Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar)
Lessons of Apsuara: Restraint in the Manifestation of
FEELINGS FOR CHILDREN
In 1869 Bishop Gabriel of Imereti, who also temporarily ruled the Abkhaz Diocese, went to review the Abkhaz and Samurzakan parishes (church communities).
On 4 October of the same year, he, together with the head of the Sukhum military department, General Gaiman, left the village of Psyrtskha (in the modern-day New Athos) along the seashore for Sukhum. On the way, they stopped in the village of Yeshyra. During a meeting with the inhabitants of this village, Bishop Gabriel drew attention to a “wild” custom, as it seemed to him.
“He writes in his travel notes, that “general (Gaiman) took small children in his arms, caressed them and played with them. Some of them were his godsons and goddaughters. It made big impression on the Abkhazians, who never caress their children, and do not even allow them to be close to them. In order to wean them from this harmful custom, the general, often deliberately in the presence of many Abkhazians, takes small children in his arms and caresses them. It goes without saying that the example of the chief commander, better than any words, can wean them from the wild custom of alienating their children”.
Abkhazians (mostly men) really avoid displaying too much sentimentality in relation to their children in public places, especially in the presence of older people. This is an indicator of a different culture, moreover, ancient and, it seems to me, very necessary for humans. I have never heard that restraint in the manifestation of feelings is a sign of savagery.
Is it good that in our time the vast majority of people (including Abkhazians) endlessly demonstrate (especially in social networks) feelings for their own children?
I cannot understand why restraint in demonstration of feelings for children in public space is harmful? Not to mention the fact that the public demonstration of feelings for children, first of all, is disrespectful for them: because, the child does not know where, when, who and how will publish or republish his childhood photos, including those that can embarrass him when he will grow up and consider such pictures private. Thus, parents who endlessly publish photos of their children, in fact, deprive them of their right to privacy, which is very disrespectful.
Technological achievements of the 21st century have moved people’s daily lives from private to public space: everyone has the opportunity to share photos and videos of their own daily life, but not all of us follow the culture of behavior in the Internet.
In conclusion, I will again give two quotations, the content of which will reveal and explain my words and the topic of these notes.
Prof. Shalva Inal-ipa (1916–1995) wrote in Essays on Abkhazian Etiquette (Sukhum, 1984): “Watch young Abkhazians in everyday life – I mean, of course, not those ones who, having not truly joined to the new or to the old cultures, and make a bad impression with their arrogant swagger, I mean those ones who, being quite modern people, at the same time have preserved a “golden reserve” of good traditions that distinguish them from other peoples and make them pleasant and desirable in society. Such “conservatives” cannot, for example, not stand up when the elders appear; they will not sit down until the elders are on their feet and until they invite them to sit down; they will not say a word before them, they will not drink too much in front of them, they will not interrupt their speech, they will not cross their path even in the forest, they will not pass between them, they will not enter before them in the room, they will never deceive, never say rude words etc. And all this is not read from books and not memorized by heart, but simply and naturally follows from those everyday norms of behavior that ordinary Abkhaz peasants absorbed with their mother’s milk, and make big impression on people who first came to them, as academician N. Ya. Marr noted, with their “courtesy, delicacy”.
The modern classic of literature and our compatriot Fazil Iskander (1929-2016) wrote in his work “School Waltz, or the Energy of Shame”: “As a child, I was distinguished by some increased tolerance for pain. I remember when I went to the dispensary, where they gave me very painful injections, while waiting, I often heard the heartbreaking cries of children and sometimes even the groans of adults. I endured this pain without uttering a sound, which caused the pleasure of the nurses and doctors. They praised me before others. At first, I was ashamed to moan, because of conscious ethical considerations, apparently, there were the fragments of the Abkhaz upbringing effect.
Among the Abkhazians, as probably among all the highlanders, the overcoming of pain is quite strongly developed in folk art and customs. Thus, the ethical motive (shame), supported by an aesthetic example (song, legend), helped create that spiritual upsurge, which partly replaced the absence of drugs in folk medicine. So the “Song of the Wound” was directly addressed to the wounded to help him endure suffering. Perhaps, fragments of this consciousness lived in me and helped me, and then they began to praise me, so it became even more ashamed to show signs of weakness.
New Athos (Abkhazia),
1 February, 2023.
 Gabriel, Bishop of Imereti. Review of the Abkhaz parishes in 1869 (travel notes) // Orthodox Review, 1870, 1st half of the year, p. 1022.
Photo by Naala Avidzba