St Nicholas Cathedral: A photo essay

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Standing in the Cathedral after Sunday Liturgy on August 12, 2012. In addition to its magnificent and historic iconography, completed in the 1990s following the dissolution of the USSR, the Cathedral houses the relics of many saints, including St John of Kronstadt, St Elizabeth the New Martyr, St Herman, apostle to Alaska, St Innocent, metropolitan of Moscow and apostle to Alaska, St Tikhon, and St Daniel of Moscow.

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Gazing up at the dome with the image of Christos Pantokrator (Christ as Ruler of All, or Lord of the Universe) offering all worshipers His benediction.

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The choir gallery overlooking the nave, with beautiful frescoes of the Russian New Martyrs on the left and right as well as many of the North American saints. Note the magnificent fresco of Christ’s Resurrection on the wall hanging over the gallery as well as the ceiling icons of the Great Feasts of the Dormition of the Theotokos (L) and that of Pentecost, the Decent of the Holy Spirit (R). Symbolizing the triumphant restoration of Orthodoxy in Russian life, the fresco of Moscow’s rebuilt Christ the Savior Cathedral – initially demolished under Stalin’s orders in 1931- crowns the beautiful choir gallery.

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The four writers of the Gospels are depicted on the pendentives supporting the dome. Higher up, closer to Christ, are depicted the cherubim and seraphim and other angelic powers of heaven. The red fire symbolizes the Holy Spirit descending to and filling the earth.

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The frescoed icons on the Cathedral’s north wall depict the life and deeds of St Nicholas, the fourth century bishop of Myra (located in modern day Turkey), and patron saint of Greece, Russia, and many ancient cities. Can you find the picture of the saint rescuing a drowning man?

Worshipers light candles in memory of their departed loved ones before this beautiful wooden crucifix of the crucified Christ with His Blessed Mother the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary and His Beloved Disciple, the apostle John the Theologian, standing by Him. The skull below the cross reflects Christ’s saving triumph over Death, the enemy of His Kingdom which is everlasting life.

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A reliquary of St Herman of Alaska (1756-1837), patron saint of Orthodoxy in the Americas and peaceful evangelist to many native Alaskan tribes.

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Relics of the Romanov Imperial Family of Russia, who were murdered on Lenin’s others on July 17, 1918: the Emperor or Tsar Nicholas Alexandrovich II, his consort the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and their children. Orthodox Christians venerate them as “Passion-bearers” who graciously and courageously bore many sufferings and imprisonment and went to their deaths with great fortitude.

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Relic of Saint Sergius, fourteenth century Wonder-worker and deeply beloved Russian saint (d. 1392).

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Looking toward the iconostasis and the apse above the altar. Along with most of the interior fresco work, after the fall of the Soviet Union expert Russian iconographers completed the beautiful iconostasis (icon stand) which separates the altar area from the main part of the Cathedral. This evokes the Temple at Jerusalem which had a ‘holy of holies’ in which the Tabernacle was kept.

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Relics of many ancient and new Russian saints, including St Elizabeth the New Martyr (front right).
Saint Elizabeth (1864 – 1918) was the wife of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, fifth son of Emperor Alexander II of Russia and Empress Maria Alexandrovna (born Princess Dagmar of Denmark, she was the sister to Alexandra who became Queen of the United Kingdom as consort to Edward VII). Princess Elizabeth and her sister Alix, who in 1894 became the wife of the new Russian Emperor Nicholas II as Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, were granddaughters of Britain’s Queen Victoria.
After an anarchist assassinated her husband, Grand Duchess Elizabeth visited the man, offering him her forgiveness, but he refused her offer to intercede with her brother-in-law for a reprieve from execution. She went on to found a convent dedicated to ministering to Moscow’s poor, and as part of her efforts she petitioned the Russian Church to restore the historic female diaconate. She opened the Martha and Mary Home in Moscow to utilize the prayer and charity of devout Russian women. For many years she helped the poor and orphans through this Moscow home.
In 1918, the Communist government exiled her to Yekaterinburg and then to Alapaevsk, where she and several other members of the Imperial Family were violently killed by the local Bolsheviks on July 18, 1918. She was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 1981, and by the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole in 1992 as New-Martyr Elizabeth.

