Jan.8 — Christ the Savior Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral and Red Square
After lunch we were off to see Christ the Savior Cathedral. The original building was built to commemorate the Russian victory over Napoleon.
Stalin destroyed the original building 1931 to build a massive monument to Communism. The structure would have been topped with a colossal 328 ft. tall statue of Vladimir Lenin. The Russian economy dropped just after the foundation was poured and the plan was scrapped. Instead, the Communists opened a large, heated swimming pool on the site.
From 1994-1997, the Cathedral was rebuilt using the original plans and scale models. It was financed through private donations – no government funds were used. It is magnificent.
Next we returned to Red Square and attended a portion of the Orthodox service at Kazan Cathedral. We stayed for about 25 minutes of the hour-long service. Participants stand throughout the Russian Orthodox service … there are no pew or chairs. A small group of men and women sang a few songs. There were no instruments. Some of the Russian worshippers sang along with the group. Worshippers often made the sign of the cross and bowed. One by one, worshippers lit candles. The faint sound of crackling, burning candles could be heard throughout our time there (candles are always burning in front of icons in active churches).
Later, the priest came out from behind the altar piece (iconostasis) and chanted in ancient Russian from a text. He went back behind the altar. More singing from the group. Another priest emerged and read/chanted a rather long text. Each time the priests chanted, they continued to chant until they were behind the altar piece. The priests never faced us. The whole service had the marks of antiquity. These were early, ancient traditions dating from the days of the Byzantine Empire. I prayed silently during the service. It was an interesting experience.
We didn’t stay for the incense, but I witnessed that portion of the service during my last trip to Russia. Priests burn incense in metal containers and spread the smoke throughout the church.
Red Square was magical at night. For the New Year’s and Christmas holiday, an ice skating rink had been constructed near the middle of the square. The square was filled with people. It was only 5:30 p.m., but it was already dark. St. Basil’s and the Kremlin tower were stunning at night.
We ate Russian food at Canteen No. 57, a cafe in the GUM. While the GUM has mostly overpriced, high end Western stores, this café was very reasonable. The food was great. I had a pork chop and boiled buckwheat (a Russian staple), a piece of black bread and hot tea.
This day was all about Russian culture and I really enjoyed learning about the rich history of this proud people. They have endured many bad forms of government and many wars. I am amazed that they endure these cold winters each year. It was another good day.