Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Russia, Day 9: Moscow

At about 9:00 AM Friday, we left the Danilovsky Hotel and headed to the famous Tretyakov Gallery. The photo above of the Danilovsky Monastery was taken just outside our hotel as we got on the bus.

Before heading into the gallery proper, we stopped first at the 17th century church dedicated to St. Nicholas to venerate the extremely famous Vladimir icon of the Mother of God (see photos above and below). According to tradition, this is one of the few surviving icons painted by the Apostle Luke himself. Of course, according to the scientists, it dates from about the 12th century.

It is interesting that this church is now technically part of the museum -- this seems to have been a compromise solution so that the beloved icon can be both part of the museum and available for veneration and liturgical use. This, unfortunately, is a common problem in Russia (which we would encounter shortly with the Rublev icon of the Trinity, which is still inside the museum), since so many churches and their treasures were made into museum and museum pieces by the Soviets -- artifacts of some distant past.

In the photo above, the parish rector was telling us that, despite its unique status, the church is a functioning parish with about 500 people, and that typically weekend services have 50-100 people.

He also told us one story about the Vladimir icon (above), which is viewed by Russians as the protectress of Moscow. In the winter of 1941, as the Germans were approaching Moscow, the Soviets (yes, the Soviets!) took the icon up in a plane and flew it in circles around the city. A couple days later, one of the worst cold fronts in history struck. Grandmothers who are still alive today remember that when they went to take water from the river, it froze in their pails as they walked back home. This cold front halted the German advance and saved the city.

We also had the chance to venerate, in the same church, one of the oldest Great Friday crosses in the Russian church, dating from the 14th century.

Afterwards, we headed to the gallery, where we had plenty of time to leisurely explore and enjoy the museum. I'm happy to note that, even though it's a public museum, the clergy were admitted for free. :)

The display began with some fine mosaics, dating from the early 12th century in Kiev (before the rise of Moscow). We then moved on to a room with 12th and 13th century iconography from Novgorod, which was in a wonderful style, not so different (at least to my untrained eyes) from the contemporary iconography here in Greece.

There was simply too much to recount here, but suffice it to say, I found the exhibit very moving, especially the Rublev Trinity, which is truly a masterpiece. One is conflicted, though, because the instinct is to venerate these wonderful icons, but unfortunately it is not allowed inside the gallery proper. From what I understood, the Church is attempting to get these works back inside a liturgical atmosphere, but museum officials are reluctant because they believe the church will not take proper care of them.

After the Tretyakov Gallery, we took the bus to Donskoy Monastery, which was founded in the 16th century. There we venerated a 16th century copy of the Panagia Donskoy icon, the original of which we saw earlier that morning in the Tretyakov Gallery. We were also blessed to venerate the complete relics of St. Patriach Tikhon, known as an Enlightener of North America. In the photo above, the bishop greets Metropolitan Kallistos and the two of them then lead prayers of supplication before the icon (to the right) and the relics of St. Tikhon (to the left).

We were then given a tour of the sprawling monastery, which has less than 10 monks. The photos above and below are of the interior and exterior of the "Great" or "New" Cathedral:

The Great or New Cathedral was begun in 1684 on the orders of Tsarina Sofia, Peter the Great's half-sister and regent for the early years of his reign. The cathedral has some unusual features which can be attributed to the fact that its builders were masons and artisans brought from Ukraine. According to Ukranian custom, the five domes of the cathedral are positioned to represent the four corners of the earth, a design which scandalized Old Believers, who gave it the name "The Antichrist's Altar". The impressive eight-tiered iconostasis was carved between 1688 and 1698, and centers on a sixteenth century copy of Lady of the Don. The frescoes in the cathedral were painted by Italian Antonio Claudio between 1782 and 1785, making them the first church paintings in Moscow to be executed by a foreigner.

During the tour, Metropolitan Kallistos was stopped (as he often was on our trip) and asked to give an interview to a local news outlet.

The monastery has extensive cemetery grounds and a cemetery chapel, which were funded by the many aristocratic families buried there. The photo above is of one of the new graves there, that of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.

The monastery's walls.

Our final stop on the tour was the residence of St. Patriarch Tikhon, a small apartment inside the monastery in which he stayed when he was imprisoned there by the Soviets in 1922, and where he continued to live until his repose in 1925. The apartment now serves as a sort of museum of photographs and personal belongings of the saint. The above photo is a view of the cathedral from a balcony near his apartment.

The bus then took us back to the hotel for a short rest before we headed to the Moscow church dedicated to the icon of the Mother of God called "The Joy of All the Afflicted." The above photo of Danilovsky Monastery was again taken as we got on the bus outside our hotel. I thought the clouds were particularly striking.

We arrived at the "The Joy of All the Afflicted" church at 6:00 PM to celebrate the Vigil for the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God with Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) (see photo above). I was blessed to be able to participate in the service, which included Holy Unction and Artoklasia, and which ended about 8:30.

I was also able to meet and speak briefly with Fr. Gabriel Bunge, who at that very service was received into the Orthodox Church. In the altar, he was clearly almost beside himself with joy. He told me that this day was the culmination of a 50-year journey into Orthodoxy, a journey which began when he was a 21-year-old student visiting Greece for the first time.

At the end of the service, Metropolitan Hilarion presented Metropolitan Kallistos with a blue mitre, and Fr. Gabriel with an icon of the parish's "Joy of All the Afflicted."

Interestingly, I'll note here that Fr. Gabriel, an Eastern Rite catholic monk, was received into the Orthodox Church, as a monk and priest, simply with a confession of faith and concelebration.

Above is a photo of the outside of the church. Afterwards, the two bishops and Fr. Gabriel went for dinner, while the rest of us headed back to the hotel.

That evening, many of our group gathered in the hotel lounge and sang traditional English songs. Fr. Romilo and I stopped by briefly before retiring for the evening.

For more photos from the day, click here.

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