Pilgrimage to St Petersburg and Moscow Region 16 - 29 August, 2007

Archbishop SERAPHIM
Pilgrimage to St Petersburg and the Moscow Region
16 - 29 August, 2007

15-16 August. Toronto-Moscow-St Petersburg, St Alexander Nevsky Lavra

Flying directly from Toronto to Moscow late on August 15, and then immediately to St Petersburg, our pilgrimage group of fifteen Canadians arrived at the St Alexander Nevsky Lavra's Pilgrim Hostel on the evening of August 16.

The Lavra is in the very centre of St Petersburg, and there is easy access to the historic area, and the relics of St Alexander Nevsky are available in the Catholicon for veneration. The last time I served in this Lavra was as a priest when, in December 1980, I visited the city with a group of Finnish youth. The Lavra received us well, despite the difficulties faced by the brotherhood recently, namely the flooding of their refectory (part of their normal pilgrim service), and the prolonged time required to dry it, repair it, and return it to working order.

17 August. Kronstadt, St John of Kronstadt, St Xenia of St Petersburg

Our first day was given mostly to St John of Kronstadt. We travelled by minibus to the island of Kotlin, now connected from the north of the Gulf of Finland by a dam. We visited the Church of the Vladimir Icon of the Theotokos, the descendant of the first church established on the island by Peter the Great in 1704. This is the only working church for the city of over 40,000people. This temple's reconstruction began with the labour of the faithful only, who completed the lower church, and now under the leadership of Archpriest Sviatoslav Melnyk, the restoration of the upper temple is nearing completion.

We visited many other historic sites in the city, including part of the flat in which St John lived for over fifty years. Nearby were the ruins of St Andrew's Church. Indeed, much that had any connexion with St John was destroyed, and anyone who seemed to have a personal connexion with him was executed for it. The huge Sobor of St Nicholas, completed in 1913, is the main Navy Church, modelled after Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (except with a higher dome). It was used since 1918 principally as a theatre, and it will take up to ten million dollars to restore. Local and military authorities, however, do not give speedy co-operation in the renewal of any church life locally.

After a full day on the island, we travelled to the St John of Rila Monastery, and there venerated the relics of St John of Krondstadt.

Afterwards, we went to the Smolensk Cemetery, and venerated St Xenia of St Petersburg, although the chapel was by then closed. In every place, there were also wonder-working icons to be venerated. Throughout our time in the area, we were guided by two parishioners of Fr Sviatoslav.

18 August. Around St Petersburg

The second day, Saturday, many proceeded, as on the previous day, to the early Liturgy in the Monastery. We first went to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, where Fr Anatoly met a classmate from seminary, who was preparing for Liturgy. Fr Feoktist gave the opportunity to commemorate pilgrims, and members of the diocese at proskomedia.

Then we passed by the sometimes-used, renewed temple of the Resurrection (Saviour of the Spilled Blood), on the way to the Winter Palace-Hermitage Museum, where we had a guided tour. After the tour, we visited the Sts Peter and Paul Fortress, in whose Sobor (the first Cathedral of the city) are entoumbed former Tsars. There also is a chapel in which is the tomb of the family of Tsar St Nicholas II.

Then we travelled to St Isaac's Sobor, the largest temple in Russia after Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral. This temple's main altar is used now only four times a year, but there is a side-chapel in weekly use. After this visit, and driving around St Nicholas' Sobor (one of the few churches never closed after the revolution), we returned to the Lavra for the Vigil of the Transfiguration. On this evening, and the following day, some pilgrims took the opportunity to go to the Sobor of the Resurrection, where Metropolitan Vladimir and Bishop Markell were serving, in association with festival services, and concerts for the centennial of the temple.

19 August. St Alexander Nevsky Lavra

On Sunday morning, the Divine Liturgy for the Transfiguration was served at the Holy Trinity Sobor of the St Alexander Nevsky Lavra. At the dinner following, there were several historical speeches offered by Fr Victor, a priest who has served under ten Metropolitans of the city, and who endured through some of the most difficult times. He expressed his gratitude for the reconciliation with the ROCOR. He commented that it was only by accident that he knew of the ROCOR, because until about 1990 there was almost no information coming from the exterior about Church life anywhere.

After dinner with the Brotherhood (now 30+), we were given a brief tour of the Monastery territory. At every turn, because it is St Petersburg, we heard about the slaughter of the faithful after the communist revolution. Because of this monastery, two Metropolitans died. In this monastery, 120 monks were killed at once, and at another time, forty. The monastery's origins coincide with those of the city, and Peter the Great, and his descendants, have had much to do with the Lavra's development. This has included the presence of a seminary, and an academy, both served by the monks.

