Our boat pulled back into the Moscow river port about 10 AM on Thursday, October 26. We disembarked for the final time and loaded our suitcases on two coach buses bound for the famous Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra.
The monastery is located about 45 miles northeast of Moscow, but it took us about 90 minutes to get there. Even though Moscow has some very big roads (there was one 16-lane road with 8 lanes in each direction -- and the people feel free to create even more lanes), traffic is still quite bad. Nevertheless, we eventually got there. The photo above was taken on the bus; it features me, Fr. Romilo, and our friends Anna and Thalia.
I think I've said that every monastery we visited in Russia was enormous, and this was perhaps the biggest of them all. The photos above and below are from murals at the entrance to the monastery. They depict famous scenes from the life of the monastery's founder and Russia's patron saint, St. Sergius of Radonezh. The icon above depicts this scene:
Once, late in the evening, while the blessed one was standing performing his rule of prayer, as was his custom, he prayed to God fervently for his disciples. Suddenly he heard a voice saying, "Sergius!" The saint was startled when he heard his name called out unexpectedly in the night. He said a prayer and then opened the window of his cell, hoping to discover who was calling him. What he saw was a great light shining from heaven, causing the night to become brighter than day.
Then the voice came to him again, saying, "Sergius, know that your prayer for your disciples has been heard. Look and see the great number of monks who have gathered together in your fold in the name of the Holy Trinity!"
The saint looked and beheld a great flock of beautiful birds light not only upon the monastery but all about it, singing an angelic hymn of unspeakable sweetness. And again he heard a voice, saying, "Your disciples shall be multiplied so that they number not less than these birds. After your time they will not decrease in number, and if they strive to follow in your footsteps, they shall be adorned like the winged creatures of heaven with every virtue."
The icon above depicts this scene from the saint's life:
Once, as the godly one was serving the Divine Liturgy, his disciple Simon, a man of perfect life, who was at that time ecclesiarch, beheld fire enveloping both the holy table and Sergius and filling the altar. The saint was encompassed by the fire from head to foot. When the time came for Communion, the divine flame rose up, was wound like a sheet, and entered the holy chalice from which communed Saint Sergius, that worthy servitor of the altar.
We were greeted at the entrance to the monastery by the monastery's dean and second in command, Archimandrite Pavle (the abbot is Archbishop Feognost of Sergiev Posad), and a translator, Deacon Ioanniki (sitting between me and Metropolitan Kallistos in the photo above). First, they brought us to a refectory for a light, Lenten lunch, before we headed out for our tour of the monastery.
The entrance to the Holy Trinity Cathedral (1422).
The towering, 262-foot bell tower dominates the landscape. It was built between 1740-1770. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to climb up to the top. The bottom floor serves as a shop in which they sell icons and ecclesiastical crafts such as crosses. This area, Sergiev Posad (Sergius' Settlement) has been known since its founders time as a place for ecclesiastical craftsmen. Additionally, the monastery is always inundated with tourists. We saw many Asian tourists, for example. Deacon Ioanniki told us that last year they had 3 million registered guests, i.e. guests who signed up for a paid, guided tour. So this figure probably does not include the many Russians who come. The deacon estimated, then, that the number of visitors was probably more like 5 million just for last year.
The bell tower on the left and the Cathedral of the Dormition (1559-1585) on the right.
A spring with holy water in the middle of the monastery courtyard. Many people were filling up bottles.
Our first stop on the tour was to venerate the relics of St. Sergius. It was early afternoon on a Thursday, and there was still a long line waiting to venerate the saint's relics as an Akathist was sung to him. After venerating his relics, we went out from the church via a side door next to his relics, which led to the attached chapel dedicated to St. Serapion. That door we went through is the only piece original to the 14th century monastery.
The chapel to St. Serapion was built around the relics of St. Serapion, Archbishop of Novgorod (+1509), which were causing many miracles. Historians later determined that this area was the spot on which St. Sergius' original cell was located -- the location where the Holy Mother of God appeared to the saint, as recounted in his life:
One night, as our blessed father stood before the icon of the most pure Mother of God saying his usual rule of prayer, looking fervently upon the icon, he said, "Most pure Mother of my Christ, intercessor and mighty helper of the human race, be thou a mediatress for me, who am unworthy; and pray thou always to thy Son and our God, that He look down upon this holy place, which hath been dedicated to the praise and honour of His holy name unto the ages. Unto thee, 0 Mother of my sweetest Christ, who art our advocate before Him, do I make bold to entrust thy servants, for thou art a haven of hope and salvation for all."
After Sergius had prayed thus and chanted the Akathist Canon of Thanksgiving to the Most Pure One, he sat for a while and rested. Then he said to his disciple Micah, "Child, be vigilant and watch, for we are about to witness a wondrous and fearful vision."
