The Director of the Davydovo parish school brought us to the two separate spaces that they are using for the school. There is a place for the kindergarten, as well as a separate place for the school that covers grades 1-4. Everything is very well kept, quite beautiful, and very humble. I would say that this is my impression of the whole village (at least every part of this village that I have seen that is connected with the parish: everything is done well, it is done humbly, and it is beautiful in its simplicity). The school exists to allow the kids to get a start in educational life in an environment that establishes modesty, respect for elders, and other similar important Christian virtues, as well as living around the Orthodox calendar of feasts and fasts. The work here is very impressive - they do everything by donations. No one in the village has money to speak of - certainly nothing left after taking care of their families, which are often of 3 children or more. But they all work hard for the Church and for God's glory and somehow it always works out. If you would like to help here please let me know. They need funds and also folks to come and provide labor. What a beautiful place this is to visit - you wouldn't be sorry you visited!
After visiting the school we had the privilege of visiting the local iconographer, who is Fr. Vladimir's son. His work is very impressive. He was trained first as an artist and then an iconographer. We will try to use him for our parish icon orders when we can. If you'd like to learn more about him and how to order from him please let me know. He and his wife (who is the Director of the School) kindly hosted us for lunch after our tour of his icon painting studio. The lunch was really marvelous! Incredible soup and a neat sort of egg thing. Everything fresh from the garden or the farm. Fresh Kvass, fresh eggs, even meat from their own animals. Fresh honey from the Urals (their family member lives there and keeps bees). Incredible - what a treat!
After lunch we were off to the parish church again, principally so I could get the pictures below for this article. :) We saw the picture of what the church looked like when they got it back after the fall of the Soviet Union. From what they received in 1999 when Fr. Vladimir first came to the village to what they have now - all the work they have done - can only be called a miracle. There is no other word for it. Especially because they really don't have any money to speak of as I mentioned above. But when something is needed they have always manage to have someone donate at the most opportune time - and then it is done. There is still a lot of work to do - perhaps they are half way there. Something that will be helpful is that in the summer church they have decided to more or less leave the frescoes as they are - in the mostly (but not completely) destroyed state they received them in. Structural repairs will be made there and a new iconostasis will be constructed - but the frescoes will remain as they are as a memorial to all those who suffered and died during the Communist era and as a reminder to future generations that they can never let such destruction happen again.
After the church we were off to view the new dormitory the parish has constructed and the camp grounds for the camp our parish has been supporting for those with special needs here. All is again very clean, well maintained, and humble. The parish recently purchased a huge plot of land across the creek to the west from the church. There they built a dormitory for those who would like to try out living in the village before they make a permanent commitment by selling an apartment in one of the cities to move to the village. In Fr. Vladimir's experience this sort of trial period is very important. It gives people time to let the romance wear off and to understand what the reality is here. It is not that this reality is bad - but this reality is not the reality of the city. For some people that is exactly what they are looking for. In other cases this is not at all what they expected. By allowing those - especially those families with special needs children - to have a trial period in the village the community has avoided difficulties and at the same time confirmed people in their decisions. The community is growing (albeit slowly).
The plan is to build another dormitory sort of building where those with special needs can live out their lives when their parent(s) have died. This is of course the biggest concern of any parent with a special needs child. That is, what will happen to the child after the parent(s) has left this life for the next? Davydovo aims to provide a Christian answer to that question, and I think we need to continue to help them in this regard. If you would like to help please talk to me - donations are welcome, but we need to think of a more comprehensive way in which we, living in the economically prosperous west, can help our brothers and sisters in Christ serve others in need in the economically depressed Russian countryside. Leaving the children to the state's care is not practical - for they will have no real life except to be chemically subdued and warehoused until they die. We owe our special needs folks a lot more than that (the Lord has given us an opportunity and a Christian obligation to help them after all), and Fr. Vladimir and his community are on the cutting edge here - ahead of even us "highly advanced" folks in the west. We can learn from this effort - but first we need to help make it successful. Pictures of the new dormitory and the camp are below.
All for now. Off to Rostov to catch the train. The next report will be from St. Petersburg if all goes well. Please pray for our safe travels!