In an unprecedented move for the Russian Orthodox Church, several Moscow parishes hosted this Easter season over 200 pilgrims from Western Europe – both Roman Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox – who came to Russia to experience the Holy Week and Easter in the Orthodox communities, to discover Easter traditions in Russia, where Easter remains the highpoint of the religious year and popular calendar despite the Soviet-era persecution which weakened the Church.
In a way, this encounter taking place in the year when Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter on the same day, April 24th, was following the famous Easter message of one of the Church Fathers, St. John Chrysostom, which is read out in all Orthodox churches on Easter night: Enjoy ye all the feast of faith; receive ye all the riches of loving-kidness,
Yet there are few places where Chrisitanity’s defining miracle – Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ – can be felt as deeply as in Butovo, a grim suburb south of Moscow where a church of New Martyrs of Russia is literally built on the bones of victims of Stalin’s terror. The Butovo shooting range, or as it also called the Russian Golgotha, was a place where tens of thousands of people were shot by Stalin’s secret police for what was called then anti-Soviet conspiracy. Many people were killed here for their faith and beliefs.
Archpriest Kirill Kaleda, the rector of Botovo Church, said that eight bishops and hundreds of priests and monks are buried at the shooting range, more than 300 are canonized and revered by Orthodox believers. One of them is Kaleda’s grandfather, priest Vladimir Ambartsumov, who was also canonized as a saint in 2000.
“Over 300 of those who were shot here for their faith have been glorified among the saints,” Kaleda said. “And His Holiness Patriarch Alexei called this place the Russian Golgotha as many people suffered for the Orthodox faith here,” he continued. “The fact that young people from Europe who are trying to learn more about Orthodoxy, and possibly about Christianity meet on that day at this place, where just 70 years ago, many gave witness to the spiritual values and to the fact that the spiritual values are above material ones, is very significant.”
Pilgrims travelled to Butovo on Good Friday, the day when Christians remember how Jesus Christ died to be resurrected again, The Butovo shooting range is probably one of few places giving the most realistic feeling of immortal life.
Nowadays, the shooting range looks rather peaceful with green grass and trees covering the mass grave, but one can feel something, which is reminiscent of the mass executions and all the souls that suffered for their faith. It could be the shoes of the dead exhumed from the mass graves and exhibited in the church’s crypt, or it could be in the wind, which whispers something to the visitors, or it could be in the quiet singing of the Good Friday church service: “With which hands shall I bury Thee, or Christ?”
Christians believe that those who died for Christ have imitated his death on the cross and will be resurrected with all humankind at the time of the Second Coming.
Those pilgrims who travelled to Butovo said that visiting this place was very important as people should remember about the events of Stalin’s era so it would not happen ever again.
“It’s good to be in places like this,” Matylda Winnicka, a pilgrim from Poland, said. “It is good to know what happened here just because everyone will have it in their minds so such thing will never happen again.”
MOSCOW, April 24 (RIA Novosti, Ekaterina Chernyaeva)