A couple of you have sent me this nice essay on a big Russian Orthodox website, written by Vladimir Besenkov, who takes the measure of The Benedict Option from a Russian point of view. (The original Russian language version is here). Excerpts:
Of course, Rod Dreher speaks of the religious space of the West—the USA and Europe. However, we should admit that, despite all the ongoing serious changes, the modern world is still influenced by mass culture of Western countries. Whether we like it or not, Russia is no exception. The Western pop culture has become an integral part of the lives of many people. These images, designs, the music, cinematography and language permeate nearly every aspect of today’s society. If you enter a cozy coffee shop or an ordinary clothes shop that play background music permanently, you will immediately note the culture and language of the singers. On the feast of the Nativity of Christ the choir of one of the cathedrals of my native town performed “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” [a popular traditional English Christmas carol from the “West Country” of England.—Trans.] just before Communion. But I have not given this example in order to criticize—I just want to demonstrate that Western culture is truly permeating the fabric of our Russian society (both the secular and the Church “segments” of it). Therefore, the negative processes that we can observe “overseas” well may spread to our country.
Beyond all doubt, The Benedict Option provides us good food for thought. The value of this book is not in alarmist sentiment, but in its highlighting of some useful practices of Christian life, which, first and foremost, are meant for every individual and aimed at the perfection of the community of the faithful. Focusing on your inner state, on your way of life and that of your community, on asceticism and your spiritual education is useful for any Christian even in a period of “the empire”, when “the weather is fine” and “the sun is shining”, figuratively speaking. The unforgettable words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, “Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved”, remind us (who are sometimes carried away by “external activities” in the Church, though nobody denies their role) that nurturing and caring for the soul is of paramount importance to Orthodox Christians. For, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you (Lk. 17:21).
What a pleasant surprise to see that the book has been read by a Russian, and what’s more, actually liked. I’m grateful to Vladimir Besenkov. I had not considered that The Benedict Option would be useful to Christians in Russia. It’s not that I was under the impression that Russian Christianity was free of the problems of liquid modernity, but rather that I assumed my book was too Western-oriented. Maybe not. Perhaps someone will want to translate it, and it will find an audience in Russia. I would dearly love to bring Russians into the broader Benedict Option conversation, so we Christians in the West can learn from and support our Christian brothers and sisters in the East in our common struggle.