Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What I Saw In Russia — Day 2

I woke up early, a little past six o’clock. I quietly gathered my things and went across the street to McDonald’s, where they had (as I hoped) wi-fi. I ordered an orange juice. The lady taking my order asked me a couple things which I did not understand at all. Seeing my confused look, the manager just told her to let whatever it was go. I sat down, opened up my computer, did my first Russian facebook status, and turned in my paper for Russian Literature. I was now finished with my third year of seminary!

I got back to the Lavra in time to leave for our first event: the feast day (St. John the Theologian) of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. We were to sing the liturgy there with three other choirs. The Academy was a short walk from where we were staying, and the church was very large, and integrated with the building itself. We were walking in as the Hours were being read. The reader had a little confusion over what hymn to read, causing a priest to come out and berate him. I smiled to myself and thought: They’re not so different, after all!

Liturgy was amazing. Imagine a choir you listen to on a CD, like the Sretensky choir. Now imagine three such choirs, live. The three other choirs we sang with were a men’s choir, a women’s choir, and a mixed choir. The men were dressed in black cassocks, and the women were all in identical blue dresses with white headscarves. They were a part of the choral music school associated with the academy, and thus it was a uniform for them. Another thing I noticed was the beautiful incense, which was very strong, sweet, and straightforward.

After liturgy, we had a festal meal in the Academy’s trapeza. There were all kinds of cold cuts and cheese and the best and meatiest soup I’ve ever had. And then they served us the actual main course. I was warned by my friend Greg that this was going to happen, but I filled up on the appetizers anyway. My other traveling companions were a little more surprised. This unexpected overeating was going to repeat itself over the next few days. After lunch our youth choir got up and did a mini-concert, which turned out okay and the seminarians cheered us on.

We then had a tour of the Academy’s extensive facilities, and also a small museum which had Patriarch Alexis II’s mantia, among other rare items. The Academy even had an online radio station which intersperses contemporary music (I guess if Smashmouth counts as contemporary) with readings from the Fathers.

We then went to several cathedrals and the huge Hermitage museum. Our first stop was the Kazan Cathedral, which was impressively large. Then we went to the Hermitage, one of the largest and most beautiful museums in the world.

We had two hours.
We were just in the Winter Palace part of the Hermitage, which used to be the palace of the Romanovs. I was very tired (“John’s falling asleep again!” Alika would say time and again) and we were rushed through the rooms so I wasn’t able to appreciate the art as much as I could have. It was kind of a sensory overload. But one of my favorite pieces in the museum was this giant mechanical peacock clock:


After the Hermitage we had a gelato break, and then went to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by a terrorist bomb. I quite loved the architecture of the church, which was reminiscent of medieval churches of Old Muscovy, with a more than passing resemblance to St. Basil’s in Moscow.

Next we went to St. Isaac’s Cathedral, which was built by Nicholas I. Everything was very large and the size of the altar itself was amazing. I also got to visit the grave of the great general Mikhail Kutuzov, who led the Russian Army against Napoleon. We sang “Memory Eternal” for him. One thing I didn’t like about the cathedral (and the other cathedrals in St. Petersburg) was the ubiquitous presence of kiosks, which made it feel more like a tourist attraction than a place of worship.

At St. Isaac’s we found the last two members of our choir, Meri and Natalia, who had flown into St. Petersburg that very day. Meri, who had spent six months in Petersburg over a year ago, was very happy to be back, though not so happy that we had gone to see the Hermitage without her.

We then (yes, there’s more) went to the Sts. Peter and Paul Fortress, which is where nearly* all the emperors and empresses of Russia after Peter the Great have been interred. We served a litya for them in the fortress’s cathedral, which you can see below:


After that, we had a short tour of the Fortress, which is undergoing some restoration work.

As the night came to a close, we had dinner at the Il Patio restaurant. The food wasn’t bad (though again, due to factors I noted yesterday, a little slow) but the cocktails were pretty darn good. I had a mojito to cool off after the long and rather hot day. It was refreshing.

Tomorrow:
* Another big cathedral!
* Why you should never drink before a concert
* A visit to St. Xenia’s grave
* Going back to Russia Moscow!

* Remains believed to belong to the Royal Martyrs were interred in 1998, but these have not yet been affirmed by the Church as being authentic.

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