Thursday, May 30, 2013

What I Saw In Russia — Day 3

I woke up early again, took a shower, and got my things ready. We were leaving St. Petersburg that evening. Before we vacated the Lavra, David and I went to the monastery cathedral for the end of liturgy. The Trinity Cathedral was built in the same baroque style as other St. Petersburg churches, but what struck me was the high ceiling, which created a huge interior space. That space was very good acoustically, because the very small kliros was able to make a very big sound. It was a mere quartet, but they made a clear and unified sound. I forgot myself and did a prostration during “We Praise Thee” even though it was still the Paschal season.

View of the Lavra Cemetery

We took our van to the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, which was having its altar feast. Vladika Theodosy was going to serve with the same bishops as yesterday. We entered through the lower church, which was the size of a large Orthodox church in America, and went up the stairs to the cathedral proper, which was, as usual, impressively large. The church was built during the time of Elizabeth, and is of course heavily influenced by the baroque style of the period. I liked the color scheme, which was gold and navy blue. “Oh hey, you match,” I said to Natalia.

They were reading the hours and a priest was doing a general confession for a small crowd of people. We were placed right in front of the altar for the service. I can’t imagine the liturgy being terribly different from what it was in Elizabeth’s time, though perhaps the music would have been more Italianate. The choir sang in a gallery high above the nave. The deacons came out swinging their censers, using that same incense which I still want to identify. The people crowded around the three hierarchs serving. There was a chain separating the vestibule from the nave with a sign prohibiting entry to tourists. This was a working cathedral.

After liturgy, our group ate at the festal banquet. I met Fr. Constantine, a jovial protodeacon who said the loudest litanies. He wore a bright red cassock over his massive frame. We talked about parish life in Hawaii (“I hope your parish turn into diocese!”) and about the Russian Church. He said to me, “Of all Russian saints, only one-third before Revolution! Two-third from Soviet time!”

The meal, like most meals in Russia, consisted of a ton of appetizers followed by the main course. There were also quite a few (we lost count) toasts. Everyone on the head table got up to make a toast, which was followed by singing “Many Years”: “Mnooooooooooogayaaaaaa Leeeeeeetaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” The wine was nice and sweet. Nicky then said to me: “John, stop drinking! We have a concert to sing!”

“Nonsense! Wine makes me a GOOD singer!” At that point, my face was starting to resemble the wine in my glass. Alex Cooley took away my glass.

The cathedral choir got up to sing a set of hymns which were very good and very loud. “Tough act to follow,” I said. And then we got up to do our mini-concert. It went okay (they liked us) but I under the influence I made a couple of mistakes, including one big one at the end.

Moral of the story: Friends don’t let friends sing drunk.

We soon excused ourselves and headed to the shrine of the Holy Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg. Blessed Xenia is the most famous holy fool of the Russian Church, and tens of thousands of pilgrims visit her tomb in the Smolensky Cemetery every year. Like always, our group skipped the line and sang a moleben surrounding her tomb with Vladika Theodosy serving. It was awesome. I also liked the cemetery itself, which was more unkempt and woodsy than American cemeteries, which look more like golf courses.

There’s something about this cemetery that screams out “LIFE!”

Our last stop in St. Petersburg was the Feodorovsky Cathedral, completed in 1913 in honor of the tricentennial of the Romanovs. It was built in the style of churches of Rostov common during the reign of the first Romanov tsar, Michael, in the early 17th century. The church was desecrated by the Bolsheviks and turned into a dairy. After the fall of the Soviet Union restoration work began, and a thriving parish founded.

The lower church of the cathedral is done in a style similar to early churches. In other words, it was the exact opposite of the Baroque churches I saw in St. Petersburg. This gave a respite to my senses, and I felt at ease.

View of the Altar

The upper church was still being restored, and the walls were white and perhaps waiting for frescoes. A very large iconostasis, carved according to the style of ancient Rus, towered over us. Hanging over the nave was a large chandelier in the shape of Monomakh’s Cap, the crown of Russian tsars. We sang “Eis Polla Eti Despota” in the nave, perhaps the first time the words have ever echoed off the church’s walls.


We then took the Sapsan back to Moscow. An aside about trains. Train travel, as opposed to bus or plane travel, is superior in many respects. You aren’t crammed together like sardines, there’s not as much traffic on a rail line, and the view is better. The only advantage that a plane has is that it’s a faster way to go somewhere, but one should add the time it takes to check in one’s bags, go through security, etc.

On the plane I had several interesting discussions about the 50th Psalm, film adaptations of great literature, and life in Hawaii. In three and a half hours we reached Moscow. I missed St. Petersburg so much (or perhaps it was the dormitory bed) that I hardly slept that night.

* I Suit Up!
* Another museum!
* Vigil for the Patriarch’s namesday

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