Pilgrimage to Russia: Part IV –Departure to Nizhni-Novgorod

Fr Ilya told us that we needed to pack up our belongings because today would be the last day in Moscow. Among the highlights would be Ss Mary and Martha Convent and the Tretyakov Gallery. Our hotel actually packed us all a sack lunch because we wouldn’t have supper (or so they thought). How thoughtful!

This was a delightful step back into Edwardian times. The convent was founded by Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna Romanova, the widow of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich Romanov, the uncle of Tsar Nicholas II. Elizabeth, the form Elisabeth of Hesse-Darmstadt and sister of Alexandra (the wife of Nicholas II), was renowned for her beauty. It was said that Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany (also a cousin) desired her but she broke his heart when she married Grand Duke Sergei.

Unfortunately, it was a disastrous marriage. Sergei, who was emotionally distant and cruel to her, was rumored to have been a homosexual. As a result, their marriage was probably sexless. In any event, they produced no children. Still, she was devoted to him in ways that speak to a loving kindness that is exceedingly rare.

When her husband had been killed by a terrorist’s bomb, she was nearby and not skipping a heartbeat, immediately started collecting body parts. (The explosion was so severe that his heart was found the next day on the roof of a building nearby.)

From then on, she devoted her life to the Church and serving the poor, founding many orphanages. The convent we were visiting was named in honor of Ss Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus. Our hostess was a delightful nun who was a Tatar. Raised as a Moslem, she converted to Christianity and became a nun. Though she could not speak English (Fr Ilya translated) we got a sense of the joy she felt in serving Christ as a monastic.

This was the mansion of a wealthy merchant, but now serves as a museum. An extensive overview would include all types of iconography as well the Romantic period and the Socialist Realist school.

The highlight of course was the Rublev Icon of the Trinity. Wow. Standing face-to-face with it, in all its glory was a humbling experience. It’s faded to an extent but I didn’t feel worthy to be that close to it. It has a power that is inexplicable if you ask me. Really, the less said, the better.

The collection of the Tretyakov is extensive. Seeing the iconographic portion first however made the rest of it somewhat of a let-down but that’s because I’m coming to it from an Orthodox Christian experience. I suppose that if I were not Orthodox, the iconographic portion would have been just another aspect of Russian art. Hard to say.

Upon reflection, I will say that I did not realize how prolific Russian painting was during the later Romanov dynasty. Or how up-to-snuff it was by Western standards. In a way, it really makes my head spin. Think of it: most in the West are well aware of the Classical music tradition of Russia: Tschaikovsky, Borodin, Mussorgski, et al and how well it compares to that of Germany (a close second I’d say). And then we all know about Russia’s literary output; not a few critics have said that the greatness of the Russian novel and how that is Russia’s greatest gift to humanity. But I’d have to say that the works that were on display at the Tretyakov stand in good stead with those of West. Anyway, that’s my opinion.

At this point, I’d like to go back to Monday and talk about visiting the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God in Yasanevo.

First a word about Yasanevo. It’s in a rather grimy area of Moscow and is bordered by several high-rise apartments. I’d say they were about 30 storeys high but truly massive. All identical and ugly. If memory serves, there were eight of them, and they formed a semi-circle, half an arc to the North and half an arc to the South.

In the middle was a slight hill upon which stood this fabulous church. What was fascinating about this church were several things: its size, its aesthetic and its provenance. It was only about fifteen years old and it was built primarily with donations and the labor of ordinary Muscovites who lived nearby.

Like many of the more modern churches, it’s built on two levels. The bottom level is devoted to the Archangel Michael and has reconstructed sites from the Holy Land (such as the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Nativity, etc.) throughout its Nave. Interestingly, these structures were built to scale.

Upstairs though was a wonder. It’s size was one thing but what made this church unique was the iconography: all the icons were mosaics. The designers wanted to copy as much as possible the iconogaphic styles found in Byzantine basilicas found in Sicily. (Roughly during the time of Justinian the Great.)

I can’t tell you how expensive the tessarae used to make mosaics are but Lord knows, I have absolutely no idea where these laymen get the money to make these large mosaics. They are stunning. I want to go back to Moscow just to see this church again.

The construction of these mosaics is on-going. If you even look interested in what the artists are doing, I’ve heard it said that they’ll place some tessarae in your hands and ask you to help apply them to the wall! I guess this is what I mean when I go on and on about “the creativity that can be unleashed by the Gospel”!

We would take an overnight train to Nizhni-Novgorod. Believe it or not, I have never traveled by train so I was really looking forward to it. Denny and I settled into our bunks and watched the passing scenery. After an hour, he decided to wander around and visit with some of the younger people who were in our group. I took out the old laptop and started to write my thoughts.

He came back about 10:00 pm or so and we went to sleep. Next stop: Nizhni-Novgorod.


