Un Grand Voyage Educatif !

Our Pskov Post-Orphanage Centre is in its second year of work at this point; it is time to offer an educational trip to 6 or 7 of our most active participants. So….over the Christmas-New Year season 2017-18, we are planning to go on a road trip across Europe!!

We’ve already ordered our passports and visas, but we still have a little fundraising to do, and you can help us with that!

We will travel across the Baltics, Poland, Germany, and into France, where we will spend a week to 10 days in Cathar Country in Southern France, before heading back to Pskov.

The trip is designed to be a veritable plethora of bright experiences so different from that to which our orphanage graduates are accustomed, that it cannot fail to seriously broaden their horizons and interests.

Central Europe is always filled with wonderful Christmas markets, free Classical music concerts, and other fascinating cultural events at western Christmas time. Having said that, the 2017 season promises to be far richer than the average year, because this year is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, presenting us with a unique opportunity to choose between a far greater number of events of cultural and historic interest.

Our visits to Christmas markets, places of historic interest, classical music concerts, museums, etc., will be supplemented by an inter-disciplinary educational program, specially designed to help our young adults quickly develop some familiarity with European cultural history and Russian cultural history, as well as the interaction between these two very different yet closely related spheres of thought, word and action.  We will achieve this with a cross-disciplinary program focusing on historical events as well as philosophical trends, especially as they are visible in music, art, architecture and other cultural forms (even culinary!)

We will use the backdrop of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation to discuss everything from basic cultural differences between western Europe and Russia and where they might have come from, to the development of German idealism and its effects on historical events in Russia. 2017 is not only the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, but also the 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution; what better time to discuss the power of thoughts and how the words and actions that spring from these thoughts really do change our world – sometimes drastically.

Our main, overarching goals for the trip are:

Our experience shows that one of the most quick and effective ways to promote faster personal growth for our students is through focused educational travel.

  • Broaden our students’ horizons. Extremely narrow horizons are most often the direct reason that our students are not even trying to realize their personal potential; how can I strive to achieve something if I don’t even know the possibility even exists? Narrow horizons are also often a reason for closedmindedness, personally destructive ill-informed opinion, and even bigotry (against ourselves, as well as others) – fates from which we wish our students to be free.
  • Spark an insistent thirst for learning more and more about the world. Many of our students see no need for education when they first come to us; travel programs quickly help us introduce our students to the for-them-revolutionary idea that everything in the world around them has meaning and worth;
  • Build personal responsibility. After realizing that everything in the world has meaning and worth, slowly and surely our students begin to understand that this means that every interaction they have with the world around them must also be filled with meaning. Their choices are significant. In every choice they make they are either building – or tearing down – both themselves personally, and the society around them.

Our trip participants will probably be a group that is as varied as can possibly be imagined, including some who have significant and deep appreciation of music, literature and philosophy, and others who have absolutely no education whatsoever. Having said this, the history of our programs shows that it is often with those who have no education whatsoever, that we get into the deepest conversations, in which we are challenged to our very core to produce answers worthy of our interrogators, with their newly-found visceral questions about the meaning of life. What we are striving to obviate and neutralize in all cases is the “whatever” attitude of indifference to everything around us in life.

This probably all sounds very ambitious, so here is the approximate proposed program that we intend to follow, in order to achieve something significant toward our main goals. Among much else, our program is likely to contain the following aspects:

  • We will run a course of 6 seminars for students before we leave Pskov, which will help our students:
  1. be able to identify the different “tastes” of Byzantine Chant, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich, and be able to describe them in words of their own;
  2. be able to identify the different styles of early Christian icons (1st), Russian classical icons (13-15th c.), Leonardo Da Vinci, Classicism, Impressionism and various types of modern art;
  3. be able to identify the different styles of architecture from Byzantine and Romanesque through Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Art Nouveau;
  4. read together two or three literary texts from different periods, as of yet to be decided by our team, and hear samples of philosophical/religious writings from thinkers of different periods from the 4th through 20th centuries;
  5. discuss the basis differences and similarities between the western (Roman Catholic) and eastern (Orthodox) rite Christian church liturgies, and classic protestant Post-Reformation worship. We will see how these changes to Christian worship in the west relate directly back to the different thought worlds in all the types of art we have been looking at. Following this (and after getting a chance to actually experience the different forms of church worship on our trip), we will have an open discussion about the usefulness and meaning (or uselessness and lack of meaning) of these liturgical forms for us in our modern lives today. No one is “right” and no one is “wrong” – everyone’s ideas are taken seriously, the goal is simply to encourage thought about these things.
  • We will hear music performed live: Bach (at church concerts in Germany), Mozart (in Salzburg, Austria), and Byzantine (in an Orthodox Church liturgy at Cantauque Monastery, near Limoux, France).
  • We will visit sites in Poland relating to the fascist holocaust against the Jewish people and other minorities (quite probably the Warsaw ghetto and perhaps Auschwitz). We will discuss the rise of fascism and where it may have come from and how, if at all, it is related to or total separate from the communist ideologies that also developed after (and perhaps out of) romanticism and idealism.
  • The frescoes in Transfiguration Cathedral of Mirozhsky Monastery in Pskov, visit the Alte Pinakothek Art Museum in Munich, which has a large collection of old master paintings, including Leonardo Da Vinci, on the way back we will visit the Kumu Gallery in Tallinn, Estonia, which is ranked one of the 10 best modern art museums in Europe, and includes a lot of Russian and Soviet modern art.
  • We will look at examples of different styles of architecture all across Europe, but noting especially: various Gothic cathedrals in Germany and France, Protestant church architecture in Germany and France, and our own Pskov church architecture. If we are very lucky, we may be able to drive south to Barcelona for a day (only 3 hours from our location in southern France) and visit the Sagrada Familia Cathedral (Gaudi), which is a remarkable example of modern Roman Catholic church architecture.
  • Our visit in southern France will be a rest and a place to continue discussions, but will also focus on visiting Cathar castles. The Cathars (12th to 14th), a Christian break-away group who were trying to protect themselves against the official Roman Catholic Church of the time, built many, many castles to protect themselves from the official powers of the day, both political and ecclesiastical. The Cathars are interesting, because they represent a pre-Reformation break from the standard Roman Catholic views, which nevertheless mirror many later thought developments. The area where we will be staying in France is famous for 14 amazing Cathar castles, many of which we will be visiting.

All of these experiences should provide a backdrop for discussion about the development in thought within European society, all of which we can take and apply to an understanding or our own lives, today.