I was looking at my photos of Russia today, which triggered some memories. We were driving one day in our tour bus, far out in a rural area, and were passing through a small village. To the left was a ruined church. On a whim, we pulled over for an unscheduled stop, to take a look. Emerging from the bus, we trudged up the dirt lane and looked at the ruined edifice. It was nearing sunset, and blackbirds were roosting in the remains of the dome. It was totally silent, except for the bird calls. Most of the empty windows were boarded up, but we found one open, and crawled inside. The church had been desecrated and ruined during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, or shortly thereafter. Everything that could be carried off, had been looted, everything not portable, destroyed. Three stories up hung the crucifix, way too high for vandals to reach, banging gently against the wall in the evening breeze. The church had been torched. Graffiti was painted over the lower frescoes, which appeared to date from the 18th century. (The tour guide declined to translate what was written.) The plaster was filled with holes and gouges from blows. Soot was everywhere, and crumbled bricks. The sanctuary doors had been shot away. Trash littered the floor. Some of us thought of taking a piece of crumbled brick, but decided that it needed to stay there, as witness. Our group was speechless at the devastation, hatred, and violence evident there.
All the while the crucifix banged steadily against the wall. We filed back to the bus. We were being watched by the villagers, whose grandparents likely took part in the destruction. There was a tavern across from the bus, filled with silent men in raggedy clothes, staring. The village had an air of poverty and dispiritedness.
Our tour guide, an Orthodox priest, made an odd remark. He predicted that this was the future of Christianity, in all of the world, including the U.S.A. It is a sobering thought, which I immediately discounted–but . . . there certainly have been church burnings in our country, and bombings. It begins with ridiculing and scorning religion, then progresses onward. . . I hope this never happens here, of course, but I cannot dismiss that thought with confidence. Seeing the ruined church on that vacation, which was so filled with glorious icons and wonderful signs of faith, was certainly one of the most thought-provoking and memorable moments. It lingers with me still.