Russia (13 days and 12 nights)

 

Program

Day 1,

Afternoon: arrival in St. Petersburg, at Pulkovo Airport, Terminal 2. Transfer to the hotel; check in and have some time to rest. Depending on the time of arrival, there may be time for an evening tour of the city. Dinner at the hotel.

 

Day 2.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

We will begin our day at the Smolensky Cemetery, with a visit to the grave of St. Xenia (d. 1803), the well-known and much-beloved miracle-worker and “Fool for Christ” of St. Petersburg.

Leaving the cemetery, we will go to the State Russian Museum, which houses the most comprehensive collection of Russian art in existence, from the Byzantine era to today. The museum always offers a number of temporary exhibitions as well, for an additional fee.

Nearly adjacent to the Museum stands the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, built by Tsar Alexander III on the site where his father, Tsar Alexander II, was assassinated in 1881. (For this reason it is also called “The Church on Spilt Blood.”) Intended as a memorial, it has never functioned as a parish church.  The exterior of the building is set with tablets that chronicle the events of Tsar Alexander’s life, as well as his decrees, which included the emancipation of the serfs (though such advances came too slowly for the terrorists who killed him). The interior of the cathedral is famed for its fine mosaics, covering walls and ceiling; in all, the church’s exterior and interior are covered with over 21 thousand square feet of mosaic art.

After visiting the church there will be an opportunity to shop for gifts and memorabilia in a nearby souvenir market.

At the end of the day we will visit Alexander Nevsky Lavra, which was founded in 1710 by Peter the Great. At one time it was one of the largest monasteries of Imperial Russia. (In Russia, “Lavra” is the designation bestowed on the most important monasteries.) We will tour the grounds of the monastery and visit the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, where the relics of St. Alexander Nevsky are preserved. We will visit as well the monastery’s cemetery, final resting place of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and many other Russian artists, musicians, and writers.

 

Day 3

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

We will start our day with a visit to the St. John of Rila Monastery, a woman’s monastery on the banks of the Karpovka River, founded by St. John of Kronstadt in 1900. We will have an opportunity to pray before the relics of St. John of Kronstadt, which are housed in the crypt of the monastery church.

From there we will go to the Hermitage, the world-famous museum founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great. It contains the largest collection of paintings in the world, and includes artifacts dating from Neolithic times and ancient Egypt up to the early 20th century. This vast collection includes some 3 million items, though only a portion can be displayed at any one time.

The Hermitage is housed in six historic buildings, the best known being the Winter Palace of the Russian Tsars. Travelers may be interested in viewing the 2003 movie Russian Ark, which takes the viewer on a whirlwind journey through the Winter Palace, showing it at various moments in history. The film was celebrated for its technical achievement: it was filmed in a single, unbroken 96-minute take, with the camera moving steadily through the rooms as some 2000 actors stepped into view to play their parts.

This afternoon we will visit the Cathedral of St. Isaac, one of the world’s largest domed Cathedrals. It was built in honor of St. Isaac of Dalmatia, the patron saint of Peter the Great. We will have an opportunity to take in the magnificent panoramic view of St. Petersburg which is available from the observation deck around the cathedral’s dome.

Tonight we will embark on our cruise to Valaam.

 

Day 4.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

Valaam Monastery, on the island of Valaam in Lake Logoda, is one of the most renowned Russian monasteries, and is called “Athos of the North.” This monastery has a special significance to Americans. In the late 18th century, a handful of Valaam monks heard an appeal to preach the gospel to the Native Alaskans, and set out to fulfill that call-a trip of 8000 miles, much of it on foot. One of these monks was St. Herman of Alaska, who is particularly beloved by American Orthodox. St. Herman called his home on an island near Kodiak, Alaska, “New Valaam.”

During the Soviet era Valaam Monastery was evacuated and used as a military base, but it was returned to the church in 1989 and has been carefully restored. We will be able to explore the grounds of the monastery and visit several sketes (small dependencies of a monastery), and walk to the pristine forests of the islands.

 

Day 5.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

In the morning we will return to St. Petersburg from Valaam, and begin the day’s activities with a visit to the Ss. Peter and Paul Fortress.  The original fort at this location was the first structure built in the city, constructed as a defense against Swedish invasion by Peter the Great. It is here that Dostoevsky was imprisoned, and here he endured the mock execution that was to affect him so powerfully for the rest of his life.

The Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral, built between 1712-1733, was designed by an Italian architect, for Peter the Great wanted this style of European architecture to replace the older Russian style. The cathedral is the final resting place of the rulers of the Romanov dynasty, including the royal martyrs Tsar Nicholas II and his family.

Next we will take a 1-hour journey by hydrofoil to Peterhof, a series of beautiful palaces and gardens laid out by Peter the Great. After a break for lunch, we will tour the gardens, with their extraordinary and inventive golden fountains, and the Grand Palace, which was Peter the Great’s summer home.

We will end the day with a visit to Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral, built in 1905, in the classic Russian style that had just come back into fashion. The 5-tier iconostasis is unusual in that it is not painted or made of mosaics, but constructed of glazed ceramic tiles.

In the evening we will transfer to Novgorod where we will stay for two nights.

 

Day 6.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

Novgorod is a clean, quiet city typical of Russia’s northwest, but, unlike St. Petersburg, its roots are very ancient. Though its name means “New City,” Novgorod first appears in a historical document in AD 859, and it is home to some of the nation’s oldest buildings.

After breakfast at the hotel we will visit Novgorod’s Kremlin (the term means the fortified inner center of any ancient Russian city). The buildings here were built in the 11th -16th centuries; most impressive is the Cathedral of St. Sophia (Holy Wisdom), built 1045-1050. It has survived largely intact over the centuries, and is the oldest church building in the country. Here we will see the icon of Our Lady of the Sign (which depicts the Christ Child in the Virgin’s womb), which is associated with a miracle of great significance in the city’s history (more below). In addition to the cathedral, we will visit several museums in the Kremlin to take in historic and art exhibits. (In Novgorod, the Kremlin is also known as the “Detinets.”)

After lunch we will go to the market square, the center of the medieval city’s commerce and interaction. It is called Yaroslav’s Court, for the 10th century prince who built his palace here. A number of churches lie in close proximity to each other in the market square, a testimony to the piety of the tradesmen of old Novgorod.

From the marketplace we will walk down Ilina Street to Our Lady of the Sign Cathedral (Znamensky Cathedral). The cathedral was built in thanksgiving for a miracle, in which the city was delivered from attacking forces.

It was AD 1170, and troops surrounded Novgorod. As the people prayed all night for deliverance, their spiritual shepherd, Archbishop Ilya, heard a voice directing him to take the icon of Our Lady of the Sign from the Church of the Transfiguration and carry it in procession, walking down Ilina Street and then around the walls of the city.

As he did so, followed by the people, the icon was struck by an enemy arrow. Tears began to fall from the Virgin’s eyes, and she turned her face to gaze upon the city. The surrounding forces were terrified and thrown into confusion, and the defenders of Novgorod defeated their attackers. Ever since, the icon has been regarded as the emblem of Novgorod. It remained in the Church of the Transfiguration for some centuries, until the Cathedral of the Sign was built in its honor (the current building dates to AD 1688). At the end of the Soviet era, the miraculous icon was moved to the Cathedral of St. Sophia.

The Church of the Transfiguration, the miraculous icon’s original home, was built in 1374, and its frescos were painted by the illustrious medieval iconographer, Theophanes the Greek. Born in Constantinople, Theophanes spent his adult life in Novgorod and Moscow. He was a contemporary of St. Andrei Rublev, and when he received the commission to paint the walls of Annunciation Cathedral in Moscow, in 1405, invited St. Andrei to assist him. Theophanes’ dynamic, expressive style contrasts with St. Andrei’s shimmering stillness and clarity.

Late in the afternoon we will visit the Khutyn Monastery of the Transfiguration, also known as the Monastery of St. Varlaam (for its founder, who died in 1193). When the 15thcentury ruler Ivan the Great commanded St. Varlaam’s tomb to be opened so that he might see the relics, smoke and fire came forth from it. The king fled, leaving his staff behind, and the monks displayed it for many years.

In the evening there will be an opportunity for an optional boat ride on Volkhov River, which provides splendid views of the city.

 

Day 7.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

This Sunday morning begins with the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of St. Sophia. Orthodox Christians who wish to commune today are required to follow Russian Orthodox custom and make their confession immediately before the liturgy.

