The Cathedral of Christ the Savior on Orthodox Christmas Day

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior on Orthodox Christmas day         

 

          The Cathedral of Christ the Savior, seen above, was one of the first churches I saw when I visited Russia. Our excursion around the famous sights of Moscow, including this church, happened to fall on the seventh of January. Because of this, we got to see the church on a special day in the Russian orthodox faith: Orthodox Christmas. When we went into the cathedral, the guys had to take their hats off and we girls had to cover our heads with scarves. The architecture, paired with the atmosphere, was absolutely breathtaking. As I tried to take it all in, I wondered how anyone could ever get sick of these views.

          Pause. We’ll come back to this.

          If you’re wondering why I took you down this side street of my memory lane, don’t worry. I’ll tie it in later (at least I’ll do my best to).

Church of the Prophet Elijah

Church of the Prophet Elijah

         The church to the right of the page is located in the city of Yaroslavl. It is named the Church of the Prophet Elijah. This picture is part of the Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Collection in the Library of Congress. I decided to discuss this photo in my first weekly blog because of what I think it says both about Imperial Russia and the revolution that was about to occur.

        The first thing that strikes me about this church is how massive it is, especially in comparison with the white building to the right of it. The church undoubtedly dwarfs the building beside it. The second thing that strikes me about this church is how ornate and detailed it is in design. The onion domes, multiple gold crosses, gates, window markings, and towers (among other things) show its careful and thoughtful design. This church, although unique, is not alone. One can find a ton of churches just as powerful and breathtaking as this one within the Prokudin-Gorskii collection. I believe that this fact paints an informative picture of social life in Imperial Russia. The substantial amount of churches present in the collection, combined with the sheer size and detail of them, show how monumental a role the Russian Orthodox Church (and religion as a whole) played all over the empire.

      Remember at the beginning of this post when I said that I wondered how anyone could get sick of the views present in cathedrals like that of Christ the Savior? Well, I brought it up for a reason. During my time in Russia, I saw more awe-inspiring churches than I can even remember. And guess what? As hard as it may be to believe, they get less and less awe-inspiring the more of them you see. When we first started seeing these churches, my group would take twenty (maybe more) pictures of a single church. By our second week in the country, pretty much all of us would take maybe one picture for every five. Did the churches get any less beautiful and spectacular? No. Were they any less massive or intricately designed? No. Its simply that after you’ve seen so many so frequently, you don’t need more pictures of churches.

      This brings me to my next point. My group was in Russia for two weeks and we got sick of seeing churches. We wanted to see something new, something that better reflected our interests. So what about some of the people who lived in Imperial Russia for their entire life? Were they, perhaps, sick of seeing churches? Did they, possibly, want to move on to something new that better reflected their interests? I believe that this, in fact, was the case with quite a few people within the empire. The church in the picture I chose from the Prokudin-Gorskii collection, a monument of tradition and orthodoxy, could also have inspired some to push against these very ideals. To me, the picture could also be interpreted as a instigator to revolution. For those who were tired of a tsar with absolute power because he held a mandate from God. For those who wanted a shift to something they felt would better reflect their interests. For those who were sick of seeing churches.

     Onto one final point that I’d like to make using this picture. I mentioned earlier that I found sundry pictures of churches like the Church of the Prophet Elijah in the Prokudin-Gorskii collection. Why did I choose this particular church? Well…

     Tada! Look familiar to anyone?

Church of the Prophet Elijah

Church of the Prophet Elijah

     No?

     Need a hint?

     Scroll up.

     Or, you know, you could just read the caption. Its the Church of the Prophet Elijah! If it looks a little different, its because I took it one hundred and three years after Prokudin-Gorskii took the one above. I chose that particular picture of that particular church because I remembered seeing it when I was in Yaroslavl (bonus points if you read my introductory blog post and already knew that I had been to the city!) The final point I want to make with this church is that it is still standing! After 103 years, momentous revolutions, the collapse of the USSR, and (most importantly I believe) arguably the most radically secular period of Russian history. This church, in addition to what it told us about Imperial Russia and the impending revolutions, tells us something important about modern Russia. Or at least modern Yaroslavl. The fact that it has survived for so long shows us that Russian orthodoxy is far from dead within the country and still holds an important place in Russian life.

I suppose over the past one hundred and three years there was someone who didn’t get sick of seeing this church.