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Reliquary of the Great Martyr Saint Catherine of Alexandria (287-305), an Egyptian princess and scholar whose erudition and learned arguments inspired the conversion of thousands. She was brutally put to death on the orders of the pagan Roman Emperor Maxentius, whom Constantine defeated in October 312 at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge outside Rome. In the fifteenth century another virgin saint, the young Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc) received visions of St. Catherine exhorting her to drive the English out of France.

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Fragrant double icon depicting two pillars of the Orthodox faith in Russia. Saint John of Kronstadt (1829-1908), shown offering the Communion chalice and a benediction, is one of the most beloved Russian saints to whom thousands would come seeking his ascetic and pastoral advice. He wrote widely on many topics, especially on the profound existential need to cultivate transcendent Christian love and forgiveness.
He is shown with Saint Matrona of Moscow (1885-1952) because when he saw her as a young, blind girl in a crowd, he predicted she would be his spiritual successor. Blessed Matrona healed many people of their spiritual diseases and predicted numerous marriages, events and deaths- including her own.

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Standing in the choir, looking toward the iconostasis and the apse icon of the Panagia Theotokos (All-Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary). The elaborate chandelier, lit at various points of the divine offices, symbolizes the eternal presence of God’s grace in His Church, the radiance of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the abiding light of the Holy Spirit.

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Gazing down over the nave from the choir gallery. Approaching the central icon stand before the iconostasis, worshipers first venerate the cathedral’s principal icon of the holy person or God. Upon entering any Orthodox church, worshipers bow before the divine presence in the altar where the Eucharist is offered as the mystical transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord.

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Standing in the lofted gallery where I sing with the choir. This is one of my favorite pictures of the Cathedral interior because one really has a strong sense of the iconography- the ‘image writing’, as the term means from the Greek- as a powerful tool for the theological education of the faithful who see and comprehend the many magnificent images depicting the saints.

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Centered shot of the dome and its supporting columns and pendentives.

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The Cathedral shining in the late summer sunshine! Russian and American architects designed the Cathedral to evoke a twelfth century church in Vladimir, an ancient Russian city on the Klyazma River some 200 km (120 miles) east of Moscow. In 1988 the bell tower was erected as a gift from the Moscow Patriarchate to the Cathedral commemorating the one thousandth anniversary of the conversion of St. Prince Vladimir of Kiev and his people to Eastern Christianity. 

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Kontakion to the Theotokos as Champion Leader and Defender of Constantinople

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-omWZieJMvY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

This beautiful Byzantine kontakion “To thee, my Champion”, featuring both male and female chanters, commemorates the miraculous deliverance of the Imperial Capital of Constantinople from almost certain conquest by Arab besiegers in 718. Contemporaries, including then Patriarch and future saint Germanus (r. 715-30) attributed the city’s salvation to the intercessions of the Theotokos.

The award-winning Cappella Romana, a Byzantine vocal ensemble formed in 1991 in Portland, Oregon, chants this magnificent piece, taken from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Music of Byzantium” CD. A similar Greek version of this kontakion, featuring exclusively male voices and images from a Russian Orthodox liturgy, can be found here.

Members of Cappella Romana, directed by Alexander Lingas, a musicologist of Byzantine music at City University in London.

St Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople composed this hymn of thanksgiving on the eve of the Annunciation in the year 718. Here is the link through which I located the following information on the background of the composition of St Germanus’ hymn.

“In 717-718, led by the Saracen [Umayyad] general Maslamah [full name: Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik, called Μασαλμᾶς in contemporary Byzantine accounts], the Arab fleet laid siege once more to the city. The numerical superiority of the enemy was so overwhelming that the fall of the Imperial City seemed imminent.

