At long last, eight religious processions are converging on the capital city of Moscow. They were blessed by His Holiness Patriarch Aleksei of Moscow and all the Russias, and were sponsored by the international spiritual educational programme Under the Star of the Mother of God. These processions are dedicated to the commemoration of an important historical event, the restoration of the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church. Our MK correspondent met some of the marchers, who left Sevastopol in the middle of March, when they were crossing the border between Tula and Moscow oblasts.
At first, they said, “The procession has already left Tula, and you’ll be able to catch up with it in the village of Yakovlevo, which is seven kilometres from the border of the Moscow oblast”. The marchers met at the supply point in the morning, and they discussed their plans for the coming day’s march, making a rough estimate of how far they would travel under the protecting canopy of the wonder-working Sovereign icon of the Mother of God, which is their protector from all calamity. We learned from the dean of the Serpukhov region, Fr Vladimir, and from Hieromonk Avenir, the confessor of the marchers, that there are pilgrims who’ve on the road for more than a year.
“Believers from Vladivostok have marched since May 2007, and a month later, pilgrims from Yakutsk began their trek to Moscow. This year, six additional processions set off, from Sevastopol, Baranul, Rostov-on-Don, Athos, St Petersburg, and Arkhangelsk. In all, this makes up eight separate processions. That is how many rays there are in the star of the Mother of God”, Fr Avenir said. “The copies of the Sovereign icon of the Mother of God carried by the various contingents were made specifically for this pilgrimage. In Sevastopol, the icon came to the marchers from the Holy Land, from Jerusalem”, he noted. “Taking into account the distance that we had to cover, with all the good will in the world, we couldn’t accept all those who wished to come with us. In Sevastopol, the core of our group was some forty people. Our oldest pilgrim is Nikolai Vinogradov, who’s 72-years-old”.
Fr Avenir has been on the road for some 100 days, now. Later in the day, it started to rain. It chilled me, and I thought of the pilgrims slogging through all of this foul weather. However, Fr Avenir shrugs it off; it’s only a trifle to him. I can see the gleam in his eyes as he recollected some scenes from earlier stages of the trek. “We’ve seen many good signs on our march. In Kursk, a rainbow appeared over the Cathedral of St Sofia”. He found a photograph that documented the appearance. “You see, it’s amazingly bright, and see how round it is, you don’t see that very often. I think that’s a sign from God the Father”, Fr Avenir said.
We weren’t able to finish our conversation. We saw the main body of marchers, or, rather, they saw us. They were walking at a brisk pace, even though the road was generally going uphill. Tyagun… in the language of far-off invaders from long ago. The pilgrims were carrying banners and the most important holy object, the icon itself. We know from the stories of pilgrims that if you try to carry the icon at elbow level, it moves, seemingly by itself, to a position above one’s head. This is considered very good. Everyone assured me that one experiences inexpressible sensations of God and Paradise, and one feels the intercession of the Most High as one does this. I am very near the icon, now. “Christ is risen!” the pilgrims shouted, not breaking their brisk pace in the least. They raised the icon a bit higher as they passed by me…
The marchers are only carrying the absolute minimum of supplies with them, such as sleeping-bags and canteens for drinking water. Most of their supplies are carried in two cars following them. When they stop for the night, they sleep in schools, monasteries, recreation halls, in other words, they take what is offered to them. Nevertheless, it doesn’t bother them in the least, for they consider that it’s God gift to be on the pilgrimage at all.
Mother of God “Stand for Christ with the Martyr’s Cross”
All of the eight segments of the pilgrimage met at the Kolomna museum-preserve. From here, they proceeded together to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Patriarch Aleksei was the chief celebrant of the service and he reminded everybody that it was precisely in this church, one year ago this May, that the Act of Canonical Communion was signed, reuniting the Russian Orthodox Church. “Russia in exile yearned for this event for 80 years. The disordered conditions flowing from the Revolution and Civil War forced many of our compatriots to flee the motherland and to settle under adverse conditions in new homes abroad. At the same time, the Church in Russia had to walk a difficult path. We suffered repression and persecutions. The Assembly of the New Martyrs proved their faithfulness to Christ by standing for the Faith and accepting a martyr’s death”, the patriarch said. Surrounding His Holiness were the more than four thousand pilgrims from the eight columns of the procession and the faithful who joined them in Moscow.
11 June 2008
Moskovsky Komsomolets (Moscow Komsomol Member)
Quoted in Interfax-Religion