The Cathédrale del’Exaltation de la Sainte Croix in Geneva is renovated and, in particular, its interior which now looks like this.
Besides being the 5th week of observing the Easter lent, I expected the Liturgy on March 25th, 2018 in the St. Nicolas Church in Helsinki to be ordinary (nevertheless, always wonderfully divine).
However, for the reasons I will explain in this post, it was special, and for the same reasons, I decided to write this post.
First, several times during the Liturgy, we could hear some parts of it pronounced and sang in English, which is uncommon. According to the website of the Church itself, Liturgies are carried out in Church-Slavonic, sermons are performed in Russian. Occasional religious rites are delivered in Church-Slavonic and in Finnish. Then, the person who pronounced or sang those English parts was a priest who came from St. Petersburg, as we discovered by the end of the Liturgy. He held an important position there. The reason why he was visiting our Helsinki Patriarchy was the same for which the whole event was special.
Namely, there was a father from the English Anglican Church who was present at the Liturgy who had just a week ago converted to the Orthodox faith. Apparently, before he held an important position in one of the oldest Anglican Churches in London (but also, given the long history, it was a former Orthodox Church). And this was his first Communion. Hence, the priest from St. Petersburg came to acknowledge the important event. Also, apparently, they knew each other with the former Anglican father or could have even been friends for a long time. There was a confusion among our Russian priests as to how to address the former Anglican father, but newly Orthodox brother (as he could not keep or transfer his former religious position to the Orthodox Church, at least not simply for the time being).
We sang together for him многая лета and I believe he has felt genuinely welcome.
Another important part of this Liturgy for me was the final priest’s sermon to us. He started by asking whether we can say: “I am good”. This was indeed difficult for many of. I feel only the people who knew what the priest was aiming at could easily and loudly repeat “I am good”.
Then he continued to explain that indeed we are all good as we are made in the face of God. However, many of us, because of sins during our lives, do not feel like that anymore. Nevertheless, the father reminded that not only us, but also all the other people, are good, and how we should never be angry with or criticise the people, but only their sin that made them do something that makes us upset or angry.
Moreover, and these were the words I appreciated very much, he told us that the more we can feel our divine goodness in us (“I am good”), the more we will be able to fight the sin and become such. And to the contrary, if people allow the grime of sin to make them forget such deep goodness in them, the more likely they are to stay in sin and the harder it gets to come close to our divine and to the God.
Never hate the sinner, but only hate the sin.
Rome (The Eternal City) is an important place of pilgrimage for Roman Catholics and for Orthodox Christians, as well. Almost every street of the old city writes a story from ancient times before and particularly through the time of Christianity. Our aim to this journey was to visit as many religious cites as it was possible in three days. Of course this is very short amount of time to enjoy Rome with it’s great cultural heritage but we will try to convey our impressions.
Church of St. Nicolas
First destination of this trip and our place to stay in Rome was an Orthodox hostel of the Russian Orthodox church of St. Nicolas in the Via Palestro street. This is just half a kilometer from the big Roma Termini train station.
The Russian Orthodox church has existed on this place near the Termini train station since the 1930s. It was Saturday afternoon when we arrived. After unpacking our staff, we went to Vespers in this by size small but by holy relics and reliquaries quite big church.
There we venerated icons with particles of relics of Saint Seraphim of Sarov and many other Russian saints as well as many saints from the early centuries of Christianity.
A nice community of Russians was there on the prayer. They were very polite and deacon Georgie was speaking Serbian, very well, which was for me an exceptional thing (besides Serbian he speaks several languages among them Arabic)
In the morning of the next day, we were heading to the Church of the Holy Great Martyr Catherine. On our way to the destination we crossed the Tiber river on one of beautiful bridges.
All places are interwoven with ancient history and many fortifications and ancient buildings on the riverbanks are witnessing vibrant Roman times.
Church of St. Catherine, the Great Martyr (Santa Caterina Martire)
The church of the Great-martyr Catherine is a new Russian church which was consecrated in 2009 and is located on the hill in the vicinity of Saint Peter’s Basilica of Vatican.
This is the first church in Russian style which has been built in Rome and it is the part of parish of the Moscow Patriarchate in Rome. The beautiful green-roof church with golden domes is depicted with frescoes of religious scenes together with a traditional iconostasis made in Byzantine stile. One of the contributors for the construction of the church was famous Ukrainian and AC Milan football player Andriy Shevchenko.
Many reliquaries are being kept in this place among them a particle of the holy relics of The Great Martyr Catherine of Alexandria the patron saint of the church.
St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica Papale di San Pietro)
After the Divine Liturgy in the Great-martyr Catherine’s church, we continued our journey to the Vatican City State. On our way we tasted some Italian food.
