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Big is beautiful

31 March 2017

Channel 4

Quiverful: Fr Ioann Osyak and his wife, Nadezhda, with their family in Un­­reported World: Putin’s family values (Channel 4, Friday)

Quiverful: Fr Ioann Osyak and his wife, Nadezhda, with their family in Un­­reported World: Putin’s family values (Channel 4, Friday)

THE most extreme alternatives of­­fered in Common Worship: Times and Seasons seem like a weedy milk-and-water echo of the real thing in comparison with how our Russian Orthodox brothers and sisters keep the feast of the Epiphany.

As we saw in the fascinating Un­reported World: Putin’s family values (Channel 4, Friday), some, at least, process through the snow to the River Don and there solemnly submerse themselves in the freezing waters. They were urged onwards by Fr Ioann Osyak, a priest who, with his wife, proudly holds the Order for Parental Glory, in state recog­nition for their producing 18 chil­dren. President Putin’s Russia is keen to have the largest families possible — as long as they hold the right values.

Marcel Theroux gently teased out the resurgence in Orthodoxy: many new churches have been built, and many have been restored, as a but­tress for an aggressive anti-Western programme.

Countries that allow same-sex marriage can no longer receive Russian orphans, but, despite (be­­cause of?) the stern moral code, there are a great number of un­­wanted children. We met Tatyana, who has adopted 48 and is currently fostering another 28. We might think that she is the one who de­­serves a medal.

Not unrelated trends were pre­sented in the first part of Turkey with Simon Reeve (BBC2, Sundays). President Erdogan is building mosque after mosque, as eager to restore the glories of the Ottoman Empire as Putin is to see himself as a new Romanov.

In this, and the huge building boom of infrastruc­ture and housing schemes, he has the fervent support of the conser­vative masses, only a genera­tion away from living as peas­ants.

Reeve is an illuminating guide, darting across the country first to look at a property developer’s 12 Rolls-Royces and 18 Bentleys, then to visit a Syrian refugee family living in a tent within sight of the artillery bombardment across the border in their devastated homeland.

Tourism, a vital element in the nation’s economy, is slowing down; but a new sector is booming: resorts that cater for devout Muslims. You need three swimming pools: male, female (surrounded by a 150-ft-high wall so that no man can watch them), and a mixed family pool, in which the women must be com­pletely covered up as they swim. Ap­­parently, it is just what they want.

“God’s light comes down and bounces off you into my camera.” So one photographer, as reported in Britain in Focus: A photographic history (BBC4, Monday of last week), sees his work.

Eamonn McCabe presented an excellent, if rather sober, account of not just how photography has developed, but its social and per­sonal consequences, from aristocratic time-consuming hobby to today’s inces­sant snapping. Tech­nical develop­ments drive each new manifestation of this most accessible fusion of art and science.

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