There has been a visit to Moscow planned in my diary for many months. The current situation has made this visit more important than ever. Helen and I wanted very much to see The Revd. Malcolm and Mrs Alison Rogers to demonstrate our care and support for them in what has become a particularly isolated and difficult ministry.
Getting to Moscow is much more difficult than it used to be. There are no direct flights from Europe to Russia these days. The most popular route is via Istanbul. To avoid overflying Ukraine, the flight from Istanbul to Moscow heads North West towards Prague and Brnw, then northwards across Poland and eastwards over Minsk in Belarus, making that leg of the journey nearly 3,000km. It is all very good business for Turkish Airlines who seemed to be offering flights to Moscow every hour at some times of day.
One of my main reasons for visiting Moscow was to conduct a confirmation service. I very much enjoyed meeting this large and diverse group of confirmation candidates. The largest component of this group were Russian, along with folk from sub-saharan Africa, one from the UK and one from Ukraine. Since I don’t speak Russian, we all did our best to communicate across the language barrier.
It was a particular joy to baptize and confirm Liliya, who comes from a part of the Russian Federation which is predominantly Muslim. Liliya is aged 30 and works in fashion and design. For her, Christian faith is rooted in the God who is love, and is matter of celebrating the love and beauty of God in the world. Liliya wanted to be baptized and confirmed to become fully a part of the Christian community.
Our wonderful confirmation candidates gather at the door of St. Andrews at the end of the service, along with others helping to lead our worship. We don’t know where this talented group of (mainly) younger people will find themselves in the future. I pray that their confirmation at St. Andrew’s will be a decisive step on their journey into God, and that they will be more and more deeply rooted in Christian faith.
I came to St. Andrews bearing gifts: this beautiful chalice and patten was donated by Bishop Michael Ipgrave on behalf of Lichfield diocese. In our worship we dedicated them for use in St. Andrews, in thanksgiving for the friendship between Christian communities that they embody.
Every pastoral visit provides the opportunity for ecumenical encounter. I was delighted to accept the invitation from Fr. Stefan, whom I have known for several years, to meet him at the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate. Fr. Stefan is Secretary for Inter-Christian relations at the Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations. Amongst other things, we stressed the importance of good fraternal relations and maintenance of dialogue. In these difficult times, we agreed on the importance of using language carefully. We shared our longing for peace and reconciliation in Ukraine.
It was equally good to meet with Mgr Pavel Pezzi, the Latin Rite Metropolitan Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Moscow. We have been most grateful to the Roman Catholic Church for their willingness to consider offering pastoral and sacramental care in extremis for the congregation of St. Andrew’s should, God forbid, circumstances ever be such that we are not able to sustain ordained ministry in Moscow.
There was also opportunity to visit the British Embassy. I was struck by this lovely banner advertising the embassy playgroup.
The Ambassador being out of town, we were welcomed and entertained by Julia Crouch, the Acting Deputy Ambassador. We enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation during which Julia expressed deep appreciation for the ministry of Malcolm and Alison to the embassy community in these difficult times.
I was thrilled that in the midst of a busy schedule we were able to find time to visit the Tretyakov Gallery and to see what is probably the most famous of all Russian icons: Rublev’s Trinity or ‘the Hospitality of Abraham’.
This icon represents the fullness of the God who subsists in three persons bound together in perfect love. It embodies peace, harmony, love and humility.
I believe that God intends relationships in the Church to be modelled on the ‘diversity in unity’ that we see in the Holy Trinity. By contrast, we witness in Europe the appalling reality of Christians from neighbouring countries fighting and killing one another. That is as far from what God intends as could be imagined.
It is therefore vital that Christian people, and leaders in particular, do all that they can to sustain relationships, reach out to one another, and dialogue together. Malcolm and Alison represent the Church of England and the Anglican Communion more widely in Russia. They have remained in Moscow at a time when many other people from the West have had to leave, either voluntarily or involuntarily. This is a sacrificial ministry. They are separated from family not just by distance but by the huge cost and difficulty of travel into and out of Russia. Whilst the streets of Moscow are safe and everything appears peaceful and prosperous, there are real stresses involved in living here. Please do pray for Malcolm and Alison, that they will find the resources and inner strength to persevere and that their ministry at St. Andrews will continue to be richly blessed.