Monday, May 28, 2007

Moscow Trip, Part 5

Day 7, Sunday, May 20th.




The Kremlin


We headed out early again to the Kremlin for the final service of our vist at the Uspensky (Dormition) Cathedral.




The Uspensky Cathedral


This Church was where the Tsars, beginning with Ivan the Terrible, were crown, and where the Tsars often went to Church. The frescoes on the inside of the Church are very old, and beautiful. I wasn't serving this time, and so I just stood with the people. Initially I was in the middle of the Church with some other clergy, but an MP priest saw us and waved for us to move to the front of the Church, and so we had a very good view of the rest of the service.

You can see photos of this service by clicking here.

You can see a photo showing where I was (just behind the analogion to the left) by clicking here.

Here is a more close up shot of where I was.

You can see a high resolution photo of one of the walls of the Cathedral by clicking here.

And you can see a high resolution photo of more of the interior here.

As I said the place were I stood for most of the service afforded a good view, however, when it came time for the communion of the faithful, there was a press of people trying to get in position to receive communion from the patriarch that was a bit more than I was used to. I was knocked off balance a few times, but didn't fall because I was sandwiched in fairly well. I started to inch my way to a stone booth to my right, which I think was probably where the Tsar used to sit for the service. I figured I wouldn't be crushed there... and after a lot of squeezing, I made it there.

At the end of the service, I was able to go into the altar and venerate the relics of the holy hierarchs Phillip and Peter of Moscow. I later found out that I had missed the opportunity to venerate the relics of the holy hierarchs Hermogenes and Jonah of Moscow, whose relics are in other parts of the Church.

You can see more photos of this service by clicking here.

After the service, there was some confusion about how much time we would have to tour the Kremlin. Originally, we were supposed to have about 3 hours after the liturgy. However, in the morning we were told that the buses would be leaving much earlier than originally planned. After the service, I caught one of the organizers of the trip, and before he could explain, he just said "go to the buses", and then was whisked away with the official delegation. I wasn't happy about it, but I went to were the buses were supposed to be, but they were no where to be seen. Fr. Nicholas Manduke and I decided that we were going to make a run to Red Square, because the one landmark in Russia that everyone knows is St. Basil's Cathedral, and I did not want to come this close to it without being able to see it.



St. Basil's Cathedral


We figured the buses would not be able to load before we would be back, and in a worse case scenario, we would take a cab. So off we went, at a brisk pace. Red Square is amazing all by itself, but it is not as big as you might think from having watched the parades of ICBM's during the Soviet period. And by the way, Red Square's name has nothing to do with the Communists. It was called Red Square long before they came and went. The Russian word for "red" also means beautiful.

On the way to St. Basil's, we had to walk past Lenin's tomb. Fr. Leonid Mickle told me two interesting things about it. First, he cited a Russian saying that "A saint is known by his myrrh". And then told of how once a sewer line broke in the Kremlin, which resulted in Lenin floating in sewage. He then told me that a writer (whose name escapes me) from the Soviet period, who always danced close to the edge of acceptability to the Soviets once suggested that since Lenin had requested to be buried next to his mother, that his wish should be granted, and that this would free up a wonderful location for a restroom, of which there is a notable lack in the Red Square area.

The closer we got to St. Basil's, the more beautiful it appeared. It is more beautiful than the pictures I had seen led me to expect. We would have had to buy tickets to go inside. I am told that it is not as impressive on the inside as the outside might suggest, and it is not a big Church, but rather a series of small chapels. However, had I known we had the time, I would have gone inside. As it was, we just walked around it to get a good look at it from the outside. It was more than worth the trip.

We then headed back. On the way, we stopped at a Sbarro's Pizza, and for not too many rubles, I had a slice of pizza that hit the spot.

When we we got back, we discovered that we actually had about 30 more minutes before the buses would be there. Oh well.

While waiting for the bus a man came up to me and said that he was from Mexico, and wanted to know if he could have his picture taken with me. I obliged, but thought it was funny that he had come all the way to Moscow to have his picture taken with a Tejano in front of the Kremlin.

At some point, Fr. Leonid Mickle, who had been to Moscow during the Soviet period commented on how happy it made him to see the Russian Flag flying over the Kremlin, rather than the Hammer and Sickle. Flying over the presidential palace is the presidential flag, which has the double-headed eagle of the Russian Empire.

We went back to the hotel, and then that evening we went to a banquet that was hosted by some members of ROCOR who were living in Moscow. It was a very impressive meal... probably the best one we had, although since there were not many MP clergy present, the toasts seemed to lack some of the zip I had gotten used to. I spent the evening visiting with people whom I would soon be missing until the next big shindig would bring us together again.

Click here for a photo of Steve Pennings and myself at the banquet.

Around 9:30, I took the earlier bus back to the hotel to rest, and prepare for the trip home.

Day 8, Monday, May 21st.

This day happened to be my name's day, the feast of St. John the Theologian, and while travelling is not what I normally would have picked to be doing on this day, I took some consolation from the fact that it would be the longest name's day I would probably ever have, since we would be flying with the rotation of the earth, and so the day would be 33 hours long. We had a long bus ride back to the airport, but for some reason -- guilt perhaps -- the bus driver had the A/C on at last.

We had to go through Russian customs... Russia being one of the few countries that does this on the way out, because they want to make sure you are not smuggling out historical artifacts. We had a long wait for our plane, and so we were able to do some last minute shopping in the duty free area.

Click here for one of many group photos taken while we waited.

As the plane lifted off, we sang the troparion of the feast of the Ascension. Yet another Aeroflot crew was in for an experience. It was daylight the entire flight back to New York, and there was an even more festive atmosphere than there was on the way to Moscow. The flight went by relatively quickly thanks to the wonderful conversations we were all having on the way.

