A Moscow Cup of Tea

May 10, 2015
American Mother’s Day

teaMoscow is principally for us a place to gather as many friends and family as we can muster at any given time, and since the observed holiday for Victory Day is tomorrow (Monday), the Sunday gathering at our apartment is more than usually crowded. My American friend and his family come over with fried chicken wings and garlic bread, while my wife’s local cousins bring their children for a sleepover. It is a grand occasion of East meets West with overlapping conversations in Russian and English. But the capital part of the evening after all the eating and customary toasting is the after dinner tea. It is the most vital symbol of the seemingly endless conversation that ensues. Continue reading

Oases of Calm in a Desert of Noise

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. Continue reading

How’s the Weather There?

Moscow Sky

Alluring Moscow Summer Sky

There’s a saying in Boston that if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes.  It is even more true of Moscow in the summertime where clouds constantly roll and change a bright sunlit sky into a big downpour. After a downpour there is a cool weather. The weather here  like the people moves in strange and unpredictable ways and teaches all of us to lean not on our own understanding but in all things to discern the ways of providence.

From Murder to Mercy

IMG_5512Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

Epistle of Apostle James Chapter 5

The senseless murder of innocents has often in history followed godless greed and unholy desire for personal gain. Midway through the 20th century experiment of atheist communism in Russia, Joseph Stalin felt the need to purify the system and find new sources of blame for his failing policies. Finding no blame in himself, he and his minions sought secretly and indiscriminately to purge undesired members of society in numbers before unimagined. Continue reading

A Routine Vacation

Arrived yesterday to Moscow for our family’s seventh time in the land of the Rus. Mama Friar and our brood of four preceded me by two weeks. It is a great place to vacation as we have established patterns that we easily settle into here. A young family such as ours needs routine even when we are attempting to be adventurous and break out into something new.

Our daily schedule while we are here in Moscow runs more or less as follows. Wake up to morning prayers followed by tea and kasha. After breakfast, the middle of the day is usually a museum or show that is reachable by public transportation (bus, trolley, or subway). We return late afternoon to our apartment for tea and refreshments. Kids go with a designated adult to one of several local (and colorful) playgrounds while the others prepare dinner. In the evening, we gather for the most relaxed meal of the day and the most likely time to receive guests: suppertime. Continue reading

Precious Moments for Repentance

Saturday, July 22/August 4, 2012, St. Mary Magdalene

As our time in Russia nears its end, every moment becomes more and more precious. In the morning, we all attend Liturgy at St. Nicholas of Ugresha Monastery just outside of Moscow. It has all the elements of a quintessential spiritual fortress: very tall and slender bell tower, large and substantial cathedral with ample relics for veneration (including one small one of our own St. Herman of Alaska!), plenty of smaller satellite churches for weekday services, and to top it all off, a quiet nearby pond to reflect the brilliance. After lunch, I embark on my adventure of the evening: following directions on the metro to a church that has an English-speaking priest to hear my confession. Continue reading

An Explosion of Extremes

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square

June 26/July 9, 2012

St. David of Thessalonica

We finally take a proper excursion into the center of the city to the well-known and much celebrated Red Square. Somehow, a visitor does not truly feel they have arrived in Russia until visiting this center of national gravity. Beyond being a great place for photo opportunities, it establishes for the tourist/pilgrim the identity of the place to which he/she has journeyed.

Russians have an obsession with things really, really BIG, or really, really SMALL, and not much patience for settling matters in the compromised middle. If anything is worth doing, it is worth going all the way, or why bother? The iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square is a great example of this love of extremes. Built by Tsar Ivan the Terrible, it is an explosion of architectural styles and colors. The multiple towering domes shelter a series of surprisingly small, separate chapels on the inside. It is majesty in miniature.

It all reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s definition of orthodox Christianity in his classic apology Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith (small “o”, as he himself was a convert to Roman Catholicism). Chesterton, also no lover of gray compromise, was a colorful figure from the late 19th and early 20th century who has been influential in bringing many atheists (including C.S. Lewis) to faith by his penchant for paradox. He says that what Christians aim at in their definition of orthodoxy is not a mean between two extremes, the dirty gray that results from mixing black and white. No, Christian orthodoxy would have both extremes “…at the top of their energy: Love and wrath fully burning.”

When I look at St. Basil’s, I think of this explosion of extremes. There is nothing tamed or compromised about this tribute to faith. So, while we tourists attempt to tame it into a postcard, Kodak moment, its towering domes capture the essence of faith in Jesus Christ, the Lion of Judah, who cannot be tamed into a compliant house cat.