An Orthodox Coexistence (but not too much)
More than unexpected, Father Ignatio's welcome and guided tour are magical. The priest of the Russian Orthodox Church spoke little or nothing but his native dialect.
Even so, from inside his black cassock, the good-natured face and the full almost red beard from which hung a large golden crucifix – conventional Catholic, not Byzantine – emanated a kind of “feel free, the church is also yours” that stimulated and comforted us.
Alexei Kravchenko had been with us from the moment we had left the airport in Domodedovo, on the outskirts of Moscow, the night before.
We walked with us through the darkened labyrinth of staircases and corridors inside the Spaso-Yakovlevsky Monastery (St. Jacob the Savior), long revered as the shrine of Saint Demetrius of Rostov, a bishop of the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Church who lived during the century XVII.
Alexei translated part of Ignatio's explanations and pleas. Proud to have come so far and to learn about his work there, Ignatio spares no effort. We climb stairs that serve complex structures of wooden scaffolding erected against the temple's enormous walls.
Ignatio had installed an authentic fresco painting school there. Spread over several levels and under a honey-toned light, young students set about painting originals and replicas inspired by prolific Orthodox iconography.
We salute them and peek and photograph some of the dazzling works in progress. More concerned with the trajectories of sensitive brushes, they reciprocate timidly.
Besides these religious images, Ignatio also knew the richness of the landscape that the monastery could reveal to us. We continue, thus, up stairs until we reach a central balcony that gives us a central view of the vault and cupolas of the largest church in the complex, with Lake Nero behind.
We return to the brick and glass interior of the vault we were in. A figure that appears out of nowhere and almost frightens us, introduces itself in Portuguese and leaves us even more astonished: “Hello, as you are friends, welcome!”
Aware of our nationality, Ignatio had seen fit to invite a friend to meet us. "Do you know where I live and work?" It starts by questioning us Sergei. "It won't be easy to guess."
Probably still the result of old communist exchanges between the MPLA party and the USSR, a doctor by profession, Sergei had been part of the Maputo Central Hospital team for a long time. He spoke an almost fluent Portuguese that kept us in conversation, at least, until Ignatio asked him again.
Russian style mass
From that high, dark and hidden corner of the monastery, we move on to its unfolded choir. There, we appreciate the wide, orthodox and multicolored elegance of the surrounding nave. Out of nowhere, a priest “brother” of Ignatio dressed in a glossy yellow chasuble appears and traverses the red and yellow-brown diamond floor, in almost automatic trajectories.
Approaching the entrance, he blesses a group of believing women, all of them with their hair wrapped in respectful scarves. Meanwhile, others who wear black smocks are placed in a stronghold opposite to the ladies. There they inaugurate a sequence of liturgical chants interspersed with the words of the homily.
On that panoramic summit where we were all supervising, the orthodoxy of the rite resonated twice as much. It entered us through the ears and the brain. With such volume and gravity that it intimidated us.
We had lost track of time. Even if, at that time and at that latitude, the summer days remained long, when we left the monastery, the afternoon, until then sunny and resplendent, pointed towards darkness.
Alexei greatly appreciated the Russia classic and ancient that revealed to us. Thus, he remembered another secular church, hidden in the green countryside of the Yaroslav Oblast (the province of Russian Federation where we were walking), about 20 km.
another church, another mass
Enchanted with the prospect of following the sunset there, he urges us to make the journey. When we were confronted with its white-brick building, the local liturgy was about to begin. More women in scarves cross a gate centered on a wooden fence.
Others talk in the shade of the surrounding trees. They only hurried through them when the priest appointed there, owner of a superb walk and bearing and austere and serious features that, under a cassock with long sleeves and a headdress hat, unlike what had happened with Ignatio, inspired us with mystery and awe.
The faithful gather inside the church. This time, the three of us were left to enjoy the blessing that the surrounding nature granted us, delighted with the gentle breeze that made the trees undulate, with the chopped flights of swallows and the distant croaking of crows.
