For a large family like ours to come from a small city like Boston and choose a much larger city like Moscow for a summer vacation seems strange. Most folks that live in cities during the year seek to escape them in the summer. But Moscow is no ordinary booming metropolis.
Begun over eight centuries ago as the central meeting point of several other cities that form a golden ring around her, the city of St. George bustles with the busyness of a thousand villages rolled into one. One of only 24 megacities, it is the largest inland and coldest megacity in the world. Nestled in this beehive of commerce and activity are the jewels established many centuries past, the spiritual heart of Russia’s modern and ancient capital, the oases of calm in this grand desert of noise: the Moscow Monasteries.
Every time we visit, we never fail to include pilgrimages to monasteries on the top of our to do list. And Moscow is such a great place to see many of them without ever leaving the city. The ones who are located within the city (about 40 or so currently) once were established outside the city and then were swallowed up by the increasing population and expanding city limits. This is a challenge surely for the monastic life which embraces solitude and prayer, but it is a great blessing for city dwellers to have these peaceful retreats located just a subway’s ride away.
Danilov Monastery is the closest to us and one we almost always visit first. It is one of the very first to be reopened in the 80’s during the era of perestroika and consequently has one of the more established patterns of monastic life and daily prayer. It is uncanny to be one minute in a stressful urban environment and the next to walk within the monastery walls and feel like you have just entered the country. In addition to offering urban dwellers a chance to catch their breath, focus their hearts and pray, they also bake and sell some of the best pirozhki in the city.
Before we were blessed with our four lovely children, we loved especially to take the 35 Tram to visit not only Danilov, but also Pokrov Monastery (home of the relics of beloved St. Matrona of Moscow) and Novospassky Monastery, all within range of one tram ride. Now we go on the same tram, but maybe to see only one of these at a time.
So while we still have to breath diesel fuel fumes and change our clothes constantly from the dirt on the streets, one visit to one of these spiritual retreats makes it all worth it.