When we finally made it to JFK airport, and got in line to go through American customs, there was a joy that Americans were finally organizing a line for us again. It went so smoothly, that we were all quite happy to be back in America. All too quickly, we went our separate ways, but all with a lot of joyous memories of what we had seen and done, and of each other.

I still had my two parishioners with me on the flight to Houston. Click here for a photo of the weary tres hombres, Steve Pennings, George Nahlous, and myself. I was calling my wife for the first time in a week, having been absent on her birthday. George was checking on the status of his chickens and garden, and Steve was busy capturing the moment.

To my surprise, on the flight back I was able to catch the season finale of 24. We made it into Houston at 11:00 p.m., and I finally made it home at 1:00 a.m. the following day, very tired, but happy to have been blessed to be on this historic trip.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Moscow Trip, Part 4



An icon of the Martyrs of Butovo


Day 6, Saturday, May 19th.

We left the hotel early again, I think it was about 7:30 a.m., and again we had a police escort to help us get through the traffic. We were headed to the south of Moscow to a place called Butovo, for the consecration of a Church dedicated to the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, and this would be the second occasion in which we would be serving with the Patriarch.



The Church of the New Martyrs at Butovo
Click here for a high resolution photo of the Church, taken on May 19, 2007
Butovo Field was the site of numerous massacres by the NKVD, who executed tens of thousands of people from the 1930s to the 1950s on this spot. During fifteen months in 1937 and 1938 alone, 20,765 people were shot there, many because they were Orthodox, hundreds of them were clergy. Among those martyred at Butovo were Metropolitan Seraphim (Chichagov), Archbishop Nikolay (Dobronravov), Archbishop Dimitry (Dobroserdov), Bishop Arseny (Jadanovsky), who was the last abbot of the Chudov Monastery, Bishop Arkady (Ostalsky), Bishop Nikita (Dilektorsky), and Archimandrite Kronid (Lubimov), who was the last abbot of St. Sergius Laura of the Holy Trinity.

Three years ago, Metropolitan Laurus and Patriarch Alexei laid the cornerstone for this Church. Now we were back to complete the work which they began. You can see pictures of that service in 2004 by clicking here.

Because the Church was not nearly as large as Christ the Savior Cathedral, the only ROCOR clergy serving aside from the Bishops and some deacons, were supposed to be clergy who were official representatives of the various dioceses of ROCOR. I was one of two representatives of the Chicago and Mid-American diocese, and so I was able to serve. However, some clergy who were supposed to serve on this day did some horse trading with the clergy who were suppose to serve at the Uspensky Cathedral the next day, and so while the number serving stayed about the same, it was not just the diocesan representatives who actually did serve. Fr. Vladimir Boikov was also serving, since he was a representative of the diocese of Australia and New Zealand, and so I tried to stay close to him, since I could count on him to translate for me.

After going through security (for the same reasons they had security at Christ the Savior, except that Vladimir Putin was not going to be in attendance), we went into the lower Church to vest. I noticed that the walls had very nice icons all the way around the Church, but didn't pay attention to what they depicted, assuming that it would be the usual mix of icons you see in a Church -- but then Fr. Vladimir pointed out that these icons were all icons of the various known martyrs of Butovo, who had been killed at this very place by the Communists. When the Church was being constructed, family members of the martyrs of Butovo commissioned these icons. This realization brought home the full impact of where we were, and what we were here to do. These were not just any icons, this was not just any Church, and this would not be just any service either.

We went up to the main Church, which has three altars, all of which would be consecrated on this day, and stood there, waiting for the Patriarch to arrive.

You can see a Youtube video that someone took of the Patriarch's arrival from outside the Church here (not professional footage, but you can hear the bells, and see some things of interest).

After the greeting of the Patriarch, we began the service of the Great Consecration of the Church. The altars were just wooden frames, with the table top set aside. At the beginning of the service, the first thing that is done is that the bishops put on white carpenters' aprons, and the Holy table is constructed. My one part in this service was to help lift the top of the holy table, and hold it so that the Patriarch could bless the top and bottom of it with holy water, and then to place it onto the frame. While the Patriarch was doing this with the main altar, other bishops, including Metropolitan Laurus were doing the same things with the two side altars. The table top was nailed to the frame, and wax was poured over the nails to seal it. The top of the table was washed with hot water, then with wine, and then anointed with holy chrism. Then the holy table was vested with it's cover. Then a bishop went around the Church and anointed the four walls with chrism.

There was a MP priest, who was one of the ones whose job it was to make sure that the services went off smoothly, who was standing nearby. At one point he was telling me to do something, but I can't now remember what it was. Fr. Vladimir explained that I did not speak Russian, and that I was from Texas -- he seemed to take a particular delight in pointing that out to people. This priest commented to Fr. Vladimir that it must be difficult for me to be in a service that was all in Slavonic. Fr. Vladimir explained that I knew what was going on, and was happy to be there. In any case, I thought it was nice that he expressed such concern.

At some point, the rector of the parish in Butovo was nearby, and Fr. Vladimir asked him if he did daily services. He said that he didn't, but that there were more than 50 days in the year in which there were individual commemorations of the Martyrs at Butovo, a feast for the Synaxis of the Martyrs at Butovo, plus the usual schedule of Sundays and feast days, and so they had lots of Church in a given year.

Towards the end of the service of the consecration, we went in a procession around the Church, being preceded by the relics that would be finally placed in the altars. While going around the Church, I noticed that there were people holding icon banners all around the Church. I also noticed that there was a line of soldiers around the perimeter of the Church at the tree line -- which was no doubt a precaution against a terrorist attack.

Once back inside the Church, the service of the Great Consecration ended, and the Liturgy began.

You can see pictures of the service by clicking here.

