Well, hello again. I am writing you from the Business Service Office at the Hotel Cosmos. We are located in the north-east section of Moscow. To get downtown from here, it has been taking our buses about 45 minutes; of course, this is mostly due to the very heavy traffic one finds every weekday in the city. This time, I am writing you in the morning rather than at my usual 11:00pm time I have written you in the past. I told you in my last epistle that I was running late and they were urging me to finish up quickly. I had not noticed that they are supposed to close the office at 11:00pm. So, no report last night because we did not return from our concert at the Central Baptist Church until 10:45pm - - not enough time to write all we did yesterday.
In a way, our day yesterday started in the same section of Moscow we had finished the day before - - Red Square. We had hoped to have toured that on Wednesday, but time in the morning did not allow that and still make our Handbell Workshop at the Central Baptist Church at 2:00pm. We only had time to see a little of the area in front of Red Square before we had our lunch. Thus we headed from our hotel yesterday for Red Square. Because Wednesday had been to tiring, There were some of our people who wanted to come back to the hotel in time to get some rest before heading for the Moscow Central Baptist Church for our concert. We therefore divided our people into two groups: those who wanted to stay with the original plans and tour until time to go to the church (we called our group the Grand Tour Group) and those who wanted a briefer tour that would allow them to return to the hotel in the middle of the day before being bused to the church (they were called the Short Tour Group or as they liked to call themselves, "The Smart Group). Both groups did a lot of the same things; the only part of the plans they did not go was to visit the New Maiden Cemetery and New Maiden Convent and to have dinner together at another fine restaurant.
So, let me begin with our visit to Red Square. This Square is bounded on one side by the Kremlin, and on the opposite side by Russia's huge department story, Gum. Then at the end where we entered by Russia's Military Museum, and at the far end by St. Basil's Cathedral - the structure most people identify with Moscow. The Moscow guide that has been with the Blue Bus (we have been divided into two buses throughout the trip: Blue Bus and Yellow Bus) was also our guide for the "Grand Tour Group." Olga has been one of the best guides we have had on this trip. She is so knowledgeable about Moscow and Russian history and is able to explain it articulately in good, understandable English. While she was telling us about the history of Red Square, a group of Cossacks came into the Square with their priest. I thought that their uniforms looked familiar, and someone realized who they were. The cameras came out and many pictures were taken. It was fun to see that they were like any other tourists - having their picture taken by others in their group, and then were very happy to pose for those from our group with cameras. I don't know why I made any limitation on who was doing photography because I think almost everyone had their digital cameras. I have used my video camera for almost all of my photography knowing that I can get any pictures from others. In fact, that process, in it self, will take some time because there will be literally thousands of pictures when we return.
The stroll through the Gum department store was like strolling down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills - - unless you have loads of money, all you can do is window shop; and that is just what we did. Our group certainly had done and continues to do a lot of shopping, but always looking for bargains. Since we had taken the tour of the Kremlin the day before, we moved on to St. Basil's and got the group together for a picture with St. Basil's in the background.
From Red Square, we bused along to Moscow River to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior - - the country's premier cathedral. This is the home church for the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Cathedral is a huge edifice built on the banks of the Moscow River. It covers one extremely large block. Construction on the original church was completed in the 1800's and took 40 years to do so. Then, in 1931, Stalin had the Cathedral blown up. His plans for the site was to build a large governmental building with a monstrously tall statue of Lenin on top. That never got accomplished for a couple of reasons. First, and probably the most significant reason, the ground on which they hoped to build this would not support such a structure. Second, Nazi Germany invaded Russia in 1941. So, the question became, what should they do with this huge hole in the ground? in 1947, they converted that hole into an open air swimming pool. Thus the great Cathedral became a swimming pool. Beginning in 1992 when the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a movement to restore the Cathedral in its original design. They had extensive pictures and plans for the Cathedral which allowed them to do just that. The present Cathedral was dedicated around around the year 2000 - - I cannot remember the exact date just now. It is truly a magnificent place to see. It is a worshiping church, not just a museum. The only sad part of the tour was that we were not allowed to take any kind of pictures in the place. In fact, you were not allowed to talk inside the main church area. The gift shop just to the side was, of course, another thing.
Our tour itinerary had shown that the New Maiden Convent (I cannot pronounce the Russian name and I don't have my notes with me here in the Business Service Office) was next on the list to see. However, our guides realized that people in our group had not completed all of their shopping, so it was decided that we would stop at one small store where it was said they could get "real bargains." I will have to let those who bought things there to say whether or not it proved to be true. Whatever the prices, many sacks of bought items came back on the bus. It was interesting that the "Short Tour Group" not only saw Red Square and the Cathedral ( I had expected that) but they also made it to the place where we did the shopping. Supposedly, they had wanted to return to the hotel by 12:30pm, but it was already 1:00pm when they arrived at the shopping place.
Our last sightseeing was at the New Maiden Cemetery and Convent. The cemetery was built by the Russian government and is where so many prominent government figures are buried. The place is covered with many trees and shrubbery. Large headstones and statures of those buried are also found throughout. The grave of Boris Yeltsin is in the shape of a flag. We also saw the burial place of Gorbishov's wife and, probably most famous, the grave of Khrushchev. I am not sure of these spellings, but you will figure out who I am talking about. We did not actually go inside the Convent due to time, but had a marvelous view of it across a lake. Olga told us that the Russian composer, Tchaikovsky, was sitting along side that lake and lookout on the swans swimming on the lake. Thus he was inspired to write his most famous, "Swan Lake" ballet.
We again had our group dinner at a local restaurant which served traditional Russian food. Again, it started with a cabbage salad, and then a very delicious mushroom mixture in a small, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, roll. This was followed up with anther Russian soup, the main course of broiled chicken on skewers and mashed potatoes. For dessert, we had ice cream with tea or coffee. Those who chose the "Short Tour Group" had to forgo the meal and therefore had to eat on their own back at the hotel.
The concert at the church like a family affair. This church always has a Prayer Meeting Service every Thursday night. We just became a part of that service. We sang most of our music, Pastor Mike preached a wonderful sermon, and we had some good time of prayer. The people were most responsive to the whole service. Here we saw people in much simpler dress - - young and old. Many of the older women insisted on giving us hugs and wanting to thank us for coming. Pastor Sergei was most gracious and he and Alex told us much of the troubles they had under the Communists. This church was the only church in Moscow that remained a worshipping church throughout the entire Communist era.
We were a tired, but uplifted group of people when we returned to our hotel. Today, people are on their own until we leave for St. Andrew's Church in the later afternoon. Some have taken a "Metro" tour. Dan, Pastor Mike and Amy, and I will be leaving in just a few minutes to be taken to a meeting with Father Alexander Borisov - - an Orthodox Priest that Doug Burliegh has been wanting us to meet. He has an amazing ministry here in Moscow, but when he asked his superiors for permissin for us to sing in his church, he was turned down. We are really looking forward to this meeting.
Tomorrow is a travel day with most of us returning to San Diego between 10:30pm and 11:00pm. So, any further reports will be written after our return. Please pray for our concert tonight at St. Andrew's Church - - that the people come and hear the Good News in our music
Until our return,