Moscow: Day 2 (July 22)
Yesterday, His Beatitude and our delegation were driven to Butovo on the outskirts of Moscow to see the notorious killing fields used by Stalin during the worst years of religious and political repression. August 1937 to October 1938, at the height of the executions over 20,000 were shot and buried here. There are several mass graves, and excavations in one such grave found five levels of corpses. It is estimated that up to 40,000 could be buried in that grave alone. The most “productive” night was February 28, 1938, when 562 people were killed. There was so much gunfire coming from this top-secret barbed-wired area that the locals were told this was a military testing ground, and so it was known as the “Butovo Firing Range.” The grounds were handed over to the Moscow Patriarchate in 1995 and a huge church dedicated to the new martyrs was built. One of the priests there, Father Artemy, took us through the site and explained its history. Thousands of pilgrims come here to pray, and many have relatives who were executed here.
Late in the afternoon, we went to Danilov Monastery to meet first with Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), head of the Department of External Church Relations, and then with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill for warm and substantive discussions on church life in North America and worldwide.
We spent the evening with Father Alexander Pihach, Dean of Saint Catherine’s who showed us around the podvorie (representation church).
Late that night I tuned in to the Rossiya 1 television station to watch a two-hour documentary on the miraculous revival over the last 25 years of the Russian Orthodox Church. Titled “The Second Baptism of Rus’” the film was produced by Metropolitan Hilarion and is an awe-inspiring record of the work that thousands—bishops, clergy, monks, nuns, lay people—have done in these years since the end of the persecutions. The Church is being rebuilt from the ground up: churches, monasteries, seminaries, social service projects, chaplaincies in hospitals, prisons, and the military. There is no level of society that is not engaged or being touched by this revival. And I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to see this with my own eyes.