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The Tavern Service


The model of the church service is used in The Tavern Service, the oldest manuscript of which is dated 1666. It is about drunkards, frequenters of the tavern. They have their own religious service, which is held not in church, but in the tavern. They compose hymns and canons not to the saints, but to themselves. They ring “small goblets” and “five-gallon beer kegs”, instead of bells. Here we find mock prayers from the service books. One of the most common prayers: “Holy God, strong and immortal, have mercy on us” is replaced by the following exclamation by the tavern drunkards: “Bind us, О vine, bind us stronger, bind the drunk and all those drinking, have mercy on us, beggars.” This version imitates the rhythm and sounds of the original with great subtlety. The prayer Our Father appears in The Tavern Service in this form: “Our Father, which art sitting at home, hallowed by thy name. Come and join us. Thy will be done in the tavern as in Heaven. Give us this day bread in the stove.

And forgive us our debts, creditors, as we forgive the tavern what we have squandered on drink, and lead us not into flogging (the punishment for insolvent debtors), for we have nothing to give, but deliver us from prison.”

We should not take the parodies of prayers for blasphemy. The unknown author of the introduction to one of the manu­scripts of The Tavern Service says so openly: “If anyone should think that these merry lines are blasphemy, and if this should trouble his conscience gravely, let him not force himself to read, but let those who can read and enjoy.” Mediaeval Europe had a vast number of such parodies (parodia sacra) both in Latin, and in the vernacular languages. Right up to the sixteenth century parodies on the psalms, New Testament readings and church hymns were included in the scenarios of the “festivals of fools” that were held in churches, and the Catholic Church allowed them. The fact is that the mediaeval parody, the Old Russian parody included, was a special type, which did not aim at ridiculing the parodied text. “In this case the laughter is directed not at another work, as in parodies of the modern age, but at the very thing that is being read or listened to. It is the ‘laughter at oneself typical of the Middle Ages, including laughter at the work that is being read at this particular moment. The laughter is immanent to the work itself. The reader laughs not at some other author or some other work, but at that which he is reading.”50 It is not the prayer Our Father that is funny, but the parody of it. Not the saints that are ridiculous, but the drunkards who are worshipping the tavern.

Neither religious belief nor the church as a whole is discredited by satirical literature. Unworthy servants of the Church are very often ridiculed, however. Describing how drunkards bring their belongings to the tavern, the author of The Tavern Service places the clergy and the monks at the head of the “ranks of drunkards”: “The priests and deacons bring skull-caps and other headwear, caftans and prayer books; the monks bring their robes and cassocks, klobuks (headgear), jackets and all the things from their cells; and the sextons bring books and ink.” The priests and deacons say: “Let us drink and be merry in exchange for our dark-green caftan, nor will we spare the light-green one, and we will pay the rest in money given to us for prayers for the dead… Thus the drunken priests thought to rob a dead man.” This cynical “easy bread philosophy” is found in European satirical literature too: the hero of the famous Spanish picaresque novel, Lazarillo de Tormes, admits to the reader that he prayed to God that at least one person should die each day, so that he could eat and drink at the funeral breakfast.