8 May 2011

Easter Celebrations in Taize and Moscow - An Irish perspective

From the Taize website:

More than 9000 young adults from throughout Europe and some from other continents are together in Taizé for the Easter celebrations (5000 at Easter, 4000 the following week). With a few brothers, Brother Alois, the prior of Taizé, left the hill to celebrate Easter in Russia. With 240 young adults from 26 countries, they made a pilgrimage to Moscow to take part in the celebrations of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The young pilgrims were welcomed in six Orthodox parishes in Moscow. Beginning on Holy Thursday, they took part in the liturgical celebrations. On Good Friday, they traveled to Butovo, in the south of Moscow, where 20,000 people were shot during the Great Terror of Stalin in 1935-36. Many bishops, priests, religious and lay people died there. On Saturday, they took part in the Easter night celebration in each of the six parishes.The pilgrimage ended on Sunday with the solemn Easter vespers, led by Patriarch Kirill I in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Links between Taizé and Russia go back over many years. Already in the 1960s, Russian Orthodox Church leaders were able to visit the community. During the 1970s and 80s, Brother Roger and other brothers were invited to visit Russia. In 1988, the community sent a million Russian New Testaments to Moscow, St Petersburg, Kiev and Minsk. When, at the start of the 1990s, the borders opened, Russians came in large numbers to take part in the youth meetings in Taizé as well as the European meetings at the end of each year. In June 2006, Brother Alois visited Patriarch Alexis II and attended his funeral in December 2008 as well as the enthronement of Patriarch Kirill I in January 2009. For years now, the Patriarch of Moscow has been sending greetings to the participants in the yearly European meetings.

Majella Moloney from Limerick shares her thoughts on her pilgrimage to Russia:

Spring was creeping through the air as I arrived in Moscow. I was greeted by the cheerful sight of freshly painted railings in green and yellow, replacing the ice that had recently fallen to the ground. I was committed to following the traditional Easter ceremonies in the Russian Orthodox Church from Good Friday through to Easter Sunday, along with two hundred other young pilgrims from all over Europe who had come to discover more about this ancient faith and the country of its birth.

On Holy Thursday morning we participated in a three hour service in our host parish to commemorate the Last Supper. The washing of the feet only takes place in the evening service in the Orthodox cathedral and is carried out by the Russian Patriarch. Instead, in the evening service in our host parish of the Metropolitan Hilarian, the twelve gospels associated with the passion were read. The incense whirled around the church and I watched the women and children dressed in their long skirts and bright headscarves come forward to light candles and whisper a prayer in front of their favourite icon. As I stood, I found myself being drawn into the rhythm of the service, bowing and crossing myself in response to each prayer of invocation and responding along with the choir to the beautiful chant ‘SviatyBozhe- Holy God, have mercy on us’.

On Good Friday we journeyed as a group to Butovo shooting range on the outskirts of Moscow. It was here that over 20,000 Muscovites died during Stalin’s reign of terror,and here lie the innocent and theguilty, all judged to have been enemies of the Soviet regime. A simple explanation was offered by our guide that ‘inhumanity exists when people don’t believe in God’. It is appropriate that on this place which is referred to as the Russian Golgotha; the suffering of the Russian people have been transformed by their experience of the cross and from this place of witness rise signs of the resurrection of belief in Russia. It is a sign of deep hope for all of us all. Have a look at
this short video about the visit of the Taize pilgrims.

On Holy Saturday I attended the First Resurrection service commemorating Christ’s descent into Hell. In the afternoon I participated in a pilgrimage to four historic churches in the centre of Moscow. It is the Orthodox tradition to visit special churches and to venerate the Shroud of Christ which is laid out since the burial service of the Shroud on Good Friday. We had attended this service and Evening Vespers in the Church of the New Martyrs in Butovo. At each church, people had gathered to have their Easter eggs and cake blessed by the priest, who walked up and down the outdoor tables dispensing blessings with his palm branch dipped in Holy Water! Some of these eggs were duck eggs and some were brightly coloured painted-eggs to break the Great Lenten Fast, but there were no chocolate eggs in sight!!!!! (Luckily my German friends had brought enough chocolate for a traditional Easter hunt on Easter Sunday!)

The Easter Vigil was scheduled to begin at 23:00 and last into the morning. However, we departed after two hours, as we were invited to Easter dinner with the parents of my hosts. The traditional Easter greeting is KhristosVoskrese! Christ is Risen! And to kiss on the cheeks three times. It was possible to watch the rest of the Easter vigil with the Patriarch live on the television and this gave us a view into the Sanctuary which had been closed to us until now. This cathedral was rebuilt 10 years ago after the original building was blown up by the Ruling Party and a swimming pool built in its place.I discovered that my host and his family had visited Ireland, and his interest in an ecumenical pilgrimage came about through his involvement in the FocolareCatholic movement!

On Easter Sunday we attended mass in the Church of Saint Louis des Francais de Moscou where we were greeted with the now familiar – Christ is Risen! The readings and sermon were in Russian and the rest of the Mass was in Latin which was easy to follow. In the afternoon we visited the city centre, Red Square, Moscow State University and a newly restored lodge of the former Tzar.

The meeting closed following vespers with the Patriarch and an address by Br. Alois, the Prior of the Taize community to the young people who had gathered together. He spoke about his recent meeting with Pope Benedict and his surprise and delight at this initiative. He emphasised the historic nature of this pilgrimage – young Christians of different denominations gathering together with the young people of the Orthodox parishes to celebrate Easter on a rare occasion when it falls on the same date in the East and the West.

His last words were to invite us to share what we had found out with other young people and to listen for echoes from this pilgrimage, as he was sure there would be many!

From the Taize website:

Holy Week in Taize - "By his resurrection Christ brings us together"
Pilgrimage to Moscow - 23rd April
Pilgrimage to Moscow - 24th April
Message of Br Alois to Metropolitan Hilarion.
Message of Bishop Hilarion

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