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

Thursday, June 06, 2019

How to Study Scripture from an Orthodox Perspective

What follows is not a comprehensive guide to how to the study the Bible, but it is a collection of previous articles into one post, so that they can be easily accessed.

First, a talk that covers why we should study the Scriptures, as well as some of the basics about how we should do so.

The Importance of Reading the Bible in Christian Life. This was a talk given at the Lenten Retreat of the Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco, St. Mary of Egypt Sunday, 2019

On what texts and translations you should use:
An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible
The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text
On what resources you might use to help in your studies:
A Guide to Biblical Reference Texts
Computer Based Bible Study... for Free
On how to go about studying the Bible:
Beginning to Read and Understand the Bible: First Steps
Beginning to Read and Understand the Bible, Part 2: Staying on Track
Beginning to Read and Understand the Bible, Part 3: In Context
A Simple Approach to Reading the Entire Bible -- Suggestions for how to regularly read through the Bible.
How to teach your children to read and understand the King James Version of the Bible
Articles on how we approach the interpretation of the Bible:
Allegorical Interpretations of Scripture
Orthodox Biblical Interpretation and Protestant Biblical Scholarship
What we believe about the Bible:
The Inerrancy of Scripture
Sola Scriptura: An Orthodox analysis of the Protestant view of Scripture, and an explanation of the Orthodox perspective

Sunday, June 02, 2019

2019 Moscow Trip -- Part 4

Wednesday, February 27th
The Lavra

We headed out on foot, early, to make our way to the St. Sergius Holy Trinity Lavra -- one of the most holy places in the Russian Church. I had to take my luggage with me, and so we had to swing by the St. Nicholas Church, were Fr. Paul Ermilov allowed us to stash them for the day, and then we went to the nearby Metro station to catch the subway to the train station. Unlike when I took the Metro on Sunday, it was packed, and people were scurrying hither and thither in all directions. It was a mass of humanity, all on their various ways to get to work or school, and it made me feel a little claustrophobic. I had the song, don't fence me in playing in my head.

I don't remember if I have ever ridden a proper train before, but that's what we took to get to the town of Sergiev Posad, which surrounds the famous Lavra. The train we took there was very modern and comfortable, complete with free Wi-Fi. We had got our breakfast from some food carts that came by. When we arrived at our train station in Sergiev Posad, Fr. Sergei quickly called for a cab via Yandex, and we were dropped off just outside the entrance to the Lavra.

Before we entered the Lavra, we visited their restrooms. In Moscow, all of the bathrooms I encountered were very similar to what you would expect in the US, but these restrooms had the kind of hole in the floor toilet that me made glad I was not in need of figuring out how to properly do the "Asian squat".

I had visited the Lavra back in 2007, but we only had about 2 hours there, and so it was a bit rushed, and there was a lot that I didn't get to see. Upon entering the Lavra the first stop had to be to venerate the relics of St. Sergius of Rodonezh, who along with his brother, came to the place when it was nothing but a vast forest, and established the monastery that developed into the most important monastic community in Russia.

I was only able to take one picture in the church in which St. Sergius' relics are, before I was told that was against the rules.

Icon of the Trinity near the relics of St. Sergius

One of the big differences between visiting the Lavra in 2007 and doing so in 2019 was the huge number of Chinese tourists there. There were several tour groups that even had something like regimental banners to help the people keep track of their group. The reason for this uptick in Chinese tourism is that the value of the Ruble is low right now due to the sanctions imposed by the US and EU, and so Chinese people realize that they can get a lot more for their money by vacationing in Russia.

The sign, which has a small Russian text, and a very large Chinese text, repeated 3 times near the entrance of a church, says "Keep Quiet".

One of the many Chinese tour groups.

What a missionary opportunity! I hope the Russian Church is working to make the most of it. I know the book "Every Day Saints" was just published in Chinese, and so hopefully, this is so.

Among the many saints whose relics we were able to venerate was St. Maxim the Greek.

There are more churches in the Lavra than we could visit, but the main church is the church of the Dormition.

While at the Lavra, I had a list of things I needed to get for my parish, and so we went on a bit of shopping spree. There is no better place to buy quality liturgical items at an amazing price than in Russia.

We had a very nice lunch, at one of the cafes there, and then went to see the Moscow Theological Academy. Fr. Sergei is working on a doctorate from Oxford, but in his spare time, he is working on a seminary degree from Kursk Theological Seminary, and his thesis adviser there was Fr. Pavel Lizgunov, who recently was made the vice rector (or provost) of Moscow Theological Academy. Fortunately, he was allowed to continue to be his thesis adviser, despite the transfer. So we met with Fr. Pavel, and then he arranged for a seminarian to give us a tour of the Academy, including its very substantial museum.

Myself, Fr. Sergei Baranov, and Fr. Pavel Lizgunov. The portrait is of St. Philaret of Moscow

 The Seminary Church

One of the halls of the Seminary

After the tour, we came back and had tea with Fr. Pavel, and had a very nice visit.

After this we headed back to the train station. We decided to walk it this time. The weather was nice, tough there was still plenty of snow, ice, and slush to contend with. As we trudged up a fairly steep hill, I was a bit embarrassed to see some young woman walk past us, as if it was no big deal.

When we got to the train station, Fr. Sergei pointed out an adult bookstore near the station, which goes to show that Russia is not a spiritual never-never land. The Church certainly is getting stronger, but there remain many who are indifferent to the Church, unfortunately.

The train we took back was nearly as new or as nice as the one we took in the morning, but it was comfortable enough. When we got to Moscow, we picked up my luggage, picked up Fr. Sergei's two daughters, and caught a cab for Fr. Sergei's home. We dropped them off there, and then headed further south to Fr. Sergei's country home.

While on the way we stopped to visit a fairly recently built parish, the Parish of the Life Giving Trinity, in Troitsk, which is in the newly developed suburbs of Moscow. This Church remains until midnight, and has a very active outreach to those living in the areas nearby. They have an upper and lower Church, and a large adult baptistery, which would suggest they are meeting with some success in their efforts.

Then we stopped by a supermarket to pick up some food for dinner, as well as food for our trip to Optina the next day. This supermarket had everything any American supermarket might have, and a few things they do not have have, such as equipment for a home still.

Fr. Sergei's country home was in the direction of Optina, which would put us beyond the traffic in the morning. It was designed by Fr. Sergei himself, and it was a bit like the Batman's Batcave, in terms of its automation. Since he is not there most of the time, he designed it such that he can check on it and make adjustments to heating from anywhere in the world. It was truly amazing. So after dinner, and a very pleasant evening of conversation, we settled down for the night, with the plan of getting up very early the next day, so we could catch the morning services at the Optina Monastery.

To be continued...

2019 Moscow Trip -- Part 1

2019 Moscow Trip -- Part 2

2019 Moscow Trip -- Part 3