Bells, Bells, Bells in Moscow
Near to where I live in Moscow is a slightly down-at-heels Russian Orthodox Church. There are many things I don’t know about this church; what did it become during Soviet times, how old it is, who are the congregants, and are they paying for its renovation or is the government? I wonder about the government’s role only because this little church sits between two rather significant sites of federal government business in Moscow. As we all know, there are many churches here that have been restored to a post-Soviet splendour. In fact, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour may have been resurrected to something even beyond its original splendour, during Yeltsin’s campaign to right the wrong of its destruction during Stalin’s rule.
My little church is unique in the neighborhood because it also runs a restaurant in a small annex along the narrow little street which the church occupies. According to a Russian friend who has an office nearby, several years ago the priest affiliated with the church visited business offices asking for donations for the restoration of the church. My friend, who is in the wholesale food business, suggested that he help the church become selfsustaining by establishing a small restaurant/take-out facility. He donated some refrigeration equipment, some food, and the place took off. Sometimes there is a line to get delicious food to take home, or to find a seat at the picnic tables inside the restaurant/ gift shop.
My little church has an excellent bell tower. Those of us who work nearby have often wondered if the bell tower has possibly been used for purposes other than bell ringing. Some of us have actually called it Our Lady of Perpetual Surveillance to honour these imagined purposes, but never mind. What is wonderful about the bell tower is the bell ringer, who regularly climbs the steps and creaks open the trap door to the platform that supports the upper landing where the ringing of the bells take place. I have not heard this creaking of the trap door, but a friend who spends time outside every day, attests that this creaking is the opening stanza to the most spectacular bell ringing in Moscow. She argues that the song is always the same, as she claims that each church has its unique “song”. I wouldn’t know. My friend also spends enough time outside in a location where she can see the bell ringer at work and she claims it is poetry in motion. A young man, with long hair and an agile body, works the foot pedals and pulls the strings with a syncopation that keeps him from freezing up there in the bell tower. The “song” goes on and on, and we who are nearby pause to listen and wonder and enjoy.
And then suddenly it ends, and according to my friend who listens carefully, the last stanza consists of the creaking of the trapdoor once again, and then the “bang” of its slam as the bell ringer retreats back downstairs. A sudden finale to one of the best concerts in the city of Moscow. Happy New Year!