Ethnography of the tacit

From the very beginning of my ethnographic fieldwork, I could see that instances of both modern therapy and traditional Orthodox cure of soul and body were variably present in my interlocutors' narratives and experiences. However, articulating the interplay of such instances through a glocal therapeutic assemblage has required a great deal of time, immersion, analytical efforts, critical reflection, anda continuous dialog between theory and practice (Cerwonka and Malkki, 2007). However time-consuming, ethnography is best suited to articulate taken-for-granted aspects of thought and behavior, including spontaneous verbal, emotional, and bodily reactions that standard survey methods are unable to tap into (Gupta and Ferguson, 1997). The embodied presence in the field enables ethnography of the tacit, something which is not or only spontaneously articulated in speech.

I conducted my fieldwork research between 2014 and 2017. My fieldwork included participation and non-participant observation in a church setting, including informal gatherings, clubs, church services, and choir practices. The church serves as the spiritual and social environment of a vibrant multicultural community within the parish in western Finland. Overall, I recorded ethnographic interviews with 24 practitioners, most of whom were women of Finnish, Russian, Ukrainian, and Greek origins. Most were teachers, university lecturers, accountants, researchers, and doctors, and had a university degree. I also recorded interviews with two men, but I have had numerous informal discussions with male practitioners and priesthood beyond the recorded mode. In addition, I have also read and used the periodicals issued by the OCF. My ethnographic practice has been improvisatory, interactive, and reflexive in its nature, and built on non-hier-archical and non-objectifying terms between the researcher and the researched (Cerwonka and Malkki. 2007; Ingold, 2013).

Following standard research ethics, I have anonymized all the names, the location of the church, and refer primarily to recorded interviews. Thus, women's experiences have received more attention in this chapter. Although I rely mostly on interviews, the findings presented here should be seen as part of my long-term immersion in the field. In my broader engagement with Orthodox practitioners, participant observation, informal engagement, and unexpected encounters often yielded deep insights and understandings of the researched phenomena that help to contextualize and situate the recorded interviews. Similarly, my long-term participation in choir practices and church services was vital for understating and relating to the experiences that my interlocutors narrated. For instance, over these years, the Orthodox service has unfolded forme as an event that holistically summons the acts of seeing, hearing, singing, smelling, etc. Such bodily responses combine with cognitive apprehension for the perpetual production of the sacred in a multilayered process of never-ending unveiling. In this sense, the chapter represents my experiences of an opening on the social reality of Orthodox faithful rather than an attempt at its closure (as discussed generically by Ingold, 2013). Such an opening has enabled me to analytically weave very different and diverse aspects of my interlocutors’ life stories and practices into an initial ethnographic exploration, focusing on therapeutic knowledge and practices within Orthodox Christianity.

Therapeutic and therapeia in Divine Liturgy

My ethnographic research shows how much importance people place on participating in a church service, especially the Divine Liturgy. Liturgy stands for the recreation and celebration of the Kingdom of Heaven, as well as symbolic and actual reliving of the mystery of the Last Supper. It has been described as a ‘synthesis of arts’ that encompasses the art of fire or burning candles, choir singing, priestly conduct, church poetry, incense dissolved in the air, and the art of icons and frescos (Florensky, [1918] 2002). As I have discussed elsewhere, individual artistry is pertinent to unique experiences of this church art (Tiaynen-Qadir, 2017).

Receiving the Holy Communion, or Eucharist, is the culmination of the liturgy and symbolizes the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body. Thus, upon receiving the Eucharist, participants of the liturgy greet each other by saying, ‘to the cure of soul and body’ (sielun ja runmiin parannukseksi), to which the standard reply is, ‘in honor of God’ (Jumalan kunniaksi). The texts sung and recited during liturgy, including blessings of water at certain occasions, contain numerous references to the ‘health of soul and body’. These texts are mostly of ancient origins and draw on the two most frequently used liturgies developed by John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great in late antiquity. In other words, discourses of cure and health of body and soul are age-old in the context of Eastern liturgy.

The persistence of age-old terms for cure and soul in liturgical texts does not automatically mean that practitioners perceive these words in the same way as participants of liturgy in 8th century Byzantium. Therapeutic ethos is a global phenomenon, and is increasingly bound to our modern condition (Illouz, 2008; Furedi, 2004). People globally conceive of themselves and seek to improve their lives in popular psychology terms and metaphors. Transnational therapeutic language of selfhood is circulated and reinforced by books, wellness and health style courses, TV counseling, yoga, New Age spiritualities, and a growing number of other channels, including in Finland (Woodstock, 2005; Salmenniemi, 2010, 2016; Rimke, 2000; Heelas, 2009; Lerner, 2011). Therapeutic selfhood has also affected how some of my interlocutors perceive liturgy.

