Moscow: Day 5 (July 25)
Yesterday was a day of immense contrasts. A quiet hospital visit with a 90-year woman. His Beatitude and the heads of church delegations meeting President Vladimir Putin for dinner and conversation at the Kremlin. A television interview with Metropolitan Tikhon. Then a spectacular sound and light and fireworks show for the 1025th anniversary that filled Red Square with some 50,000 people. And then a Saint Tikhon’s Seminary Board conference call at midnight (4:00 pm Philadephia time).
This morning we spent a few hours at a local hospital and nursing school that was handed over to the Church in 1990. The chaplain at that time, Father Arkady [Shatov], is now Bishop Panteleimon and responsible for the social service work of the Russian Orthodox Church (we last met in 1994 when he visited Thessaloniki with Father Vladimir Vorobyev of Saint Tikhon’s Institute and stayed with my family a few days). When the hospital visit was arranged the providential discovery was that Bishop Alexander’s ancestors—the Golitsyn family—were the founders of the hospital in the 18th century, and until 1917 a Golitsyn was always the Director.
His Beatitude and the heads of churches boarded a bus at 3:45 pm for the ride to the Kremlin to meet and have supper with Vladimir Putin. The Patriarch and President spoke, and there was time for questions and answers in the relatively small group. Patriarch Kirill had proposed to the heads of delegations a text on Christians in the Middle East (especially Syria). After some discussion yesterday they agreed and all signed the text, including His Beatitude. This was presented to Putin and will be given to the presidents of Ukraine and Belarus as well. Following the meeting and then the short television interview—which focused exclusively on His Beatitude’s reactions to the Syrian situation and to the continuing saga of Edward Snowden stuck in the Moscow airport—the heads of churches walked into Red Square to be seated for the anniversary concert.
I am still processing those two hours of Orthodox and national feeling all raised to a powerful, professional pitch on the colossal scale fitting for Red Square. I mean, this was at the gates of the Kremlin. Lenin’s tomb (now closed to visitors) was just behind us. This was the Red Square we associate with Soviet power, persecution, military parades and missiles. But here was an extravaganza in celebration of 1025 years of national Christian faith. A huge stage, immense even by Russian standards, emblazoned with the words “Holy Russia, Preserve the Orthodox Faith.” Hundreds of performers, singers, dancers. Classical, folk and rock music all to underline the theme of the spiritual unity of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. All to say that Orthodox Christianity is here to stay and fight against those who would undermine the nation’s traditions, values and morals.
We got back to the hotel just after 10:00 pm and all the delegations poured into the dining room for a late supper (that is, those who hadn’t been to the presidential palace). After some debriefing with His Beatitude we dialed in to the conference call with the Saint Tikhon’s Board, and that took us to 12:45 am or so.
Today the delegations are all getting on a train with Patriarch Kirill and taking the ten-hour ride to Kyiv where a new round of anniversary celebrations begins. I’m told there will be a program along the way in the train.