But then the Mother of God, together with a multitude of the angelic hosts, appeared suddenly over the city walls. The enemy forces, struck with terror and thrown into a panic at this apparition, fled in disarray. Soon after this, the Arab fleet was utterly destroyed by a terrible storm in the Aegean Sea on the eve of the Annunciation, March 24, 718.

Thenceforth, a special “feast of victory and of thanksgiving” was dedicated to celebrate and commemorate these benefactions. In this magnificent service, the Akathist Hymn is prominent and holds the place of honour.

It was only on the occasion of the great miracle wrought for the Christian populace of the Imperial City on the eve of the Annunciation in 718 that the hymn “To thee, the Champion Leader” was composed, most likely by Saint Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople.”

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Community or Church?

“Until recent times, Christians had become too used to power, taking it for granted that people will always come to church (did we really care if their heart was changed by it?). Now we grumble about secular society, while at the same time thinking that the only way to survive is to be as much like secular society as possible! Have we forgotten that the Church grew and flourished when it was a religio illicita? Have we forgotten the martyrs? Have we forgotten that our Church was founded upon blood?

 
As long as our focus is on “Community” and not the Eucharistic Community of Believers; as long as the Gospel and the Eucharist, which we were ordered to perform until Christ comes again, are not the focus of the Community’s life, the Church will not flourish. Better to change the lives of ten people than to draw thousands, only for them to go away unchanged. When will we become again the Church of the Gospel that converted an entire empire and changed the world forever?”

On the thirteenth anniversary of Bishop Basil’s Repose

Today, September 17, 2012, marks the thirteenth anniversary of the repose of His Grace, the late Bishop Basil (Rodzianko) of the OCA Diocese of San Francisco and the West. I will be attending an 8am Liturgy commemorating His Grace of blessed memory at his small apartment here in Washington, D.C. His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah has often celebrated weekday Liturgies here. His Grace peacefully reposed in this studio apartment,  a cozy place filled with books, icons, religious items, and thousands of tape cassettes of his broadcasts, which also contains a beautiful little chapel. Metropolitan Jonah will be celebrating the commemorative Liturgy this morning, and I will share your many prayers and good wishes with him.

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His Grace, the late Bishop Basil Rodzianko (May 22, 1915-September 17, 1999).

My godmother is very devoted to preserving the memory and legacy of Bishop Basil, and she has been instrumental in maintaining the Holy Archangels Foundation, an informal group which he helped organize in 1986 to assist him in his various efforts and broadcasts. This group continued assisting him in the later years of his life in carrying on his various broadcast ministries, writings, and other endeavors.

After his death, the group set to organizing and making available to the public many of Bishop Basil’s incredible sermons, brilliant audio recordings and wide-ranging thoughts on many topics, including Orthodox asceticism, contemplative prayer, the Liturgy, Orthodox history, the communist regimes, spiritual reflection, contemporary issues, personal holiness, and life in the Church. One intriguing and comprehensive result of their collaborative efforts is this beautiful web page. Included on this website is a remarkable and compelling account of Bishop Basil’s fascinating life!

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As a younger, married man living in England, then Fr. Vladimir Rodzianko gave many broadcasts with the BBC. Following his beloved wife’s death, he was tonsured as a monk.

My godmother, whom Bishop Basil as a newly consecrated bishop received into the Church, maintains the small apartment where he lived after his retirement, including the tiny, beautiful chapel where he often celebrated the divine services. While I never knew Bishop Basil in his earthly life, as many of my older friends from St Nicholas did, I have been blessed to hear and read so much of his life that I feel I have come to know him in many ways. This article is one small attempt I have made to describe, in my own words, the extraordinary breadth and impact of his long life.

Metropolitan Jonah has spoken movingly of his vivid memories of Bishop Basil, including in this video which includes his sermon at the Liturgy commemorating His Grace on the tenth anniversary of his repose in 2009 at St Nicholas Cathedral. As my godmother recorded in this article featured on the Cathedral website, His Beatitude observed about Bishop Basil that

“Ten years ago he died and was buried – and yet he is alive in our midst. . . His presence is powerful and the grace of the Holy Spirit allows us to perceive that presence – that grace that came forth from him during his life through his prayers and the grace which comes forth from him now through his prayers”.

