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Chekhov for the 21st Century. Carol Apollonio and Angela Brintlinger, eds. Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2012, 181–94.       Cultural Kenosis in Chekhov’s “The Wife” Nina Wieda Chekhov   is   known   for   asking   uncomfortable   questions   that   have   no   tidy   answers.  His  short  story  “The  Wife”  (“Zhena,”  1892)  asks  one  such  question,   namely:  what  is  the  real  meaning  of  philanthropy,  and  what  do  people  really   seek  when  they  give  to  others?  In  order  to  answer  this  question,  I  will  contrast   two   types   of   philanthropy   described   in   Chekhov’s   story:   rational,   reflective   giving   aimed   at   maximizing   the   beneficial   effect   on   the   recipient,   and   irra-­‐‑ tional,  unreflective  giving  that  emphasizes  the  giver’s  own  benefit  and  point   of  view.  I  propose  comparing  the  second  type—where  the  process  takes  the   form   of   a   kind   of   emptying   out   of   the   giver—to   the   theological   concept   of   kenosis.   The  term  kenosis  (Greek  for  “emptying-­‐‑out”)  has  made  frequent  appear-­‐‑ ances   in   literature   on   Russian   religiosity.   Originally,   the   word   comes   from   Philippians  2:  6–8,  where  St.  Paul  declares  that  Christ,  “though  he  was  in  the   form  of  God,  did  not  count  equality  with  God  a  thing  to  be  grasped,  but  emp-­‐‑ tied  himself,  taking  the  form  of  a  servant,  being  born  in  the  likeness  of  man.   And  being  found  in  the  human  form  he  humbled  himself  and  became  obedi-­‐‑ ent   onto   death,   even   death   on   a   cross.”1   In   1892,   the   Orthodox   theologian   Mikhail  Tareev  introduced  the  word  kenosis  into  Russian  religious  discourse;2   the  word  was  used  to  describe  not  only  the  actions  of  Christ,  but  also  subse-­‐‑ quent  acts  inspired  by  them.  Kenosis  plays  an  important  role  in  the  works  of   religious  philosophers  Nikolai  Lossky  and  Sergei  Bulgakov.3  In  his  1933  theo-­‐‑ logical   study,   Georges   Florovsky   writes   about   kenosis   as   the   basis   for   the                                                                                                                             1  The   Holy   Bible.   Revised   Standard   Version   (New   York:   Thomas   Nelson   &   Sons,   1953).   The  Russian  text  reads:  “Он,  будучи  образом  Божиим,  не  почитал  хищением  быть   равным  Богу;  но  уничижил  Себя  Самого,  приняв  образ  раба,  сделавшись  подоб-­‐‑ ным  человекам  и  по  виду  став  как  человек;  смирил  Себя,  быв  послушным  даже   до  смерти,  и  смерти  крестной”   2  Steven  Cassedy,  Dostoevsky’s  Religion  (Stanford,  CA:  Stanford  University  Press,  2005),   11.   3  For   discussion   of   the   role   that   the   notion   of   kenosis   plays   in   the   works   of   Sergei   Bulgakov,   see   Paul   Valliere,   Modern   Russian   Theology:   Bukharev,   Soloviev,   Bulgakov.   Orthodox  Theology  in  a  New  Key  (Grand  Rapids,  MI:  Eerdmans,  2000),  337–44.   182 NINA WIEDA Russian   culture   of   self-­‐‑offering   (darenie   sebia).4   Nadejda   Gorodetzky’s   1938   study   The   Humiliated   Christ   in   Modern   Russian   Thought   delineates   kenosis— synonymously   described   as   “humiliation”—as   a   Russian   national   ideal.5   In   his  1946  book  The  Russian  Religious  Mind,  Fedotov  suggests  that  kenosis  is  the   great  discovery  of  the  first  Christian  generation  in  Russia  and  the  key  to  the   Russian  religious  mind.6   In   the   Russian   context,   the   term   is   most   often   associated   with   Russia’s   patron   saints   Boris   and   Gleb.   Never   ordained   as   monks   and   having   per-­‐‑ formed   no   feats   for   the   faith   during   their   lifetime,   Boris   and   Gleb   became   canonized   based   on   their   willing   yielding   of   their   lives   to   assassins.7   Their   Vita  inaugurates  the  kenotic  tradition  in  Russian  theology,  which  some  schol-­‐‑ ars  recognize  as  the  most  distinctive  feature  of  the  Russian  brand  of  Orthodox   Christianity.     Russian  kenoticism  manifested  itself  in  the  Vitae  of  a  number  of  Russian   saints,  including  St.  Tikhon  of  Zadonsk  and  St.  Sergii  of  Radonezh.  For  Che-­‐‑ khov’s   short   story,   the   most   relevant   hagiographic   text   is   the   Vita   of   St.   Theodosius,  the  founder  of  the  Pechersk  Monastery  in  Kiev.  According  to  the   Vita,  Theodosius  named  the  fact  that  Christ  “lowered  himself  and  was  hum-­‐‑ ble”  as  his  main  Christian  inspiration.8  Along  with  articulating  his  apprecia-­‐‑ tion  for  kenosis  verbally,  Theodosius  practices  numerous  kenotic  behaviors,   which   emulate   the   ideal   of   the   humiliated   Christ.   These   behaviors   include   wearing  “poor  and  patched”  clothing  (120),  choosing  the  humble  vocation  of   wafer-­‐‑baker   in   his   youth,   being   secretive   about   his   ascetic   exercises,   and   showing  a  willingness  to  undertake  the  hardest  labor  even  after  he  is  elected   abbot.   Interestingly,  the  only  area  where  the  generally  forgiving  Theodosius  dis-­‐‑ played  severity  in  maintaining  the  stipulated  economic  order  of  his  monastic   community   was   in   his   strict   adherence   to   the   statutory   poverty,   removing   from  the  cells  everything  superfluous  in  vestments  or  food  to  be  burned  in  a   stove  as  “the  devil’s  part.”9  George  Fedotov  writes  that  to  “have  no  hope  in   property  was  his  principle  in  managing  the  good  of  the  monastery.  […]  The                                                                                                                             4  Georges  Florovsky,  Ways  of  Russian  Theology,  in  Collected  Works  of  Georges  Florovsky,   vol.   5,   ed.   Richard   S.   Haugh,   trans...


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