And you can see more pictures by clicking here.

You can see one of the pictures in which I can be seen by clicking here.

Generally, I tried to stay out of the way. I am used to being in services that are all or mostly in Slavonic, having served as a deacon for a few years in a mostly Russian parish, and this generally being the language used in ROCOR when we have a really big service with lots of clergy... however, back in the US, most everyone speaks English and the directions given to the clergy in the altar are usually in English, or if not, when it is clear you didn't get it the first time in Russian, you get it the second time in English. But it was all in Russian here, and so again, I tried to stay close to Fr. Vladimir.

At some point, Fr. Nikolai Balashov (the Secretary of the MP delegation to the joint commission that worked out the issues to bring about the reconciliation between ROCOR and the MP) came and stood between Fr. Vladimir and me. When the troparia and kontakia were sung, Fr. Vladimir leaned over, behind Fr. Nikolai, and pointed out that the text that was used was the ROCOR text (the MP composed its own service to the New Martyrs). I figured at the time that this was a nice concession on the part of the MP for them to have chosen our text. I found out later that this was not really planned, but just happened, because it was the ROCOR choir that was doing the singing at that point. I also found out later, from talking to Matushka Elena Perekrestov, that the ROCOR troparion to the New Martyrs had been composed by Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco, who did not live to see this day in the flesh, but was no doubt pleased to see it with the saints.

Here is the text of that troparion in English:

"O ye holy hierarchs, royal passion-bearers and pastors, monks and laymen, men, women and children, ye countless new-martyrs, confessors, blossoms of the spiritual meadow of Russia, who blossomed forth wondrously in time of grievous persecutions bearing good fruit for Christ in your endurance: Entreat Him, as the One that planted you, that He deliver His people from godless and evil men, and that the Church of Russia be made steadfast through your blood and suffering, unto the salvation of our souls."

In this very service, we were witnessing the fulfillment of the prayer of this hymn.

I remember as a relatively new convert when communism in Russia finally collapsed on the feast of the Transfiguration in 1991, and being struck by the fact that this was the answer to all of our prayers for the salvation of Russia, and that it be delivered from the yoke of the Soviets. Of course, all was not made right in a day, but from that time on, we have seen how God has been restoring the Russian Church to health and strength, and today the contrast was undeniable.

After the clergy had communed, Fr. Vladimir turned to me and said with his Aussie accent, "So have you met the Patriarch yet?" I responded that I had received communion from him twice now, but that I couldn't say we had been properly introduced. So he grabbed me by the sleeve, and said, "Come on, mate." He had threatened earlier that he would introduce me to the Patriarch and lift up my sticharion to show him my cowboy boots as he did so. I was fairly certain that he was about to make good on that threat, but he didn't. After we both had received his blessing, Fr. Vladimir told him who I was, that I was from Texas, and that although I could not speak Russian I was an advocate for the reconciliation of the Russian Church. The patriarch thanked me, and said that he hoped I would continue to be an advocate for unity in the Church. It was a brief exchange, but he had a very warm expression on his face. I was already impressed by him, but I came away all the more impressed by him.

After the service, we all headed for a large tent in which there was another banquet. Fr. Vladimir and I sat across from some Russian dignitaries. One of them was Sergei Baburin, who is a member of the Russian Duma -- I wouldn't remember that, except that we exchanged cards. Next to him was a man whose name I can't remember, but he was wearing a medal which indicated that he was a hero of the Soviet Union, which is something like the Congressional Medal of Honor. Fr. Vladimir introduced me, and again explained my inability to converse in Russian, and that I was an advocate of the reconciliation of the Russian Church. The man with the medal commented that I had been spending so much time defending the unity of the Russian Church that I had acquired the face of a Russian.

It was interesting to ponder that there was a time when the only thing I knew about Russia was that they were the enemy, and I thought that the only way I would ever have visited Russia was the way Slim Pickens did in Dr. Strangelove... riding a hydrogen bomb.



And yet, here I was with a hero of the Soviet Union, having just consecrated a Church dedicated to the New Martyrs of Russia, and we were praying together, eating together, and drinking vodka together too. You just never know.

When I first encountered a Russian Orthodox priest at a pro-life rally before I converted, I turned to my wife and said, "Can you imagine me dressed like that?"




You just never know.

In any case, one thing about this banquet I was looking forward to was a good meal. After awhile a server came to me and ask if I wanted meat or fish. I said I would take the meat dish. But maybe I should have settled for fish, because after some time had passed, and we had shared some Russian toasts and singing, the Patriarch got up to leave. Then other bishops left, then the clergy started to leave. Then someone said we needed to hurry to our buses... and still no meat dish. Oh well, when dealing with Russians, one thing I have learned is you should never assume anything is in the bag, until it is safely in the bag.

On the bus ride back, I got to finally meet in person Fr. Andrew Phillips of England, whose writings I have long enjoyed. We were having a nice conversation, but as time went on the heat began to get the best of me.

When I checked the weather reports in Russia before the trip, I expected it would be cold. It actually turned out to be very nice, mostly sunny, and cool. However, when you are on a bus with no windows that can be opened, and a bus driver who doesn't believe in air conditioning, it can get quite warm. In fact, back in the states, had we been a bus load of animals, the bus driver would have been arrested. We were in stop and go traffic for what seemed like an hour and a half. As time went on, I unbuttoned my riassa and cassock, took off my cross, and tried not to die of heat exhaustion. Finally, we made it to our hotel, and I dragged myself along with an arm full of books and icons that we had just been given, and made my way to my room. The plan was that in about 45 minutes we were supposed to be back on that bus, and heading to the Danilov Monastery for Saturday evening vigil. When my elevator made it to the 6th floor, where my room was, as I was getting off, my cross slipped from my arms, and right down the crack between the elevator and the floor. I would not have even noticed it at that point had not another priest told me what happened. My heart sank. That was the cross I was given at my ordination to the priesthood, and the one I had been touching to the relics of all the saints I had been venerating in the past week.

