In 1937, Joseph Stalin ordered several cathedrals demolished. Among them was Christ our Savior in Moscow. A giant Communist structure was to be built in its place, but war caused that project to be abandoned and the site became a large swimming pool.
During pestroika, when freedom returned to Russia, the Orthodox Church – as a sign of renewal and rebirth rebuilt Christ our Savior, exactly as it was when it was built during the 18th century – and they built it in six years.
The grandeur of the five domes, which represent Christ and the four Gospel writers, stands as a living testament to a spirit of faith.
In most cases, to be Russian is to belong to the Russian Orthodox church. Most, say Elena Kritsina, a young orthodox woman, don’t attend mass; it is often a religion of identity one is born into – except at places like St. Sergius Lavra Monastery, built as one of the most holy centers of the church in the 14th century.
To walk into the Dormition Cathedral is to enter an encounter with a living and mysterious God. Andrei Rublev painted his icon of the Holy Trinity to hang in this church. Two hundred sixty monks, with long beards, dressed all in black, live at the monastery and when they meet, they greet one another with a holy kiss.
It’s a place for large and tender emotions, as visitors makes the sign of the cross three times and bow upon entry and light candles before they kiss the holy icons.
Emotions also ran high when the team visited the World War II museum, which pays tribute to the 27 million Russians who died in the war. One memorial contained a representation of the tears of all the mothers who lost their sons and daughters in that conflict. It staggers.
In the evening, the group made their way to the train station for an overnight trip to Voronezh.