Our group found getting off the plane much easier than getting on!! We arrived at 10:00 a.m. Moscow time (which is 2:00 a.m. EDT), relatively well-rested all things considered. Customs was uneventful, the luggage all arrived and we quickly found ourselves in Moscow for the day. At the airport, we were greeted by our cheerful and knowledgeable hosts for the day: Katya and Sveta. We exchanged our money and boarded the bus. We had a few hours in Moscow before our Trans-Siberian train to Kirov later that evening.
The weather was beautiful, sunny with the temperature in the low 40s. We started with a visit to Christ the Risen Savior Cathedral in downtown Moscow. This is the national church of the country and home of the patriarch (the Russian Orthodox equivalent of the Pope) of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was amazing to be there on Palm Sunday and to see so many Russians worshipping. The Russian Orthodox Church is full of majesty and mystery. It was a reverent time as we would our way through this beautiful church in the midst of Russians preparing the way for Jesus’ triumphant arrival.
We then grabbed a quick lunch at Sbarro. Yep, just like you find in all the major airports in the US although much bigger. It was the only restaurant near Red Square able to accommodate twenty-one of us. The food was just what the doctor ordered as our last real meal had been about 12 hours earlier.
We then visited Red Square. After seeing all the pictures, it was amazing the experience the place first hand. We saw the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral and GUM Department Store. To think that less than 12 hours earlier, we were in the United States. Now we were standing at the center of Russian history and heritage.
Amidst all the excitement of our visit to Red Square, we had a moment that few of us will ever forget. It was a quiet moment for us, as the majority of us were sitting on our bus waiting for a small group who made a grocery run. Just outside our bus we saw about 30 people gathered around a person’s minivan. At first, it looked as if he (the owner of the van) was training them for something, perhaps even how to panhandle. We saw the group listening to the man intently. It was a ragged bunch of men and women who looked as if they were either homeless or destitute or both. After a few minutes and at the end of the speech, everyone made the sign of the cross. It was then that we realized we were watching a disciple of Christ live out his calling.
The man opened his car and brought out a few bags of food…and then some hot tea…and then some jackets, clothes and blankets. And he began to feed the poor. And clothe the needy. And offer hope to the downtrodden on a cold and windy Palm Sunday. The folks lined up to receive whatever was offered. We asked ourselves, “Was this their only meal of the day…or even the weekend?” The coats were passed out, the blankets were shared. We saw one guy take a pair of shoes and then offer the socks he found in them to a man standing next to him…for he did not need socks but his brother did. It was an amazing act of generosity and love from everyone involved. All started by one man who came with some food, a few pieces of clothing and a message of hope. What a tangible reminder to us of what we were called to do and why we are in Russia.
With that highlight in our minds, we boarded the Trans-Siberian Railroad for the 14 hour ride to Kirov. The train was tight but comfy, and soon we found ourselves in our pajamas, running from room-to-room sharing the excitement of the day and watching countryside roll by.
BTW – today was Grace’s 16th birthday! What a memorable way to spend her big day. We promised her a “shout out” in the blog as part of the birthday celebration. Happy Birthday, Grace! You made the blog!