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
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