As soon as he said this, a voice was heard, saying, "Lo, the Most Pure One comes!"
Hearing this, the saint quickly left his cell and went into the corridor, and a great light, brighter than the sun, shone upon him. Suddenly he beheld the Most Pure One with the two apostles Peter and John, shining with an indescribable radiance. When he saw this, the saint fell down, unable to endure the brilliance of that unbearable light. Then the Most Pure One touched the saint with her hand and said, "Do not fear, my chosen one. I have come to visit you because I have heard your prayer on behalf of your disciples. Do not be troubled for the monastery, for henceforth it shall suffer no want not only during your lifetime but even after you have departed unto the Lord. I shall unfailingly remain with your community, preserving it and protecting it and bestowing upon it in abundance everything needful."
After she had said this, the Mother of God became invisible, but the saint was gripped by great fear and trembling as though he had taken leave of his senses. After a little while he came to himself and found his disciple Micah lying as it were dead from fright. Sergius raised him up, but Micah flung himself at the elder’s feet and said, "Tell me, Father, for the Lord’s sake: what manner of wondrous vision was this? For my soul was nearly parted from my flesh because of this luminous vision."
The saint rejoiced in spirit and his face shone with ineffable joy, but he could only say, "Be patient, child, for my spirit is still trembling from the dread vision."
Sergius remained standing in silence and awe, and then, after a short time, he said to his disciple, "Child, call Isaac and Simon."
When Isaac and Simon arrived, Sergius recounted to them all that had come to pass, relating to them how he had seen the most pure Theotokos and the apostles and telling them what she had said to him. Hearing this, they were filled with happiness and joy, and together the four monks chanted the Service of Thanksgiving to the Mother of God. The saint remained awake throughout the night, reflecting upon the gracious visitation of our most pure Lady.
The Patriarch's residence inside the monastery. The Soviets allowed this monastery to reopen after World War II -- thus making it the only monastery open until the end of communism. It thus served as the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church during that time. The Councils of 1970, 1988, and 1990 were held here, and two patriarchs were elected here at those councils.
Earlier this year the Patriarch of Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarch appeared together on the balcony of this residence during the Ecumenical Patriarch's widely celebrated visit.
Standing beside the Cathedral is the Chapel of St. Paraskevi over the Well (late 17th century) and the Godunov family vault (1780) -- see above.
This photo was taken at the entrance to the monastery. This mural hangs over the large entryway, and the church in the background is the gateway church dedicated to St. John the Baptist (1699).
This photo was taken just outside the monastery's entrance. You can see one of the corner towers and walls of the monastery/fortress.
The last stop on the tour was a church dedicated to the Holy Protection of the Mother of God, which was founded by St. Innocent of Alaska during his tenure as Metropolitan of Moscow in the last 10 years of his life. This church is located near the entrance to the monastery's very nice museum, which we also visited. The church also serves as the main church for the seminarians. Inside the monastery is a seminary, offering undergraduate and Master's degrees in theology, as well as a school for women that focuses on choir direction and church arts such as embroidery. Together, there are 700 students, most of whom (except the married ones) live inside the monastery.
Additionally, our tour guide Deacon Ioanniki told us that there are 300 monks registered at the monastery, although only about 180 live there. The rest are serving parishes and monasteries throughout Russia. Interestingly, of these monks, Deacon Ioanniki estimated that only about 20 or 25 were simple monks, about 40-45 were deacons, and all the rest were priests! I later learned from a friend of Fr. Romilo's who is a monk there (see photo below) that this is due to simple demand. The Russian Church has a tradition of very frequent confession, and thus so many priests are needed just to keep up with hearing confessions.
At 5:00 PM, we had our choice of two Vespers services. The one took place in the very baroque refectory church dedicated to St. Sergius and was done by the monks, and the other took place in the Church of the Holy Protection and was done by the seminarians, with a mixed choir. I elected to go the monks' service, which was intriguing. They had two choirs of about 5 monks on the left and the right, and each had its own director. Just in front of the iconostasis at the north door was a table with a heaping mound of small loaves of bread and two or three priests making their way through each one, taking out a small particle to be commemorated in the next day's Divine Liturgy.
Deacon Ioanniki told me that they have Liturgy every morning for about 2 hours, and additionally they have evenings services every day at 5:00 for about 2 or 3 hours.
Unfortunately, we were only able to stay for about half an hour of Vespers before we had to leave and head to our hotel at the Danilovsky Monastery in Moscow.
When we finally made our way back to the hotel after fighting through traffic, the abbot of the Danilovsky Monastery was waiting to host us for dinner (see photo above). He toasted us and gave us all souvenirs from the monastery, and then we walked over to the hotel for a much-needed night's sleep.
For more photos from the day, click here.