Cross Byzantine Catholic Culture

Christ the Savior

Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow
A Russian Allegory

Icon of Christ the Savior

Christ the Savior

The above icon is an image of Christ the Savior, Second Person of the Holy & Undivided Trinity, who appeared to mankind through the Incarnation to show us the true path to salvation. This is neither a photograph nor a portrait of Our Savior but an image or representation of Christ as perceived by the iconographer who wrote it. It is not the paint or the wood that we worship. We venerate the image, gazing at and through the physical reality thereof beyond to the spiritual reality represented by it. We cannot see this reality with our eyes, but we perceive it within our minds. Thus, we regard the images of Christ and of the saints as “windows to heaven”. Similarly we may also view the newly restored Temple of Christ the Savior in Moscow [1] historically and presently as more than a place of worship, but rather as an allegory of the reality which it represents, namely the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ the Savior and, by extension, a symbol of the suffering, perseverance and survival of the Russian people. It is in this theme that we have created this Web page.

Photo - Temple of Christ the Savior Moscow

Temple of Christ the Savior - restored

The story of the Temple of Christ the Savior begins during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. The French Revolution of 1789 shook the established political and social order of Europe, destroying the French monarchy and reducing the French state to the tyrannical rule of the rabble. In the aftermath of the Reign of Terror instituted by the Revolution and as a consequence of the threat of foreign intervention in the affairs of France, a Corsican officer of the French Army, Napoleon Bonaparte, rose to prominence through his military genius and successes in battle. His victories against the enemies of France brought him to the pinnacle of power. He assumed the role as head of state and eventually crowned himself Emperor of the French. Napoleon envisioned Europe as a confederation of states under French hegemony, a continental political and economic realm which would exclude Great Britain from participation therein.

Painting of Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte

Painting of Tsar Alexander I

Tsar Alexander I

At the eastern end of Europe, Tsar Alexander I of Russia viewed Napoleon's ambitions with grave misgivings. Russia's history had been one of frequent invasions from West and South and Alexander saw no reason to believe that Napoleon would not do likewise. Napoleon grew tired of Alexander's refusal to assent to the former's design for Europe. He assembled a Grand Army of over 600,000 troops and on June 24, 1812 he crossed the Russian frontier. Eastward the quest of empire took Napoleon and the Grand Army across the vast expanse of the Russian plains to his unforeseen destiny and the dissolution of his dreams for continental rule. Little could he have anticipated that his Russian adventure would destroy the Grand Army and his ambitions. Along the way to Moscow he encountered what he had never seen before - a Russian Army that refused to engage him in combat and a sullen and defiant peasantry which did not greet him as liberator, but carried off its food and live stocks and burned its villages - a scorched earth policy which was repeated generations later during the German invasion of Russia in World War II.

On September 7, 1812 the Tsar's army met the Grand Army at Borodino near Moscow, was defeated and withdrew from the field. Thereafter, the Russians pursued a war of constant harassment through attack and retreat by regular and irregular fighters known in later years as guerrilla warfare. On September 14 the Grand Army entered Moscow only to find the city deserted and in flames. There Napoleon waited for Alexander to sue for peace. It never happened.

Print - Moscow burns

Moscow burns

Painting - Entry of the Grand Army in Moscow

Entry of the Grand Army in Moscow

Faced with isolation and the destruction of his supply trains and the early onset of a dreadful Russian winter, Napoleon chose to withdraw from Moscow on October 19. Now the real war began. Harried on all sides by Russian regulars and by peasant irregulars, the retreat of the Grand Army became a rout. On December 5 the Emperor of the French accompanied by loyal cohorts abandoned the Army and fled in haste through Europe back to Paris. Thus the Great Patriotic War of 1812 ended in less than a year with the defeat and destruction of the greatest army heretofore fielded by man. Less than 10% of those who had entered Russia survived the horror which Russia and the winter had prepared for them. On March 31, 1814, Tsar Alexander at the head of a army of Russian and allied forces entered Paris. The erstwhile Emperor of the French, spawn of the French Revolution and propagator of its evils, was banished to his first exile in Elba.