Even though the day was rainy and cloudy, there were plenty of visitors from all around the world.
The largest church by volume and area in the world is one of the most famous places of pilgrimage for Catholics. At this place was located The Circus of Nero used not only for horse racing but also for brutal execution of Christians, after Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD.
Emperor Nero targeted Christians as responsible for the fire and started empire’s first prosecution of Christians. Much of that circus is now under St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. In that circus St. Apostles Peter was crucified. St Peter’s relics are kept in the crypt of the Basilica under the throne together with holy relics of popes.
According to some sources remains of Saint Jude the Apostle, also known as Judas Thaddaeus (Апостoл Тадеј (један од Седамдесеторице) – Апостол Фаддей) relics are in the left transept of St. Peter’s Basilica under the main altar of St. Joseph in one tomb with the remains of the apostle Simon the Zealot.
Holy popes of early centuries of Christianity are also celebrated by the Orthodox church.
The crypt of the basilica contains numerous relics honored by Christians such as the part of Holy Cross on which Jesus was crucified.
Church of St. Andrew of the Valley
After being at the St. Peters Basilica our journey is continuing towards Pantheon and on the way we are visiting catholic church of St. Apostle Andrew (Sant’Andrea della Valle).
The church was built during 17th century and is distinguished by it’s lavish decorations and particularly by it’s big dome.
For us specially impressive was the depiction of the Martyrdom of St. Apostle Andrew.
Our second day starts again from the church of St. Nicolas in the Via Palestro street, here we were on the prayer (moleban) to St. Martyr Panteleimon.
Later, we were heading to Colosseum, the place where the blood of many people was spilled and where
many Christians were martyred. Among them one of the first was Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer the Bishop of Antioch (Свети Игњатије Богоносац) who was one of those who were torn apart by lions in this amfhieatere.
Archbasilica of St. John Lateran
After the Colosseum we continued our journey to the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran (Arcibasilica Papale di San Giovanni in Laterano)
Splendid cathedral church is one of the oldest Christian churches. First church on this place was built by Saint Constantine the Great, Equal to the Apostles Emperor and it was consecrated by Saint Pope Silvester in 304 AD.
The cathedral is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John Evangelist and ranks the first among the four great “patriarchal” basilicas of Rome.
Above the main altar of the church, in the baldacchino (canopy) are kept the heads of the holy apostles Peter and Paul. In the altar throne itself is the communion table upon which St. Peter celebrated Holy Liturgy during his residence in Rome.
On the left side of the church is The Altar of the Holy Sacrament, above which is the table that was used by Christ and apostles at the Last Supper. The table is in the gilded relief.
One part of the decorations belongs to the Byzantine style. It is called Cosmatesque, after the Cosmati family. This art reminds us of Eastern Orthodox icons.
Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore)
After the basilica of St. John Lateran we continued to another ancient basilica. The Saint Mary Major. Santa Maria Maggiore is the biggest Marian Church in Rome (the church dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos). It is the junior of the four papal basilicas in Rome. The other three are St. Peter’s Basilica, St. John Lateran and Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura)
The remains of the Holy Manger are enshrined in under the main Throne of the church. The monger is the one in which our Lord Jesus as infant was laid down in the Bethlehem Cave when He was born to Holy Virgin Mary. It is written in Gospel by Luke:
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2.7
As Thou didst deign to lie in a cavern, in a manger of dumb beasts, so now deign to enter in to the manger of my beastly soul, and into my soiled body.
Although, it was late evening the large church was crowded with many visitors.
Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme)
After a short break we visit yet another famous ancient church. Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem is a church which was originally built to preserve relics of the Holy Cross brought by Saint Helena after her journey to the Holy Land.
At the place of the church was a palace that was residence of St. Helena, mother of emperor Constantine. She found the True Cross and left it to be venerated in Jerusalem, but she brought splinters of The Holy Cross to Rome including some other relics of Christ’s Passion and put it to display at her palace. These relics were the reason to build a church at this place.
To the right side, behind the apse is the Chapel of St. Helena, which was built at the time of Saint Constantine and Saint Helena.. Taking photos inside of the Chapel was forbidden.
At the left part of the church is Chapel of the Holy Relics (Cappella delle Reliquie) where one part of the Holy Cross and other relics are kept. This part was unfortunately closed at the moment we visited the church.
Our plan for the day was to visit sacred monuments along the Appian Way.(Via Appia). It is one of the most important roads of the ancient Rome.
Basilica of Saint Clement (Basilica di San Clemente )
Before stepping on the Appian way we decided to visit another ancient basilica. Basilica of Saint Clement is a very old church, which was the place of clandestine Christian activities during the first three centuries A.D. At that time it was a private house. The church was built in 4th century after Christianity became official religion of the Empire.
