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.