  1. Wonderful.

    A welcome contrast to the current preoccupation with deviant behaviors on some other strings here. It’s good to compartmentalize, I suppose. Wall out the worst consequences of the fall, once they have been confronted.

    I expect that I will be mobile for travel toward the end of the year. At that point, I hope to start planning visits to Russia, Ireland, etc. as finances allow.

    In the long view, whether we have 20 years til the Return or 200, we are not in any different position. From the time of Pentecost, we have been called to live today as if the Lord will return tomorrow.

    And beauty will save the world . . .

  2. Peter A. Papoutsis says

    Thank you.

  3. George, your suggestions that Sergei Alexandrovich may have been a homosexual and that he and Elizabeth never engaged in the marital embrace bother me. What reliable evidence or credible testimony have with of these two allegations– or either of them–have we?


    • George Michalopulos says

      Just innuendo that was whispered about in Petersburg social circles catalogued in various histories. Nothing hard and fast, mind you, just whispers. The only thing we know for sure was that he was emotionally distant and she suffered in silence. Sad.

      • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

        It is indeed “cataloged in various histories.!!!” It’s true that what we know about Prince Yousoupoff and Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich was routine stuff for St Petersburg high society No one needs to, but may, fact- check the “Diary” of Count Witte or Grand Duke Alexander’s memoirs (“Once a Grand Duke,” and (vol 2) “Always a Grand Duke” ], to verify that. I think these are available on Amazon and elsewhere. Lex caritas is like ever-memorable Archbishop Kiprian
        (Borisevich) who liked to comment, “Oh, and were you there? Did you hold a candle?” Would that we ALWAYS took that high road, rather than only with our favorites!

  4. Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

    George (and other admirers of today’s Russia as some kind of answer to what bothers you about America)! It seems to me you missed seeing what Putin has brought to Russia during your travels. Didn’t you miss the Kadyrov Bridge? The Stalin Museum? The Ivan the Terrible Memorial in Orel? The Felix Dzerzhinsky Memorial? Sadly, you will have missed the brand-new “LAVRENTY BERIA SQUARE just dedicated in Sverdlovsk!
    PROOF that the Russia’s values are superior to ours! L-A-V-R-E-N-T-Y- B-E-R-I-A ! !

    • George Michalopulos says

      Your Grace, here’s somebody else who thinks that Putin’s Russia is the cat’s pajamas: Hillary Clinton, who just sold good ole’ Vlad 20% of our known uranium supplies.

      • Facts and Figures says
      • Reality Checker says

        In case anyone here should have any interest in the actual facts behind this highly complex transaction, involving 9 US government agencies (including six other Cabinet members — she was just one) and other independent federal and state nuclear regulators, all of whom also had to sign off on the deal, here’s an explanation of the details. It is certainly not true to say that “HRC sold the U.” Bottom line is that it was a US government/Obama Administration decision; she was only one player. George’s parroting of a meme that is not much more than another breibart.com HS pile is 97% false.

        As others, including a New York Times’ investigation, have explained, the United States was still seeking to “reset” its relationship with Russia and trying to get the Kremlin on board with its Iran nuclear deal. But at the end of the day, the Russian deal wasn’t that big.

        Russia’s purchase of the company “had as much of an impact on national security as it would have if they set the money on fire,” said Lewis. “That’s probably why (CFIUS and the NRC ) approved it.”

        • George Michalopulos says

          Well then, I imagine that leaves us with two and only two possibilities: either the rot and corruption within the US government is so deep and widespread that it can’t see the danger in turning over a significant portion of our uranium reserves to a violent thug like Putin or, (drum roll please) Putin isn’t such a bad guy after all.

          Which is it? It can’t be both.

          • Reality Checker says

            Your toggle-think is silly and beside the point. Putin can be quite bad enough with worse waiting in the wings, but his personal character is mostly irrelevant to the reasons why the US government might decide without much controversy in DC to sell a small quantity of U to the RF. My personal opinion is the West could probably do much worse than Putin for leader of the RF, bad as he is.

            Mostly I wanted to demonstrate that to characterize the affair as “Clinton selling uranium to Putin” was just wrong. But once again you show yourself indifferent to anything but the propaganda value in some quarters of phony, scattershot cheap rhetoric. You glide away from demonstrations that your remarks are baseless or hollow or gross distortions of reality, entirely unrepentant, and shamelessly segue off into some new lie, distortion or utter nonsense. People like you are the reason big lies are able to gain traction and pave the way to political catastrophe. Just another fact.

          • Reality Checker says

            Toggle-think like that is sorta simple-minded. As usual you’re reasoning is flawed. Putin might be quite bad enough, and yet the US government could well have rational cause to sell some U to the RF.
            My irrelevant personal opinion is that bad as Putin is we could definitely do worse, maybe much worse given some of the sideline players in today’s Russia.