The upper church is one of the most decorated Roman churches. Under the canopy, the high altar contains relics of St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch (the God-Bearer).
The lower church is nowadays the site of archaeological excavations. Basilica is particularly important for those Slavic people that use Cyrilic alphabet, because the grave of St. Cyril is located in the lower church, where the excavations have taken part. St. Cyril and his brother St. Methodius gave us alphabet which is later transformed into Cyrilic alphabet. St. Cyril’s relics are no longer there in the grave but we have on the walls memorial tablets written in different Slavic languages expressing gratitude to the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius. Taking photos is also forbidden in this area.
Appian Way (Via Appia)
After visiting San Clemento we continued towards the Appian Way. Via Appia was one of the first and the most important ancient Roman roads. It was running from Rome to ancient Capua in Campania and then further was extended to reach Brundisium (Brindisi). On this section of the road we were waking down the cobble stoned way which haven’t changed much since the ancient Roman times.
It is hard to imagine that along this road from Rome to Capua were crucified around 6000 followers of gladiator Spartacus (after his uprising was annihilated by Romans).
We went through the gate called Porta San Sebastiano and continued our travel towards the Basilica of San Sebastian.
By this road St. Apostle Peter left Rome in an attempt to escape prosecutions.
Church of Domine Quo Vadis
Along the Appian way, not far from the Porta San Sebastiano, is located the Church of St Mary in Palmis, better known as The Church of Domine Quo Vadis . The church was built on the site where St. Peter, who was fleeing prosecutions in Rome, met Jesus. St. Peter asked Jesus : “Lord, where are you going?” (Latin: Domine, quo vadis?). Then Jesus answered: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again”. Through this vision St. Peter learnt that he had to return back to Rome to suffer martyrdom for Christ and he went back to Rome.
On the floor of the church is preserved a marble stone with the footsteps of Jesus, and on the left side is the icon of St. Peter and on the right side the icon of Jesus.
On the left side next to the St. Peter’s icon is a bust dedicated to Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz who wrote a famous historical fictional novel “Quo Vadis:A Narrative of the Time of Nero” in 1896. This novel contributed to Sienkievicz to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1905.
Catacombs of St. Callixtus (Catacombe di San Callisto)
From the Church of Domine Quo Vadis Appian way goes slightly uphill and through the alleys of beautiful trees. The weather was sunny and landscape was beautiful. There we passed by the plantation of olives not far from the site where one entrance goes underground into the caves of The Catacombs of St. Callixtus.
As taking photos was forbidden inside of the catacombs, we have only picture of the entrance. A polite guide explained us the history of the place. Catacombs were used as a cemetery for numerous Christian martyrs and popes. Catacombs are more then 20 meters deep and with the occupancy at about half million bodies. They are named after the Pope Callixtus I who was administering Christian cemetery.
Church of Saint Sebastian outside the walls (San Sebastiano fuori le mura)
Not far from the Catacombs of St. Callixtus is the Basilica of Saint Sebastian outside the walls which is also known as Saint Sebastian at the Catacombs because it was built on the site of catacombs
Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls (San Lorenzo fuori le Mura)
After visiting sacred places along the Appian way we went to another ancient basilica from the 4th century. On our way to the church we went though the Campus of the Sapienza University. Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls is built on the site where St Lawrence was tortured and killed for the faith. According to tradition St Constantine the Emperor ordered the construction of a large church above the crypt with relics of the martyr.
St Archdeacon Lawrence was a deacon ordained by St. Pope Sixtus II and was martyred together with the pope under the prosecutions of Christians by Emperor Valerian in the year 258. St. Lawrence was grilled on a gridiron for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Relics of another great saint of the Christianity, Apostle and Archdeacon Stephen the Protomartyr are housed in the church.The Holy Protomartyr was the first to shed his blood for Christ and the Gospel. He was stoned to death by a mob of persecutors. Chapters 7 and 8 of the Acts of Apostles give an account of St Steven’s confession of the faith and his martyrdom. Orthodox Christians celebrate the feast day of St. Stephen on 27th December according to the Gregorian Calendar.
In the crypt under the throne of the church are kept two sarcophagi with relics of Holy Archdeacons and Martyrs.
After the visit of St. Lawrence’s basilica we went to our hostel to have a rest and the next morning we said goodbye to our hospitable hosts. We took a modern Frecciarossa train from the big Roma Termini station and went to the north saying goodbye to the Eternal city.
We were very pleased with what we had seen in one of the biggest centers of Christianity, However, these three days proved to be a short time to see many sacred places which are venerated by both Orthodox and Catholic Christians.
Фотографисао: О. Стојановић.