2011 Moscow Pilgrimage

Participants’ experiences

What did you experience in Moscow during the pilgrimage? This was the question asked to the 240 young adults who were welcomed by families in six Orthodox parishes during Holy Week and Easter. Many replied. Here are a few of their reactions.

“I specially enjoyed participating to the Orthodox liturgy. I could discover a bit more about the meaning of liturgy, and about the importance of the tradition in the church. Liturgy is a language between the Trinity and human beings, and helps us enter into communion with God. There were many elements in the Orthodox liturgy that help to create a special place of the living presence of God already here, on earth. Many elements helped me to remember what the kingdom of God is about: joy, peace, love, harmony, I guess also music. And that we can already start to live this kingdom of Heaven on earth. For example, the beautiful songs of the choir during the services, the icons, the incense, the colours of the drapes and curtains, the repetition of some sentences, the sign of the cross, all these things helped me to introduce myself to a Mystery: the Mystery of God.

I did not understand most of the readings and sayings of the priests, and I realized that the language of the Holy Spirit goes beyond any human language, because even if I didn’t understand, I could feel His presence in other ways. He was present there in the whole community of St. Philip and in the whole being of each one of us, not only through things we can understand by intelligence or our reason.”

Sara, Barcelona

“If someone said before the trip that we would be eating porridge for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I don’t think that I would have been too impressed (despite the biblical principles of “blessed are the meek” etc.). However I quickly developed a fondness for ‘kasha’, especially as it was sweet for breakfast and combined with some pickle/ vegetables for lunch/ dinner. The thought of standing for the duration of a long service also seemed alien, and I must say that I didn’t want to close my eyes to pray during the first three hour service in case I lost balance and keeled over. However, I stood for the entirety of each service we attended and I think that your legs just get adjusted to standing. Given that Russian pensioners were standing quite happily next to me as well, meant that I couldn’t be a wimp in my twenties. I wonder if I’ll be as tough as these Russians when I reach old age!”

Robert, England

“At the beginning I felt quite lost, partly because I did not understand anything of Russian, partly because it felt fake to act like an Orthodox believer during the prayers. But it did not take long actually to feel the spirit of the prayers in St Tatyana’s, and, when I felt this, it was no longer fake to participate in the prayers, it felt natural.

It was exhausting to stand 3 hours during the prayers and some days 6 hours because of two prayers! But I felt like I should not give up and I did not. It was worth it, because during the last two days, it was not a point any more. Maybe also the prayers became more interesting.

The host family-system was amazing. It really helped me enter into the culture! I stayed two more days, until Wednesday and I visited together with the family the Orthodox school where their children go. Also to experience the way of living of such a religious family with 4 little children and the way they raise their children was fascinating to see! We can a learn a lot of that in our society I think!”

Elli, Berlin

“I think it’s been the most "festive" Easter I’ve ever had. The Orthodox celebration has an astonishing faculty of making it possible to participate in the mystery of Christian faith through visible signs. And thanks to the explanations we received in the parish that welcomed us, we could understand and enjoy the richness of the Orthodox service.

Many participants were informed about Russia, Russian people or even the Orthodox church only through mass media. I think they’ve had a chance to discover the generosity of Russian soul and the depth of Orthodox faith. This first acquaintance with the Orthodox church took place in the atmosphere of fellowship and trust. It would be difficult to overshadow this experience by any eventual misunderstandings. Hope we’ll be able to share what we have lived with many other people, and that the desire to get to know our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ will be spread like the Easter light, spread from candle to candle.”

Martyna, Kiev

“On Good Friday, we went all together to Butovo, a place outside of Moscow where the Soviet regime had killed ten thousands of people in the 1930s because of their faith or political standing. In the morning we were guided through the area, also meeting the other young people from all over Europe. After a common meal – fascination to see the pilgrims interacting with each other – there was the service of the Presentation of the Shroud. Together with the procession afterwards, this was one of the most precious moments I lived in Moscow. Well, there are moments I do not find words for to describe what is going on, not even in my native language, like electrified, I felt God’s presence among us very strongly.”

