Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Oops, Wrong Monastery

Oops, wrong monastery, but what a terrific find =)

The exit from Kyiv was as to be expected - an hour of noisy, stressful convergence of main roads into highways, but they eventually petered out and I got safely into a delightful pine and oak forest, sparsely peopled with mushroom-hunters and their dogs on the cloudy day.

The word of the day could easily be 'smile'. Nearly everyone I encountered smiled kindly at me. So many people were eager to strike up a conversation. I'm an oddity, clearly, owing mostly to the hiking sticks, I think. ...or just the fact that someone, especially a woman, would be backpacking through their chanterelle-filled forest. The preponderence of 'o's in their gibberish indicated to me that it was Russian I wasn't understanding rather than the 'i'y Ukrainian. Whatever, they were smiling at me and offering to help guide me to where I was going. A few even whipped out their mobiles in the midst of our little chat to bring in a ringer who knew some English. Very kind, very smiling people I saw.

The sandiness of the forest floor checked my pace more than I predicted. My legs and gluts got a good workout for nearly four hours. I stopped for refreshment in a village and asked the barkeep for specific directions to the monastery I hoped would put me up for the night. That the monastery I had heard of was a Catholic Oblates of St Mary was way more information than I could muster in Ukrainian. 'De monastir' was all I could comfortably blurt out. He marked up my map and I continued on.

A goatherd rose out of a grassy gulch to talk with me while his suspicious goats ripped at the lush grass. He led me a ways around some scrub brush and pointed to a great white church with green onion domes on a distant hillside. Yikes, I wouldn't make it by dusk. He implored me to take a bus, but I declined. Rather foolishly, I walked on, into total darkness. I asked a few more people in a series of hamlets to make sure I stayed on the right path.

An hour after the sunset, I illuminated a sign on the side of a little road with my flashlight: Monastir - 1.5 km. Ugh, more walking... 15 or 20 minutes more, and my legs shaking with fatigue. But knowing I was close, I was happy with the day's experience. Those minutes later, I went right to a lit window in an outbuilding near the entrance to the monastery and tapped on the glass. Two monks motioned me to the door and gave me a kind welcome. 'O'y, though, not 'i'y... Russian, not Ukrainian... Orthodox, not Catholic... it was all the same to me, but I wasn't sure what the rules are for giving pilgrims a night's accommodation in the absence of that convenient papal decree that western pilgrims have relied on since the Middle Ages.

Scurrying by more monks brought the surprisingly young abbot. He listened to my Ukrainian request for pilgrim lodging, and replied with gentle smiled gestures that the Catholic monastery is two km further. Rather than cry or sit in protest like I half felt like in my exhaustion, I proffered the prized letter of introduction given to me by the Ukrainian Catholic priest in Denver. The abbot smiled even more, handed me back the letter, and indicated that I was welcome. Phew! As it turns out, both the church in Denver and his church at the monastery are named Transfiguration of the Lord. What are the angelic odds of that?

He led me to the church and allowed me to sit (and fumble awkwardly with a headscarf) while listening to their chanted version of Vespers. Afterwards, the dozen or so monks marched to the refectory and I followed. One table for the monks and one for laypeople. Supper was rapidly eaten in smiling silence while one of the monks read incredibly fast. Black bread, pickle soup, kasha, some cabbage salads, and various relishes were all wolfed down by everyone. With the sudden ding of a small bell, everyone stood, genuflected aerobically in quick succession, and supper was over.

Among the lay people were two university students from Kyiv who volunteer there for the solitude and seven icon-painters currently decorating the interior of the church. One of the students speaks some English and everyone was full of questions. They courteously allowed me to shower and change out of the sandy hiking clothes before we would satisfy together all the curiosities of everyone's situation. Before much could happen, the abbot sent word that my presence was requested. The translater made an attempt at fixing my headscarf and was incredulous that I didn't have a skirt to wear - even the women icon painter wore ankle-length canvas skirts. Ah well, off to the abbot.

