said “CIA” it became clear. “No, no, no!” we exclaimed. “We're certainly not spies. We have nothing to do with the CIA or even the embassy.” Then we tried to explain what we were doing in Kazakhstan, but when someone suspects you of being a spy, all of a sudden you're very nervous about what you say, and everything begins to sound suspicious. At first, I thought something like, “I'm here to learn about your culture,” but no, that sounds like I'm gathering intel. Then I thought, “I'm here with the Peace Corps,” but then he would be bound to ask what that is, and I would have to admit that it's with the US government. And all of this, of course, in broken Russian. Eventually, we ended up saying we were English teachers and then started talking about how Denise doesn't like the mountains because she's from Nebraska. It seemed the safest course of action at the time.
After we had established that we were not spies (although I wonder if he was convinced), he asked us if we knew why there was an economic crisis. “If we knew, we wouldn't be in one!” Denise exclaimed. So he offered to tell us. Below, I've given the best transcription of his speech that I can. It was very interesting, to say the least. I should note that this whole speech was given in a very nice and mild-mannered way, never accusatory or confrontational, so in person it seemed a lot less polemic than it does on a computer screen. That's probably why we didn't realize at first that he was accusing us of being spies. And why we stuck around even after we figured out that he was.
Before I begin though, I should say this: These are the words of one village priest, and do not necessarily represent the stance of the Russian Orthodox church as a whole. They also do not represent the Peace Corps (as none of my blog does) and they don't represent me. I hope that I've recorded them as accurately as possible, but something may have been lost in translation.
We are in an economic crisis because God told us not to lend money for interest, but we did. We have factories and farms built on nothing but promises to banks. How can we ever expect to build something out of nothing? We even lend to our own families, and expect them to pay us back with interest. We are only interested in earning dollars or rubles (the Russian currency; he never referred to the Kazakhstani currency, tenge). That is why we are in this crisis; God is punishing us for not obeying him.
Do you know the history of Carthage? It was a great empire. It had many great kings, such as Hannibal, who attacked the Greeks. But Carthage worshiped Mammon (money). They were very greedy, and they put Mammon before God. Mammon is the same thing as the devil, and because they worshiped him and not God they were destroyed and are not around anymore.
We are just as evil as Carthage, and that is why we're in the end times. The earth and human society is sinking into hell. Only a few people are hanging on with the tips of their fingers, fighting the descent. But most of the world is evil and soon we will all be destroyed.
That is, unless Russia saves us all. It is only Russia that can save the world, because it is a holy country. It's wonderful that we're learning Russian, because there are Russians everywhere, throughout the whole world. And Russia is a holy country, because it is led by a holy man. President Putin (this is how the priest referred to him) said that he was given two gifts by God. (I wish I'd asked him what these two gifts were, but I didn't.) Who would ever say that they were given gifts by God if this weren't true? And since Putin was given gifts by God, this shows that the government of Russia is sacred. Conversely, no American president has ever said that he was given gifts by God.
How can America expect to run well as a country if we're constantly changing presidents every four years? It's like driving a car and changing drivers every four hours, or running a factory and changing managers every four months; it just doesn't work. Besides, the president is just a puppet of the Anglo-Saxon and Jewish establishment anyway, and he doesn't have any real power.
America is a weak country now, because they don't work to produce anything. Thirty years ago, 30% of Americans worked in the production sector, but now only 10% do. And because we don't make anything with our hands, but import everything (and therefore have a huge trade deficit) we have become weak and fat. Both Americans as individual people, and America the country, is weak and fat. We just move money around and lend at interest, and that is why we are in an economic crisis now.
But we should come back and speak to him once we speak better Russian, and we can have many more interesting talks.