After the service we will travel to the outskirts of the city to visit St. George (Yuriev) Monastery, one of the oldest monasteries in Russia. The main church was founded in AD 1119, and some of its medieval frescoes remain. The monastery was severely damaged during the Soviet era, and five of its six churches were demolished. During World War II, German troops seized the remaining buildings and left them greatly damaged. The property was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991, but it still awaits full restoration.

Next we will visit the Vitoslavlitsy Museum of Wooden Architecture. In the 12th century the town of Vitoslavlitsy was located here, between Novgorod and the St. George Monastery. Though the town is gone, the charming rural landscape remains much the same, and so it was chosen as the location for an open-air museum. Churches, homes, and other structures were brought from across the region and carefully rebuilt. This outdoor museum enables the visitor to stroll from one century to the next, as docents in costume demonstrate the life and culture of each era.

From here we will journey east to another important center of medieval Russia: the city of Pskov.

 

Day 8.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

We will begin the day with a visit to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, situated in the midst of Pskov’s Kremlin. The first church on this spot is credited to Princess St. Olga (AD 890-969), Equal to the Apostles, the first Russian ruler to embrace the Christian faith.

Next we will proceed to the Pskov State Museum, to view their excellent collection of paintings, icons, folk art, silver art, and ecclesiastical items.

After that we will visit two jewels of Pskov, the Mirozhsky Monastery (home to a number of rare 12th century frescos) and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (built in 1240). Tuesday will be the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, according to the Old Calendar, and we will attend Vespers of the Feast at one of these churches.

 

Day 9.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

In the morning we will attend the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul.  As on Sunday, Orthodox Christians who wish to receive communion must make their confession before the liturgy.

Next we will visit the ancient Pskov-Pechory Monastery of the Dormition (the Pskov Caves Monastery), which was, by God’s grace, left undamaged by the Soviets. In ancient times, even before the monastery was built, the land was already locally regarded as a holy place, where the singing of angels was sometimes heard.  The bluff of the river held a natural network of tunnels and caves, and in 1472 the monastery’s founder dug out the interior of an existing cave to create a church. Over the centuries the monastery expanded, with monks occupying the caverns as cells, chapels, and burial places, and constructing buildings as well.

After our pilgrimage to the monastery we will go to the 9th century village of Izborsk, to walk through the ruins of its medieval fortress. We will also visit its famed ice-cold springs, reputed since ancient times to have healing and rejuvenating powers. If time permits we will also visit the small village of Vybuty, honored as the birthplace of Princess St. Olga, Equal-to-the-Apostles.

Tonight we will board the train for an overnight trip to Moscow.

 

Day 10.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

Upon arriving in Moscow we will continue some miles east to the small village of Semhoz and visit the church built on the site where, in 1990, Fr. Alexander Men was assassinated. Fr. Alexander was a priest widely known for his eloquence in spreading the Gospel; he wrote dozens of books, gave lectures, started Sunday Schools, helped found the Russian Bible Society, and made use of mass media when possible. He did a great deal to re-acquaint Russians with their Orthodox faith, which had been violently suppressed by the Soviet regime, and in some ways served as a modern-day apostle, re-introducing a faith that had been crushed. Fr. Alexander was hated both by the Communist powers, and by some very conservative Orthodox, who believed his willingness to work with Protestant and Catholic Christians went too far. His murderer used an ax, a mode of killing associated with vengeance. Some consider Fr. Alexander a martyr, and there is a movement for him to be recognized as a saint.

From here we will go to the nearby town of Sergiev Posad and visit the renowned Holy Trinity Lavra. This monastery was founded in AD 1345 by St. Sergius of Radonezh, one of Russia’s most beloved saints, and it became the leading spiritual center of all Russia. The iconographer St. Andrei Rublev was a spiritual child of St. Sergius, and painted his well-known icon of the Holy Trinity to adorn his elder’s tomb.

We will have time to explore the monastery grounds and its numerous churches. Nearby there are some little shops for purchasing mementos, less expensive here than in Moscow.

After lunch we will visit Butovo, where there is a somber memorial to one of the most bloody events of the Communist regime. Between August 1937 and October 1938, over 20,000 people were executed at the firing range here, and their bodies dumped in mass graves. An Orthodox church on the site stands as a memorial to these victims of Stalin.

