Sunday, September 12, 2010

Russia, Day 7: Kalyazin

Our last stop on the Golden Ring as we made our way back to Moscow was the small town of Kalyazin. We had an early start on this overcast day, disembarking from our boat and getting onto a smaller boat that took us to what is now an island in the middle of the Volga River.

In the photo above, our boat is approaching the landing point for the artificial island that contains what little remains of the Makaryevsky Monastery, which was founded by St. Makarios in the 15th century.

Here we are carefully making our way down the precariously placed ramp.

The monastery was originally built on the bank of the Volga River on land donated by a boyar (an aristocrat), for whom the town was named. It was once a very large and important monastery, with five churches inside, including a cathedral dedicated to St. Nicholas. The monastery's founder, St. Makarios, was glorified as a saint in the 16th century.

In the 1940s, the Soviets embarked on a massive project to make the Volga River navigable all year round, including during the harsh winters.

This meant, however, that some inhabited areas had to be flooded, including this monastery, which I'm sure did not bother the Soviets too much. 96 towns and over 2000 villages were flooded in all.

In the photo above, we're walking down a path to the center of the small makeshift island.

This is about the only thing to see on the island. It is a reconstruction of one of the four corner towers of the original fortress monastery. Now it marks just the first piece in the revival of the monastery. Fill sand is even being brought in to create enough land to rebuilt the monastery.

Getting back on the boat, we then sailed by an extremely unusual sight -- a church bell tower sticking up out of the middle of the river, with a fisherman in a small boat next to it.

This is the belfry of the monastery's St. Nicholas Cathedral. It was built for a visit from Catherine the Great in the 1800s. It's not clear why it wasn't just simply dynamited, like the rest of the monastery. One theory is that the Soviets intended to use it as a light tower (although that never came to pass). In the photo above, a big cruise boat (like our own) is passing by the bell tower.

A close-up of the tower. After some years, dirt was added around the bell tower to make it more of a miniature island.

We had about 20 minutes free time in the little town of Kolyazin. I used it as an opportunity to stretch my legs by walking around the town. It was an overcast day, so perhaps that added to it, but the town had a sort of gloomy, dilapidated, Communist feeling. I noticed that many of the street names remained the same from the Communist years. In just 20 minutes, I managed to walk on streets named Lenin Street, Marx Street, and Red Army Street.

Our final stop in Kalyazin was this light blue church dedicated to the Ascension. Built in the 19th century, it was closed during the Soviet period and its interior was destroyed. Now it serves as a regular parish and is in the process of rebuilding. For this reason, the simple interior reminded me very much of a mission church in the U.S. -- rather bare with just a few small, temporary icons. Of course, we were greeted with much love by the parish, whose choir sang for us.

Traveling around Kalyazin was a funny story. Our group of 60 (almost all from the UK and the US) was met by this bus. About half our group got on and got seated and the other half waited outside for another bus to come. But there was no other bus. When someone asked, the Russians operating the bus told us that the bus -- this one in the photo above -- had a capacity of 100. Indeed, there was a sign inside that said it had a capacity to seat 24 and to hold 104 in all. Now I could see all 60 of us squeezing in here (and this only after living 4 years in Greece), but there was no way I could see over 100 in this bus. There was a bit of a standoff for awhile, with a small group of about a dozen holding out for a second bus, but finally they gave up, much to the relief of those of us who were already sandwiched in there and were waiting to leave.

We were back on our boat and heading toward Moscow by about noon. Since our group included several Roman Catholics and Anglicans, Metropolitan Kallistos agreed to speak with us in the evening on the subject of the official Orthodox-Anglican and Orthodox-Roman Catholic dialogues, on both of which he plays a leading role.

He spoke and took questions that evening for about 90 minutes in an extremely interesting talk. Personally, I was very impressed with the way he presented this extremely delicate topic to a mixed group.

Next stop: Moscow!

For more photos from the day, click here.

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