The offices of the Metropolitan have also been on this territory. It is now only eleven or so years that buildings, besides the Sobor, are being returned to the Lavra, and only just now the last two on the territory. All restoration and renovation is the responsibility of the Lavra, and of the Diocese. Although relations have been difficult with civil authorities, these have been greatly improving in recent years.

In the evening, there was tea given to the pilgrim group by Metropolitan Vladimir, who received us very affably. We were shown photos of the immense restoration work still progressing on the Metropolis building. His Eminence also informed us of the numerous diocesan departments that have offices in this building, and of the challenges in finding sponsors to support all the needed repairs. There were also exchanges of historical information, and answers to questions about friends working in Canada. We met the secretary of the Metropolitan, Archpriest Sviatoslav Diachena, a great nephew of the departed rector of Christ the Saviour Sobor in Toronto, Archpriest John Diachena. We were also given suggestions about how better to organise ourselves on a future visit.

20 August. Khutyn Monastery, Novgorod Kremlin, Yuriev Monastery

On Monday morning, we rose very early for the visit to Novgorod, a very historic city which provides a kind of mythic foundation to the history of Russia. A republic for many centuries, it came only late under the control of the Moscow princes. Only Ladoga could be called more historic in western Russia, it seems. Late in the morning, after driving over 200 km towards Moscow, we arrived at Khutyn Monastery, ten km outside Novgorod. We were given a tour of the monastery, among the oldest of Russia, and we venerated the relics of St Varlaam of Khutynsk. We also walked up, and prayed atop the hill of sand which St Varlaam had erected in his lifetime, as a daily exercise of prayer. We were told that in the temple itself, there is not one icon that has not given myrrh, at one time or another. The reconstruction and repair work are moving at an amazing pace. The present life is formed and led by the Abbess, who has 33 years of monastic life, her own formation having come from Puhtitsa Monastery in Estonia (like many other post-Perestroika abbesses).

After lunch at this monastery of fifty nuns, we travelled into the city of Novgorod itself, to the Kremlin, and there we visited the historic Cathedral of St Sophia. This Temple, built by Yaroslav the Wise, is contemporary with the St Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv. Here, we venerated the relics of St Anna, the nun-widow of Yaroslav, of St Bishop Nikita of Novgorod, and of other Novgorod saints. We were also told various stories of how this temple has been divinely protected, particularly during and after World War II.

After a further tour of the Kremlin precincts, we travelled about another ten km to the Yuriev Monastery (St George), the part also, as a residence for Prince Yaroslav, and princes who followed after, because Novgorod did not allow the princes to live within the city itself. Here is the diocesan seminary, as well as monastic quarters, and a pilgrim hospice. It also contains the residence of Archbishop Lev of Novgorod. We were able to visit him briefly, in the midst of his supervising the entrance examinations of the seminary. He received us very warmly and kindly, and also expressed his distress at not having known exact details of our itinerary in advance. After our prolonged conversation, during which there were exchanged also memories of earlier days at the St Petersburg Academy, and summaries of the multitude of works being accomplished in this diocese, we made our way back through moderately heavy traffic to St Petersburg, to eat and to retire.

21 August. St Petersburg Seminary and Academy, Pushkin, Peterhoff

Tuesday morning was our last day in St Petersburg. First, we paid a visit to the St Petersburg Seminary and Academy, and we were welcomed by Rector Archbishop Konstantin and given a tour of the building, which is greatly under renovation and reconstruction.

Before our departure, which was somewhat delayed (as usual), I was interviewed by two students for the academy's internet site. The academy is indeed doing many renovations, but they are very much in need still of some basic supplies. Education is supplied to the students gratis by the Church, but such things as proper black-boards, and other for-us standard teaching aids, seem to be completely lacking.

Next, we went to the town of Pushkin, and visited the Church of the Sign of the Theotokos, followed by a visit to the palace gardens. Afterwards, we stopped by the nearby Church of the Feodorovskaya Icon of the Theotokos, in the temple where Michael Romanov was blessed by his mother to become Tsar. We venerated this icon, and others. After this, we travelled to a restaurant of the traditional form for dinner, and then drove to Peterhoff (Petrodvorets).

After a walk around some of the fountains of this palace, we walked to the nearby Church of Sts Peter and Paul, constructed only a century ago, and appearing much like the Church of the Resurrection (Saviour on the Spilled Blood) in St Petersburg. It has a renewed, high, splendid, ceramic iconostasis.

