Monday, September 20, 2010

My Last Hours in Russia

We headed back to the hotel around 2:00. It was pouring rain and we were quite tired, so we rested until about 5:00. Since that afternoon was really the only free time we had in Moscow, I was hoping it would stop raining by then, but no such luck.

I tried to get someone to go out with me, but I couldn't find anyone who was game for an adventure in the rain, so I set out on my own. It was about a 5- or 10-minute walk from the hotel to the nearest subway stop. From there, I managed to make my way to a central hub, where I switched lines and finally ended up at a stop just across the street from the famous Christ the Savior Cathedral (see photo above).

There was a security station with metal detector at the entrance, but once I cleared that, I went inside for part of the Saturday night Vigil service. The church actually seemed considerably smaller than I had anticipated, since I was under the impression that it was comparable to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople or St. Sava's in Belgrade. Perhaps this is because of the way it is divided up on the inside, with several wings, like St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

I wanted to check out the famous ecclesiastical store Sofrino, and perhaps get a Russian-style priest's hat, so I headed out of the cathedral to look for the store, which I had been told was nearby. I eventually found it but unfortunately it had just closed. The rain had let up a good bit by then, so I decided I wanted to see Red Square, which wasn't too far away. I walked past Lenin's Mausoleum (see above) and tried to sneak a peak inside, but that too had just closed. There was something about the large corporate "SAMSUNG" building and sign looming over Lenin's Mausoleum that I found ironic.

From the south, I made my way north along the western wall of the Kremlin (see above), passing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

I then made my way around to Red Square, which lies just outside the eastern wall of the Kremlin. At the top of the Square, I saw the gate (above) at which they had just finished the ceremony of re-dedicating an icon. You can see the scaffolding and green mesh around the icon, which sits just above the door. Large stands had been erected in the middle of Red Square for the event, so I didn't get as much of a sense of its size. It also struck me as smaller than I expected.

I walked through Red Square to its southern end, which is marked by the colorful St. Basil's Cathedral (see above). I walked through the area for awhile, which is now quite commercial and upscale, and even saw a "TexMex" restaurant just off Red Square. This reminded me of the "Indiana Tex Mex" restaurant Pelagia and I had seen in Paris -- obviously, these were both catering to American tourists like myself, of which there seemed to be plenty.

It was getting late, so I then found the nearest subway stop and headed back to the hotel. The escalators down to the subway seemed to go on for miles (see photo above), and I wouldn't say it was the most tourist-friendly experience. Very little was in English so I was struggling to make out the Cyrillic letters. Nevertheless, I found some people who were happy to help a priest, and I made my way back to the hotel without incident.

The next morning, Sunday, a Russian girl who studies theology in Thessaloniki and was helping the group throughout our trip, Alevtina, arranged for us to attend services at a church dedicated to St. Antipas, a parish in Moscow at which her father was the rector.

As, it seemed, in most of Russia, Sunday Liturgy started at 10:00 (much later than Greek practice), so we had plenty of time to get to church in the morning. I needed to be at the airport at 1:00 for my 3:00 flight back to Thessaloniki (whereas the others' flight to the UK wasn't until 6:30 or so), so I brought my luggage with me to the church.

Metropolitan Kallistos did not serve, but Fr. Andrew and I did, and I was asked to say a few parts of the Liturgy in English. The smallish church was packed, most notably with lots of young people in their 20s and 30s.

After Communion, I had to say my goodbyes in order to make it to the airport in time. A subdeacon drove me to a metro stop where I caught an express train to the airport that got me there just before 1:00.

On the platform, the subdeacon found a young Russian woman waiting for the doors to open, and asked her to look out for me and make sure I got to the right place at the airport. She spoke English and we had an interesting conversation on the ride, which took about 45 minutes. It turned out that she worked in the travel industry in Egypt, but the most interesting thing from my perspective was that she had converted to Mormonism in her home town in Russia.

I don't know how common this is, but I'm sure she's not a unique case. Many well-funded groups made their way to Russia as soon as communism crumbled. The Mormons are one of the few missionary groups operating here in Greece, but I don't think they've had much success here.

Anyway, I made it to the airport with a safe cushion of time, only to discover that my flight had been delayed 4 hours!! So I settled in for a long wait in the airport. After two hours or so, I ran into Metropolitan Kallistos and Fr. Andrew, and I passed nearly an hour with them before saying goodbye again. With nothing else to do, I decided to go get in line to check in. Even though it was 3.5 hours before take-off, there was already a very long line, just like the one I had endured in Thessaloniki on the way here. This seems to be a calling card of this particular Russian airline, AVIA-VIM, which I would not recommend to anyone. We had the same chaos of people cutting in line, forming alternate lines, etc.

I finally checked in and had a chance to say goodbye to everyone else in the group as their 6:30 flight actually left before mine. After watching them board, I headed to my gate, where we got on the plane, and then discovered that there was an electronic problem. We waited on the runway for an hour and a half while they fixed it, and then finally headed out, 5.5 hours late. I arrived back in Thessaloniki, safe and sound, around 11:00 PM Sunday night.

And thus ends my trip to Russia. Now I promise to work on posting some photos of the babies!

1 comment:

Denise said...

Nice to see many familiar sights from our trip there in 1994...and now, on to the babies! Yiayia