Before I did anything else about it, I went on to my room, to recover from the bus ride. I decided that I was not going to survive the ride to the vigil, and so drank water, and took a bath. I prayed that my cross would be recovered, and particularly asked for the prayers of St. Sergius of Radonezh, whose relics I had just touched that cross to yesterday... though I was inclined to think that I would be shopping for a new cross tomorrow. I waited until people made it back from the vigil, because the people at the hotel didn't speak English. I bumped into Fr. Elias Gorsky, who kindly explained my situation to the lady at the front desk. I fully expected to be blown off, because I knew it would be a hassle to retrieve my cross from the elevator on a Saturday evening. However, the lady was quite nice, and told me it would be about an hour. Sure enough, in one hour there were people there trying to figure out where my cross had fallen to and how to get it. I kept having to detain people who happened to be handy to translate for me, but finally, after a great deal of effort on the part of several Russians, my Cross was back in hand.

So from triumph to minor tragedy, and back to triumph, I settled down for the evening, and prepared for our final full day in Russia, and in particular for our trip to the Kremlin.

To be continued.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Moscow Trip, Part 3

Day 5, Friday, May 18th.

On this day we headed outside of Moscow for the Trinity St. Sergius Lavra, which is in the town of Sergiyev Posad.



St. Sergius of Radonezh

Driving out of town, I noticed several World War II memorials. They seem to be all over the place. World War II was of course big news in the United States too, but for Russians it tore families apart, which in many cases were never reunited, it was fought in their country, and they had the highest number of deaths of any county in the war -- nearly 27 million dead, which was roughly 32.4% of all the dead of the war, both military and civilian.

The Russian countryside is quite beautiful. One big difference from home, is that instead of seeing lots of tall East Texas pine trees, you see lots of birch trees.

After an hour or so, we finally made it to Sergiyev Posad, which is a town that sprouted up around the Lavra. When St. Sergius of Radonezh first came here in 1345 to establish a monastery, this was nothing but an endless forest.



The Trinity St. Sergius Lavra

The Lavra is a group of 4 monasteries, with a fortress like complex, that has walls of incredible thickness (You can get a visual tour of the monastery from the outside by click here, however, the video has no sound, and does not show the inside of the Churches).

Here is a photo after we had just gotten off the bus, and were greeted by the monks there.

We were given tours of the monastery in smaller groups, and were guided by young monks. The tours were in Russian. Fortunately, Fr. Leonid Mickle was near, and he is use to giving simultaneous translations into English while listening attentively to a Russian speaker. A whole group of non-Russians were gathered around him, with their heads craned and a hand to their ears, so they could listen to his translations. I'm impressed by anyone who can speak more than one language, but I am doubly impressed by someone who can listen and translate at the same time, without missing a beat. Interestingly the only other Russian speaker I know who can and will translate like this is Fr. Victor Potapov, also of the Washington D.C. Cathedral. Fr. Leonid told me a joke on the bus ride back to Moscow later:

"What is someone who can speak two languages? Bilingual. What is someone who can speak three languages? Trilingual. What is someone who can speak many languages? Multilingual. What is someone who can speak only one language? An American."

When we entered the gate, the walls of the gateway have scenes from the life of St. Sergius. The first place we went was to the chapel which contains the relics of St. Sergius.



Click to enlarge
The relics of St. Sergius


There was something special about venerating the relics of St. Sergius... though I don't know how to verbalize that. After we venerated the relics of St. Sergius, Archbishop Kyrill of San Francsico arrived, and served a moleben to St. Sergius, and then gave a homily. Again, the non-Russians were gathered around Fr. Leonid, straining to hear his simulcast translation. When the service was over, many went to venerate the relics again.

Looking around in the chapel, I noticed icons on the iconostasis that I thought were prints, because they are commonly reproduced icons, but after looking closer I realized that I was looking at the original icons that all those prints I had seen over the years were copies of.

After the moleben, we went to a lower part of the chapel, which had the relics of St. Nikon, and then a room full of relics... too many to remember -- but there was a relic of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, and so Steve Pennings was able to venerate a relic of his patron saint. Click here for a photo of this relic.

We then went on a whirl-wind tour of a few of the Churches in the Lavra... unfortunately, we only got to see the interior of maybe 1/3 of the Churches associated with the Lavra.



The Dormition Cathedral at the St. Sergius Trinity Lavra



Click to enlarge
St. Innocent of Alaska

Of the many relics we were able to venerate, one that stands out is the relics of St. Innocent of Alaska, one of the early missionaries to America, who later became metropolitan of Moscow.



The Relics of St. Innocent of Alaska

We later got an abbreviated tour of the Seminary there, which has about 500 seminarians, and it's museum, which had an amazing collection of icons and historical artifacts. But we were told we had to be back to the buses by a particular time, or we would have to take a train back to Moscow, and so we headed back to the buses, for the next part of the days journey -- a trip to Sofrino. We had only about 3 hours at the Lavra, but if we had had 3 weeks, we would not have seen all that we could have.

For priests, going to Sofrino is a bit like going to Disneyland. This is probably the largest factory of Orthodox liturgical items, icons, and books in the world, and the scale of their operation is truly staggering.



The entrance to the Sofrino Factory.


We were greeted with Church bells (because we had Archbishop Kirill with us), and then were taken to their cafeteria for lunch. The meal was incredible. Then we were taken in groups for a tour of the factory. The factory has its own Church, numerous large buildings, thousands of employees, and an amazing amount of security. You could not go very far without seeing a security guard. It is almost a city unto itself. Click here for a photo of the pilgrims headed towards the Church at Sofrino.