These words embody the very fullness of our intentions when we say, in reference to our departed loved ones, “Memory eternal!” / “Вечная память!” For Bishop Basil, however, the extraordinary holiness and depth of faithfulness and wisdom which permeated his life as a monastic and a bishop call to mind another aspect of our references to our beloved ancestors and forerunners who have reposed in the Lord. These words are from the very prayers offered at the commemorative Liturgies in memory of the reposed:

“Among the spirits of the righteous perfected in faith, give rest, O Savior, to the soul of Your servant. . .”

“The righteous perfected in faith”. Many have spoken to me of the deep veneration and love they have for Bishop Basil, and, although the Orthodox Church has yet to formally canonize him as a saint, many ordinary faithful already honor him as such. What is beyond doubt is that, in his vocation as a bishop, Bishop Basil touched the lives of thousands of the faithful with his glowing countenance, demeanor, and kindness of spirit.

My godmother has recounted to me that, on the late bishop’s many visits to Russia, trips on which she often accompanied him, countless ordinary villagers upon first meeting him immediately discerned that he was a holy man. Russian babushkas in particular would exclaim, “He is with the angels!”. Most of us can only ponder what this means, to be in the presence of a living saint! I count the testimonies of those who knew Bishop Basil, especially those who were very close to him, as invaluable in preserving for the rest of us an account of this man’s extraordinary life and the path to holiness which he followed in his later years.

Bishop Basil spent the last fifteen years of his life serving at St Nicholas Cathedral at a time of tremendous growth in parish life, serving as the beloved spiritual father to many in this parish. As a retired bishop, after 1984 he concentrated his efforts on his radio broadcasts to the faithful living in the Soviet Union. My godmother and many others who knew him and frequently traveled with him in Russia have recounted that these broadcasts played a major role in the reemergence of Orthodoxy in Russian spiritual and public life following the collapse of the Communist regime.

Bishop Basil maintained his love for the radio throughout his life.

I count it among the greatest of blessings in my life that I have been able to attend these intimate Liturgies at the chapel where Bishop Basil so often served in his latter years, in the apartment where he lived and reposed. I have felt his calming, healing presence permeating the room and softening the hearts and countenances of all present.

To give you just one small sense of the extraordinary holiness and grace which sanctified and transformed this man’s life as a bishop, here is one quote from a veritable library of sermons, addresses, and special messages he recorded, which are continually being transferred to more updated electronic media files:

“When Christ promised his disciples that the Spirit of God, His Holy Spirit, would descend upon them, He called Him the Comforter. To be in the Spirit promised by Christ is to be comforted, consoled. One need not fear any kind of sorrow or surrounding evil or inner affliction when there is such consolation. But in order to come to this consolation, it is necessary to understand in the depth of one’s soul that any sorrow, any suffering, any affliction is a consequence of sin – either one’s own or another’s. And if you accept everything as your own sin, if you identify yourself with the whole of sinful humanity and understand the fall and that you deprived yourself of Paradise, the Kingdom of Heaven – first of all, you yourself – then tears of repentance will flow at once and with them, all encompassing consolation. Such a person (who has come to such repentance) becomes meek, filled with an inner calm, silence and peace. Only in such a condition is it possible to subdue surrounding evil, win people over and win over the world. ‘Acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved’ said St. Seraphim of Sarov.”

Relatives, close friends, and spiritual sons and daughters of Bishop Basil gather at his grave in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park on September 17, 2009, the tenth anniversary of his repose. Present, among others, are his niece, Matushka Anna, my godmother Marilyn Swezey, His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, Father Valery, acting dean of St Nicholas Cathedral, and his wife, Matushka Marina.

It is my hope that Bishop Basil’s legacy will continue to live on in the stories of all who knew him, and, through their efforts, that more and more people come to know of his extraordinary life. May his memory be eternal! Вечная память!