Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Moscow, 13.10.92: Descent into Hell and Bowing Babushkas

5 P.M. Some of what I wrote earlier written on the bus today. Last night, I had very serious anxiety attack, and couldn’t write. So my impressions are very disconnected. I just don’t feel good. Went to the nurse, who took my blood pressure, said it was high, and gave me some medicine for it.

Resuming the Danilov story: after the visit to the monastery, we toured Moscow by bus, ending at the university, where there’s a high overlook. It was getting extremely cold, but I enjoyed the view a minute or so. Striking: the scudding gray clouds, iron-cold wind, and the smokestacks high above the city pouring gray smoke across the sky.

Lots of tables of people selling souvenirs and gewgaws here—Matruska dolls of every sort, political figures, religious figures, soldiers, traditional babushkas; books re: Moscow; fur hats; papier maché boxes. I bought nothing.

Then, late in the day, after 6, we went to a former convent, a noted one—Novodevichy—where several Romanov women were nuns. It was too dark to see much of the grounds, but seemed pretty—more European “convent-like” than the monasteries, as would befit the social status (and ethnic origin) of the Romanov women. Other aristocratic women were also nuns here. The inside of the cloister walls was an actual garden with walkways—something the monasteries we’ve seen did not have.

And the church was also Eurpoean—Romantic-era paintings of Jesus healing a sick woman and other such scenes on the ceilings in pastel colors—all for women of taste.

Once again, a service going on—a choir of one or two peasant women singing responses, and doing so very well. All was dark, mysterious, and moving: an old babushka, very small and in black skirt, bending over completely from the waist to pray in the middle of the church; a young blond woman whose profile I could see, praying before an icon of the Virgin and child, crossing herself and bowing and peering intently at the icon.

I bought an icon of Mary and a triptych of Jesus and angels at a gift shop attached to the church—all for 250 rubles, which I reckon as about 60¢.

Forgot to mention Red Square, which we visited in the afternoon. Climbed up inside St. Basil’s Cathedral, which is in sad disrepair. In some ways, going up the stairs to the little chapel is like entering a strange Asian-Christian fairytale. All have faded icons on the ceilings, and old iconostases. One iconostasis had the original of the Trinity-3 angels icon sitting around a table. A thrill to see it.

In Red Square, we also saw the changing of the guards at Lenin’s tomb. Nearby, I bought a crayon drawing of a church in old Riga, being sold by a sad young woman leaning against the wall.

Earlier, at Danilov, I saw an icon of St. Stephen to the left (facing the iconostasis) at the holy gates. Funny, because I had been thinking of and praying for Steve in the church. I later saw this at several churches.

Today, the morning at a Baptist church, whose pastor gave a nice talk to us, speaking of the “three springs” of Baptists in Russia—Mennonites from Germany, Plymouth Brethren in Petersburg, and I forget the third! He was a very warm and engaging speaker, but I felt he was very influenced by American (and probably Southern) Baptists. At one point, he criticized the Orthodox for lighting more candles to Mary than Jesus!

The church interior was interesting—square and plain, with light green panels and white walls. The only ornamentation seemed to be a window behind the pulpit (which was prominent, raised, in the middle of the church) that I thought said in Russian, “I am Jehovah.”

After the church, lunch in a restaurant, and then to the Kremlin, where we did a quick nightmarish tour in an icy cold wind with snow (the ground was covered by morning). We went inside St. Michael’s Cathedral and the Assumption of Mary Cathedral. I’m “churched out,” and don’t have much to say re: either, except that in St. Michael’s there was an interesting icon of the καθοδος, the descent of Jesus into hell. This was in a series above the holy gate, in the second tier of icons, which depicted (left to right) the passion (various scenes) and then to the right of the gate, the resurrection, descent to hell, and ascension. The καθοδος was a pretty pastel salmon—i.e., Jesus was in an oval nimbus of this color, drawing out all the dead to salvation.

And so, dear diary, ends another day. Will go to the Bolshoi ballet tonight, so must rest now a bit.

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