When you see the massive scale of the production of Church items, and realize that while this is the biggest, it is by no means the only place in Russia that is manufacturing such things, one can only be impressed by the scale of the demand for such things that there is now in Russia.

The people at Sofrino were very nice and quite professional, and the tour was very impressive. However, our visit had been billed as a shopping expedition, and so clergy kept asking when we would be able to purchase some of the things we were seeing, and we kept being told that this would come later. However, by the time it finally did come, we were out of time, and so the only thing I was able to actually buy while there was a bottle of mineral water. Fortunately, when Fr. Vladimir Boikov took me around Moscow two days earlier, he told me I would be better off doing my shopping then, and so I had already purchased most of things I had planned to. Some clergy were more than a little irritated that they left empty handed.

We then headed back to Moscow. By this time we had already figured out that our bus driver did not believe in air conditioning -- but this long trip in the late afternoon was particularly unpleasant. Once we hit Moscow, the traffic was slow, our bus had no windows that we could open, and so we were sweltering on a day in which the high was probably in the upper 70's.

We finally made it back to the hotel, re-hydrated, had dinner, and began preparing for the liturgy of the following day.

To be continued.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Moscow Trip, Part 2


Christ the Savior Cathedral



Day 4, Thursday, May 17th.

This was of course the big day that we were here for. It was the feast of the Ascension, and also the date for the formal ending of the administrative division between the Russian Church inside Russia and that outside of Russia, after more than 80 years of separation.

If I remember correctly the buses left for the Church of Christ the Savior at about 7:00 or 7:30 a.m., with a police escort to help us get through the traffic. The practical reason for holding the services at Christ the Savior was because it is the largest Church in Russia. But on a symbolic level, it could not have been a better choice. This Church was built originally in honor of the victory of Tsar Alexander I over Napoleon in the war of 1812. It is so big that it is visible from much of Moscow. Because it was such a visible Church which represented Russia's faith as well as reminded people of something good that the Tsars had done, Stalin blew it up in 1931, and the plan was to replace it with a Palace of the Soviets, in honor of Socialism (You can see footage of the destruction of Christ the Savior by clicking here). The building was never finished because it kept sinking into the ground (hint, hint, you atheists...), and then World War II began.



The planned, but never completed Palace of the Soviets


After World War II, it was instead converted into the world's largest swimming pool, with the restrooms on the spot where the altar had been. Many people drowned in this pool. After the collapse of Communism in Russia, Christ the Savior was rebuilt just as it had been before... with the foundation raised so that it would stand even at the same height as before. They did add an underground complex with parking, and thankfully also added A/C, but otherwise it appears the same as it did... complete with the then popular 19th century style of iconography -- though many wish they had improved on the original Cathedral by using the more traditional style of iconography which has since revived in popularity.



The interior of Christ the Savior Cathedral
Click here to enlarge


Because of security concerns (since Vladimir Putin would be there, as well as the Patriarch, and it being such a high profile event that terrorism was a distinct possibility) only those with an invitation were allowed in, and only then after passing through metal detectors and having all bags inspected. Also, if they had allowed everyone to come who wanted to attend, the Church would have been packed to the brim even more so than it was.

After entering the Church, we venerated the relics of another one of Moscow's previous hierarchs, St. Philaret of Moscow. Then we were taken into a large hall behind the Altar to vest, and then once vested we went into the huge altar area of the Cathedral. The number of clergy who were there was more than I think I have probably ever seen at any one place before. There were certainly more bishops. In fact, when I saw how many priests there were I thought to myself that it would be interesting to see how they would manage to bring some order to the service. When deacons go to a hierarchical service, they are either quite confident of what to do, or else they are sweating it, and are earnestly trying to remember what to do -- because they have so much to do, and what they do can vary a lot, depending on their seniority in relation to the other deacons, and how many deacons are serving. Priests (myself included) have so little to do at such services (because almost everything is done by the Bishops, the Deacons, and Subdeacons), that they often have no worries going into such services at all, and so often mess up the meager parts that they do have. However, there were several priests who were not fully vested whose job it was to make things go smoothly, and it was amazing to see how quickly things did come to order, and how well everything went as a result.
The hours were done well before the arrival of the Metropolitan or the Patriarch. At some point the clergy exited the altar and went to stand in the nave of the Church, to greet the hierarchs. The ROCOR clergy were on one side (the north side of the Church, or on the left side if you are facing the altar), and the Moscow Patriarchate Clergy were on the south side, or right hand side). I was in the second row on the north side, about in the middle, and right behind me was a whole group of cameras and reporters. I thought one of them was going to rest his camera on my shoulder at a few points. We waited for what seemed like a long time to my feet, and then the bells sounded and finally Metropolitan Laurus entered the Church. A bit later, the bells sounded again and the Patriarch also entered.

Metropolitan Laurus is from Carpatho-Russia which is in present day Slovakia, and came to the United States after World War II to escape the Communists who had taken over Czechoslovakia. He is a true monastic, and a man of prayer. I had occasion as a new convert to spend 3 months in Holy Trinity Monastery, in Jordanville, New York, where he is the abbot, and I have seen how his life revolves around prayer.

This was my first experience seeing Patriarch Alexei II in person. He is 78 years old, but does not look it. He is an ethnic German, from Estonia, and became Patriarch during the Glasnost period just before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and I am told he serves the Liturgy almost every day.

As difficult as it was for me to stand through the service, I am impressed that men of their ages do this almost every day.