Tsar Alexander's return to Moscow was jubilant. Sonorous chants of thanksgiving rose like clouds of fragrant incense in the churches. The bells rang out and the people received their Tsar. Following his return to Moscow, Tsar Alexander chose to commemorate Russia's victory in the usual Russian manner - by constructing a cathedral in thanksgiving to Christ the Savior of Russia. Alexander's plan was not accomplished in his lifetime. His successor selected the site of the temple and the architectural plans for its construction. Moscow's Metropolitan Filariet assumed responsibility for the implementation of the plans and the interior decoration for almost three decades. On May 23, 1883 the temple was consecrated to the worship of Christ the Savior in the presence of Tsar Alexander III.

Photo - Temple of Christ the Savior 19th Century

Temple of Christ the Savior
19th Century

Print - Original Iconostasis at Christ the Savior Moscow

Original Iconostasis [2]

In the following decades the temple was used for Divine Services and the celebration of state events. In 1914 the First World War began and ended four years later with the reordering of the political map of Europe. The Russian Empire was ill prepared for that war and suffered continual defeats in the field at the hands of the German Army. By 1917 these defeats, social disruptions, demoralization and hunger had reduced the Empire to collapse. With the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II on March 15, 1917 the Romanov dynasty ended. The interim provisional government lasted six months and was overthrown by the Bolshevik Revolution led by Vladimir Lenin. This revolution was based on a complete restructuring of society according to the ideology of Karl Marx as supplemented and adapted by Lenin. This ideology known as Communism would remake all aspects of society in the former Russian Empire in line with the concept of class warfare in which the working classes led by the Communist Party would eventually triumph over the ruling classes worldwide leading to a classless, stateless society in which all needs of the people would be met. An integral part of Communism predicated on the dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels was the notion that there is no reality except material reality. Thus, religion is a fiction, the opiate of the people, intended to restrain the aspirations of the toiling masses and to retain the old social order of the exploitation of the masses by the ruling elites. According to Marxism/Leninism religion would eventually disappear under constant pressure from the state which regarded religion as an obstruction to the creation of the perfect Communist society.

Photo - Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin

By 1931 the head of the Soviet state and of the Communist Party, Joseph Stalin, vicar of Satan, conceived a bold and symbolic plan against the Russian Orthodox Church. He would strike at Christ the Savior of Russia by destroying His temple on the banks of the Moscow River and replacing it with a new “temple” - a Palace of Soviets atop which would stand a colossal statue of Lenin. The height of the Palace and statue would exceed that of the Empire State Building in New York. In 1931, after removing much of the interior decorations and art works, the temple was blown up and the site cleared for the proposed Palace. Several attempts to construct and to stabilize the foundations were frustrated by the slow movement thereof toward the Moscow River. The construction was abandoned and replaced by a public heated swimming pool in use for several decades.

Photo - Temple of Christ the Savior in ruins

Temple in ruins

Print - Palace of the Soviets (Proposal)

Palace of the Soviets

At the end of the decade of the 1980's the warm wind of perestroika rolled across the plains of Russia banishing the harsh cruelty of the Bolshevik winter. Soon the willows blossomed heralding the advent of a new spring. The gates of hell relented and Holy Russia again was free. The Soviet state created by Lenin was swept into the dust bin of history. [3]

Photo - Patriarch Alexy II

Patriarch Alexy II

The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church under the leadership of Patriarch Alexy II requested the governments of Russia and the City of Moscow to restore the Temple of Christ the Savior in its original location and design. Knowing well the symbolism of the Temple's restoration in repudiating the old Communist Soviet order and in establishing the new Russian state predicated on the synthesis of “narodnost”, “demokrasiya”, and Pravoslaviye, [4] Church and State [5] allocated scarce resources to the restoration of Christ the Savior's Temple on the banks of the Moscow River. Moreover the restoration would also serve as a symbol or act of atonement for the past sins of the Russian Church [6] and people during the decades of Soviet rule.

Photo - Temple Christ the Savior under construction

New Temple under construction

Photo - Installation of the Cross

Installation of the Cross

By 1995 the foundations of the restored temple were laid and construction proceeded quickly. In 1996 the main cupola and the life-giving cross [7] were restored. The lower Church of the Transfiguration was consecrated. A new festive bell was cast and restored to ring out over Moscow announcing the celebration of Divine Services and advising all that Christ the Savior had trampled death and had risen on the Third Day. The high point of the restoration and integral thereto were the glorification and canonization of the Assembly of Russian Martyrs and Confessors on August 19 - 20, 2000 including the canonization of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife and children as Holy Passion-Bearers. [8] On Sunday, August 20, following the canonization, the Temple was consecrated to the worship of Christ the Savior during the Hierarchal Divine Liturgy celebrated by Patriarch Alexy II, the members of the Holy Synod and by various Eastern Orthodox hierarchs from around the world. Thus the Temple of Christ the Savior reached its full allegorical significance through its restoration as symbol of the Glorious Resurrection of Christ the Savior.

Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered, and
let those who hate Him flee from before His face.

As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish as wax
melts before a fire.

So let the wicked perish at the presence of God,
and let the righteous ones rejoice.

From the Third Antiphon, Resurrection Liturgy

Icon - New Martyrs and Passion Bearers of Russia

New Martyrs & Passion Bearers of Russia

Icon - Holy Royal Passion Bearers

Holy Royal Passion Bearers [9]

Troparion

Flowers of the spiritual meadow of Russia, who shown forth in
the hour of evil persecutions, O countless New Martyrs and
Confessors, hierarchs, Royal Passion-Bearers and pastors,
monastics and laymen, men, women and children, who brought
forth good fruit to Christ in your patience, pray to Him as the One
Who planted you, that He may deliver His people from the godless
and evil ones, that the Russian Church may be established upon
your blood and sufferings unto the salvation of our souls.

Conclusion

Russia's glory lies in the example of its saints, martyrs and passion-bearers, in the splendor of its churches, in its arts, sciences and literature, in the vastness and beauty of its lands, and in the capacity of the people to suffer yet persevere. We see in the Temple of Christ the Savior an allegory of Our Lord's Passion, Crucifixion and Glorious Resurrection and by extension a symbol of the suffering and the survival of the Russian people under the onslaught of evil. Having endured the 20th century's German heresies of Nazi-fascism from without and of Marxist communist from within, the nation now contends with the ghosts of its past, the emergence of a new class of predatory capitalists, poverty and social disorder, and with the resurgence of the Islamic pestilence in the South. Will Russia prevail over its enemies? If past is prologue, the outlook is encouraging

We, the parishioners of Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church, are far in space from Moscow but close in spirit to our Orthodox brethren who have suffered much for the Holy Faith. Consistent with the wishes of the Holy Father, John Paul II, and with his affection for the Orthodox brethren, we join them in worshiping Christ the Savior of Russia and of the world and in rejoicing in their victory over atheistic Communism. For as the Temple of Christ the Savior commemorates Russia's victory over its enemies, so also does it represent Christ's victory over His enemies. The splendid Temple, white-walled against the azure sky, its golden domes holding high the life-giving cross in triumph over evil, tells us in allegory of Christ's Passion, of His Crucifixion and of His triumph over death in the Glorious Resurrection; it gives us all hope in His promise to remain with us until the end of time and further assurance that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church. See also BESLAN.