Then we visited the Holy Trinity Monastery nearby, which adjoins the Presidential Summer Palace, and we venerated the relics of two local monastic saints, and then the icon of St Herman of Alaska. It was in this monastery that St Herman was tonsured a monk, and in this monastery that St Ignatii (Brianchaninov) was abbot for some time. After this, we visited for a time with the hermit-Igumen Nicholas (Paramanov), and talked about a number of spiritual experiences and concerns regarding the renewal of this monastery.

In every church, we sang some tropars together, and it seems that in almost every place, we met old friends, professors, and class-mates of Fr Anatoliy, and various clergy who have connexions with North America. Several times during these days, we met Vyacheslav Rogoza, son of Fr Vadim, who served for a time in Montréal. Having completed the Odessa Seminary, he was sitting his entrance exams for the St Petersburg Academy. Around midnight that day, we departed by train for Moscow. We arrived in Moscow around 10 o'clock.

22 August. Moscow

On Wednesday morning we were met by Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood), and our Moscow organisers. We piled ourselves and our luggage into the minibus, and were driven to the OCA Podvoriye, St Catherine in the Field, on Bolshaya Ordinke Street, where Fr Zacchaeus is the rector. We venerated the icons and relics in the temple and sang tropars, and then headed to the recently renovated hall area, where we were given brunch.

After this, we drove to the Pokrovsky Monastery, where we venerated St Matrona's relics and were given a tour of the monastery's property. As usual, we sang tropars in the midst of the main temple, were informed about the great works associated with St Matrona, and also told about the community's caring for twenty orphaned girls. It seems they have done this since the re-opening of the Monastery. During the dinner which the nuns gave us, some of these girls entertained us with singing.

After visiting the book-store, the other pilgrims visited a museum, and I was met by Archimandrite Zacchaeus, and taken to the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarch, at the Danilov Monastery. There we had a conversation with Metropolitan Kirill (of Smolensk) about situations in North American and world Orthodoxy.

23 August. Vladimir and Suzdal

On Thursday morning, we departed early for the historic towns of Vladimir, and Suzdal, a three-hour drive, but in this case rather longer, because of Moscow traffic. We were greeted at the beginning of the city of Vladimir with a police-car escort, which helped, and sped the rest of the day's travels. We began our visit with a short moleben, venerating the relics of Archbishop Afanasy, and of Princes Andrei and Gleb, greeting Archbishop Evlogy of Vladimir and Suzdal, and greeting the rectors of the twelve churches of the city, all in the historic Uspensky Cathedral.

We were given a guide for the day, who introduced us to Prince Andrei's domestic church, St Dmitri's Sobor, with its elaborate limestone exterior carving. Vladimir, founded by St Prince Vladimir, was the first capital of Russia. Our travels this day were somewhat challenged by high heat, and smoke from forest fires. We took dinner with Archbishop Evlogy at the Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery, and he informed us of numerous historical facts, as well as telling us of the many opportunities for Christian education in his diocese - from Church school, through gymnasium, to seminaries. Then we toured the monastery and visited the royal monastery buildings.

Suzdal was our next stop, where we were impressed by the fact that it remains within its 17th-century limits, retaining much of the character of an old Russian town. It was a very popular pilgrimage site, which accounts for its many churches, as compared to its small population of 11,000. We first passed the earthen kremlin walls, and entered the Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery, where we venerated the relics of St Bishop Arseny of Elassa. During the whole excursion, the guide's good information was further supplemented by the commentary of Archimandrite Innocent of St Alexander Nevsky's Monastery in Suzdal.

In Suzdal there are presently four working monasteries, two each of men and of women, and one which is a museum. In the whole diocese, there are thirty working monasteries, all established in the past fifteen years. Women's monasteries are slightly in the majority, and the populations vary from three to thirty. We visited the Spaso-Ephemiev Monastery, which is a museum, and viewed and venerated many very old icons. Near this monastery there is a rapidly developing museum of wooden buildings, being collected from the whole region.

Then we visited the St Alexander Nevsky Monastery, opened now for only two years, and then took supper at the Pokrov Monastery. This was followed by a rapid return to Vladimir, and to the Uspensky Princess Monastery, and the veneration of the oldest of Russia's icons, the wonder-working Bogoliubsky Icon of the Theotokos.

