Essay / Misc.

Reflections on Russia and England

I have just returned from a trip with 37 Torrey Honors students to Russia and England. What a great trip! Not only did I see the St. Petersburg of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, but I also had a chance to see The Merchant of Venice performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-on-Avon. Mainly, however, this trip was characterized by visits to many religious sites, both Russian and English. Here are a few thoughts on these sites:

– Visiting the Trinity St. Serge Monastery outside of Moscow was quite a treat. It was not on the original itinerary but I was determined to visit it given that this 14th century monastery is one of the main spiritual centers of Russia and originally home to the Holy Trinity icon of Andrei Rublev. The famous icon is no longer at the monastery (alas, it now sits in a museum in Moscow) but there are three rows in the iconostasis of the Holy Trinity Cathedral at the monastery with panels painted by Rublev himself. The monastery is gorgeous and thriving, both with visitors, monks and students (from several schools attached to the seminary, such as a school for priests and a school for religious music). Monasteries have been a part of the Russian religious landscape since the beginning. Soon after Vladimir introduced his subjects to Christianity in 988, there is a story in the Russian Primary Chronicle of the monk Anthony living a monastic life among the caves along the bank of the Dnieper River near Kiev. Though about 250 years younger than the Kievan lavra, the Trinity St. Serge monastery has a noble history as both a holy place and a place favored by the tsars of Russia.

– Arriving in St. Petersburg, our group requested that we visit the graves of some of the most well-known Russian literary and musical figures, a rather easy request given that many of them are buried in the Tikhvin Cemetary of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. We saw the graves of Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Glinka and others. Here in this peaceful place lies some of the greatest persons to ever live, a moving testament to the intellectual genius of 19th-20th century Russia. Though we did not tour the monastery itself, it would be worth it considering that it was founded by Peter the Great only seven years after the city itself.

– One of the most beautiful churches in all of Russia is certainly the Church of the Resurrection. Inspired in part by St. Basil’s in Moscow’s Red Square, this church boasts of some of the most beautiful mosaic images that I have seen outside of Rome. Every inch of the church’s interior is covered with these mosaics, picturing a myriad of saints and many events from the life of Christ. Though used as a large storage shed for theater props during the Soviet era, the church has now been fully restored to all of its glory. Unfortunately, this church is also a memorial to Tsar Alexander II’s assassination, which happened on this spot prior to the erection of the cathedral. This has earned the cathedral the second name of the Spilled Blood Cathedral.

– The last two days of this trip were spent in England, allowing me to attend Evensong at Westminster Abbey. As always, this church took my breath away and listening to the choir sing evensong is a rare treat for an Anglican living in southern California. The majestic notes of evensong echoing throughout the abbey makes me long to want to live in London just to attend this service regularly! If praying in a Gothic church doesn’t give you a taste of the joys of heaven then nothing will!

When one travels there are always many things to see and do. During this trip many of our students went to a Wagner opera and/or a performance of Swan Lake while in St. Petersburg. In London many of them stood in the rain for three hours to see King Lear performed at the Globe Theatre. As enjoyable as those events certainly were, this traveler simply enjoys visiting the churches and monasteries of the world. God has been and is at work; it is always good to see his handiwork.

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