 

Day 11.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

We will start our day with a visit to Sretensky Monastery, founded in 1397. The name means “Meeting,” and the monastery was built to honor the spot where the prince and people of Moscow “met” the icon of the Virgin of Vladimir, after it was brought from the city of Vladimir to defend Moscow against the army of Tamerlane. (The icon no longer resides in this monastery, however; we will see it tomorrow.)

From here we will proceed to Kremlin of Moscow, home of some of Russia’s most beautiful buildings. We will visit Uspensky (Dormition) Cathedral, built in the 15th century; this is where the Russian emperors were crowned, and where patriarchs and metropolitans were raised to their office.

We will go on to visit the Patriarch’s Palace, and after that the Armoury Museum, where historic treasures of church and state are displayed.

Leaving the Kremlin we will go to Red Square, where the Cathedral of St. Basil stands at the very center of the city. Built in 1555-1561, this is the most famous, and most recognizable, of all Russian churches, with its multitude of beautiful and varied domes.

Later in the afternoon we will visit Donskoy Monastery, where St. Tikhon, Apostle to America, is buried. Between 1898 and 1907 he served as Bishop of the Aleutians and North America, and helped found a number of American churches. During those years he obtained American citizenship.

St. Tikhon returned to Russia and was made Metropolitan of Moscow in the momentous year of 1917. He spoke out against the assassination of the emperor and his family, and criticized government seizure of churches. For this he was imprisoned at Donskoy Monastery, but even after he was freed he chose to continue living there. St. Tikhon reposed in 1925 and was buried at the monastery; he was canonized in 1989.

 

Day 12.

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch.

We will start the day with a visit to the Ss. Martha and Mary Monastery, which was founded by Grand Duchess St. Elizabeth the New Martyr (whose sister was Alexandra, wife of Tsar Nicholas II). St. Elizabeth’s husband, Grand Duke Sergeii, was killed on the doorstep of their home, the victim of a terrorist’s bomb. Once widowed, St. Elizabeth retired from the life of the imperial court. She sold her belongings and built a hospital for wounded soldiers and a girl’s orphanage, and this monastery for the women who ministered to them. At one point, the nuns were serving 300 meals to the poor daily.

In 1918 St. Elizabeth was arrested and, with her companion the nun St. Barbara and some men from noble families, taken by night to an abandoned mine. There they were beaten (Elizabeth first) and thrown down the shaft. From the depths of the pit the soldiers could hear the prisoners singing a hymn. Unnerved, they threw down grenades, but the singing continued. Finally, they shoved brushwood down into the pit and set it on fire.

Months later, sympathizers retrieved the remains of these victims. They found that, before dying, St. Elizabeth had torn strips from her clothing to bandage the head of another victim. The monastery was shuttered by the Soviets and the nuns dispersed; it opened again only in 1994.

Just a short walk from here is the Tretyakov Gallery, which houses the finest collection of Russian art in the world. Here we will see the two most famous Russian icons, the Virgin of Vladimir and St. Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity.

After lunch we will visit the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the tallest Orthodox church in the world. The original cathedral on this spot-which was nearly identical to the present structure-was dynamited in 1931 on Stalin’s orders, to make way for a planned “Palace of the Soviets.” That “palace” was never built, and eventually the empty foundation was converted into the world’s largest open-air swimming pool. In 1990, the Russian Orthodox Church was given permission to rebuild the cathedral, and formed a plan to raise from these foundations a church that was virtually identical to the one that was destroyed. Over a million ordinary Moscow citizens contributed to the fund. The majestic new cathedral was consecrated on the Feast of the Transfiguration, 2000.

Lastly we will visit Arbat Street, which has been a trade route and center for craftsmen and shopkeepers since the 15th century. Now a pedestrian mall, with plenty of open-air artists at work, it will offer a last opportunity to pick up mementos and gifts before the journey home. The bus will pick us up to return to the hotel at 9:00 pm.

Day 13.

Breakfast.

Transfer Hotel — Airport.

 

Price per person in euro:

№ pers. 4 7 15 19 28 45
Price            

 

Price includes:

  • Accommodation in 3-star hotels in St. Petersburg, Novgorod, Pskov and Moscow.
  • Three meals daily.
  • Private bus transportation when required.
  • Two night/one day cruise to Valaam.
  • Overnight sleeper train from Pskov to Moscow.
  • Admission to all scheduled museums.
  • Professional English-speaking tour guides.

The price does not include: airline ticket.

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