For instance, some choir members pointed out that singing during liturgy helps them to keep a ‘balance’, that it is ‘satisfying’ and ‘rewarding’. They emphasized a ‘therapeutic’ and ‘calming’ effect of singing during liturgy. Such formulations are in dialog with ‘therapeutic’ and ‘cleansing’ effects of Orthodox singing that have been discussed in several articles of the OCF periodicals (Sjoberg, 2013; Kallio, 2018). Moreover, it was also noted that the purpose of‘sacred songs’ is not to heal or cure, but to reach for the sacred (Sjoberg, 2013).

Some interlocutors also emphasized the benefits of singing for emotional and physical well-being. Roosa has been singing in a church for over 20 years. She regularly and devotedly participates in and sings during liturgy. Roosa recollects that the first time she came to the church was by accident. She was struck by the ‘beauty of singing', and immediately asked if she could join the choir. She mentioned that singing in a choir was good for her ‘mental health’. At some point in her life she also attended yoga courses. In fact, she did not attend choir practices for about two years some time ago, having joined a meditation group instead. But she told me that it did not work for her in the same way, and she was eager to return to her singing in the church.

Another interlocutor, Alina, articulated quite clearly that for her ‘religion is therapy’. She humorously noted that she had traveled a long path from being a ‘militant atheist’ to becoming a practicing Orthodox Christian. In her early twenties, along with hundreds of people, Alina was kept as a hostage for three days in the ‘sadly famous’ Nord-Ost siege in the Moscow Dubrovka Theater in 2002. It was a ‘life-turning experience' that made her realize that dying without faith must be dreadfully disturbing and uncomfortable. Afterward, Alina turned for help to a psychologist, but also sought more ground to meet her spiritual needs. She turned to Orthodox Christianity as a tradition culturally proximate to her that she had a sense of due to her grandmother. Alina told me that she thoroughly enjoyed singing in the church choir. In a light and laughing manner, typical of her, she likened her choir singing to ‘manna from heaven' and said that she especially liked the physical sensation of ‘producing a sound out of her body’, especially in ‘company’ with other people.

The very use of the term ‘therapeutic’ in its functional and psychologizing sense points to the effect of the modern therapeutic discourses on how liturgy and singing are perceived. However, these examples, discussed previously, also show that ‘therapeutic’ means quite different things for different interlocutors. While some relate it to their emotional well-being, others use this term to refer to the effect of ‘sacred’ singing. However, as discussed here, these psychologizing narratives are combined with the diverse range of other narration techniques that people utilize to talk of their experiences of the liturgy.

My other interlocutor Vera, a psychiatrist by occupation, stressed that liturgy could be a ‘powerful support for psyche’, and ‘every second’ among her patients •probably needs faith’ to be cured. These were her personal reflections that she shared privately in a conversation with me; naturally she was not allowed to mention church or God to her patients. Yet that was the only time when she used the language of psychology to talk of liturgy. In contrast, when she wished to share her personal experiences of liturgy, she turned to more poetic terms and even seemed to be short of words:

Solemnity. Sometimes there is such moment in life, some kind of breakdown. Not like some kind of quarrel, but some serious stress. Somebody got sick or some problems, for instance, at a work place. And there is a feeling [oshchushchenie] of tearfulness, a feeling that it is bad. And then it is gone. And there is a peak of bliss. And tears stream down, I don’t know... I don’t know how to explain it as it is, well, difficult to do it. Well, you know, when you say that you are extremely deeply moved. There is this very feeling [oshchushchenie].. .well, you know, it is actually overwhelming you, and there is a lump in the throat.. .1 don’t know, it is difficult to explain.

On one hand, there are some elements of the functional therapeutic explanation in this extract as liturgy figures as a way of overcoming a ‘breakdown’ and problems at work. On the other hand, it also illustrates how Vera resorts to description of her sensations and such uncontrolled bodily reactions as ‘tears’

Therapeia within Orthodox Christianity 65 or a ‘lump in the throat’ to point to the overwhelmingly moving effect of liturgy. Although the language of psychology is easily accessible to Vera due to her professional training, she does not claim liturgy to have a therapeutic effect on her, but poetically refers to ‘solemnity’ and ‘a peak of bliss’. Vera applies the Russian word oshchushchenie that does not have any direct translation in English. This term is also frequently applied by other Russian-speaking interlocutors. Its use is important as this term implies a ‘subjective image’ of the world and encompasses the whole range of senses and sensations, tangible and emotional experiences and perceptions.

Many other women from different backgrounds utilize similar narration strategies. They describe their sensorial experiences of liturgy and unexpected bodily reactions in order to point to the importance of ‘reaching beyond’. Many stress that they like the smell in the church or that choir singing ‘touches the very soul’ or ‘moves one to tears’. They talk of the feeling of ‘trembling’ or ‘goose bumps’ on the body. Most women recounted moments when they were touched to tears during liturgy and other church services. Some men too, although more reserved verbally in their articulation of the sensorial, pointed out that sometimes liturgy is ‘especially touching’. For instance, Victor mentioned to me that one has to be ‘open’ during liturgy, and sometimes something else ‘opens’ up within the self. These uncontrolled bodily reactions were talked of in a very different way from publicly encouraged articulations of bodily signs of the presence of God in Pentecostalism (de Witte, 2017). In Orthodoxy, those reactions were not to be demonstrated, but rather kept to oneself.

