More than a thousand faithful gathered on Sunday morning for a Liturgy served by Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias in the new Cathedral of the Assumption of the Mother of God in Astana. According to our Interfax-Religion correspondent, worshippers arrived at the church long before the service, and patiently waited for the doors to open for the patriarchal liturgy, despite the heavy frost (the still-air temperature in Astana on Sunday morning dropped to -30 degrees C (-22 degrees F)).
Patriarch Kirill entered the cathedral amidst solemn chanting performed by the combined choirs of local parishes. Before the Divine Liturgy, His Holiness consecrated the Assumption Cathedral, whose construction, which lasted for five years, was completed in time for the Patriarch’s visit to Kazakhstan. Together with His Holiness, the bishops of the Kazakhstan Metropolia, headed by Metropolitan Mefody Nemtsov of Astana and Alma-Ata, and priests in white and gold vestments took part in the services. Members of the government of Kazakhstan and the municipal administration of Astana attended the service, as well. “I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the President of Kazakhstan, the local authorities, and Vladyki Metropolitan Mefody for all their efforts, which resulted in the construction of this majestic cathedral for the new capital of Kazakhstan. It gives me great pleasure to come to Kazakhstan in the first year of my patriarchal ministry. God so willed it so that my programme has changed. We were going to visit Alma-Ata, then, we were going to arrive in Astana on Monday for the dedication of the new cathedral. However, God disposed otherwise and turned our plane around. We began our procession on Kazakh soil in its new capital, with an incredible event of great significance, the consecration of this magnificent cathedral”, the patriarch said in his welcoming remarks after the consecration of the cathedral and liturgy.
As a memento of his visit to the cathedral, he gave the church an icon of the Mother of God with a commemorative inscription, and he gave believers icon cards in celebration of Epiphany. Patriarch Kirill expressed his special thanks to those who assisted in the construction of the cathedral, and gave them church decorations. The high walls of the Assumption Cathedral are not yet covered with frescoes, but in honour of the festivities, the church was decorated with bouquets of fresh flowers. After the service, Patriarch Cyril travelled to the airport in Astana, where his plane waited to fly him to Alma-Ata. On that same day, he is to meet with the public at the Alma-Ata Abai State Academic Opera and Ballet. On Sunday night, Patriarch Kirill will serve an all-night vigil for Epiphany Eve at St Nicholas Church in Alma-Ata. The next day, the patriarch Kirill shall be the main celebrant of the Divine Liturgy at Ascension Cathedral in Alma-Ata. Also on the agenda of the visit of Patriarch Kirill in Kazakhstan is a scheduled meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The decision to erect a cathedral in Astana took place in 1999, but construction work only began in 2005. The majestic five-domed cathedral has a height of almost 70 metres (230 feet) and consists of upper and lower churches with a total area of more than 2,000 square metres (21,528 square feet), with a total capacity of some 4,000 worshippers.
Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias (1946- ), with his gift to the new Cathedral of the Assumption of the Mother of God in Astana in Kazakhstan. The priest on the right holding the icon appears to be the indefatigable Fr Vsevolod Chaplin (1968- )… a “Lenin’s Tomb moment”, no? (All you old Sovietology hands know what I’m talking about!)
Patriarch Kirill welcomed the revival of religious life in Kazakhstan, focusing in particular on the Orthodox faith. “I hope that this church, like the temples of other religions in Kazakhstan, will contribute to the prosperity of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious Kazakh state”, Patriarch Kirill said on Sunday after the consecration of Assumption Cathedral of Astana. He noted, “Today, there is a revival of faith amongst our fraternal peoples, especially amongst those who lived in the former Soviet Union and lived through years of state-imposed atheism”. In his view, these people particularly understand the horror of “life without God”, but also realise that the “fear of God is a profound moral concept, a signpost for our people. Through the development of our spiritual life, we create a healthy social life”, and he expressed gratitude to President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, the government of of the republic, and all the philanthropists who assisted with the construction of the Assumption Cathedral. Patriarch Kirill also announced that on Monday he would award to Mr Nazarbayev one of the highest awards of the MP “in gratitude for his aid in the construction of the cathedral and for the good treatment he extends to all believers in Kazakhstan, including Orthodox Christians”.
On Sunday evening, thousands of Orthodox faithful in Alma-Ata came to greet Patriarch Kirill at St Nicholas Cathedral. As reported by our Interfax-Religion correspondent, the patriarch entered the cathedral with a delegation of the MP as choirs sang solemn chants to venerate the relics of Holy New Martyr and Confessor Nikolai Mogilevsky, Metropolitan of Kazakhstan, and after a brief molieben spoke to the audience. “Under the arches of this temple, I would like to thank God for everyone who was faithful in Kazakhstan, who laid their lives on the line for their faith in Christ, who bore the brunt of a heavy burden of persecution in a time of great trial”, he said. His Holiness urged everyone to pray to all the saints of Kazakhstan, “That today, they would go before the Lord and pray for the Orthodox people of this country”. Vladyki Kirill expressed the hope that Orthodox life in Kazakhstan would “improve and develop, and wished that all believers could maintain their moral strength and increase their capacity for loving both those who are near to us and mankind in general, so that they could change lives, both themselves and all those around us”. The faithful who gathered in the cathedral, many listening to the patriarch with tears in their eyes, met his words with cries of response, “Save us, O Lord! (Спаси, Господи!)” The audience reacted with particular fervour to a gift of Patriarch Kirill to St Nicholas Cathedral, an icon of St Matrona of Moscow with a particle of her relics. In addition, the patriarch gave each of the worshippers a small icon of the Epiphany with his blessing. When the First Hierarch left the cathedral, the faithful surrounded his car, and saw him off with joyful cries of “Many years to our patriarch! (Многая лета патриарху!)”
