Monday, June 17, 2019

2019 Moscow Trip -- Part 5

Thursday, February 28th

As I said in the previous post, the plan for this day was to get up early enough to drive out to the Optina monastery, and attend their morning service. Unfortunately, I made the mistake the night before of plugging my phone to be recharged right next to my bed, and so when my alarm went off in the wee hours of the morning, I turned it off without getting out of bed, and so went back to sleep. When I finally did wake up, and noticed that the sun was up, I quickly got out of bed, and then say Fr. Sergei relaxing on a couch in his living room with a Cheshire cat grin. I told him he could have woke me up, but he said he figured I must have needed the extra sleep.

So I quickly got ready, and we headed out of the "Batcave" and began heading down the highway to Optina. I noticed as we went, signs pointing the way to Kaluga, the town that our parish patron, St. Jonah or Manchuria, was born in... which helped explain his later connection to the Optina monastery.

Unlike the St. Sergius Trinity Lavra, the Optina monastery was closed during the Soviet period. It was closed after the revolution, but it was allowed to reopen in 1987, and today it is a thriving monastery. It does not have a town nearby, like Sergiev Posad, and so seems much more remote. February is not the prime tourist season, but the number of pilgrims is likewise much less, though there was a good number of them. In 1993, there were three monks who were martyred by a Satanist, and so there is a chapel built over the spot where they were killed on Pascha night, as they went out to ring the bells, which you can read about in Russian (or with Google Translate) here:

It was snowing on and off throughout the day that we were there.

Our parish has been getting vestments from Optina, and the quality has been exceptional, and the prices are very reasonable. One of the first stops we made was for me to get measured by a seamstress. I wanted to get a couple of cassocks, and a good riassa to go with them. Before we left the monastery, I picked up what I had requested, and these are now my favorites -- very well done, and very cool, which means a lot in Texas.

I brought with me an icon of St. Jonah, which we donated to the monastery. Some accounts say that he was a monk at Optina. I have seen some recent articles which say that he was not, but that his spiritual father was the Elder Gabriel of Optina. In any case, he had a connection, and when he was preparing for death, he read St. Andrew of Crete's prayers for the departure of the soul, while wearing an epitrachelion and cuffs which had belonged to St. Ambrose of Optina.

In the Church of the Mother of God of Kazan, they regularly do molebens to the Optina Elders, whose relics are found in various locations around the Church. The relics at the right of the above picture are those of St. Nectarios. The relics are housed in this church at present due to ongoing restoration work at the main Church of the Entry of the Theotokos, where these relics would normally be.

The very first Icon I was given after I was made a catechumen, was an icon of the Optina Elders, and ever since, I have been drawn to these saints. You certainly feel their presence everywhere in this monastery.

We took a walk out to the area where most monastics live, further back in Skete of St. John the Forerunner, which is a quick walk from the monastery, which one can only enter by invitation (and we had no such invitation).

By the way, you can take a 3-D tour of the Monastery by clicking the link on the left menu here:


After having Lunch, and picking up a few more things at their store, we headed to the Shamordino Convent, which was founded by St. Ambrose of Optina. Like Optina, it was closed during the Soviet period. The fate of the nuns after it was closed is a particularly moving story. They were told by their spiritual father that they should not cooperate with the Soviets or do any work for them at all. The Soviets then killed their spiritual father. The nuns then said "Now no one can release us from this obedience." Despite torture, they never ceased to keep this obedience. In fact, they were made to stand outside in sub-zero temperatures over a period of 3 days, and each day, they were made to stand their with less warm clothing than the preceding day. After three days, in which they stood their without giving, and without showing any signs of harm from the cold, the Soviets decided to leave them alone. Even atheists know a miracle when they see one. You can read one account here, and listen to a sermon about this here.

The main Church is huge, but you can tell from the mostly white walls that it still has a long way to go in terms of restoration. 

Inside the Church, I noticed yet again how popular the devotion to the Royal Martyrs and the New Martyr Elizabeth was.

As the sun began to set, we headed back to the Moscow suburbs, because Fr. Sergei needed to pick up his daughters from the Metro station nearest to their home. We had dinner at a nearby shopping center, where we went to a somewhat upscale hamburger restaurant. I had a beacon cheeseburger, with Jack Daniel sauce... and it was in fact a pretty good hamburger. 

The following morning I caught my flight back to Houston. The flight from Moscow to Frankfurt was again on Lufthansa, and was once again an excellent experience. At the Frankfurt airport, I had to go through security again, and I had a large Slavonic Gospel in my briefcase, that apparently looked suspicious to the agent watching the scan. I wish I could paint a picture with words to adequately convey the look on his face, when I took "the box" as he described out, opened it, and showed him that there where no explosives in the Gospel, beyond the message printed in the text.

The flight from Frankfurt to Houston was farmed out by Lufthansa to United Airlines, and while it was not horrible, it was a huge step down. What was most irritating is that I had been lugging around several books which I had intended to read on this flight, but I was in the middle row, and when they turned out the lights 2 hours into the flight, I had no ability to turn on a light, or to open up a window to read by the sunlight -- and because we were flying from the east to the west, the entire flight was in the daylight, and would have provided very good light, had I been better situated. It never occurred to me when I booked the flight that there were any planes still in use in which this kind of thing might happen. And so instead of knocking out a couple of books on the way, I was left with very little productive to do.

At long last, I made it home, very tired, but very much edified by the trip, and all the people I had been able to get to know, and all of the holy places and relics I had been able to see and venerate. There is a lot just in Moscow I still have yet to see, not to mention the rest of Russia -- and so I hope I will have opportunity to go again.

2019 Moscow Trip -- Part 4