Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The Pilgrimage to the Nerl
Let me take you on a journey into the past. Let us return to a time when people simply walked to church, along birch tree-lined paths, often walking many miles to get to church. The time is the high Middle Ages, and the place is Russia, more specifically one of the cities of the Golden Ring around Moscow called Vladimir (rhymes with Redeemer).
What you will see in the following pictures are some of the oldest churches in all of Russia, found in and around Vladimir, which before Moscow was the capital of Russia, and a major spiritual center as these churches will attest.
Firstly we will take a trek through the woods, and across the flower-laden fields, and over the Nerl river to a church built in about 1165. This small chapel cannot be reached by a road, only by walking through the fields and across the river. Perhaps you have heard of St. Martin in the Fields, which sits smack dab in the middle of London. This church however is as advertised, in the middle of a field. Why? Why would it not be in a town? Because it is a church one is supposed to go on pilgrimage to to get away from the city, to spend time alone with God, to pray, and meditate.
The churches you see a bit further down with blue domes, recently refurbished by the government (as 'cultural landmarks') are also outside Vladimir.
Then a bit further down the blog, you will find the pictures of both the Church of the Assumption, built sometime around 1160, or about 60 or so years after the greatest Norman cathedral in Europe, Durham Cathedral. Clearly the high middle ages was an age of great expansion of churches and building of many new ones all over Europe. It would be nice if it were so today.
Also included on your tour is the little wedding chapel, complete with picture of Sasha and Natasha standing beside the door of the church where there is a sign in Russian saying-- 'Warning: Brides and Grooms should not pose here for Pictures" so naturally since we do not endorse anything as mean-spirited and unChristian as that, we took a picture :) When we tried to go into this particular church we are told "this is not a church, it is a museum, you cannot pray here." Sadly, all too many Orthodox churches in Russia are like that.
You will notice we also stopped for a traditional Russian lunch at a traditional (but new) Russian restaurant. Traditional Russian restaurants have names like Moo Moo or Tracter, harking back to their rural and agricultural past. The various salads and soups you see include the famous Olivea (something like our potato salad only with many more ingredients like peas) or the reddish beet salad (and of course the Borsch, which is delicious beet soup with sour cream in it).
You will also find in these shots a picture of a major pink building in downtown Vladimir, and also a picture of the ancient city gate into Vladimir as well.
Finally, at the bottom you will find what we saw when we returned to Moscow, three hours west of Vladimir. This is Vladimir Putin's folly, as the Brits would call it. It is an indoor multi-million ruble ski slope, so the ex-Pres. could ski whenever he likes. And who built this? None other than the mayor of Moscow who built it as a bribe so he could keep his job. And we think we have political issues ! But I digress.
Protestant Christianity is alive and well in Russia, and growing, despite opposition from the Orthodox Church who sees Protestants as encroaching on their turf, and in many cases they are viewed as heretics (witness the recent Orthodox attempt to prosecute a Protestant Church for teaching Sunday school lessons to children without an education license!). It sometimes seems Christians are the worst enemies of Christians.
Pray for mother Russia as she recovers her Christian heritage and faith. The living church is thriving despite, or perhaps even because, of opposition.
Posted by Ben Witherington at 11:41 AM
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The thing that most amazed me about the gate when I was in Vladimir in 2005 was the fact that you can still see the land ramp the Mongols built so many years ago to try to get into the city!
Looks like Lamont county in Alberta, where every few km's there is a dome of one orthodox church or another (many Ukrainian) in the aspen parkland.
Tarkovsky's film Andrei Rublev is a great representation of this milieu in medieval times.
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