Stefan, Austria

“The welcome was very lovely. Even though we couldn’t speak to each other, on the welcome day it was made understood, that I can feel home there. I was offered tea and Russian sweets, very lovely.
The priest of the parish, I found very smart and full of loving kindness. His way to speak was wonderful and very touching. I really liked that the church is active in work with homeless people. And I very much like the idea, that the people are invited to come into church to get help and that the help is not just done in some room, an old gym for instance. This has two symbolic meanings in my interpretation: The people are not seen to be "too dirty, unworthy"... so be welcomed in the holy areas of the parish. And also, the people in need can receive not only the spiritual food, but also the physical food in the church.

Being able to immerse into the orthodox traditions was very interesting for me. I could broaden my understanding of theological ways to understand the happening at the cross, but was also very touched in my heart. For me, coming from a Lutheran church, I find the rituals, the music, the candles, the incense, all the ceremony, very beautiful, as we have not all this in my denomination. So it was a very enriching experience, and somehow I also felt as going back to my own roots (church-wise).”

Csaba, Bamberg, Germany

“I would like to warmly thanks the parish of Metropolitan Hilarion (Icon of the Mother God, Joy of all the Afflicted) which hosted me, for extending this invitation to visit and particularly the young people of the parish for their friendship and assistance during my recent stay in Moscow.

What struck me during my stay was how much we have in common with one another! I could only have discovered this reality through our discussions and shared experiences during our time together. I discovered that there is so much life in the Church, after its troubled recent history. I was impressed by the significance attached to the Easter ceremonies, the celebrations in my host family, and the joy that faith brings – I think that sometimes these elements are lost in the Western Churches amid pressure from secular society and an unwillingness of believers to bear with discomfort, or to make time for these practices. Even the traditions of fasting and standing in Church signified something of that willingness to persevere in faith, through temporary discomfort, and to place a high personal value on following Jesus Christ. It seems that perseverance and witness of individual Christians contributed to the resurrection of the Church, which I believe is a symbol of hope to all of us who gathered together in Moscow.”

Majella, Dublin

“A very strong experience was for me visit in “Russian Golgotha” in Butovo. I have read about that place before I came and I know other places which carry similar history. What touched me the most was that small wooden church where children and grandchildren of people who were killed there come to get married and to baptise their children. It was such a surprise for me. To come to place which was the great tragedy to their families for such a happy and hopeful events. But this is what Christianity is about. From a great despair of Holy Friday to a big feast of hope and victory on Easter Sunday. To transform the place where so many people lost their lives to a place where people are getting baptised (to a new life) and are getting married. We- Polish people- can learn a lot from such an attitude.”

Matylda, Warsaw

“I’m full of gratitude for all the things I’ve had the chance to live in Moscow during Holy Week and Easter. I discovered a living Church, communities that try to make their churches as beautiful as possible, that love Christ and the Church, as well as the values of the Tradition but at the same time, that try to create or intensify the dialogue with non-believers.

The parish of St Philip and my host family welcomed me so warmly, and, through their hospitality, allowed me to experience the Orthodox Church and the city of Moscow from within. Without their kindness, it wouldn’t have been the same.”

Julien, France

“What I take from this experience is the people I’ve met. My host family, the Russians I met at the parish, other pilgrims. I was asked a lot of tough questions; I had a chance to ask some tough questions myself. Those I talked with, I talked with honestly, learned about Russia, overcame some stereotypes in my head, felt their generosity, experienced Russian hospitality. Those I did not have a chance to talk to, at least we lived through something very special together, and that already brings us close. At the end of it, I feel more of a Slav then ever before.
I am grateful; this is my prayer. Христос Воскресе!”

Klementyna, Gdansk, Poland

Last updated: 17 May 2011