Saturday, June 1, 2013

What I Saw In Russia — Day 5

Friday was an eventful day. We got up early in the morning, got into our van, and drove to the heart of Moscow, the Kremlin. Outside the Kremlin we got out our stuff and put it through metal detectors. It was Patriarch Kyrill’s namesday (and a public holiday), so security was pretty tight. We also got special tickets for his namesday liturgy at the Dormition Cathedral. It’s an understatement to say I was excited. I was pretty ecstatic, at least, the part of me that wasn’t asleep. Not only did we get to see the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia (at least, from a distance) we also got to see the Kremlin, and Dormition Cathedral! I had written about the cathedral in a paper for my Russian Church History class which turned into an article for Orthodox Life. My article was based on books; now I got to see the real thing.

My first impression of the Kremlin is that it’s a lot bigger than I thought. You could even say that it’s bigger on the inside. After all, that whole area used to be the entirety of Moscow! All the churches and government buildings and history bowled me over. I couldn’t believe it! And actually, I still can’t believe that, just over a week ago, I was there.

We went to the entrance of the cathedral, which was a little smaller than I had imagined it to be, though still much larger than any Orthodox church in America. There, a TV crew was filming, and a reporter took Nicky and then Alika aside to be interviewed. A familiar-looking metropolitan was walking into the church, and all of us went to get his blessing. “Christ is Risen!” he said in English.

“Who was that?” I said to Alex.

“That was Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev,” he said.

“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!!!! That was ALFEYEV!!!” I did a double fist pump.

Then, I was taken aside by the reporter lady, who asked me a few questions about the importance of the day, how I became Orthodox, etc.

Photo: Alika
I came back somewhat dazed: “Did I just…was that…haa…”

“This is John, star-struck,” Meri said.

Liturgy in the cathedral was amazing, as you can see from this video:

The Sretensky Monastery Choir sang the liturgy, and we had…not quite front-row seats. The church inside was very crowded, and it was one of the few times that I wished that I was seven feet tall. There were not one but TWO patriarchs: Kyrill of Moscow and Theophilos of Jerusalem.

Plus about forty bishops. Photo: Alika
The church interior was beautiful, with ancient frescos and a huge iconostasis dating from medieval Muscovy. Of course, with all the people there it was hard to focus on any one thing. Before the liturgy ended we decided to avoid the rush and left the church. We waited outside for the big procession to begin.

Outside, we saw the Patriarch’s armored Mercedes surrounded by his bodyguards. A large group of Filipino tourists from LA of all places also approached me and asked me questions, beginning with “Are you Filipino?” “Why yes, on my mother’s side.” This elicited quite a positive response, and we explained a few things to them about what was actually going on today.

Before the procession began, we saw on the front steps of the cathedral a man and his wife, who almost looked like they were there by accident. Earlier we were shooed off by security, so we were confused. “Why are they standing there? Is he the Patriarch’s brother or something?” Someone said. It got even stranger when the man started to wave his arm up and down in a rhythmic fashion. Then the bells began to ring. It turned out that the man was the conductor for the Ivan the Great Bell Tower, and thus for all the bells of Moscow. It goes to show that you can’t judge someone’s ultimate importance from outward appearances.

Sea after sea of red vestments led the procession, followed by the people.

Just a few of them. Photo: Alika
The procession was from the Kremlin, through Red Square, down the streets of Moscow, ending at the monument to Sts. Cyril and Methodius. The Patriarch gave a stirring speech, which I didn’t get at all, except that it involved Russia somehow. I was baking in the heat and humidity, carrying a ridiculously-large backpack, and beginning to nod off. Standing.

We finally got out of the crowd and headed to lunch, again at Il Patio. After that, we went to the Martha-Mary Convent for a long (2-hour) rehearsal for the concert. And then finally, finally, we got some free time.

I went out in a small group of about seven, wandering around the neighborhood. We found an interesting Indian-themed restaurant-bar called the Bhagabar, which had Indian food and cocktails at exorbitant prices. I had a ten-dollar whiskey sour. We mainly paid for the ambiance and the freedom to sit down and act like ourselves (instead of our tourist or performing versions). We played several games, including a sentence game in which we made up stories using two words per person. We ended up chronicling the misadventures of “Seminarian John.”

Free time was drawing to a close, and we all had to go back to the van. A short ride later, we were deposited in front of a restaurant. Apparently we were to be treated by a potential donor. The man was friendly and spoke pretty good English. Dinner went on well into the night. Unfortunately, I was still pretty exhausted, and started falling asleep despite my best efforts while our host was telling us his life story. Natalia tapped me on the arm. “Wake up, John!”

“HUAAAAAAHHHH!!!!” I woke up with something in between a scream and a gasp, startling poor Natalia and everyone else on the table. It was a pretty funny moment.

Before too long, we had to take leave of our generous host because it was getting extremely late. Thankfully, we got to sleep in that night!

* An Orthodox convention center
* We perform our first real concert
* Vigil at the convent

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