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.