10/06/2022, 09.17
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Thousands of Russians on pilgrimage against the horrors of war

by Vladimir Rozanskij

At least 20 thousand, between June and October. The most grandiose is 'the Romanov Trail': 3,500 km from St Petersburg to Ekaterinburg. Pilgrims seek peace and solace. The holy monks invite them to trust only in God and not in the plans of men.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - The summer season in Russia has shown a significant phenomenon: the great increase in long pilgrimages to the country's shrines. This was revealed in an investigation by Moskovskij Komsomolets. It had already emerged with the pandemic, and the same is happening with the aggression against Ukraine. Many Russians seek the comfort of saints and holy icons, along with the blessing of monks and 'starets' (mystics) in sacred places that are often far away.

The impossibility of travelling abroad for holidays has contributed to an increase in domestic tourism in the areas of historical civil and ecclesiastical monuments, and shrines are the most sought-after destinations. During the summer months, there are at least twenty large pilgrimages of the Orthodox faithful, and around them a community of believers and people seeking comfort and meaning in the current tragic events is created.

The grandest and most solemn of the pilgrimages is the one that takes place from St. Petersburg to Ekaterinburg, known as the 'Romanovsky Khod' (the Romanov Path), 3,500 kilometres on foot over the course of three and a half months, in an uninterrupted flow between May and July to the site of the martyrdom of the holy Tsar Nicholas II 'strastoterpets' (he who suffered the passion) and members of the imperial family. The faithful gather in this Ural forest until the onset of autumn snowfall, and it was here that those who did not want to submit to the rules of isolation and distancing were concentrated in Covid times.

The official end of the religious procession season is the feast of St Sergius of Radonež on 8 October, in the Lavra of Sergiev-Posad, 70 km from Moscow. This is the 'Russian Vatican', commemorating the rebirth of monasticism in the 15th century with the victory over the Tatars and the season of the great Russian iconography of Andrei Rublev and the other disciples of Sergius. True pilgrimage, according to ancient Russian traditions, involves the widest possible participation of the people, and even in Soviet times, people gathered despite official prohibitions, when pilgrimages were considered 'illegal demonstrations'.

The largest gathering of the 'krestokhodtsy' (bearers of the cross) was this year on the 'Velikorektsij' (great river) walk from Kirov, along the Vjatka river, a great tributary of the Volga, to the place where the miraculous icon of St Nicholas was found in the village of Velikoretskoe. The solemn celebrations on 8 June gathered some 25,000 people, who walked for a whole week, and until October, pilgrims took turns to ask for the intercession of Russia's most beloved saint.

One of the most "instructive" pilgrimages, the so-called Irinarkhovskij Khod in the region of Jaroslavl, proposes as a golden rule the sense of "a necessary path of suffering, experiencing the hardships and trials of life, for the sake of one's soul". Many pilgrims recounted that they had joined this programme driven by compassion for those suffering as a result of the war, both among the aggrieved and among the patriots and mobilised and their families, not knowing how else to find peace on an inner level.

The pilgrimage unites the sentiments of 'militant Christianity', depicting the parade of the Celestial Army, with the humiliation of the path of the penitents: in both cases it is seen as the only possible way to redemption. Many pilgrims wear the 'verigi', the uncomfortable metal boots of St. Irinarkh in the early 17th century, also reminiscent of soldiers' armour in the mud, trying to abstain from smoking and alcohol, and listen to the monitions of the holy monks who urge to trust only in God, and not in the plans of men: 'It is He who leads you to the true goal of life's pilgrimage'.

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