Today we visited St. Sergius Lavra, one of the most important sites of the Russian Orthodox Church and an epicenter of Russian bell ringing. A lavra is a type of monastery “consisting of caves or cells for hermits” (Wikipedia). This lavra, however, consists of a number of ornate churches and belltowers overflowing with visitors and tourists eager to take in the spiritual core of Russia.
After a 1.5 hr car ride north of Moscow ($20 Uber!), we were immediately immersed in bell ringing. Happily but unsurprisingly, Father Roman had friends in high places (because they work in a bell tower) that granted us access to the various belfries around the cloister. We mostly stayed in the central belltower, but Father Roman and our intrepid bellringer Jeffery scaled a ladder and a rooftop to reach another set of bells.
St. Sergius Lavra also boasts a seminary and theological school, whose alumni includes Father Roman, his father, and his grandfather. Father Roman spent eight years at the seminary, and in touring the school, we visited the classrooms, libraries, and churches where he spent much of his time.
We closed the day with a tea with Father Roman’s bell ringing colleagues and students. Having taught a bell ringing class at the Danilov Monastery over the years, Father Roman has accrued a diverse pantheon of bellringers that spans decades of ages and have gone on to ring in churches all throughout Moscow, including within the Kremlin.
Meeting and speaking with so many bellringers was everything we could have hoped to get out of this trip. On one hand, the experience was pure cultural exchange, with heaps of healthy discussion of U.S.-Russia relations over a rainbow of Russian desserts laid out for us. On the other hand, we had so much in common that we could bond over. Of course we talked about bellringing and shared pictures of our different setups; in fact, the end of the tea became a quasi-research conference as two bellringers gave full presentations on their research into the use of computers in accelerating bellringing education, a topic of interest to the Lowell Bellringers for bringing compers up to speed. But there was so much beyond just bellringing, from music to history to math and everything else in between. By the end of the evening, we were all drowsy from all the good company and conversation.