Thursday, September 09, 2010

Russia, Day 4: Gorodets and Nizhny Novgorod

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On our fourth day, we docked in the small town of Gorodets around 12:30. This would be our furthest stop on the river before we started heading back toward Moscow.

The town was founded in 1132, and our first stop, the Feodorsky Monastery, was founded just two years later. It has now only been reopened for 18 months, and they are in the process of rebuilding. There are currently 15 monks, and the monastery acts in many ways now as a parish for the community at large, due to its central location.

We had a nice discussion with the abbot, Igumen Augustine, who was a lawyer before he became a monk. After lunch, he showed us their main church, which is also being reconstructed. You can see the inside of the church in the photo above. A film crew followed us around and interviewed Metropolitan Kallistos. The diocese published a report (in English) and a nice video of our day on their official website here.

My friend and fellow American Steve and I sneaked over to take a peak at a second church as our large group slowly gathered back onto the coach buses.

I enjoyed seeing the local architecture throughout our trip. Above is one of the lovely colorful little houses we saw as we headed out of Gorodets toward Nizhny Novgorod, about 90 minutes south. Nizhny Novgorod (founded in the 13th century) is, with 1.5 million residents, the third largest city in Russia, after Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Our first stop in Nizhny Novgorod was at the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos, built in 1719 by the wealthy merchant family the Stroganovs. It seems to have been commonplace, starting in the 17th century, for wealthy merchant families in all these towns of the Golden Ring to try to demonstrate their success and their piety by constructing churches that competed, in a way, with other merchants' churches.

The story behind the wood-carved iconostasis in this church is interesting. It is the original, and it managed to survive the Soviet period (when the church was used as a warehouse) because some devout workers stacked boxes way up high in order to conceal the presence of the iconostasis.

Attached to the large church is an ecclesiastical school for women, which has 100 young women learning church music and ecclesiastical arts such as embroidery. It is a tradition for these women to marry the diocese's seminarians and become matushkas. This way, our funny guide Fr. Ivan told us, the couple is able to rule the parish as the priest and choir director. Above, some of the young women sang for us as we visited inside the church, which you can see in the photo below.

This is the outside of the beautiful church.

Our second stop in Nizhny Novgorod was at the Church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, founded around 1680 (see above). It sits just below the walls of the city's kremlin. According to our guide, the Soviets used it as a public latrine and then later as an apartment building.

Fortunately, it was recently restored. You can see the inside above, and a part of the roof structure below.

We next headed up the hill to the kremlin, where we stopped at a church dedicated to the Archangel Michael. The city's first church was built on this spot, but it was wooden. It was replaced by a stone church in the 17th century. The walls of the current church date are from that church. This was a familiar refrain throughout these medieval cities that we visited.

Our next stop was Annunciation Monastery with 15 monks. Its complex also houses the diocese's seminary, which is dedicated to St. John of Damascus, and which has 200 seminarians. Above is a photo of the entrance.

Here we are walking through the monastery's courtyard down to the church the monks use.

In the photo above, you can see the other priest on our trip, Fr. Andrew Louth, venerating the collection of relics.

Also in the church is an icon of the Panagia (below) that miraculously appeared, floating on a chunk of ice, to some local fishermen.

In the photo above, our group is walking back across the monastery courtyard to visit the church that the seminarians use.

As you can see in the photo above, this church featured a pink-hued iconostasis with modern Byzantine-style iconography, but very baroque, older iconography apart from that. I noticed in many of the churches we visited that day that the newer iconography was in the exact same Byzantine style that we see in churches in Greece today. Perhaps the archbishop cares for this style.

Speaking of the archbishop, that was our next stop -- dinner with him inside the monastery. Although it was a fasting period (on the Old Calendar), we were still treated -- as we had been throughout our visit -- to wonderful (albeit fasting) food. The photo above is of our first plate.

As was the custom at all the meals to which we were invited, our host began the meal by offering a toast welcoming us. Metropolitan Kallistos was then usually expected to reciprocate with a toast in which he thanked our host. Above, you can see this happening with Archbishop Georgy.

Our lovely dinner concluded with a concert by a small group of seminarians. Here's a five-minute video of part of that. They stood in the corner, behind the head table, in order to utilize the room's acoustics.

After dinner, it was getting quite late, but we still made one final, quick stop at the city's enormous cathedral, dedicated to St. Alexander Nevsky (see above). In the 19th century, in the spirit of the merchants' competition that I mentioned earlier, the merchants of Nizhny Novgorod decided that their city needed to compete with the likes of Moscow and St. Petersburg, which boasted the enormous cathedrals of Christ the Savior and St. Isaak's, respectively.

Their city's cathedral was completed in 1881. The Soviets used it as a cold-storage warehouse. It is now being renovated.

Here is an interesting fresco that we noticed along the back wall. It sparked a good deal of discussion among us as we tried to interpret it. The official explanation was that the nude figure in the middle represented the human soul after death.

For more photos from our eventful fourth day, click here.

1 comment:

Søren said...

Hi Father Gregory
What a nice surprise to find all your pictures and interesting descriptions from our pilgrimage. The choir is wonderful, we will never forget it.
I envi you in having met his eminence bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev), whose compositions we have enjoyed many times. Thanks for sending your repport to us.
Søren and Susanne in Denmark