Monday, May 30, 2016

Davydovo Day 1: Rostov

Last night Peter Longan and I took the train from Moscow to Rostov where we were met by our friend Fr. Vladimir Klimzo. Fr. Vladimir and his family are hosting us for this portion of our visit. It was already pretty late so we had a light bite to eat and talked for some time. We decided to get up pretty early and visit Rostov. That seemed like such an innocent proposition. Innocent in that it seemed simple, perhaps sort of short, certainly a light day. Wrong on every account!

We started at the Boris & Gleb monastery. You'll find a few pictures below of our visit. More will be available on our photo album (of the whole trip too - what we are posting here is just a taste of all there is). An amazing place. Incredible architecture (as the pictures show), but the spiritual impact of this place is at least as powerful as its architectural impact. St. Irenarch of Rostov lived and struggled here. And his relics are here as well. I had the great honor of being able to visit his cell (which was incredibly small - people in those days were shorter, but St. Irenarch was a real ascetic in every sense of that word, and his little cell was part of his struggle) and pray there for our parish, our Michigan Deanery, and our Diocese, as well as for our country. We need God's blessing on our sincere efforts if we are to have any success in any of these venues and entreating the saints for their prayers before the throne of God, especially in the very place that they were spiritually transfigured, is very important in this regard. This would be a theme for the day.

As you can see from the pictures there are many churches in this monastery, but only one is working at the moment. There should be a few more in the near future. In the one that is working St. Irenarch's relics are present and available for the faithful to venerate. But Peter and I had a truly great blessing on this day when the Abbot blessed for the very chains that St. Irenarch wore during his ascetic struggles to be brought out for us to put on in turn as we venerated his relics. This was such an interesting experience - it is sort of difficult to put it into words. One has the distinct feeling when wearing these chains that the Saint is very far from dead, but that he lives fully now that he has left his body - that he lives fully in Christ.

It is not uncommon for the ascetic fathers and mothers to add struggles to the every day struggles we all face by living in difficult climates (for instance, St. Mary of Egypt), wearing clothes that are not comfortable (St. John the Baptist wore a shirt made of camel hair), or even something like chains (St. Herman of Alaska also did this - and it is not all that unusual among the monastic fathers).  This is not to say that we are being asked to emulate them exactly in this way, but we are called to struggle - each and every one of us. It is just that for most of us the everyday struggles and temptations are more than enough to deal with. But for some an additional struggle, usually involving physical struggle, is undertaken with a blessing. Such a thing can never be done out of self will, for that would lead only to spiritual deception in the end.

Something very interesting and unexpected we learned at this monastery: five of the Hieromonks from the monastery were called into service as naval chaplains in the Russian-Japanese war. There is a lovely memorial for these fathers there (three died in service, two lived and returned to the monastery). Below are a few pictures.

They are also working on an interactive museum as part of the memorial for the brothers who died in this war. A few pictures of this are below.

Note please the white flag with the blue cross. This flag was used by the Russian fleet until the Communist Revolution. This flag is called the prayer flag and when a ship put up this flag it meant that it was on a 30 minute break for prayers. Yes - the whole ship got time for prayer and it was such a common occurrence that there was actually a flag to communicate this to the rest of the fleet!

After the Sts. Boris & Gleb monastery, we were off to the Rostov Kremlin. Some pictures of that excursion are below. The pictures do not tell the whole story. The churches are more beautiful and interesting than even the pictures show. The architecture and its deep meaning were so interesting, as were the frescoes (both the technical details of how they were painted, as well as the composition of the work). It is also very interesting to see how the entire composition of the Kremlin with its churches, bishop's residence, Tsar's residence, and other aspects are combined to make a whole. The walls are just so thick! One can really understand how this was an impenetrable fortress.

Some of the churches in the Kremlin have occasional services, but some do not. Essentially this is a museum and is managed as such.

From the Kremlin we were off to the St. Jacob monastery to venerate the relics of St. Dimitry of Rostov - one of the very important fathers of the Russian Church. He wrote the complete version of the lives of the saints, but because of when he lived (during the times of the troubles of the Nikonian reforms and Peter the Great's reforms) his revelation as a saint was very important for the Russian Orthodox Church. The Old Believers were claiming that after Nikon's reforms God's Grace had left the Orthodox Church, and the whole society was in shock after Peter's reforms (for instance, the new rule that men must shave their beards if they held certain positions was a complete change from centuries of Russian practice). St. Dimitry's glorification restored a sense of normalcy and stability to Church life, which was very needed. His relics were found to be incorrupt when a restoration of the church were he was buried was undertaken. But as many of our readers are aware, this is not enough to trigger a glorification in an of itself. But it was enough to "force" the Holy Synod, who was now under the control of a civilian appointed by the monarch (a very uncannonical situation) to establish a commission to further study the issue of St. Dimitry's glorification. When they began to collect testimonials to the saint's intercessions before God and the consistent answer to prayers requested of the Saint before the throne of God on behalf of the faithful it became clear that there was no way NOT to glorify St. Dimitry. But because the glorification of saints in the Russian Church at this time had become such a rarity, a special huge church was built just for the glorification and to house his relics. Every this huge church was not nearly large enough to hold all those who came from all over Russia for the saint's glorification. But we had the privilege of visiting this church, generating the relics of St. Dimitry (which were opened for us very graciously by our hosts - the reliquary in which his relics lie has a class cover that can be opened), and reading the prayer for the Saint right then and there. It was an amazing experience. Again I asked for the intercession of this favorite of God (just as I had earlier in the day at the relics of St. Irenarch) for his prayers to the Lord for our parish, our Michigan Deanery, our Diocese, and our country - for the spread of Orthodox Christianity and the strengthening of the faithful in their efforts to truly and sincerely follow Christ.

From here we were off to the St. Avramiy monastery to venerate the relics of this very interesting saint. First we had a nice lunch and a very interesting discussion with the Abbess - an educated professional woman who had maintained her strong faith during the Soviet period when someone in her position could have lost everything for keeping her faith. St. Avramiy was originally a pagan (Rostov had been a center of pagan worship before Christianity came to Russia). He was baptized on Valaam, and returned to Rostov to preach Christ. He destroyed the idols there and brought many to the True Faith. The struggle with paganism continued, but he had dealt it a strong blow. We again had the opportunity to venerate the relics of this Saint that were opened for us by the Abbess herself. Again I prayed as I had all throughout this amazing and blessed day - a day I expect I will remember for the rest of my life - for our parish, our Michigan Deanery, our Diocese, and our country.

But we weren't done. In fact we weren't every close to done! We virtually flew home to Davydovo to make it in time for a moleben in the newly-opened summer church. For years this community has been worshiping in one small part of the huge church they inherited after the fall of the Soviet Union. This year, in time for Pascha, they were able to restore the greater part of the church and serve the feast of feasts in the summer church. This will be the summer church since heating it in the winter is simply impractical - the ceilings are about 100 feet from the floor and the church is huge. Heating the place would bankrupt this community. But in the summer it is perfect! Even a little on the cool side. It is nowhere near finished, but it is usable, and they use it! A few pictures of the moleben are below. A full photo spread of the church will be in tomorrow's offering here.

Tomorrow we will concentrate our efforts on Davydovo itself. We'll visit their day school, the camp for special needs children, their local iconographer, and the church again to get some more details about what has been done there. This is a very exciting time for this community and we are happy to be even a small part of it. I ask your prayers for continued safe travels!

Fr. Gregory

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