Monday, November 21, 2011

Russia "Snapshot" #1: Orthodox Churches

Upon arriving in Irkutsk, we took a walk around some familiar places to try and beat jetlag. Eventually, we ended up near the Epiphany Church and decided to go in and see if anything had changed since we lived there.  It was at that moment that I realized that my children had never been in an Orthodox church before.

The Epiphany Orthodox Church in Irkutsk.
(Богоявленский собор)
As we walked in, my son exclaimed, "Wow, Mommy, this is more like a castle than a church!" My daughter, her wide eyes taking in the gold and ornate structures, chimed in that this was most certainly fit for a king and that God must really like it.

In my "History of Orthodoxy" class in college, we learned that Orthodox places of worship are designed to invoke a strong sense of God's majesty and represent the Kingdom of Heaven. This was a special moment for me as I realized that my children didn't need to be told this. They were intuitively sensing something that most adults unfamiliar with Orthodoxy have to have explained to them. Once again, I saw something very familiar to me through their fresh young eyes and was wowed all over again.

As a response to our children's thoughts, we lit a candle and said the Lord's Prayer together. A moment to treasure in God's "castle".

We visited many more Orthodox churches on this trip and here are a few highlights:

Below is a new playground in front of the Odigitria Cathedral in Ulan-Ude. When I lived here in the early 90's, this church was almost in ruins and used mainly as a storage facility. I was thrilled to see that it is now a beautifully renovated working church with a playground. This is the first Russian Orthodox church I have seen with a playground. I was particularly encouraged by this, because Orthodox churches in Siberia don't always have the reputation of being very family-friendly. This church had a playground and offered Sunday School classes for children as well!

The courtyard of the Odigitria Cathedral (Одигитриевский собор) in Ulan-Ude.
My kids played here for a long time and you can see my son
here enjoying his daily treat of "russkoye morozhenoye".
Pictures don't do St. Basil's Cathedral at Red Square justice.  This church is breathtaking no matter how many times you see it. My kids were fascinated by the story and paintings of St. Basil, the "holy fool", who was not afraid of Ivan the Terrible. 

The fairy tale-like onion domes of St. Basil's.
The kids were also quite interested in the many replicas of "The Holy Trinity" icon,
because it was something they recognized and knew about. 
My daughter peeping out from a corner in St. Basil's.
Not far from the Kremlin is the Cathedral of Christ our Saviour (Храм Христа Спасителя). Demolished in 1931 by the Soviets, it was rebuilt again beginning in 1990. A working church, it is definitely worth a visit when touring Moscow.


  1. Hi Sheila,

    I've been wondering how your Russian trip went; good to see your posts again! You brought back memories of when we were in Russia to adopt our daughter. I loved visiting the Orthodox churches and was happy to hear from the people that many of them are being re-converted back from warehouses, etc. to their original state as a church. Loved to hear your children's observations; amazing how kids quickly understand that the beautiful space is for God, whereas this fact often has to be explained to adults! Thank you for sharing your visit to this beautiful churches.

    Cheryl Basile

  2. My pleasure, Cheryl! So glad that you enjoyed it!