Wednesday, April 10, 2019

2019 Moscow Trip -- Part 2

Holy Ground
Monday, February 25th

The Conference was to begin with a Hierarchical Liturgy, at 9:00 a.m. Fr. Sergei was going to come by and take me to St. Tikhon University by the Metro, but he was delayed a bit by traffic, and so we ended up taking a taxi.

Fr. Sergei wasn't able to stay for the morning session, but he made sure I made it into the Church which was up the stairs, and part of a large hall. I wasn't aware of the history of this place until the next day, and perhaps it was just as well, because it was intimidating enough to speak at this conference in the first place -- but as I later learned, I was serving in a Church which was dedicated to St. Vladimir, and built by the Hieromartyr Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky), who was the first bishop to be martyred by the Bolsheviks when he was then Metropolitan of Kiev. It was built because prior to it, there was no Church dedicated to St. Vladimir the Great in Moscow, and they wanted a Church suitable to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus' in 1888. In 1917, it was chosen as the site of the pivotal All-Russian Council which elected Patriarch Tikhon and played such a key role in charting the course of the Russian Church up to the present day.

The Soviets destroyed the interior of this Church, and it was used simply as a concert hall. However, it was restored, almost exactly as it was originally. However, while you can see in the photo above from the 1917 Council that there was an archway separating the main hall from the Church, which was decorated with icons. When the Church was restored, it was decided that the icons on this archway would be composed of saints who participated in the 1917 Council, but were either martyrs or confessors.

When I first entered the Altar, Fr. Paul Ermilov introduced himself, and pointed me to the vestments set aside for me. It was a good thing that they had a set for me to use, because I had assumed the Liturgy would be in gold vestments, but as it turned out, they were in blue, for the feast of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God.

Archbishop Ambrose (Yermakov)

I did not bring my kamilavka, because travelling with a big hat is very inconvenient. Fr. Paul made several attempts to find one that would fit, but I have a big head, as Texans often do. I guess Serbs may have something similar, because to make things symmetrical, he had me stand opposite Fr. Darko Djogo, who was also an invited speaker, from the University of East Sarajevo's Faculty of Theology, and he likewise didn't have a kamilavka that fit. But as it would happen, he also speaks wonderfully good English, and so I made a point of sticking close by him for the rest of the Conference.

So we lined up to greet Archbishop Ambrose (Yermakov), who is the Rector of the Moscow Theological Academy. The choir was especially amazing.

The Liturgy itself was very beautiful, though there are a few minor differences between the practice in ROCOR that I am familiar with, and the Moscow practice, but I made it through without incident. I was able to meet Archbishop Ambrose, as well as Fr. Vladimir Vorobyov who is the rector of the University. Unfortunately for me, our conversations were limited by their limited English, and my even more limited Russian.

Fr. Vladimir Vorobyov

After the Liturgy, the clergy were invited to a dinning hall where we had a very nice lunch, and I was able to speak with the clergy... mostly Fr. Darko and Fr. Paul, though some of the other clergy spoke a bit of English. There was a priest from Ukraine who spoke some English, and he pointed out that he had the same kind of coat that I was wearing, which I wasn't clear on how he happened to have gotten one. We were both wearing United States Navy pea coats -- which I wear for three reasons: 1) my father was in the Navy in World War II, and told me that this was a very warm and practical coat; 2) you can get them from an Army / Navy surplus store very cheaply; and 3) they happen to work well with my usual wardrobe. I later learned that he was another invited speaker, and that he had been forcibly evicted from his Church in Ukraine, though I can't remember where it was, or the details of how it happened in his case.

After the meal, the Conference itself began. The first session was focused on the theological issues behind the crisis, and the speakers came from Moscow Theological Academy, Stretensky Theological Seminary, Moscow State University, and also included Fr. Paul Ermilov who is a professor at St. Tikhon University.

Fr. Paul Ermilov

I sat next to Fr. Darko, and he translated the highlights of what was said for me.

After another break, we began the session that both Fr. Darko and I were to speak at, which was entitled: "A look at the church crisis from abroad." Fr. Sergei Baranov arrived for this session, and provided a fairly complete translation for all the other talks for me -- which gave me a good idea of how much I had been missing up until then. I had asked Fr. Sergei to translate my talk to the audience, because I have known him for about a decade now, and I knew he would understand what I was saying (he speaks fluent Texan). He has more degrees than most people have pairs of socks, in fields ranging from the hard sciences, to theology, and is currently working on a Ph.D. in Theology.

He brought a recorder with him, which looks similar to the one that I use, but a bit newer and more advanced. He asked if I would like to take charge of it, but I suggested he do so, since I knew from using my own that it was easy to think you were recording when you weren't, and he was more familiar with his recorder. We also had a time limit for our talk, and I wanted to make sure we didn't go over.

I didn't realize it until Fr. Sergei told me later, but he thought he was recording the first 10 minutes, only to realize that he wasn't, and then he began recording. I thought we had stuck to the time limit as I checked the minutes on the recorder, but as a result of this mishap we went a bit over. However, the talk seemed to be well received. You can read the text of that talk here:
An American Perspective on the Ukraine Crisis
After that session, we ended the conference with an evening meal, which was quite festive. Fr. Sergei needed to head home, but I stayed until the end and was given a ride back to my apartment by Fr. Dimitri, whose surname escapes me, but he is a deacon, and a son-in-law of Fr. Vladimir Vorobyov. He's a very cheerful man, who speaks English fairly well, and so we had a great conversation on the way home.

The plan the next day was for me to serve at one of the parishes near my apartment that is connected to St. Tikhon University. It was close enough for me to walk it. And then I would catch a ride for the the second and final day of the conference.

This had been an amazing day, and if my trip had ended at this point, it already would have been one of the highlights of my life, but there was a lot more yet to come.

To be continued...

2019 Moscow Trip -- Part 1