When people were sharing those experiences with me, they would sometimes start speaking quieter, almost whispering. One does this usually when sharing something intimate and personal. I found this carefulness in articulating the ‘blessed tearfulness’ - as one of my interlocutors put it - to be very much in line with the apophatic approach in Orthodoxy. According to this approach, the mystical realm of God is inexpressible in human terms and verbal expressions, and, therefore, any attempts at articulating it inevitably leads to simplifications and human-bound rationalization. Yet this reality is bodily mediated (Lossky, [1957] 1976). Consequently, when people somehow reach out to this perceived reality, these experiences are not normally talked of or over-emphasized. Similarly, my interlocutors were very careful in how they talked of their experiences of the divine, and especially if and how they mentioned God. If anything, God was not perceived as a therapist, but rather as incomprehensible and indescribable in human words, as belonging to an invisible realm that surpasses human understanding and experience.

Yet, people referred to moments or glimpses of the divine presence during liturgy. Some could point to specific prayers or hymns sung during liturgy that enabled some deeper insight and experience into the beyond. It could be the ancient Trisagion prayer (‘Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us’), which ‘reaches’ individuals through the medium of different languages and varying music arrangements. Some are ‘deeply moved’ when it is performed in Finnish as a ‘Slavic melody’ or as a Byzantine chant adopted for choral singingin Finnish. Others point out that it ‘reaches to them’ when it is sung in Ancient Greek or Church Slavonic, and as a Byzantine chant. The glocal nature of liturgy in OCF enables these various experiences for people from different backgrounds.

Similarly, the famous ‘Cherubim Hymn, a song of the angels’ was mentioned as one that ‘moves beyond the self’. The singing choir ‘mystically represents the Cherubim’, and ‘chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity’. For instance, Victoria told me that at some point when the ‘Cherubim Hymn’ was sung during one of the liturgies, the text from the Revelation (New Testament) that describes John’s vision of the throne of God, ‘became alive’. Likewise, Johanna and Anfisa, who sing in the choir, pointed out that sometimes there is a feeling that the hymn is actually sung through you, and the body becomes a medium or an instrument. Both mentioned that they feel blessed and happy to be able to sing to ‘the glory of God'. However, the feeling of joy and happiness that they refer to seems to be quite different from psychologizing narratives of happiness:

There is kind of self-evident in the church that you are never ready, no perfect. And it is great in any case to sing to the glory of God... All services are different, spring, winter, it all ma tiers... sometimes very often you sing the same verses, and you want to make them sound perfect...sometimes when the choir is not so big, then the feeling of calmness comes, and alongside this feeling, there is a sense as if there is a group that sings, and as if you are actually not in the choir, but listen to what this group sings. This feeling is very rare, but it also comes with a sense of silent ecstasy (Johanna).

These are the tears of happiness that you can be here. This is such a great blessing to be there, breathe that air, be able to sing to the glory of God. It is not possible to describe it. One has to really merely stand there and feel it. And there is always some trembling [in the body]. And when you leave the temple, and everything went well. And then you understand that it is not because of us, it is not our merits, that everything went well. But everything went fine, and there were less mistakes, and the sound was beautiful, and you feel it, and other people feel it.. .and then people come and thank you. But how can you explain people: “It is not me, understand me. It is not me. I am the instrument” (Anfisa).

Johanna came to the choir around 20 years ago, and seven years later had joined the Orthodox church upon realizing that ‘her knowledge of Orthodoxy will never be perfect’. Anfisa joined the church three years ago, after she had migrated to Finland, and then joined the choir around one year ago. Interestingly, despite the difference in these women's life trajectories and the years of engagement with Orthodoxy, there is a great deal of convergence in how they narrate of their experiences of the divine presence during liturgy.

Their narratives of happiness, blessing, calmness, and silent ecstasy fall closely in line with Orthodox therapeia, in which the cure of the soul is associated with stillness of the soul, vision of God, and heavenly ecstasy (Hierotheos, 1994: 315). According to Orthodox tradition, some saints were indeed able to

Therapeia within Orthodox Christianity 67 attain such a vision, and maintained a state of being ‘cured’ through their prayers and hesychia more or less permanently. Yet, for most people, such a state is attainable only momentarily, when one can ‘touch the untouchable and blessed essence’ (Hierotheos, 1994: 145). I find that many of my interlocutors refer to exactly this kind of therapeutic effect of liturgy, which is associated with ‘joy’, ‘solemnity’, ‘serenity’, ‘calmness’ and ‘peace’, and the glimpses of the divine presence. In their narratives, moving beyond the self to reconnect with the divine has been an unpredictable outcome, but at the same time a telos and cure of liturgy.

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