It was by suggestion, my teacher said,” It would be good if you could take a trip to Russia, see, and learn more about the icons you are making”. Intrigued by this suggestion, I took it to heart.
It seemed a trip was meant to be, because all things fell right into place soon after the suggestion. I had heard about one or two tours available from the USA to Russia that were reputable but, one stood out specifically. I booked a tour with the company called Orthodox Tours. It was to Russia’s Golden Ring, 2006, a three-week journey, the map forms a circle, leading the traveler to the most significant, historical cities in Russia that involved art, history, and the icon. The golden rings historical sites included, Sergiev Posad, Pereyaslavl, Rostov The Great, Ughlich, Yarslavl ,Kostroma, Vladimir, Bogoliubovo, Suzdal, Yuyev, Polskoy and more. This trip also included an over night train trip to St. Petersburg.
I meet a group in New York at JFK
international airport. I was as ready, so I thought, Fr. Ilya provided us with a long, detailed, day itinerary, explaining the three-week tour’s agenda. I tried to study it but, I was not ready, it was not possible to know, imagine, or expect the grandeur that was in store.
The group proceeded to board the flight that would fly six hours direct to Helsinki, land, and then we board another one hour connector flight to Moscow, Russia. The group I traveled with was a large mix, twenty-five people in all, lead by a well-traveled, intense, young, and patient, Russian, Priest, Fr. Ilya Gotlinsky. The group consisted largely of enthusiastic icon students, who had studded with iconography schools in the USA, historical buffs, an Orthodox Priest and a few Catholic nuns.
When we landed in the Moscow airport it was not unlike any other international airport I had traveled through before, gloomy, all business, institutionalized looking, and huge. This trip was different in many ways for me personally, I had direct roots genetically here but, I had been separated from them as a child. I connected here, but, none the less, it was still totally foreign, new, and the DNA cell memory had not kicked in yet. All of the signs that hung in the airport are written in Russian or Slavic, illegible to me in every way, it was clear that we were all out of our comfort zones, and like children totally dependent on our Father to lead.
After we gathered our luggage from the conveyor belt, one of our tour mates, luggage got lost, she was without any of her items packed, it could have been a major problem but, she was gracious about it, finding ways to manage. We all got through security OK, each entering the country with an official stamp. We moved to board a large bus, it could have presented a possible ordeal but, it went smoothly with out a hitch. We drove to the first Hotel. After checking into the hotel with our passports we were all assigned a room, gathered our luggage, and proceeded on. I was thinking to my self than; “I over packed”. There was a brief meet up with the floor key attendant/room keeper, a female, whose job it was to hold on to the keys of every room on that floor, when you entered or exited the floor, a check in was necessary. I meet my assigned room-mate in the lobby of the hotel, she was an English woman living in Ireland at the time, who journeyed alone to meet up with the tour in Russia, we enter our hotel room together. It felt like I was in slow motion, a dream, romantic, first sight, from the picture window, an overview of St. Basil’s Cathedral, with each ice cream cone, shaped dome, representing an attack that was overthrown by the city of Kazan. I gasping for air, screamed with excitement. It over looked the Kremlin that housed five ancient churches inside its walls, the infamous Red Square, the winding Moskva river, The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the largest Orthodox church in Moscow, state buildings, all a spectacular sight, an experience so incredibly beautiful it embraces welcoming you with its own word less energy. All I could do was cry, why did I cry? I was filled to the brim with emotion. It’s as if I were home, every fiber in my body quivered. I’m not sure if it was pure exhaustion from the long flight, the vastness of the view, or the small inadequate history of Russia I learned as a girl, suddenly transformed into a huge reality before my eyes. I was meeting Moscow for the first time but, somehow I knew this place, it went deep, it romanced me, I drank in its majesty, I gazed out, it filled my soul. I have never experienced a place such as Moscow, prodigious, grand gorgeous, and in that moment, overwhelmed, I suddenly thought, this is my first day in Russia.