Photo - Temple of Christ the Savior Moscow

Temple of Christ the Savior

Photo - Interior of the Temple of Christ the Savior Moscow

Christ the Savior - Interior


Footnotes

  1. Temple - In the canonical terminology of the Eastern Church, the word "Church" refers properly to a body of orthodox believers governed by hierarchy lawfully established whereas the building in which Divine Services are held is properly called a “temple”.
  2. Iconostasis - The iconostasis of the Temple of Christ the Savior in the original structure has been replicated in the restoration. It differs substantially from the usual form of icon screen which separates the sanctuary from the nave. In the Temple it has the form of an eight-sided cone which covers the altar, appearing thus to combine the functions of the canopy as seen in some churches with that of the traditional iconostasis. Regardless of form, this unusual iconostasis serves the traditional purpose of separating symbolically heaven from earth, the sacred from the mundane, and ordained clergy from laity. See the page, ICONOSTASIS, elsewhere in this site.
  3. During the seven decades of Bolshevik tyranny the Russian Orthodox Church was persecuted and reviled. At liberation it emerged from the dark age a mere shadow of what it had been - depleted and impoverished yet rich in spiritual resources inherited from the past. In the twelve years since liberation the Church has moved quickly to recover its place in Russian society and its spiritual mission to preach the Gospel of Christ the Savior. The signs of its spiritual growth and recovery can be seen in the restoration of its institutions and the speed with which it is recovering. By 1989 there were only 67 dioceses in Russia and by 2000 the number increased to 130. In 1988 there were 6893 active parishes, but by 2000 there were 19,417. The number of monasteries in 1980 were 18 and by 2000 there were 545. The pastoral services of the Church are ministered by 150 bishops and 17,500 priests and 2300 deacons. At present there are five theological academies (2 in 1991), 26 seminaries (3 in 1988), and 29 pre-seminaries (none in 1900), plus two Orthodox universities, a theological institute, and 28 icon-painting schools. About 6000 men are preparing for the priesthood. Readers interested in more information about the progress of the Russian Orthodox Church are invited to examine the following sites, one in English and two in Russian. They are:
    Aware of the need to expand beyond its liturgical and sacramental functions, the Church allocates scarce resources to evangelization through religious schools and catechization of lay people, including Sunday schools at churches, adult discussion circles and training of catechumens, Orthodox kindergartens, schools, lyceums, and training courses. In 1990 the Holy Synod set up the All-Church Orthodox Youth Movement and has recently moved to reach the Armed Forces.
    In spite of the Church's progress Russia remains burdened by the evils of the past. Intense heathenization during the long darkness of Bolshevik tyranny is not likely to be overcome quickly. Moreover the Church is challenged by new and hostile realities in the form of heretical and sectarian agitation and propaganda from abroad and the continuing menace of Islam in the South.
  4. Narodnost, Demokrasiya, Pravoslaviye - The Russian Slavophiles of the 19th century conceived of Russian society as based on the three pillars of narodnost (nationality, specifically Russian nationality), Samodjershaviye (autocracy) and Pravoslaviye (Orthodoxy). Today autocracy has yielded to democracy in the evolving Russian concept which is not Anglo-Saxon democracy. The other two pillars remain.
  5. Church and State - Church and state and the relations between the two in the context of Russian history do not mean the same in Russia as they do in the US. The Russian Church and the Russian state both had their genesis in the conversion of Rus by St. Vladimir the Great one thousand years ago. Both have followed parallel paths in the past millennium. Although Church and State in present-day Russia are separate from each other, they cooperate in the same symbiotic relationship as in the past. The Russian Orthodox Church is truly the Church in and of Russia. All others are alien introductions. Thus, the Russian state today as in the past favors the Russian Patriarchal Church as alone legitimate and properly Russian. We should not expect the Russians to stray from their own experiences and traditions in this regard and to adopt in lieu thereof foreign notions of diversity currently politically correct and fashionable in the West.
  6. “Sins of the Church” - For over six decades we have heard rumors that some hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church had compromised or betrayed their vocations by serving as informants and agents of the Soviet internal security ministry (KGB). Some persons in the West, Catholic and Orthodox, have asserted these claims as grounds for criticizing the Russian Church, holding that the same had “forfeited its mandate”, and even claiming that the Patriarchal Church is no longer the canonical Russian Orthodox Church. In the past six decades the author has not seen one iota of credible evidence in support of these charges. It appears that any pickpocket or mugger in the US is entitled to greater presumption of innocence than a Russian hierarch. Even assuming, arguendo, that the charges are true in whole or in part, we who have no recollection of religious persecution are hardly justified in passing judgment on our Orthodox brethren who have suffered so much at the hands of the Bolshevik tyrants. How well would we in the West have fared, had we been subjected to the same persecution? Would we not be prudent to look to our own sins rather than seek out defects in our Russian brethren, to pluck the beam from our own eye rather than view the mote in the eye of our brothers? In this regard we might well heed the admonitions of Christ set forth in Matt. 7, 1 - 5 The soil of Russia is drenched with the blood of martyrs. For guidance we should look to Russia's martyrs and passion-bearers, not at its scoundrels, as we form our opinions.
  7. THE LIFE-GIVING CROSS The Eastern Church celebrates the life-giving cross twice annually - on September 14, the Feastday of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and midway through the Great Fast, Feastday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross. We direct our readers' attention to the placement of the cross in triumph over the crescent moon of Islam, a practice of the Russian Church which commemorates the victory over Islam in the conquest of Kazan by Tsar John IV in the 16th century.
  8. Following the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution of 1917, the former Tsar Nicholas II, his family and a few loyal servants were transferred to Yekaterinburg and imprisoned in the Ipatyev House where they remained until the night of July 17, 1918. On that night they were murdered by the Bolsheviks.
  9. The above two icons are copies of prints of the original icons of the Holy New Martyrs and Passion Bearers of Russia used in the rites of canonization on August 19 - 20, 2000 by the Patriarch and Holy Synod of Russia in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Readers interested in digital copies of higher resolution may contact us at the e-mail address on the home page of this site.
Illustration - Life-giving Cross victorious over Communism