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

Eating Manna at the Monastery


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.

Sunday Tea with Batiushka

Sunday, June 25/July 8, 2012

St. Febronia

Aleksei Naumov “Drinking-Tea”- 1896

In Greece, they have a saying, “Everything is possible, and everything is impossible.” In Russia, at times it seems that only the latter is true. Yesterday, we spent nearly the entire day attempting to set up a wireless connection for our laptop to no avail. But as I said in a previous post, these difficulties are gifts from God so that we may rely more on His power and less on our strength or the strength of human systems.

Today is Sunday, Voskresenie, which literally means “the Day of Resurrection.” The atmosphere all over Moscow is qualitatively different on the Lord’s day, even for non-believers or those who don’t attend church for the morning Liturgy. Streets are relatively free from traffic and a large portion of people on the street are all headed to church. It’s refreshing to be in an Orthodox country in which almost every church you pass by is of the same faith. This unity trickles down to the smallest of details, so that even the food in the grocery store is marked as “fasting appropriate.”

In the afternoon, I have my first experience in Russia with a trapeza (a sit-down meal in which the head directs the conversation or reading in a spiritual way) at our apartment attended by a priest traveling through Moscow from Ulan Ude. I have been to larger monastery trapezas, but this time it was only Fr. Alexei, an igumen (head) of a monastery in eastern Siberia, and our family in attendance. What a treat to speak to a batiushka (Russian diminutive for priest) from a remote southeast corner of the motherland! Tales abounded of overcoming bureaucracies to bring much needed improvements to local villages and of bringing the faith to areas with many nominal Orthodox and few churches to serve them. Truly, the situation here in the capital, with a church on almost every corner, is not yet so in the outlying provinces where they are just beginning to rebuild after the fall of communism in 1991.

Still, the overall tone in the Orthodox Church in Russia is revival and renewal, with new churches being built constantly, and it is a glorious thing to behold.