Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Russia, Day 3: Yaroslavl and Rostov

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We got an early start on our third full day in Russia, disembarking at Yaroslavl, a city of around 600,000 about 150 miles north (and east) of Moscow (Moskva on the map above) . We were once again met by a contingent of local clergy and tour guides, who brought us by coach to the Tolga Women's Monastery, about 30 minutes away. As, it seems, were all the monasteries we saw in Russia, this one, too, was enormous. But this time the physical proportions were somewhat matched by the number of nuns -- 200 in total. The date was August 21 (August 8 OS), which was the feast day for the monastery's treasure, the wonder-working Tolga Icon of the Mother of God, which we were blessed to venerate. We were graciously allowed, because of our tight schedule, to cut in line and bypass the literally thousands of people who were visiting the monastery on that beautiful day and who were waiting to venerate the icon, which dates to the early 14th century.

We were also shown around the several cathedrals and churches on the monastery grounds, including cathedrals dedicated to the Exaltation of the Cross and St. Nicholas. In the photo above, Metropolitan Kallistos is venerating the icons on the iconostasis in one of the churches we visited.

When we arrived, the archbishop had just finished celebrating an outdoor Liturgy in the middle of the monastery's beautiful courtyard (see photo below). He was then heading out to catch a flight for the Patriarch's consecration of his (the archbishop's) vicar bishop the following morning. The nuns had prepared a lavish table for the clergy and government officials in attendance, but the archbishop had to leave so quickly that Metropolitan Kallistos, me, and our tour guide from the Patriarchate were asked to sit down by ourselves at this table that was prepared (see above). We couldn't stay long because we had to meet back up with the rest of the group, but not before the archbishop insisted on pouring us a vodka--and us having a chance to try some of the delicacies, which included caviar, smoked salmon, etc. etc. etc.

One of the cathedrals at the monastery, which was founded in 1314. Most of the buildings, however, date to around 1690. The Soviets closed the monastery in 1926 and used it, variously, as an educational center, a World War II hospital, and a correctional center for juvenile delinquents. It was returned to the Church in 1987. The icon was moved back to the monastery from a museum in 1993.

Inside the monastery's church dedicated to the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, we were especially blessed to venerate the relics of St. Ignatius Bryanchaninov (+1867), whom Metropolitan Kallistos later characterized as one of the most important and beloved spiritual writers in the Russian Church. Of course, as throughout our trip, we were given the special blessing of opening the container and venerating the saint directly, as you see above.

The Metropolitan was clearly delighted to have the opportunity to venerate the saint, and later that day, during a bus ride, he gave us a short talk about him. St. Ignatius was originally an army officer, but left the army to become a monk. Emperor Nicholas I had known him as an army officer and, when he asked about him and learned that he had become a monk, decided that a good army officer would probably make a good abbot, so he appointed him the abbot of an important monastery in the capital of St. Petersburg. He was later consecrated a bishop, but served only four years in that capacity before fulfilling his real desire, which was solitude. He retired to cell from which he concentrated on spiritual writings. Interestingly, Metropolitan Kallistos, in comparing St. Ignatius to his contemporary, St. Theophan the Recluse, characterized St. Ignatius as stressing rather more the ascetic dimension, while St. Theophan emphasized the need for personal conscience.

Our second stop was at the Cathedral of the Feodor Icon of the Mother of God, which was the icon used to blessed Mikhail Romanov when he ascended the imperial throne to end the infamous "Time of Trouble." Unfortunately, the church is being restored and is not currently operating as a church. Nevertheless, it contains the relics of the local saints Daniel, Constantine, and Feodor, and boasts yet another enormous iconostasis. Interestingly, here, though, the choir loft is actually located directly above the altar, behind the iconostasis. Our tour guide told us that it had the effect of making the singing seem heavenly.

Next to this church is another church, the bottom floor of which is dedicated to St. Nicholas (see photo above). On the second floor is a chapel in which a fresco of St. Nicholas miraculously appeared on the wall (see photo below).

Now the interesting thing here is how these three churches were used during the Soviet period. The largest, to the Feodor icon, was given to the "Living Church," while the second largest, the main floor of St. Nicholas, was given to the Old Believers. The tiny chapel on the top floor of St. Nicholas' was all that was left for those who remained faithful to Patriarch Tikhon.

We then got in the coach and headed to the city of Rostov (or Rostov the Great as the Russians know it, a name derived from its importance during medieval times). Our first stop was the St. Avraamy (Abraham) Monastery to the northeast of the small city of Rostov. This is possibly the oldest monastery in Russia, founded by St. Avraam in the middle of the 11th century. Since Orthodoxy was not introduced into Russia until 988, about the time the saint was born, it is no surprise that St. Avraam grew up as a pagan. After an illness and a miraculous recovery, the saint converted to Christianity and became a monk. He destroyed a pagan place of worship and founded the monastery in its place. We visited the main church, dedicated to the Theophany (see below), and saw two other churches that are now in disrepair (see above). This huge monastery is rebuilding. They have 16 nuns, who welcomed us warmly and gave us a hearty outdoor lunch at picnic tables, with wonderful Russian soup and their own bread.