Patriarch Kirill with the clergy in the new Cathedral of the Assumption in Astana. Do note well that it is NOT a phoney “peek-a-boo” iconostas like the one at SVS in Yonkers.
Patriarch Kirill thought that the inter-ethnic relations and tolerance found in Kazakhstan is unique and historically specific to the Kazakh people. “Those of us in Russia and the other post-Soviet states will never forget their experience with the Kazakh people in the difficult years of the people’s suffering”, the patriarch on Sunday at a public meeting in Alma-Ata in the Abai State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. Moreover, he recalled how during the years of Soviet repression thousands of exiles were sent out into the steppes of Kazakhstan, and he pointed up that the local population was mostly kind to them and did what they could to assist them. As a result, according to His Holiness, many were able to save their lives because “compassion was more important than political correctness, it was stronger than any fear of punishment”. Patriarch Kirill noted that his last visit was 27 years ago, and that Alma-Ata changed beyond recognition, and Kazakhstan as a whole has become “a dynamic state”. In his opinion, Kazakhstan’s current chairmanship of the OBSE is not random, but symbolises the recognition by the international community of the role the state plays in promoting intercultural and interethnic dialogue. First Lady Sara Nazarbayeva attended the meeting with Patriarch Cyril at the Abai Theatre.
Patriarch Kirill looks forward to a strengthening of economic ties between Russia and Kazakhstan, and urges everyone not to forget the unity of the spiritual values of both states. “I hope that the leaders of all the countries of our common historical space, which formed the common spiritual and historical factors of our common life, will make efforts so that these spiritual and cultural factors are not destroyed, but, on the contrary, would maintain their relevance”, the patriarch said on Sunday at a public meeting Alma-Ata in the Abai State Academic Opera and Ballet. He praised the people of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia for their creation of a single customs area, wished them “success in their coordination of economic policy. But it will only be complete with interaction between our peoples, which is based on a common historical memory, shared values, and mutual fraternal support”, the patriarch emphasised. According to him, the MP respects the sovereignty and national choices of all the peoples who live on its canonical territory, but it is “not only the Church of the Russian Federation”. No sovereignty, Patriarch Kirill said, “should in no way be locked up in a confrontation between peoples”. In addition, His Holiness said that Orthodoxy “is an integral part of the long history of Kazakhstan, and, hence, an integral part of its future”, stating that about a third of the population are Orthodox.
Patriarch Kirill greeting the faithful outside of St Nicholas Cathedral in Alma-Ata
Patriarch Kirill believes that talking about the possibility of the canonisation of his grandfather, Fr Vasili Gundyaev, is rather premature. “I knew my grandfather; he really was a great man. I owe a great many things to him, through his prayers. But simply to have respect and even love for a man does not mean that he was worthy of canonisation”, the patriarch said on Sunday at a meeting in Alma-Ata at the Abai Opera and Ballet Theatre. This was the patriarch’s reply to a question from a female believer in the audience about why has not canonized Metropolitan Iosif Chernov of Alma-Ata, the head of the local diocese from 1960 to 1975. Patriarch Kirill said that he personally knew Vladyki Iosif very well, that he was a friend of his spiritual father, Metropolitan Nikodim Rotov, and he remembers, “What a wonderful man he was. However, there are very specific criteria that you must apply to a given person to decide whether the man was a saint or not. The fact that one confesses the faith full and entire does not mean the same thing as sanctity”.
Patriarch Kirill said that he couldn’t yet agree with those who believe that his grandfather is “one of the choir of confessors”. At the same time, the patriarch pointed up that his grandfather, a father of seven children, was imprisoned in labour camps for almost 25 years, “merely for holding the Christian faith”, and, then, for many years served as a priest in Bashkortostan in the Urals. “If we canonise people who are simply wonderful and respectable, we distort the very notion of holiness and affirm a great sin”, His Holiness said, adding, “We don’t make saints on demand. No bishop, indeed, not even I as patriarch can give the command, ‘canonise this man’, if that person does not meet all the criteria that exist throughout the Church, not only in our country, and over the two thousand years [of the Church's history]”.
One of the criteria of holiness, in the words of the patriarch, is the prayerful veneration of the faithful of the holy one, “they appeal to him in prayer, and they record his miracles”. If Metropolitan Iosif Chernov is canonised in future, said Vladyki Kirill, it will be “not because the patriarch wished it so, but because the piety of the people paid reverence for this man, and that phenomenon was accompanied by signs and wonders, that will give everyone an opportunity to verify that he was a saint”. ” In addition, he said, it has only been a short time since the death of Metropolitan Iosif in 1975, so, we need a bit more time for “reflection and prayer so that the Lord can reveal to us whether he is worthy [of canonisation]”. Nevertheless, the patriarch emphasised that he very much welcomes the popular veneration of Vladyki Iosif. “I must say that I greatly admire him myself”, he confessed.
17 January 2010