The Spirit of a Pure Christianity

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“As a Russian, I come from a country that is part of the Orthodox tradition. Culturally, the Russian Orthodox Church is my church – although little I have seen ever enamoured it to me. One only has to consider its hounding of punk-rock protesters Pussy Riot, or its cosy relationship with the state, or the sense of avarice that seems to emit from it, to realise why. In recent years, reports have emerged that a car repair and tyre service was being run underneath Christ the Saviour, Moscow’s largest Orthodox cathedral, and that a brothel was being run on land rented by Sretensky Monastery. Archpriest Mikhail Grigoriev of Kazan was discovered to own a BMW jeep, a Mercedes jeep and a Mercedes saloon as well as three flats and a country house. He was secretly filmed boasting about his £12,000 mobile phone and love of Italian designer clothes. This year, there have been allegations of sexual assault by Russian Orthodox clergy, with students supposedly plied with alcohol before being abused.

The church’s head, Patriarch Kirill, a man who regularly criticises Western commercialism and publicly called feminism “very dangerous”, was even caught out by his own hypocrisy: two years ago, his press team issued a photograph of a meeting in Ukraine in which Kirill’s $30,000 Swiss Breguet watch was airbrushed out. Unfortunately for them, they had overlooked its reflection on a polished table top.
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Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church appears very different. On the ground, the impression I get is overwhelmingly one of a clergy committed to personal humility. Again and again I meet priests living lives just as humble as their congregations. They are keeping true to the tenet of their faith that they must forgo almost all possessions and dedicate themselves totally to the spiritual life. This, I feel, gives them considerable moral authority…
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After Lalibela, Tigray, to the north, is perhaps Ethiopia’s most sacred spot. Amid its stark, lunar-like mountains, with their steep outcrops and columns rising hundreds of feet into the air, are built Tigray’s own rock-hewn churches. Some of these predate Lalibela’s by hundreds of years and, though less impressive architecturally, have their own power brought by the isolation and otherworldliness of the spot.
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Access to many involves scaling a cliff. Again there is no health and safety procedure – or even ropes and carabinas – and I find myself clinging to a sheer rock face seeking out the next crevice as I inch myself towards the top to see one of the churches for myself. There I meet the local bishop, who invites me to his home in a nearby building. It is utterly spartan. A thin mattress on the floor, a beaten-up wooden chest and an old clock radio are seemingly his only possessions. I ask if he doesn’t miss having a few luxuries. The answer is immediate: he does not, he insists. Despite his being a “simple life”, for almost four decades he has got all he needed or wanted from life as he has been able to spend every day “praying”.
As I leave, a group of pilgrims arrives to see him. Standing outside his church, he blesses them. Then he goes inside to get what food he has to share. Together they break bread.
Inside the church would have stood its replica of the Ark, the symbol of God’s promise to his chosen people. Yet what I witness is a living, more immediate, covenant – one that across the country is renewed daily between a church and its believers. If there must be religion, I tell myself, then this is how it should be.”
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-spirit-of-a-pure-christianity-exploring-ethiopias-stunning-subterranean-churches-9268381.html
evgeny
Evgeny Lebedev with a clergyman

Evgeny Alexandrovich Lebedev (born 8 May 1980) is the Russian-born British chairman and owner of both Evening Standard ltd, publisher of the “Evening Standard”, which he bought in January 2009, and of Independent Print Ltd, publisher of the “Independent”, the “I” and the “Independent on Sunday”, which he bought in March 2010. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evgeny_Lebedev and http://evgenylebedev.com/

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