St. Tatiana’s Day: religion meets science
On January 25, the Orthodox Christian Church celebrates the day of Saint Martyr Tatiana.
In Russia, this is also the holiday of students, for on this day, in 1755, the Moscow University was founded.
St. Tatiana lived in Rome in the late 2nd – early 3rd centuries A.D. She was a deaconess in a Christian church, for at that time women were allowed to be deacons along with men. Tatiana was known for her devoted help to the poor. She often visited prisoners to console them and attended sick people.
It was dangerous to be a Christian at that time. Christianity has not yet become officially recognized, and Christians were often persecuted by the pagan Roman authorities. Tatiana was also arrested.
Young but strong-willed, Tatiana did not reject her faith although she was subjected to severe tortures. On the opposite, a legend says that the seven executioners who tortured her, impressed by her endurance, converted to Christianity.
However, for Russians, the name “Tatiana” (or, in Russian, “Tatyana”) is associated, first of all, with the main female character of Alexander Pushkin’s novel “Eugene Onegin”, a young woman who remained faithful to her husband although she loved another man.
It is hard to say how many women called Tatyana are now celebrating their name day. But the exact number of Russian students who are celebrating St. Tatiana’s day can be estimated at 7 mln. It has become a tradition for every Russian who is or once was a student to consider the Moscow University’s foundation day his or her holiday, regardless of what university he or she studies or studied in.
On January 25, 1755, Russian Empress Elizabeth signed a decree according to which a university was opened in Moscow. One of its main founders was the great scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, and the main sponsor was Count Ivan Shuvalov.
The date January 25 was chosen by Count Shuvalov because this was the name day of his mother Tatyana Rostislavskaya. “I present this university to you,” the count said to his mother during her name day celebration.
Later, Emperor Nickolas I officially declared this day to be a holiday of students.
Thus, St. Tatiana has become a patron saint of students, although, in fact, the only connection between her and students is that the Moscow University opened on the day when her memory is celebrated.
The university has a church of its own, also named after St. Tatiana. Father Vladimir Vigilyansky, a priest of this church who is also Chief Press Secretary of the Russian Patriarch’s Office, says:
“Traditionally, on St. Tatiana’s day, the service in our church is held by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch of Moscow. Many students and teachers of the Moscow University are parishioners of our church, so, usually, a big audience gathers at this service. Then, a celebration takes place in the university’s conference hall – a secular celebration, but priests are also invited.”
“It has already become a tradition to devote newly-opened churches in university parishes all over Russia to St. Tatiana.”
“St Tatiana was not a student and had nothing to do with students,” Father Vladimir continues. “But she was a young woman who preached Christianity and fought against pagan prejudices, against worshiping idols. Like religion, science also enlightens people and fights against prejudices which can be called idols within our consciousness.”
“In 1837, the St. Tatiana church was sanctified by Metropolitan Filaret Drozdov, a prominent church figure of that time. In his sermon on that occasion, Filaret said: “Now, a temple of science is united with a temple of God.” This symbolic union still remains.”
For all the seriousness of the holiday’s significance, both religious and scientific, holidays, of course, cannot be without merrymaking. It has long become a tradition for teachers of the Moscow University to wine and dine their students on this day. This year, the President of the Moscow State University Victor Sadovnichy has donated about 45 liters of honey of his own for making medovukha (traditional Russian low-alcohol drink made from honey) for the festivities.
On Thursday, a concert and a ceremony of awarding the best students will take place in the Moscow University.