            • George Michalopulos says

              Sorry, not buying it. The US could (and did) engage in very restrictive trade embargoes with nations that it deemed unworthy (for whatever reason). Case in point: Cuba. A real mischief-maker that Castro was and a thorn in our side during the Cold War.

              And yet in the grand scheme of things, Cuba was a piss ant in comparison to Putin, that is if we buy into the old Cold War paradigm (as the Neocons/Neolibs still do). I’m sorry, it’s very simple: if Putin is such an existential threat to NATO that we are willing to risk thermonuclear war then all our contacts with his country should be confined to the hotline and that alone.

              I’m not saying that the Clinton Foundation got a cut out of that deal –although I would bet a year’s rent that they did–but that the many American agencies that had to approve that deal thought that (a) Putin is not a bad actor and (b) his possession of 20% of our uranium in no way constitutes a threat.

              That’s the only way that you can look at this unless of course we accept the possibility the Federal govt is basically a Third World kleptocracy. In which case we’re screwed beyond measure.

              • Reality Checker says

                George, since you’ve now moved away from your earlier toggle-think on this point and have got to the point of analyzing positions along the decision tree into at least a) and b), I’m sure you can see that there is no good reason to assume a) — since it’s obvious that the consensus in the West is Putin’s a bad guy — while assuming b) is probably the case. So you’ve circumnavigated your own position to reach the obvious conclusion that the degree of danger you asserted in your first jaundiced interpretation of this transaction was probably exaggerated.

                The RF’s far more like a 3rd-world kleptocracy than the US — but most of all it’s a gangsta state. So I’m frankly surprised by that decision to green light Russian investors buying Uranium One. But what do I know.

                • George Michalopulos says

                  RC, you’re completely missing the broader point: the US may not be a Third-World kleptocracy —yet. But thanks to unchecked immigration from the Third World and Establishment shenanigans like the Clinton Foundation, we are well on our way to becoming one. They reinforce each other.

                  Go back and read Gibbon. Or Aristotle. The loss of moral rectitude will always degenerate a republic. We’re not at Venezuela levels yet but I definitely can see it on the horizon.

              • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

                Would someone, perhaps a professional like M.Stankovic, please explain the following sentence by George?
                “I’m not saying that the Clinton Foundation got a cut out of that deal –although I would bet a year’s rent that they did”

                • I am voting for HRC. And it isn’t sarcasm.

                  I find the Clinton Foundation a worrisome aspect of her presidency. People can legally donate money to the foundation in hopes of favors. It has already happened with Uranium One when she was a senator on a committee.

                  Trump is no different. He won’t disclose book values of properties he owns (the real reason for not releasing his taxes) and he does business overseas. If a nation where he owns property or gets a return does something bad, what would inspire him to ruin his own financial stream by standing on that nation, or vice versa, what would stop a nation from asking him to build a property and gifting him for government exchanges?

                  The Clinton Foundation should be required to disclose all donation immediately to the public if she becomes President. Trump should be required to disclose all activities related to his business. Double fat chance.

                  And it is a very fair criticism George makes. I’d rather have a community organizer run for president and Bernie would have been a far less harmful possible. Both of these candidates as Presidents will have significant financial gains.

                  George’s wisecrack is not baseless. The only problem is George won’t ditto Trump, but Trump is just as likely to financially gain due to his presidency and manipulation of everything. In fact, I’d be willing to bet Trump will leverage his presidency MORE than HRC. It is what he does!

                • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell says

                  M. Stankovich is hardly the person offer a “professional” opinion on the text in question. He still doesn’t know or won’t admit what the words “mutually exclusive” mean.

                  • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

                    Protodeacon: Where did M. Stankovich say ANYTHING in this thread?

                    • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell says

                      BT: Do you comment so much that you can’t remember your own comments? You brought up Stankovich on this thread, just as you brought up Arthur Koestler and the Jews on the Sodom thread, and then quite illogically declared them to be irrelevant.

                • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

                  In other words, how can anyone say they would bet a year’s rent that they cut a deal, and assert they are NOT saying that?

                  • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

                    This is my reply to Protodeacon Mitchell. M.Stankovich is a professional in the field of behavioral sciences, I believe. I felt that some pathology was revealing itself when George M. made two contrary assertions in one sentence.” Here it is:
                    “I’m not saying that the Clinton Foundation got a cut out of that deal –although I would bet a year’s rent that they did”
                    I’m not sure why anyone’s referring to M. Stankovich would excite anyone to jealousy?

          • Michael Bauman says

            The first

      • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

        George, what does Mrs Clinton’s attitude towards Putin’s Russia have to do with yours? Oh, after I listed above some of the many pro-Bolshevik monuments being erected in today’s morally-leading-the-world Russia, a lovely statue of Stalin has been added to the “Orthodox” mix!

        • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

          Why does George’s message, earlier than mine, appear above it on the front page? As if it were a reply to mine?