Russians in the Holy Land
Four decades ago, the “holy city” was divided into Arab and Jewish parts. West Jerusalem was transferred to the state of Israel formed in Palestine, and East was annexed to Jordan. In June 1967, Israel also captured the eastern part of the city, and later declared all of Jerusalem “the indivisible capital” of the Jewish state. Of course, I knew that the Russian Orthodox Church owned real estate in the Holy Land. But it’s one thing to read about it in foreign magazines and books, and it’s another thing to step into one of the quarters of Jerusalem, which is called “Russian territory” here. And I think my excitement is clear when I see the embossed signs mounted on the houses with the inscription “Russian Spiritual Mission in Jerusalem”. A few steps along the cobblestone street, and in front of me there was a grandiose Trinity Cathedral, built, as I was told, in 1867. The day before, I phoned the head of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Jerusalem, Archimandrite Nikita. He listened to me and said: – Willingly to meet with you. But tomorrow is the feast of the Annunciation. The Trinity Cathedral will be a solemn service. If you want, you can come with me … Early in the morning at the appointed time, a dark BMW-320 rolled up to the hotel. On the windshield there was a sign of the Russian spiritual mission. Acquainted with me, Archimandrite Nikita introduced his deputy Abbot Elisha. In their company, I felt somewhat constrained, but it quickly passed. I was fascinated by the story begun on the way by father Nikita. The first written record of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land known to us was left in 1062 by the monk Varlaam. In 1109, Hegumen Daniel visited Jerusalem. He described his journey in detail, and his “Walk” became a kind of guide for the Russian pilgrims around the Holy Land. By the way, the very word “pilgrim” came, it turns out, from the custom to bring from Palestine an outlandish palm branch in Russia. In the old days, travels to the Holy Sepulcher were full of adventures and dangers. Almost every such case became an event of state and general church importance. One of the pilgrims, the daughter of the Polotsk prince Euphrosyne, was even ranked Russian saints. At home, according to Karamzin, she “worked day and night in writing off church books,” and during the pilgrimage she was “lucky” to die and be buried in the Holy Land. In the middle of the XVII century, the Moscow patriarch Nikon founded a monastery near Moscow, which he called New Jerusalem. In it, according to the drawings of the pilgrim Arseniy Sukhanov, who twice visited Palestine, a grand Resurrection Cathedral was built – a slightly modified copy of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem … Listening to Father Nikita, I looked with some trepidation from the window at the original, towering above East Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was rebuilt in the XII century by the Knights-Crusaders conquering Palestine at the site of the previously destroyed IV century building. Subsequently, the shrine was rebuilt a little and retained a mostly harsh medieval appearance. Having touched the curved streets of the Arab part of the city, we found ourselves in West Jerusalem. The residence of the head of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Jerusalem is located in a modest two-story building near the Trinity Cathedral. I am surprised to draw attention to a white Volkswagen standing next to it with large Latin letters “UN” on the doors and roof. It belongs to the Soviet representatives from the UN military observers. Hegumen Elisei explains that our military, arriving in Jerusalem from Cairo or Damascus, prefer not to stay in city hotels, but in a small comfortable hotel during the mission. After all, here are always happy to see compatriots. We went up to the spacious office of the chief of mission. It is restrained in contrast to the cluttered with tasteless furniture of many of our government offices abroad. Father Nikita said that the idea of establishing a Russian spiritual mission in Jerusalem arose in 1841. Then, in the Holy Synod of the Russian Empire, they decided to approve the permanent stay in the Holy Land of the Russian archimandrite and several monks. They were supposed to conduct services for numerous by that time Russian pilgrims. In order to study the problem, as well as for biblical and archaeological research, Archimandrite Porfiry Uspensky went to Jerusalem. He completed his task, and in 1847 the official opening of the Russian Spiritual Mission took place. Archimandrite took out and showed me instructions that determined the main tasks of the mission in the year of its foundation. “The Russian spiritual mission in Jerusalem,” it said, “serving among heterodox and non-believers as a model of a well-maintained Orthodox monastic monastery, has as its essential purpose the satisfaction of the spiritual needs of the Russian subjects and Russian pilgrims residing there.