Then the secretary of the Moscow Patriarchate delegation, Fr. Nikolai Balashov, read the MP's official resolution approving the act of Canonical Communion. His counterpart, Fr. Alexander Lebedeff, read the official ROCOR resolution approving the act. Then an MP protodeacon read the act itself (which you can read by clicking here). Then both the Patriarch and the Metropolitan were seated, signed the document, and then exchanged the kiss of peace, with the Patriarch greeting Metropolitan Laurus with the word's "Christ is in our midst", and the Metropolitan giving the response "He is now, and ever shall be."

Each of them then gave a short speech, then the Patriarch acknowledged Vladimir Putin (who played some role in getting this process going by visiting Metropolitan Laurus in New York and inviting him to come to Russia in 2003), gave him icons of the Holy Trinity, Virgin Mary, and of the New Martyrs of Russia, and then Putin gave a short talk... you can hear some of what was said in the videos linked below.

Then the liturgy itself began, and before long, all the priests returned to the altar, where we remained until the very end of the service. It was very peaceful and joyful to just be able to stand back and pray. In normal parish life, priests have quite a bit to do in a typical liturgy, and it is always a nice break to stand back and let others do all of that stuff, while you just pray.



Me, in the altar of Christ the Savior... the one without the mitre


When it came time for communion, I received the body of Christ from the Patriarch, and the chalice from another bishop whose name I do not know. It was a joy to see that reconciliation had finally come, and this was most fully expressed by our sharing communion with each other.

At one point a Russian priest who did not speak English, and was vested in only an epitrachelion and cuffs came up to me and said something about my phelonion, I couldn't figure out what he was trying to tell me until, after some pointing, it dawned on me that he needed to borrow a phelonion to commune. So I had my first positive interaction with clergy of the MP, post-reconciliation.

Then later, someone came in my direction who looked a lot like one the MP priests who had been making sure everything went off well. Feeling the joy of the occasion, I greeted him as priest normally does another priest. He looked a bit puzzled, and then muttered something in Russian. As he walked off, I realized he was wearing a Panagia (and so was an MP Bishop, whose blessing I should have asked for). So I also had my first misunderstanding with a bishop of the MP, post-reconciliation. I tried very hard to spot him later, to make some attempt at an apology, but didn't see him again.

At the dismissal, Metropolitan Laurus and Patriarch Alexei exchanged gifts. The Metropolitan gave a very large copy of the Kursk Icon (an icon more than 750 years old, which was taken out of Russia by ROCOR as the White Army retreated from Russia at the end of the Russian Civil War). This copy was painted by Fr. Lubomir Kupec, and was one of the icons we had lugged around JFK airport, in search of the right terminal for Aeroflot. You can click here to see a photo of this icon.

You can see a photo taken from the nave of all the digital cameras that were in use during the service by clicking here.

After the Liturgy, we had a banquet, but before that, we had to wait for the opening of an exhibit on the life of the Russian Orthodox Church inside and outside of Russia in the 20th and 21st centuries in the basement of Christ the Savior Cathedral. The wait for this to happen dragged on for some time. The exhibit was nice, but we were all quite tired at this point. And no one seemed to know when exactly the banquet would begin, or where exactly it was going to be... at least no one who was saying so in English. Finally, I stumbled across it, just before the opening prayer.

I sat across from an older Russian lady. As the toasts were flowing, with all the singing and well wishing that Russians throw into that, she said something to me in Russian... and as I was habitually doing during this trip, I told her I did not speak much Russian. She then told me in English with tears in her eyes that this was like a second Pascha. I agreed. As we talked, and I told her where I was from and that my parish was dedicated to St. Jonah of Hancow, her eyes lit up, and she told me that she had had a hand in bringing about the glorification of St. Jonah... and so we spoke about that for awhile. She was from San Francisco, where many of the Russians had settled who had fled Russia to China when the Communists took over Russia, and then had to flee from China to the United States when the Communists took over China. I asked what her name was, and she told me her last name was Krassovsky... and so I said that she must be related to Vova and Fr. Roman Krassovsky. She said with a smile, "Well, I am the momma, so I guess you can say that I am somehow related to them."

After more toasts, eating, and singing, the banquet came to an End. And we all headed back to our hotel, and spent the evening celebrating, and watching ourselves on Russian TV.

This service was carried live on Russian Television and was the top story in the news.

Here are some Youtube videos with news clips from Russia Today, which have the advantage of being dubbed into English (some of the English is however a bit imprecisely translated):

Video #1


Video #2



The Full Service:


To be continued

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Moscow Trip, Part 1

Before I forget the details of my trip to Russia, I had best start making some notes, and so here is part 1.

Day 1, Monday, May 14th.

I arrived at Bush Intercontinental Airport at about 8:00 a.m. Two of my parishioners went with me -- Steve Pennings, and George Nahlous. Fr. Lubomir Kupec happened to be on the same flight, however, I was beginning to think he had missed it, because we were just about to board before we saw him. He had been delayed because he is an iconographer, and had been commissioned to paint four large icons to be given as gifts by the Metropolitan over the course of his visit, and getting these icons on the plane without being damaged took some negotiations. Fortunately, Fr. Lubomir has a parishioner who works for Continental Airlines who was able to help him make that happen.

When we arrived at JFK airport, we had some difficulty figuring out which Terminal Aeroflot flew out of. We were given two bum steers by people who worked for the Airport, before we finally got to the right one (Yankees...). We were helping Fr. Lubomir lug his icons around... which made the whole thing far more interesting. Finally, we got to the right place, and began to see clergy that I knew and clergy that I didn't know, but came to know over the course of the trip. The flight to Russia was probably one of the stranger flights Aeroflot has ever seen. Most of the flight consisted of ROCOR clergy and laity, and so throughout the course of the flight there were people going up and down the rows, catching up with old friends.

Day 2, Tuesday, May 15th

At some point during that flight, we ran into Tuesday. We were flying close to the Arctic circle, and flying against the Earth's rotation, and so night was very brief. It was only completely dark for a short time. When we landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, the passengers spontaneously began to sing the Paschal Troparion (in Slavonic), "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life".

