Easter in Kiev. With the Russian Orthodox Church marking its 1,000th anniversary this year, a travel writer recalls an Easter visit to an ancient monastery in Kiev (story below), and a music critic discovers that religious faith still lives in the work of some contemporary Soviet composers (right).
The trees of Kiev are bare as spring approaches. It's late March but still cold after the Russian-Ukrainian winter. You can see why Easter, the celebration of resurrection, means so much here. Easter in Kiev will be special in 1988 for another reason; it is the millennium of Russian Orthodox Christianity. In 988, Orthodoxy became the official religion of Kievan Rus, the medieval principality that formed the basis for later Russian culture.Skip to next paragraph
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Vladimir, the Grand Prince of Kiev, considered different world religions before choosing Orthodox Christianity. Kievan envoys to Constantinople observed Orthodox rites in Byzantium and incorporated many of them into their own worship. Shortly after the Kievans were baptized in the River Dnieper, Vladimir married Anna, the sister of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II. So with Orthodox Christianity came many aspects of Byzantine civilization, which was then at its peak.
The religious and cultural millennium will be celebrated this year throughout the Soviet Union. Many American groups have arranged tours for the event, most of them going to Moscow, now the headquarters of the Orthodox Church in the USSR.
Kiev, the site of ``the baptism of Russia,'' as Russians describe it, preserves church sites dating back to the early 11th century, including St. Sofia's Cathedral and the Pechersky Monastery, now visited by Soviets and foreigners alike.
During my Easter-time stay, I was among the tourists visiting the Pechersky Monastery. Pechersky, the site of medieval learning encouraged by Vladimir's son and heir, Yaroslav the Wise, is no longer active as a monastery, but people still come to pray, according to Galya, our Intourist guide.
An important aspect of the monastery is the catacombs built along the banks of the Dnieper. We followed the tunnel, passing quiet and shadowy museum docents, who are usually pensioners. In an underground church, brightly painted walls bear holy images, along with gold, resembling a Christmas display.
Walking through underground tunnels, we passed the cells where monks lived. In glass-covered coffins lining the passageways are the mummies of early Russian monks and saints, including Nestor, author of the first surviving Russian chronicle. All are clothed in purple velvet embroidered with the Cyrillic alphabet.
The monastery was taken over by the state in 1961, Galya said. The Cathedral of the Assumption, built in the 11th century as part of the monastery, is still in ruins from German bombings in 1941.
In the monastery's Ukrainian art museum, it was delightful to see nature-inspired tapestries and intricately painted Easter eggs. We learned that superstitious farmers placed such eggs on their fields to ensure bumper crops, and that young women presented them to their prospective husbands. There were also stringed instruments, powder flasks, cheese boxes, weavings, ceramics, porcelains, and glassware. Here, students still can learn about these Ukrainian arts.
We visited a park with an arch framing the view of the Dnieper. The arch symbolizes the reuniting of the Ukraine with Russia after the Nazi occupation - it's basically a war monument, although it also serves to remind everyone of the common Kievan roots of the Russians, Byelorussians, and Ukrainians.