Thursday, March 03, 2011

Maria Blokonsky in War and Peace

Do you think Maria Blokonsky best embodies the Orthodox way in War and Peace?

I would say that Maria Blokonsky, and I believe there is also an aunt who is pious in St. Petersburg, is certainly the most pious. However, I would not say that she embodies the Orthodox way. The Orthodox way is very personal. Each person based on ability, life situation, education, etc. walks toward Christ in a rhythm or rubric that is appropriate for them. The Church lays out tools, but each person picks up the tools and uses them according to their personal situation. Piety is a visible conformity or participation in the life of the Church, but (as we know from the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee), piety is not equivalent to holiness or justification before God. Both Andre and Pierre struggle spiritually, and perhaps before God are counted righteous. The Orthodox way, in a culture that has been formed by the Orthodox way, is not so narrowly viewed. In the west, we want to contrast the Orthodox way with other ways, and end up with a sort of checklist. Certainly, we can talk about what the Church teaches; however, how those teachings are applied and lived in each personal life varies a lot. Part of what is so very Orthodox (and Tolstoyan) is Pierre's relationship with Platon Karataev (the peasant foot soldier he befriends as a POW) and Maria's relationship with the pilgrims. These relationships get at the heart of this very personal nature of the Orthodox way. Ignorant peasants, homeless people, and fools can be saints. The Orthodox way is a way of transformation through humility. The rules and services and teachings of the Church are tools, but humility and transformation are the goals. In a sense, we see in Maria's submission to the terrible treatment under her father's hand a personal application of the Orthodox way. In a sense, she is a fool to have submitted to such abuse; yet her willing submission to humiliation transfigures her. If it had embittered her, it would have been the wrong path. Viewing life this way is very Orthodox. The same unjust suffering that destroys one person, makes a saint out of another. One cannot carry a cross that has saved another. One must find his/her own cross.

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