Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Resurrection of a Moscow Cathedral

On a recent trip to Moscow, a visit to Cathedral of Christ the Savior topped my list of new experiences. Having stumbled across the drama of its construction, destruction and eventual rebuilding, I wanted to learn more. I can't endorse all its teachings, but still, there's much to admire here, including the resilience of the Russian spirit. 

At the cathedral on a recent December evening.

Close up: Golden cupolas up there somewhere. . .

Life in the USSR grew darker still when Joseph Stalin looked out his Kremlin office window and was displeased by that cathedral, that Christ the Savior Cathedral which dominated the mid-distance. For one thing, he agreed with mentor Vladimir Lenin, that religion needed to be quashed. Another thing, the cathedral was a czar-era accomplishment, an era Stalin wanted erased from history.

Besides that, he had other plans for that very spot, plans bigger and bolder than had ever been imagined. And, so, December 1931, Stalin ordered the cathedral destroyed. Because he could.

Eyewitness account of videographer who captured the destruction.

Of course this wasn't the only Russian cathedral Stalin demolished. There were hundreds. But the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was exceptionally dear to the national psyche: It was built to celebrate surviving Napoleon's invasion. In fact, on Christmas day, 1812, as Napoleon's troops staggered out of Russian in defeat, Czar Alexander I, a contemporary of Thomas Jefferson, ordered a cathedral built . . . to signify our gratitude to Divine Providence for saving Russia from the doom that overshadowed Her

Generations later in 1883, the cathedral was finished and for the auspicious occasion, ~ drum roll please ~ Russia's legendary composer, P.I. Tchaikovsky, was pressed into service to write the Overture of 1812. To this day, the overture is popular, even in the U.S. where it is often played during Fourth of July fireworks displays, complete with the sound of cannon fire.

During its 50 year history, the cathedral witnessed seismic political upheavals. Protests of the early 1900's, led to the the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the end of the Czarist monarchy and the Russian Civil War. Then, under Vladimir Lenin, the Russian Empire evolved into the Soviet Union during which massive military parades were staged in Red Square, just blocks from the cathedral. After Lenin's death, Stalin  had dramatic changes in mind for the structure itself.

In place of the cathedral, Stalin envisioned a massive Palace to the Soviets, planned to be the tallest building in the world, topped by Vladimir Lenin himself, his right arm extended in his favorite hail-a-taxi pose.

And so, on December 5, 1931, as per Stalin's decree, the cathedral was demolished. Only thing, after all that, Stalin's Palace to the Soviets never materialized: The spot stood empty for years while Stalin dealt more pressing concerns including Hitler's invasion in 1941. But on to Plan B for the site: After Stalin's death in the early 50's, Nikita Krushchev transformed the crater into a heated swimming pool, and in typical Soviet style, it was huge.

In the early 1990's, after perestroika and waves of political changes, the Russian Orthodox church requested permission of the Russian government and city of Moscow to rebuild the cathedral. The request was granted. First, the swimming pool was dismantled in 1994 and work begun on the cathedral. Six years later, the new cathedral was finished and dedicated.

Care to join me on a tour? Here's the backstory, reconstruction and dedication. Thrilling, indeed.

Current view from the Kremlin. The cathedral has been rebuilt.As for Stalin,
his grave is in Red Square, just yards from Lenin's Mausoleum. (Photo from book, below.)

The cathedral bookshop sells this book in several languages. Copyright in 2005, published by Ivan Fiodorov. Printed
in Russia. Photos by N Rakhmanov and V. Korniushin.

In  the closing words of the video, Maybe now, the future of the church's place is assured in the minds and hearts of the Russian peoples. History will surely tell.

We are told that God is the Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). May this magnificent cathedral serve to point searchers to God and to His truth.

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