Once the Exhibit on the History of the Church Abroad had been opened and I'd been through it (physically and emotionally!), it was, at last, time to rejuvenate one's strength. Eventually, I found my way to the large halls where most of the choir was to go. All the banquets required tickets, and people hovered near the doors asking if anyone had extras (maybe I could have scored some rubles!).
I did not have the coveted green ticket to the Patriarchal banquet -- a sit-down affair about which I can describe nothing. Even though some of my close friends were there, they have not been able to describe to me where it was in relation to where we had our reception, which was more of a cocktail-party with no seating (O, my poor feet! Luckily, I had brought along a pair of sensible shoes into which I changed!). Even if someone would try to explain it to me, it would not make any sense: that place is so huge that I would need a GPS system to find my way around. To wit: there was an entire ampitheater immediately adjacent to our reception hall!
The reception was nice -- tasty pirozhki and meat on sticks, lots of crudites, and plenty of alcohol. There was even an attempt made to provide COFFEE (and not just tea), but it was only of the instant variety, so I refused it and stuck to wine and vodka until it was time to leave. We enjoyed a little ice cream while we waited to board our bus back to the hotel, too.
I was tired and perhaps a little unnerved by the emotional wringer through which I'd just been, but I was on a steady keel. That changed, though, when one of my fellow singers grumbled: "We were treated like crap!"
I started to think about it. She had some good points: we had sung our hearts out, we had really worked hard to prepare. Most of us were careful to limit our activities in order to stay fit for our job; few non-singers understand how physically demanding singing can be! I started to stew about it. Why weren't we given a place to sit down and have a hot meal after all that?! By the time people had gathered in the hotel, I was buzzing around like a hornet.
Fortunately, Peter announced that the rehearsal scheduled for that afternoon was cancelled. Wise move! We were free to do as we wished until Saturday morning.
At first, all I wanted to do was lie down, so that's what I went and did. It was good to have a little quiet time -- my roommate went out to dinner with other church musicians, and I washed up and remained in solitude. But it didn't last long. As evening fell, friends came knocking on my door, summoning me to the restaurant located next to the hotel. It seems a crowd had gathered to unwind, and the pleasure of my company was requested.
I obliged, and was very glad I did. Wonderful old friends from my San Francisco days were there -- even older friends from metro NY were too, as were people that I was first getting to know on this trip. We ate shashlyk and drank locally brewed beer and shared each others' stories and photos from the day. The atmosphere was congenial and warm. But I was still not up to a long night out with the crowd, and eventually decided to leave.
It all spilled over into the next day, when busses were heading to Sergiev Posad to Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. This was the one holy site that I had decided was a MUST, given how limited the choir's opportunities for pilgrimaging would be.
So I was pretty vexed when I awoke at 7:45 a.m., 15 minutes past departure time! AAAAARGH! But, what was the point of stressing out about it? I was an experienced traveller! I decided to get myself there on my own.
I ate breakfast downstairs at a leisurely pace, had a nice chat with Father Nicholas (Perekrestov) of our Jerusalem mission, and then set out.
Getting to Sergiev Posad from our hotel required me to take a bus to the Metro, and take the Metro to Yaroslavskaja train station, where I had to catch a local "elektrichka" (slow electric train) to Sergiev Posad. I was pretty game and quite proud of myself for figuring all of this out and having the aplomb to attempt it alone, but the ride out was tiresome.
It was also a classic taste of Russia, and not just because I bought a greasy pirozhok at the train station! On the train, I soon got a beer-swilling young man as my neighbor. He began to chat me up, and he was clearly bombed! I really wanted to enjoy my book and my own thoughts about the trip, but he pestered me relentlessly!
"Little girl, little girl, please come home with me! I've taken such a fancy to you!"
Ignoring him didn't work, and being nice really didn't work, so I finally spoke to him in a rude, harsh manner and turned away. But, somehow, doing so made me cry, and I was upset for much of the rest of the journey.
I saw our busses parked outside the gates to Sofrino, the famed producer of so many religious items. This told me that our group had already left the Lavra, as a shopping trip was the second part of the day's itinerary. No matter. My mission was to venerate the relics of St. Sergius. I got to Sergiev Posad and walked from the train station to the monastery.
As I approached its famed white walls, gypsy children began to run at me. I recalled a terrible experience my cousin had had with such children in Russia, and I did not want to be victimized myself. Without breaking my resolute stride, I shouted at them in a loud, sharp voice, and they scattered away. This made me feel absolutely desolate, and I began crying again as I walked onto the monsatery grounds. How uncharitable it was to be so nasty to those undoubtedly abused children!
With directions from a priest, I went straight away to St. Sergius and prayed and wept as I had not done in a very long time.
Then, something of a miracle occurred. In the grand scheme of miracles, it's not a major one, but, at the time, it seemed to me a blessing. As I stood in that dark church, praying and listening to the Moleben, someone came to my side and touched my arm. It was one of O. Andre Papkov's daughters -- the Papkovs and the Ledkovskys have been fast friends for many, many years!
Ksenia seemed like an angel to me at that moment, and I rejoiced at seeing her, and wondered: why was she not in Sofrino? It turns out, she had stayed behind with the Toronto pilgrims, in order to spend more time at the Lavra. She invited me to ride back to the hotel on the bus with her. Considering my elektrichka experience on the way there, I immediately agreed, even though it meant my visit to Lavra would be much too brief.
No matter -- I will, Godwilling, go back someday. In the meantime, seeing Ksenia totally adjusted my perspective, and again made me realize how short life is, and how grateful we have to be for all of our blessings.
As for my anger about the treatment of the choir the day before -- that, too, was an overreaction, fueled by circuit overload. It turns out that there were very few seats at the Patriarchal banquet, because of the vast number of clergy that had to be accommodated. The non-clergy who got invitations were, by and large, among those who had participated in supporting the reconstruction of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. That was something the Bishop Mitrophan (Znosko) of blessed memory had spearheaded, long before it was fashionable for ROCORites to be charitably disposed toward Moscow. In retrospect, it was correct for those people to be thanked for their support, in my opinion.
Thank you again, Ksenia, for being my guardian angel that day, and for helping me adjust my mindset, not only for a fun and relaxed evening (celebrating, among other things, her sister Irina's nameday) but also for another eye-opening experience the next day, at Butovo...