You can see photos of the flight and the arrival by clicking here.

You can view a Youtube video of a Russia Today story on the arrival here:



Going through Russian customs, we began to encounter some of the differences between how things are handled in Russia vs. America. The line was very disorganized and long... although they made special arrangements to get us through, which made things go a lot quicker than they probably would have otherwise.

We boarded various buses, and headed to the place which most of us stayed at, which was a hotel owned and operated by the Moscow Patriarchate, called the Universityets Gostinitsa (if I remember correctly) which is so named because it is near to Moscow State University... a building which is known as one Stalin's seven sisters, because all seven buildings were built during his tenure, and they all look very similar... a sort of Stalinesque Gothic.






At the hotel, again more of the experience of Russian lines. I was told though, that compared to how things were 20 years ago, things ran much more efficiently than they used to (God bless America, land that I love...).

By the time we finally got into our rooms, we were all fairly tired. But before the banks closed, I went and changed most of my money into Rubles. I had thought I would encounter more Russians who spoke English than I did, but fortunately most of the people who traveled with us were bilingual, and at the bank one of them (Vladimir Krassovsky, who is the Choir director of the San Francisco Cathedral) happened to be there, and came to my rescue when I hit a snag with the teller. Also there, I got to meet Elizabeth Ledkovsky in person (whom I already knew somewhat via e-mail), the grand daughter of Boris Ledkovsky, and daughter of Alexander Ledkovsky, both of whom are well known composers of Church music. Both of them were part of the Synodal Choir that would participate in the services to come.

Russian TV is quite interesting. There is an Orthodox Channel that runs 24 hours a day. Other news shows spoke a great deal about our delegation and the upcoming reconciliation of the Russian Church. Also, there were many shows I saw throughout my trip that talked about the martyrs under the Communists, and the general havoc the Communists wrought upon Russia. I must say though that it was very disconcerting to hear Michael Jordan and Samurai Jack speaking Russian -- but hearing Kenneth Copeland in Russian was probably the biggest hoot.

Day 3, Wednesday, May 16th.

There was nothing officially planned for most of the pilgrims in the morning, but it was the Apodosis of Pascha, several of us wanted to go to Church, and so I got the Fr. Wally tour of Moscow from Fr. Vladimir Boikov (an exceptionally fun priest whom I got to know in December of 2000 when I traveled to Australia for a youth conference), along with Protodeacon Leonid Mickle of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington D.C., and Protodeacon Nicholas Triantafillidis of the San Francisco Cathedral.

Driving through Moscow in a car is a very harrowing experience. Our Russian driver, fearlessly weaved in and out of traffic, at a high rate of speed whenever possible, and to my surprise managed to get us to where we were going without killing us all.

First, we went to the Danilov Monastery, where our bishops and official delegates were attending the liturgy. Fr. Vladimir had the start time wrong by 1 hour, and so we unfortunately only caught the final parts of the liturgy. While there I was able to venerate the relics of St. Daniel of Moscow.




You can see me standing in the altar at the Danilov monastery
Click here for more photos of the day. Fr. Vladimir Boikov is the very Chinese looking priest. He is part Chinese, part Mongolian, and part Russian, though he sounds like the Crocodile Hunter when he speaks. He has often traveled to China to minister to the Chinese Orthodox there.


We then went to St. Catherine's, which is the OCA's representation Church. They have a beautiful Church, as well as a shop that sells vestments of a very high quality, but at a very reasonable price. The rector, Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood), was very hospitable, and insisted on us having tea with him before we left... which was a good thing, since we hadn't had breakfast, and it was time for lunch.



Click to enlarge picture
From left to right, Protodeacon Leonid Mickle, Fr. Vladimir Boikov, Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood), me, and Protodeacon Nicholas Triantafillidis.


We then went by a Church in Moscow, I can't remember the name, but it was the one that Peter the Great was baptized in. The original iconography had been destroyed by the communists, but new beautiful iconography now adorns the Church. As in every Church I saw, even though no service was going on, there was a steady flow of people who were lighting candles and praying.

After a few more stops around town, we rejoined the official tour at the Donskoy Monastery. They held a moleben before the relics of the Hieromartyr Patriarch Tikhon, who was killed by the Communists. We then were able to venerate his relics. I noticed that the priest in front of me took off his cross to touch it to the relics of the Saint, and so I started doing that myself whenever the opportunity presented itself. (Click here for a picture of those relics, taken during the moleben)

After that we were given a tour of the cemetery, in which many famous Russians are buried. Here again the signs of Communist desecration are still visible -- most of the tombstones had their crosses broken off.

We ended the day with Vigil at the Stretensky Monastery. Our Synodal Choir participated in the service. While there, I was able to venerate the relics of the Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky) (click here to see a photo of someone venerating St. Hilarion's relics), whose essay Christianity or the Church had a big impact on me as I was studying Orthodoxy prior to my conversion. The service was very beautiful, though the Church was a bit small for the number of people there (Click here to see me in the altar, where most of the clergy were standing and click here to see George Nahlous standing on the stairs to the choir loft). The abbot of the monastery, Fr. Tikhon (Shevkunov) is a very impressive man whom I first heard speak at the All-Diaspora clergy conference in Nyack, New York, in December 2003. There was a reception after the service, which included many toasts to those who had made all of this happen. It was a very happy evening.

To be continued

Monday, May 14, 2007

Reuters: Russia Embraces Exiled Church to Heal Soviet Past





Russia Embraces Exiled Church to Heal Soviet Past.

A branch of the Russian Orthodox church whose members fled over 80 years ago to escape Bolshevik rule will rejoin the church in Moscow.

