Russian Babas: Unsung Heroes of the Church

July 4/17, 2012,  Royal Martyrs: Tsar-Martyr Nicholas, Tsaritsa Alexandra, Royal Crown Prince Alexis, Grand Duchesses Olga, Maria, Tatiana & Anastasia

Our family’s name day! We attend a local parish for Liturgy in the morning and spend the rest of the day close to home. The following is the last post written on Divyevo. Tomorrow we turn our attention towards leaving to Sochi on the Black Sea, site of the upcoming 2014 winter Olympics.

Saturday, July 1/14, 2012,  Ss. Cosmas & Damian

On the second day in Divyevo, we attend the second of two morning Liturgies at 8am (the first one is at 5:30am). After breaking our fast at one of the monastery trapezas (something like a little coffeehouse) and eating a lunch offered to all the pilgrims, my daughter and I join a group of babas (Russian grandmothers) for a small obedience. We helped separate the wheat from the chaff, a very fitting duty, straight from the Gospels. Continue reading

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Arriving at Divyevo

Monday, July 3/16, 2012, M. Hyacinth

Today is our recovery day and a chance to catch up on emails and blog posts. Arrived early morning to Moscow and have been in the apartment ever since, just resting. The following is a first post of our trip to Divyevo:

Friday, June 30/July 13, 2012,  Synaxis of the 12 Apostles

We arrive early morning (5:30am) by overnight train and take a bus to Divyevo. On the way, we take a triple dip in one of the four holy springs surrounding St. Seraphim’s village of Divyevo. When we check in at our hotel at 8am, it feels already like the day has been spent.

Traveling as pilgrims with two young girls is a bit of an experiment for us. The hotel we are staying at for the next couple of nights is comfortable enough, but we travel all in one suitcase without the usual toys and games. One whole bag is dedicated to food and provisions for tea, as you never know on pilgrimage where and when to eat the next meal. So far our little pilgrims are doing well with an afternoon nap that we finally talked them into.

Almost finished with the St. Seraphim life, but I have not really been here long enough for a strong impression to form. We heard one general introduction to the monastery and its life, how St. Seraphim was invited by the Abbess Alexandra to be their father confessor and protector. Also, there is lots of talk about how Divyevo was chosen as the 4th place on earth especially dear to the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary (the other three are Iberia (Georgia), Mount Athos, and Kiev). It makes me wonder why Jerusalem was not included, but perhaps it is because the Holy Land is a given, in a category all its own.

Still, it seems significant that two of the four places are in Mother Rus (Ukraine was originally part of the ancient kingdom). Questions still linger for me about why she chose Divyevo and why St. Seraphim is so special especially for Russians. I have my ideas, but we will see how the pilgrimage unfolds.

Eating Manna at the Monastery

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July 2/15, 2012, Placing of the Honorable Robe of the Most Holy Theotokos at Blachernae (5th cent.)

I always feel uncomfortable when someone asks about my favorite food in Russia, for like the Israelites in the desert, it is not so much about what’s on the menu as the relationship with the Provider. Manna, what the Israelites ate in the desert, literally means “What is it?” But a better question than this is, “Who gave it?” For in both cases of manna and monastery food, they clearly come from heaven.

At the Divyevo trapeza, the free one offered to all pilgrims, the menu never really changes: soup, bread, tea, and that ever useful, multi-purpose, everywhere present KASHA. True confession that I have never really liked kasha, probably because of its plainness. I probably have asked the disdainful question of the Israelites about it as well, “Just what exactly is it?” In America, its humility places it on the bottom of the breakfast menu. We really only know one kind of kasha, oatmeal, and no one but a health nut ever really orders it. Yet there is something about kasha which makes Russians love it, for among other things, it is ordinary food which gives strength and endurance to pilgrims.

Food, reminds the apostle Paul, does not bring us near to God. We are no better if we do not eat, or if we do eat (I Cor. 8:8). It is rather the setting or context that can help us in our salvation. Our family has never had a meal in a monastery that did not taste delicious because of how it was consecrated by love for God and prayer. The lives of the desert fathers and the record of the deplorable things they consumed testifies that God can indeed turn stones into bread.

While we in America obsess over the right restaurant or the perfect gourmet experience, we miss the point. Kasha, like the ancient Manna, directs our attention away from gourmet obsessions toward thankfulness for whatever God provides.