After Matty and Jessica left for the airport in the morning, it was time for Alex, Jeffery, and I to head to Pechory. At the time, here is what I knew about Pechory: it is a five-hour drive from Saint Petersburg; Father Roman was not with us; and we would be relying on a taxi app to get there. With all this, I was fairly uneasy about the trip, especially since it was valuable time spent away from Saint Petersburg.
Our first attempt for a taxi went like this. While we knew there was no way a driver would accept a five hour ride in the States, we were left to trust our contact in Pechory that it could be done. The driver picked us up and asked to use Alex’s phone for navigation, rather disconcerting considering he had his own phone and GPS on the dashboard. After several minutes driving through the city, he seemed to notice the estimated time and distance, stopped, and confusedly called someone. Realizing this was going nowhere good, we got out to try again. On the second attempt, we ensured the driver, Mikhail, understood that we were going to Pechory and that it would be a very long trip. Fortunately, everything went smoothly from there.
When we arrived in Pechory, a very small town by the Estonian border, we finally met our contact Elena, a former bell ringing student of Father Roman from Moscow. Realizing that we would be returning to Saint Petersburg the next day, the driver decided to stay in Pechory, as in stay in a room at the Pilgrims House with us: me, Alex, Jeffery, and Mikhail. Really, this was good because it would have been very difficult to find a ride back to Saint Petersburg in such a small town.
We ate dinner by the Pilgrims House, Elena eager to show us the monastery. She said it was the best place in the whole world, and explained how there were many pilgrims there for the August 28th celebration of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God, the Assumption, since the monastery is dedicated to the Dormition. With her hospitable welcome and contagious excitement, my hesitation for the trip began to transition to excitement.
When we arrived at the Dormition monastery, there were many people gathered for a service, and there was a carpet of grass where earlier there had been a road of flowers for the procession of the miraculous icon of the Most Holy Mother of God. Elena showed us the beautiful monastery grounds and the bells. Father Alexei, the head bell ringer, allowed us to climb onto the roof to see the bells. The Pechory bells are unique because there is no system of ropes to play the bells up in the belfry. Instead, ropes are attached to the clappers themselves from the building next door below.
After we saw the bells, Elena took us to find her spiritual father for anointing with oil. Everyone was gathered outside the cathedral where the miraculous icon was displayed. She explained to us about the service and the veneration of the icon. At the end of the service, there was a bell ringing, and then we returned to the Pilgrims House for the night, looking forward to the feast day the next day. After the road trip adventure, Pechory would be an amazing experience, an opportunity to see a unique set of bells but more importantly to encounter the religious and cultural tradition in a very special way.