24 August. Tretiakov Gallery, cruise along the Moscow River

On Friday, back in Moscow, we went by metro to the Tretiakov Gallery. This was an interesting trip, with the several transfers, but it gave a good perspective on the life of ordinary Muscovites, and particularly in the unusually hot weather. At the gallery we were first given a tour of the main parts of the regular exhibits of Russian painters, along with a well-detailed explanation of the use of light : Russian artists tend to respond to light from above, from heaven, and to try to reflect it. This tour took us from the early painters through the early twentieth century.

Then we went to the Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the three-hundred-year-old temple of St Nicholas in the Tolmatch, around which the gallery grew in time. Here Archpriest Nicholas Sokolov, the rector, gave us a history of the church, and its connexion with the Tretiakov family. We venerated the wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Vladimir which, like the Icon of the Theotokos of Tikhvin, is believed to be written originally by the Evangelist Luke. We were shown the back part of this icon, a cross-and-table, along with instruments of the Crucifixion, painted by St Andrei Rublev. We also venerated a very ancient Cross-and-Corpus, from which healings come. It is situated on the kliros of one of the side-chapels at the entrance. We prayed, and we sang tropars. Then we went to the basement of the Church, and had dinner with Fr Nicholas, who told us many things about the history of the parish and about his own life. After the dinner, we were taken by our guide to the Icon Collection of the Museum. Here, we were given very good scientific explanations about the difficulties of discovering, and of using correct restoration techniques.

Then it was time to leave, and we travelled to our OCA Podvoriye (representation church) of St Catherine in the Field, about a 20-minute walk, where we were given tours of the church, its sewing facilities, its work-shops, and its church-goods shops. There is also a medical clinic, which offers free service to the needy.

Following this was the arrival of Ralph Lysyshyn, the Canadian Ambassador, with whom we had supper for an hour. He gave a very good explanation of Canadian business activity in Russia, and Russian business activity in Canada, and he answered many questions of the pilgrims. It is clear that the political tensions we experience between Canada and Russia has its effects, such as our having closed the Consulate in St Petersburg. Business goes very well, however. After his departure, we walked to the metro, and travelled to the Kiev Station, where we boarded a boat for a guided cruise along the Moscow River.

25 August. Moscow Monasteries

On Saturday, we departed at mid-morning for a guided visit to several Moscow monasteries. This visit followed, to an extent, what is called the Boulevard, a former boundary of the city. We began with the Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery, a very old foundation, from about the 14th century, now having thirty nuns, and a considerable amount of restoration work yet to be done.

This was followed by the Spaso-Andronnikov Monastery, now a museum, but having a working church. This monastery was home to St Andrei Rublev, and is of similar age to the Rozhdestvensky Monastery we had just visited.

This was followed by the Novospassky Monastery, beside the Moskva River, where we venerated its wonder-working icon of the Theotokos, visited the temple, saw the Romanov crypt, and walked around the monastic grounds. A lot of rapid restoration has been done in this monastery, and its bookstore was highly commended by the pilgrims.

The next monastery, some distance away, was the Donskoy. This monastery, founded by Dmitry Donskoy, formerly housed the wonder-working Donskoy Icon of the Theotkos (now replaced by a spisok of this icon). Because the Church supported the army in defending Russia during World War II, the Donskoy Regiment considers this Monastery "home." Particularly important to us, in this place are the relics of the New-confessor St Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, founder of this Archdiocese in 1903. He was imprisoned in this monastery, and he died here in 1925.

The cemetery is partly intact, and contains the relics of many famous persons. We had planned to visit the Novodevichy Monastery, but we took too much time at the others. We concluded this part of the pilgrimage at the Danilovsky Monastery, founded by St Daniel, son of St Alexander Nevsky. Here we were able to venerate the relics of them both, and the relics of other saints as well. This monastery has several wonder-working icons, as well as some myrrh-giving ones.

The grounds contain the Holy Synod building and the offices of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. In this monastery we had dinner in the monks' refectory, and afterwards were taken to meet Archimandrite Alexei, the Abbot. He served us tea, and asked many questions about Church life in North America. One subject of interest was the impending return of the monastery's bells which are currently at Harvard University in Cambridge MA, where they were taken after the Revolution.

After this warm visit, we drove to the Sretinsky Monastery, on Liubianka Street. The site is well-known by readers of Solzhenitsyn and other histories of the USSR. The monastery is so called because it was on this site that the Vladimir Icon of the Theotokos was met as it first entered Moscow. The monastery territory was also the site of much suffering in Soviet times (the infamous "Lubianka Prison"), and there is a special crypt chapel presently built where the monks every night pray for the departed. This monastery also operates a seminary, numbering about 100 students. After a brief tour, we venerated the relics of the New-martyr Archbishop Ilarion. He was head of this monastery, and was the main supporter of Patriarch St Tikhon, and he suffered in part for this. We then attended Vigil in the monastery, and afterwards were given supper in the refectory, along with several monks, who asked many insightful questions. Then we returned to the hotel (Ukrainian-owned, we found), driven by our Cossack Lieutenant driver. Of course, there was photographing of us with him in his uniform.

