Reflection Masthead
Issue 154 - Russia Impressions - June 2017
Our recent Russian excursion (May 9-20) took us first to Moscow for 3 days, then cruising rivers, canals and lakes northbound to the Baltic. We made stops in the charming villages of Uglich, Yaroslavl, Goritsy, and Mandrogi, followed by 3 days in St. Petersburg.  
These reflections are some of our impressions of the Russian people and their culture.
Enjoy the Expedia videos of Moscow and St Petersburg below the articles. 
Fake News  
          We hear so much of it these days. Fake news! Sometimes you just need to find out the truth yourself.
          Our recent visit to Russia was a revelation in a newsy sort of way. We found modern Russia to be a beautiful country in its landscape, culture, and art. The countryside is vast and clean. The kindness, respect, and dignity of the people dispel any myth of meanness and maleficence. The art is beautiful and engaging. Our interaction with the Russian people opened our eyes to several truths: beauty is more powerful than hatefulness, the human spirit is indomitable, and faith cannot be obliterated although religion and churches might be destroyed.
          Born during World War II, growing up in the Cold War, and teaching high school World History 20 years, I took on images and stereotypes of Russians, more specifically, the Bolsheviks and Communists - the "Reds." Today, that's fake news! The truth is, in the ancient Slavic language, red and beauty are the same word. Knowing that, we noticed artisans creating beautiful red Matryoshkas (wooden nesting dolls), guides wearing red native costumes, and also we understood the red garments of the religious figures in sacred icons.
          Tanya, our tour guide, dispelled another myth by her very presence. She, a native Russian, was an ambassador of goodwill, friendship, and peace. She personified love, sweetness, and kindness. Perhaps Tanya's name should be "Scarlett" because of her deep beauty. And that's the truth.
                       --by Jan

Praying at Red Square
When we visited Kazan Cathedral, there was a steady stream of people stopping in, praying briefly, some lighting candles, then crossing themselves before leaving to go on with their day. Not surprising, really, in any big city. Except that the city is Moscow, and the church is located just at the edge of Red Square.
For those of us who grew up during the Cold War, minds imprinted with black and white TV images of Soviet tanks and missiles rumbling across Red Square, while our elders warned us about the dangers of "those godless Communists," this public display of piety was striking.
It was also not unusual. Throughout our journey through Russia, we saw people in churches (and sometimes in museums) venerating icons and offering their prayers. The resurgence of religious practice, following the end of Communism, is remarkable. In 1995, 63% of the Russian population claimed no religious affiliation. By 2010, 72% of Russians identified as Eastern Orthodox Christians, while the number of those without religious affiliation dropped to 14%. The Kazan Cathedral itself was demolished at the orders of Stalin, in 1936, and rebuilt in 1993.
To be sure, post-Communist Russia is hardly welcoming to all religious faiths. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recently reported that the Russian government has "continually intensified its repression of religious freedom."
Nonetheless, I still was moved by the open displays of piety in a country so long hostile to all religion. I especially remember Nikolai, our guide at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Before our group tour, Jan told Nikolai there were two icons in the museum collection we did not want to miss: The Trinity, painted by Andrei Rublev in the 15th century, and the Theotokos of Vladimir, dating from the 12th century. Jan asked if both would be included in the tour. Rublev's Trinity would be, Nikolai answered, but the Theotokos would not. Seeing Jan's disappointment, he then offered to take the two of us, after the group tour ended.
Nikolai conducted a wonderful tour through the galleries, demonstrating both excellent English
Nikolai & Rublev's Trinity
Nikolai and the Trinity
and a deep knowledge of art history. Afterward, he led us through a labyrinth of underground passages to a small chapel on the museum grounds, where the Theotokos of Vladimir (properly) resides in a place of worship. When Jan stepped back from contemplating the icon, Nikolai pointed out that another image, not quite so ancient, had been painted on the back of the panel. Jan stepped around to see that icon, and when she did so, Nikolai - young, well-educated, sophisticated, urbane - crossed himself and bowed to kiss the glass frame housing the icon, just as we had seen older blue-collar workers do the day before at the Kazan Cathedral.

                                           - by Bill 

We were impressed and intrigued with the Russian landscape, culture, and art. So many of the Russian people welcomed us warmly. There is still good reason to be skeptical, however, about the Russian government and its actions, not only abroad, but also regarding its own citizens. Please continue to pray for Russia.

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Copyright (c) 2017 Soul Windows Ministries


Bill Howden and Jan Davis
Soul Windows Ministries



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