Reuters


A branch of the Russian Orthodox church whose members fled over 80 years ago to escape Bolshevik rule will rejoin the church in Moscow this week in a milestone on Russia's journey to heal the wounds of its Soviet past.

The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was formed by exiled supporters of the last Tsar Nicholas II, murdered in the Russian revolution, who split from the church in Moscow because it had fallen under the sway of Russia's Communist rulers.

In a ceremony on Thursday, the church abroad will end its decades of estrangement by signing a document restoring its severed link with the church in Moscow.

Even for the majority of Russians who know little about religious affairs, the symbolism of their country re-connecting with its pre-revolutionary past has a powerful appeal.

"This is a truly epoch-making event in the life of the church and in the life of our society as well," Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month.

It also chimes in with Putin's drive to embrace traditional Russian values -- a campaign welcomed by most voters but which his critics say smacks of nationalism.

Putin supported the reconciliation between the two churches and is widely expected to attend the ceremony, along with members of the Romanov family, Russia's former ruling dynasty.

"One of the most grave consequences of the 1917 revolution, the civil war and the Cold War is being overcome," said Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy chairman of the Moscow's church's department for external church relations.

"All of the heritage that was preserved by the church abroad ... is being returned to Russia."

"That is a heritage of serving the fatherland, a heritage of a self-sufficient identity in the world, a self-sufficient policy in world affairs, and keeping faith with those historic traditions which developed in Russia up to 1917."

MASS EXECUTIONS

On Thursday, Alexiy II, patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, will join Metropolitan Laurus, the New York-based leader of the church abroad, in signing an "act of restoration of canonical relations".

In the Christ the Saviour Cathedral -- blown up by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and rebuilt on the same site after the collapse of Communism -- clergymen from both churches will then jointly serve a mass for the first time in decades.

On Saturday, Alexiy II and Laurus will jointly consecrate a new church in southern Moscow built on the site where the Soviet secret police executed thousands of priests and monarchists.

Russia has already taken important symbolic steps to reconcile itself with its Communist past.

The Orthodox church granted the sainthood to Tsar Nicholas II and his family and what scientists believe were their remains were reburied in 1998 in the imperial crypt in St Petersburg.

Last year, the remains of the last Tsar's mother, Empress Maria Fyodorovna, who died in exile in Denmark, were reburied in St Petersburg.

The church abroad represents about one third of the Russian Orthodox diaspora outside Russia. But it is the part that most closely identified itself with traditional, monarchist values and was for years implacably opposed to Soviet rule.

Some of its adherents say they will leave the church in protest at the re-unification. They argue the church leadership in Moscow is tarnished by its Soviet past and its ties to Putin, a former Soviet intelligence officer.

Staying in the church after re-unification will be "tantamount to living in a Soviet Union scenario," Konstantin Preobrazhensky, a dissident follower of the church in the United States, told the credo.ru religious news Internet site.

But the church in Moscow has dismissed the rebels as a tiny splinter group. Most followers of the church abroad are ready to return to the fold, said Fr. Nikolai Balashov, an official in the Moscow patriarchate.

"They have understood that the church was not the church they had fought against all those years and accused of departing from Orthodox values."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Interfax: A many-day procession with the cross from Vladivostok to Moscow to mark the reunification of the Russian Church

A many-day procession with the cross from Vladivostok to Moscow to mark the reunification of the Russian Church

Moscow, May 10, Interfax - Eight long processions with the cross symbolizing the eight rays of the Star of Bethlehem are to be held in Russia on May 17 within the program ‘Under the Star of the Mother of God’.

The aim of this international program organized by the Russian Athonite Society, a Russian national public organization, and the St. Andrew’s Flag Foundation, is to promote the unity of Russian peoples, the website of the Vladivostok diocese has reported.

With the blessing of Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, the marchers will set off from six cities in Russia, namely, Vladivostok, Barnaul, Yakutsk, Rostov-on-the-Don, St. Petersburg, Moscow and Arkhangelsk, and from the two centers of universal Orthodoxy - Jerusalem and Mount Athos. In a march through Russia, the participants will cover dozens of thousands of kilometers to converge in Moscow.

The action will be launched on May 17, the day of the historic reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church, when the Act of the Canonical Communion between the Church in and outside Russia will be signed in the Church of Christ the Savior.

On May 20, a many-day procession with the cross will start from St. Nicholas’s in Vladivostok in the direction of Moscow. In the Primorye Region, the procession will go through as many as ten cities and villages. The Vladivostok diocese plans to complete the procession on June 11, 2007. After that the route of the procession will go through the Khabarovsk diocese.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Trip to Russia



Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow... where I will be, God willing on May 17th.


You can read this article, to see the schedule for the trip to Russia. If you read that article in Russian you will see that my name was the only one they couldn't figure out how to transliterate into Cyrillic.

To keep up with the news of the trip, you can check the official ROCOR web page. Though from past experience, if you want to see pictures as soon as possible, you might also want to keep an eye on the Russian version of the ROCOR web page (which is normally updated first).

You can also check the web site of the Moscow Patriarchate.

You can also check for updates on Google News.

If you want the time and weather in Moscow, click here.

And around Midnight (Wednesday evening, Thursday morning), central time, you should be able to see a live feed of the service at the Christ the Savior Cathedral Web Site. I'll be the guy with the robes and the beard.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Orthodixie's Greatest hits






One blog that I check just about every day is Fr. Joseph Huneycutt's. I don't post links to every good post of his, because it would be a bit tedious to do so, when you can just read his blog. But he has had two post recently that I have to call attention to:


The Episcopal Church Update

And then there is this post, which linked to a History of Texas.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Jerusalem

I've posted about this hymn previously here.

I just found a link to an MP3 file of a very nice version of it here.