Moscow’s Danilov Monastery is quite far off the beaten track, that I could safely say, only 1 in about 50 tourists who came to Moscow would have made a point to make a visit.
It is actually a place where Russians go to worship on a regular basis. Do head there if you would like a taste of day to day worship in Russian Orthodox style.
To be honest, I can’t be sure of the exact distinction between a church, cathedral and monastery. From what I have read from different sources, I can only infer that a cathedral is a grander, much bigger version of a church, that is used for official ceremonies and key events. (To house the tomb of Tzars as well me thinks).
As for monasteries, these are places where monks and nuns live in, and worship is pretty flat (without hierarchy), as compared to a church or cathedral which is led by a pastor or clergyman. Inferred from this pretty abstract explanation here.
One of my other reason of heading to this monastery was to catch a glimpse of the monks. Coming from Singapore where Buddhism and Taoism are more prevalent, I grew up thinking monks were without hair, wore yellow robes and simple shoes.
But it does seem to be more than that. My first association with Catholic monks were because of Bénédictine Dom, a potent medicinal drink my mother used to drink when I was growing up. When I was young I used to hear that monks living in very cold countries brew this drink to keep themselves warm. Small bottles were also tied to the neck of rescue dogs for those that were lost in snow drift.
This story had conjured a magical image in my head and I wanted to see the monks , despite very little correlation to present day monks, and the fact that I had a runny nose and cough.
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You get a sense that you are reaching the monastery as more beggars come up to you asking for alms. The same thing happened at the Cathedral in Irkutsk too.
The guard there was friendly, like India-friendly, which is very rare for Russian guards. Those at the Kremlin and Red Square had absolutely stern faces. This one broke into a smile when he saw us, and tried his very best to use English to tell us that we had to pay 50 Roubles, (USD1.50) to take photos.
On the exterior of the monastery, we got a glimpse of real life worship. Elderly Russian ladies, with lines on their faces, wearing a simple headgear and footware, placing their lips on each portrait of the saint. They then placed their hands together, like in prayer.
The parks were almost empty. Some parts of the benches were covered in snow, while a busy parent sat by the side, watching her kid play.
Then I spotted a monk. He looked stately and somewhat intimidating in his all black gear,and long beard. He had work a black hat too, and was walking very fast. But you get a sense of his presence, and somehow, he just fitted into the cloudy, cold scene very well. Was he one of the monks who brewed medicinal wine to stay warm during winter? I wasn’t sure, but I was happy just to get a glimpse
Danilov Monastery in Photos, as follows
Before we left, the bells started to chime. We noticed people around us hurrying to the main place of worship. I guess it could be like a call of prayer. Then I recalled visiting a bell tower some time ago in what I think would be India. There was an intricate thread of strings nested in between one another, and I recalled someone telling me that one of the head monks will be the one tugging the strings, creating a melody of sorts.
The entire chime lasted for about 10 minutes. It must have been pretty stressful trying to get all the strings together in motion! It’s not clear in this photo but try spotting the monk on the top of the tower.
Before we left, we checked out some photos of the monks on their notice board. It showed them carrying cows milk and carrying out events and ceremonies.
Danilov Monastery may not be that cool tourist destination, but it was an interesting peep into the lives of Russians and how religion formed a part of their lives. It was also interesting to get a glimpse into the lives of monks, so different from our own here in Asia, and even in Singapore. If you’re keen to find out more about the Danilov Monastery, visit the Wiki link here.