The Bread of Life series consists of two short documentaries about modes of Christian devotion and spiritual pursuit in South India today. Shot between October 2013 and February 2014 as part of Vlad Naumescu’s research on Syrian Christians (St. Thomas Christians) in India, the films explore Orthodox Sunday schools and Christian ashrams, taking a different cinematic approach in each case to grasp their distinct rhythms of prayer. Together, the two films contrast a pedagogy of prayer centered on speech and recitation with one based on silence and contemplation. Each draws on a model of ethical formation that ties together certain values, practices, and aesthetics to shape a Christian personhood.
Vlad Naumescu is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the Central European University (Budapest, Hungary). He completed his doctoral studies in 2006 at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology and Martin-Luther University (Germany). He has conducted research on ritual, memory, and religious transmission among Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Romania and Ukraine and more recently on St. Thomas Christians in South India. He is the author of Modes of Religiosity in Eastern Christianity: Religious Processes and Social Change in Ukraine (2008) and co-editor of Churches In-between (2009). He recently co-edited with Arnaud Halloy a special issue of Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology on Learning Spirit Possession (2012) and has contributed articles on Eastern Christianity to various journals and edited volumes. Based on his fieldwork with Russian Old Believers in the Romanian Danube Delta, he co-directed with Klara Trencsenyi an award-winning documentary Birds’ Way (2009).
Posts by Vlad Naumescu
Old Believers are socialized into this textual tradition from early childhood, as the old books are present in their churches and homes. In church the books are placed behind the wooden screen that separates the readers from the community in close proximity to the altar icons, and used on a daily basis for liturgical services and collective worship as is common in Orthodox churches (see Engelhart hyperlink). But the books are also found in almost every Old Believer home, inherited from parents together with the family icons. Inscribed by those who wrote themselves in as copyists, readers, or lifelong owners, the books often recreate spiritual or family genealogies and mark essential moments in their individual biographies. In homes they are most often hidden from view or covered with some clothing and are “activated” once a person literate in Church Slavonic engages with them—which some say needs to be done regularly. Similar to an icon placed in the house, the book constitutes a salient presence that puts the reader, the book, and the text in a particular relationship, prompting an act of prayer associated with specific practices: when taking the book in his hands the reader crosses himself, opens it deferentially and starts reciting from it. This action is as much a recited prayer as it is an occasion to commemorate those inscribed in the book and evoke the broader community of Old Believers.