Friday, May 31, 2013

What I Saw In Russia — Day 4

We got up a little later on Thursday and went to the main offices of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University in order to register our visas and meet with the university administration. Going to Russia requires a lot of paperwork, including registering your visas once you get there. If you don’t register your visa, you might end up not being able to go back to Russia on your next trip!

When we got there we had some time before the meeting started so we went down the street to a local café to get some coffee. A note about coffee-houses in Russia: they also tend to serve alcohol, hence there’s a good number of “café-bars” on the street. The café we went to was no exception, but I didn’t feel like vodka at nine in the morning. Instead I opted to get a Russian pie, or pirog. The first pirog I saw looked good, until I was told by one of the guys working the counter that its filling was turkey and prunes. “That might be a good combination of sweet and savory,” said Natalia. I was not convinced, and demurred, explaining to the man the association between prunes and old people in Florida. “But it’s good,” said the man, in perfect English. I bought a lemon-filled pie. Natalia was disappointed in my lack of gastronomic boldness, and frankly, after eating the lemon pie, so was I.

We got back to the university in time for tea and turning in our passports. We then got to meet the rector of the university, Fr. Vladimir, along with several other university officials, who explained to us the basic rules of living in the dorms (like no smoking, drinking, or appearing drunk) and promised us towels and a wi-fi router.

For the meeting, I was relatively dressed up in a blazer and dark pants. I figured that we were meeting someone important and that since I packed some nice clothes I might as well use them. That got me some compliments. Alika said, “Oh, John, you look like you belong on The Bachelor! ‘Will you accept this rose?’” There’s a nice feeling from wearing well-fitted dressy clothes, and I probably should do it more often. Fr. Vladimir gave us some roses from St. Matrona’s grave…and now I really did look like I belonged on The Bachelor.

Suited up! Photo: Alika

After our meeting with the rector, we went to a little museum dedicated to the artist Viktor Vasnetsov. Vasnetsov was prolific during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and he mainly did paintings and other works centered around Russian folklore. His most famous painting, Bogatyrs, hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery.

Bogatyrs (1898)

The museum was the artist’s old home. Entering it I relived the famous scene in War and Peace where Natasha visits her uncle’s home and dances:

There was something essentially Russian about the place, something I’d like to call folksy asceticism. Vasnetsov was a devout Orthodox and a monarchist, and his way of life in this old house was, in his words, “pre-Petrine”. I felt at ease in this house, a feeling not unlike the lower church in the Feodorovsky Cathedral the previous day.

A common scene in the van. Photo: Alika

After the museum, we went to the Epiphany (Elokhovsky) Cathedral to sing vigil for Saints Cyril and Methodius. The church was the patriarchal cathedral after Christ the Savior was destroyed by the Communists until the end of the Soviet Union. This time we were the right (main) kliros, singing in a gallery high above the nave. We used a few pieces from the composer Lapaev, who was a hit with everybody. After the vigil, we did a short mini concert and then had a festal meal in the cathedral trapeza. On the way back we were in a choral mood, and sang rounds.

* Live from the Kremlin, it’s the Patriarch’s Namesday!
* The largest procession ever
* We finally have free time
* Dinner with a donor

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