The sun no longer shines on the silver-domed castro of another old church at the opposite end of the path and the afterglow coincides with the end of the service. Give us the signal we've been waiting for to return to Rostov.
Alexei had driven much of the night before between Saint Petersburg and Moscow, in time to receive us. We, had suffered something similar to take the flight.
Back to Rostov Veliky
No surprises, after a cold soup dinner okroshka and of a kind of gnocchi what the russians call pelmenis, accompanied by mugs of kvass (fermented rye drink) We return to the rooms of Khors Guesthouse & Gallery. Shortly thereafter, we surrendered to the sleep we were indebted to.
We wake up to the inn's chickens and roosters. We left Alexei to his private weariness and set out to discover. The inn was just a short distance from Rostov's Kremlin, a walled citadel from which towered towers and towers, and a battalion of towering domes.
Successive Ladas, Volgas and similar Soviet automobile relics pass through the base of the walls which, along one of the main streets, housed several of the city's convenient commercial establishments. The surreal vision of the huge churches whets our curiosity and anxiety and leads us to an early incursion.
An incursion into the Kremlin
Inside, we unveil the parallel life hitherto hidden in the Kremlin. A matchmaking photo session takes place, passing through the most photogenic corners of the old fortress.
At the edge of her small lake, successive ladies wear medieval costumes, without much chance of rivaling the premarital elegance and lightness of the bride. Young people given over to small canvases struggle with the challenging perspectives of their paintings.
And groups organized behind guides, follow the religious symbology and the historical depth of the panoply of frescoes that, full of sages and Orthodox saints, decorated the central nave.
It took many centuries of war and peace for Rostov to aggrandize himself and deserve the visits and reverence that are now devoted to him.
These centuries took it from a mere settlement of the Finnish Merya tribe, to a Viking trading post, and later, Scythian, the capital of one of the many principalities that came under the control of the powerful Tartars. Shortly after, to one of the main cities of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.
During all this time, Rostov has remained an unavoidable seat of the Russian bishopric and archbishopric, of Russian religiosity in general. Built during the XNUMXth century, in the wake of Mongolian and Polish-Lithuanian invasions, the Kremlin we were exploring established the culmination of its aggrandizement.
And yet, shortly thereafter, Rostov found herself surpassed in administrative importance by Yaroslav. The historical hiatus and corresponding civilizational stagnation into which it fell does not mean that it continues to be known as Rostov Veliky (the Great), an equally useful way of distinguishing it from its Russian counterpart Rostov-on-Don, which is a much larger, modern city. , on the banks of the river Don.
In search of domes, by rowboat
During its more than a thousand years, Rostov has maintained the now liquid and now cold company of Nero, a lake supplied by eight rivers, yet shallow (3.6 m maximum depth, 13 by 8 km long). We left the Kremlin.
We walk along the immediate bank, next to the amphibious cane fields that precede its greenish immensity. We pass through several of the docks and walkways that serve the izbas (wooden houses) riverside. One of these structures housed a small fleet of metallic pleasure craft.
When we reach the other, a boat approaches land and your private anchorage. On board, a fifty-year-old helmsman in a naval commander's hat rows for two mothers and their offspring. A mere hundred meters away, a neighbor and rival that has just anchored is greeted by two cats – one black and one brown – waiting for him, eager to board.
Infected by these successive scenes of evasion and leisure, we aspire to our own navigation. We rent a boat. We set off to paddle out into the middle of the lake, aware of the height to which the Kremlin was projecting and intrigued by what the view from there had in store.
A good dozen strokes later, the yearning is confirmed. We see a forest of towers and domes standing out from the verdant bottom of the bank. Some are silver, some lead gray, some dark green, set on a large pale pink turret.
The further we go, the more domes insinuate themselves against the late-afternoon, summer and continental sky, laden with humidity, blue to match. The more domes we unveil, the more pompous history of Rostov Veliky and the old woman Russia it shines and dazzles us.
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