Soft spoken, he told me of the monastery, gave me a tour of the grounds, guided me through the finished paintings of the Chapel of St John the Baptist, up the bell tower to see the dozen hand-operated tuned bells, and further up the scaffolding to the interior of the cupola where the icon painters were finishing depictions of larger-than-life prophets to the sound of Byzantine chants coming from someone's laptop. It was all incredibly beautiful and tranquil. He floated the idea of my converting from Roman Catholic to Russian Orthodox and I promised that if I ever do, I'd return to have him baptize me personally. At a minimum, besides the obvious need to learn Russian, I'd have to get the headscarf thing down better... fluffy hair doesn't seem to be the right coif to keep it from sliding back all the time.

I was bestowed with gifts from the abbot and several of the monks - a richly embroidered cloth, small icons, a tryptic of St Andrew, a book on the monastery's founding saint, a small crucifix... The abbot had never hosted a pilgrim before. He made sure that several photos were taken of us together (promising to send them to me electronically so I might post them here).

All the lay folks gathered in the women's attic dorm room with a multitude of questions. The poor translater had a hard time of it, having much to translate all at once. One fellow's great-great-grandfather was said to have made a pilgrimage by foot to the Holy Land, but no one else had any idea that pilgrims exist as they do today.

Midnight was long past by the time we got to sleep. They slept on while I got up at dawn to head back to the forest path and make my way to the Catholic monastery I was sort of heading to earlier. I am incredibly grateful to the Russian Orthodox gang for their hospitality. Walking after dark, to the wrong place, was never so rewarding nor so much fun.

My first day of walking revealed to me the friendliness of the smiling Ukrainians.


Anonymous said...

Ann - so you're finding a computer to write on too. it's great to read the daily journey. really glad you were able use your letter from the Catholic Church in Denver. take care. Deanna

Sylvia said...

Ann, Wow! I am so glad for your journey so far. By now you must realise you have to quantify what brand monastery. Католический Монастырь.

Next time tell us about the singing!

I am so glad you had a happy experience on your first day!

St. Andrew please pray for Ann.

Ukiefriend said...

Dobryj Den! Sounds like you are a true pilgrim of times past! You need to learn how to wrap cloth around you to fake out a skirt, hehe! Should have given you a coouple of bobby pins!
Guess I should have warned you that the Russian Orthodox are more strict and adhere to more old fashioned ways. A smile always works!

Glad you were welcomed and had a translator too! Did you watercolor?

Can't wait to see the pix...

Shtchaslyvoji dorohy!
PS -- Ukes all say "oy" -- it's used for pain or surprise (and who knows what elese)

Ukiefriend said...

Did you get a stamp?

Jefferson GrandsLieux said...

Wonderful post, and good news ! Thank you !
I had a lot of fun reading your rich text.
I'll come back.

Bill said...

Margaret (Meredith) insisted I bookmark and follow your current trek which I have done, and will pass the url on. Greatly enjoyed "Oops".
Bill Graham (cerf.book.fr)

Anonymous said...

To: 123 123
Of course, you are anonymous, but one classless person. You should be embarrassed to post such human-trafficking garbage on this page. If I was Russian I would be embarrassed to admit so. Go peddle your junk somewhere else...I don't think readers here will be interested.

Anonymous said...

Anna-this is amazaing. Love reading your trip accounts. Don't forget to paint. I would love for you to present your art work at an Arts Coalition of Erie, Colorado meeting. Look forward to reading more of your walk and about your doing art work along the way. Vera

Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

I followed your pilgrimage last year when you walked through France in winter, and encountered some days where snow covered your route. I am very much looking forward to reading about your experiences through such different lands.

Laura said...

Ann - Laura here - the Russsian Orthodox gal you met at Italian meetup. I am so "proud" of our Orthodox monastery hosting you. I'm sure they were blessed and encouraged by your visit!

AmeBenit said...

Ana, thanks for sending me this link. Amazing! The internet keeps us close to one another.

I will follow your trip and truly enjoyed your writing on this. I must add that I do not believe there are any oop's but things that have been put on our path for very specific reasons. What a great experience.
Take care