26 August. 210th Anniversary of the birth of St Innocent

On Sunday morning, we had a general early departure. Some went with me to our Podvoriye of St Catherine-in-the-Field, and others went either to Sretinsky Monastery, or to Christ the Saviour Cathedral. Present at the Liturgy in the Podvoriye, and the Moleben that followed, was Bishop Zosima of Yakutsk and Lensk, a diocese which was part of St Innocent's first diocesan responsibility. It was interesting to observe how very much has already been done in renovating our Podvoriye, but also to note how much yet needs to be done in future. The sovietising of the buildings, and the ruining of parts of them, is still quite visible.

After this Liturgy and some food, Fr Anatoliy and I went to St TIkhon's University, to participate in a "round-table" on the occasion of the 210th anniversary of the birth of St Innocent. This discussion reflected on many aspects of St Innocent's life, work, and influence. Because of this anniversary, at the end of the Liturgy, we were blessed to venerate a part of the right hand of St Innocent, in a special reliquary. This reliquary was accompanying Bishop Zosima along his 3,000 km pilgrimage along the Lena River.

Most of the pilgrims, at that time, went to tour the Armoury of the Kremlin. Following all this was free-time, which for me meant being taken for supper to the datcha of a relative of a parishioner of Fr Anatoliy Melnyk.

27 August. Trinity-St Sergius Lavra, Elokhovsky Theophany Cathedral

On Monday morning, because of highway construction, we departed very early for the Trinity-St Sergius Lavra. Upon arriving, we were taken on a visit to the main temples of the Lavra and, as well, on a climb up the belfry of the Lavra, to the second level. This was most impressive to all of us. Included in our visit to the Dormition temple was the veneration of the relics of St Innocent of Alaska, and of St Maxim the Greek. This was followed by a very interesting and illuminating tour of the Moscow Academy facilities. Our guides were students.

After dinner, we went to the Holy Trinity temple, where we venerated the relics of St Sergius. Then we took our leave and travelled several kilometres to the place of the Spring of St Sergius, the refreshing water of which is collected regularly by the monks and drunk by many people to this day. Near the source, there is a church and a chapel, both built of logs, and wood, in the old North Russian Style.

From this place, we drove to Moscow, for Vigil at the Elokhovsky Theophany Cathedral. I co-served part of Vigil with Archbishop Arseny, one of the vicars of the Patriarch. Afterwards, we had tea with Archbishop Arseny, Protopresbyter Matthew Stadniuk, and Nikolai Symeonovich, the venerable starosta of the cathedral, who has served in this capacity for forty years.

28 August. Kremlin, Dormition Cathedral, Christ the Saviour Cathedral

On Tuesday morning, we departed early for the Kremlin, for the Liturgy of the Dormition in the Dormition Cathedral, co-serving with Patriarch Aleksy. This is the historic cathedral of the city, but because of its age, its situation in the Kremlin, and its artistic and architectural significance, the Patriarch is able to serve in this temple only a few times a year, and that during a limited time, and with limited numbers of servers and congregants. The Patriarchal Liturgy followed Matins, because of the limited time available for using this historic temple, which is now mostly a museum.

We next made an excursion to Christ the Saviour Cathedral, the seven-year-old replica of the original, which was built originally mostly from the donations of the faithful as a memorial, following the Napoleanic war. The new building, however, has many below-ground facilities not included in the original, including a lower church which can accommodate about 7,000 persons. Here, on a weekly basis, many people are baptised in a side-chapel. After this tour, there was a visit to the Sofrino church-supply store nearby, and a return to the hotel, to prepare for an early departure the next day. The pilgrimage had many difficulties in its preparation, but the main organiser, Tatiana Prochina of Ottawa, managed, with her friends and contacts in Moscow, to pull the organisation together, through God's blessing and help. Her friend, Liudmila, was particularly competent. In addition, Fr Anatoliy Melnyk's brother, Fr Sviatoslav, and his parishioners Tatiana and Olga were the main support of our time in St Petersburg. And also, the Patriarchate was merciful to us. Thanks be to God for the many blessings that came from this pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is much more fruitful than simple tourism.