After lunch, we headed into the historic city center of Rostov and its kremlin. There we saw the enormous and historic Dormition Cathedral, built on the spot of the first church built in all Russia, by St. Prince Vladimir. Rostov was among the first bishoprics when Russia became Orthodox in 988. The lower walls of this cathedral date back probably until the 12th century, while the bulk of the church dates from probably the 16th century. As you can see in the photo above, it is currently undergoing reconstruction.

Next to the cathedral is an enormous building for the bells. In honor of Metropolitan Kallistos' arrival, the bell rings assumed their positions and played. In the close-up photo below, you can get a sense of how big they are. The man pulling the tongue of the largest bell on the left (weighing over 35 tons) looked like he literally had to run with all his might from one side of the other just to move the tongue.

Next to the kremlin is the vast and palatial complex built by the powerful bishop of Rostov, Metropolitan Jonah, in the mid-17th century. Between this and the kremlin, there are at least six churches, many with beautiful iconography from the 17th century. In one of the churches, seen above, another small choir was on hand to perform a few traditional and ecclesiastical songs and to sell its CDs.

Above and below: inside the Rostov kremlin.

The four photos above are all from the Rostov kremlin area. In the one immediately above, you can see a gathering of people to the left. This was a wedding.

Our last stop for the day was the Monastery of Our Savior and St. James (Spaso-Yakovlevsky Monastery) to the southwest of Rostov. The monastery was founded in the 14th century by St. James, Bishop of Rostov (November 27 and May 23), for whom the monastery was later (additionally) named, after his canonization. The monastery features the Cathedral of the Conception of the Theotokos by St. Anna, which was built in 1686. There is also the 17th century Cathedral of the Transfiguration. Most of the monastery buildings, however, were built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the neoclassical style, as you can see in the photo above and the following five photos below.

Between 1702-1709, the monastery was under the care of the Rostov Metropolitan Dmitry. When he arrived at the monastery in 1702, the website for an OCA church dedicated to his memory tells us:

He served Liturgy at the cathedral church of the Conception of the Most Holy Theotokos, after which he indicated to those present the site of his future burial on the right side of the temple. "Behold my resting place," he said, "here I will settle for eternity." St Demetrius reposed on October 28, 1709.

Contrary to the saint's wishes, which he expressed in his will, the clergy and people of Rostov asked the locum tenens of the patriarchal throne, Metropolitan Stephen Yavorsky of Ryazan, who had come for the funeral, to conduct the burial at the cathedral church of the city.

Metropolitan Stephen insisted on burying the body of his deceased friend beside St Joasaph, who was St Demetrius's predecessor. However, a grave was not prepared until the arrival of Metropolitan Stephen, even though about a month had elapsed since the saint's death.

Due to the urgent departure of Metropolitan Stephen from Rostov, a hastily constructed wooden frame was placed into the grave, in which the body of the saint was buried on November 25. This circumstance, foreseen by the Providence of God, led to a quick uncovering of the relics.

In 1752 repairs were being done at the cathedral church of the monastery, and on September 21, the incorrupt body of St Demetrius was discovered. The place of burial had been affected by dampness, the oaken coffin and the writing on it were decayed, but the body of the saint, and even the omophorion, sacchos, mitre and silken prayer rope were preserved undamaged.

After the uncovering of the holy relics many healings were worked, which were reported to the Synod, by whose order Metropolitan Sylvester of Suzdal and Archimandrite Gabriel of Simonov arrived at Rostov to examine the relics of St Demetrius, and to investigate the incidents of miraculous healings.

A decree was issued by the Synod on April 29, 1757 numbering St Demetrius, Metropolitan of Rostov among the saints, and establishing his feastdays for October 28 (the day of his repose) and September 21 (the uncovering of his relics).

Metropolitan Kallistos told us later on the bus that St. Dimitry was and remains a popular spiritual writer (and, according to the bishop, some of these writings are in English), and pilgrims flocked to the monastery after his repose. To such an extent, in fact, that a hotel was built just outside the walls of the monastery. A guestbook was opened to record stories from pilgrims. In short order, it collected 288 stories from pilgrims recounting miracles that had taken place there. That book is now preserved in a museum.

A cathedral dedicated to the saint was built inside the monastery at the end of the 18th century (photo above). There we were able to venerate his relics (photo below). We were also able to venerate the relics of St. Avraam, whose monastery we visited earlier in the day, as well as the relics of many other saints -- so many, in fact, that I can't even begin to recall them all.

Here is a photo of us leaving the monastery and walking to our coach, which was waiting to take us back to our boat.

I've tried to be careful in recalling the details here, but I ask forgiveness in advance if I've muddled something up. Please post a comment below to correct me if need be.

We were bombarded with detailed information throughout the day, frequently out of order and even about churches we weren't seeing, and it was hard to keep it all straight. Mother Nectaria, who has lived in Russia off and on for the last 15 years, said we actually had it pretty good in this regard. Apparently, Russian tourists feel they're not getting their money's worth if their tour guide doesn't know every last detail of their city, so tour guides frequently feel compelled to include the number of cubic meters in each church, etc.

The long day ended with evening prayers in our prayer room with the following view of the Volga River.

For more photos from this third day, click here.

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