News / Religion 

Friday, July 19, 2002

Russian Orthodox leader blesses
new church bells at holy site

By Steve Gutterman 
The Associated Press

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II speaks in front of a church bell during a blessing ceremony in Sergiyev Posad, Russia, about 55 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Moscow, Thursday, July 18, 2002. The Patriarch on Thursday blessed two giant church bells made to replace a pair that were torn down from a tower at the country's holiest site and destroyed 72 years ago under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. The bells have President Valdimir Putin's name cast on their side in relief. (AP Photo/Tanya Makeyeva)


SERGIYEV POSAD, Moscow Region -- Patriarch Alexy II on Thursday blessed two giant church bells made to replace a pair that were torn down from a tower at one of the country's holiest sites and destroyed 72 years ago under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

The bells -- each with President Vladimir Putin's name cast on its side in relief -- are to be hoisted up next month into the bell tower outside the Cathedral of the Assumption at Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery in Sergiyev Posad, about 55 kilometers northeast of Moscow. 

In addition to Putin, the bells bear the names of Alexy, the abbot of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery and its financial manager in old Russian-style lettering along the base, said Hierodeacon Yakov, a monk at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery.

He said Putin was mentioned because the bells were cast under his rule -- a tradition he said goes back centuries when the name of the ruling tsar was engraved on church bells.

Yakov also said it was done to thank Putin for creating a "favorable atmosphere" for religion and the church.

Putin is a practicing Orthodox Christian and embraced a new national anthem that celebrates Russia as a "holy country" that is "protected by God" -- although the tune is the same as the Soviet-era anthem that once praised the atheist Communist Party.

Dressed in a deep green velvet robe laced with golden thread and a a matching crown-like miter, Alexy chanted a blessing and sprinkled the bells with holy water from a big silver cup outside the church as thousands of believers packed into the sun-drenched square looked on.

"In 1930, these bells were cast down ... and broken, and it seemed they would never be restored and placed in the bell tower of Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery again," Alexy said. "But by the grace of God they have been restored, and today we bless these two bells." 

The bells -- one weighing 27 tons and the other more than 35 tons -- were modeled after two that were destroyed as Stalin's campaign against religion raged. Church bells were smashed in cities and towns across the Soviet Union, and churches that were not torn down were used as breweries, factories, secret police facilities and for other purposes. 

Yakov said the bells cost more than $2.2 million to make, all of it donated, much of it from the Nuclear Power Ministry. A list of donors posted outside the Assumption Church -- underneath photos of the broken bells -- includes six nuclear power plants as well as oil companies and banks.

The bells were poured at ZiL, the factory that made the limousines Stalin and other Soviet leaders rode in.

Church and ZiL officials said they are planning a third, even bigger bell to replace one that weighed more than 60 tons.

The two bells are to be raised by a 250-ton crane in late August.

Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press.


And another story——

Holy Trinity Saint Sergius Monastery. Photo courtesy - Sergiev Posad Museum


Bells Restored To Russian Cathedral

 By Rebecca Santana

 MOSCOW - More than 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church is still recovering from damage done to its churches and monasteries. Last week, the church and its believers celebrated the return of something that is big both in size and in symbolism: two enormous church bells. 

A group of priests, clothed in black robes, sang, as hundreds of people gathered in the square at the Holy Trinity St. Sergius Monastery.

They came to watch a landmark event in the history of religion in Russia. Two massive bells were lifted up by a crane and gently hung in their rightful place in the bell tower. It is the tallest bell tower in all of Russia.

The new bells won't be issuing their loud, deep peels for another month. The massive iron clappers that hang inside the bells will not be hung until next month, when the monastery holds one of its annual festivals.

The two bells, called Firstborn and Evangelist, are reproductions of bells that were torn down in 1930 by communist authorities who were trying to wipe out religion.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, blessed the bells before they were hung.

The Patriarch asked God for his blessing for raising the two bells. 

The two bells are huge. One weighs 27 tons and the other 35.5 tons. 

They were poured at the "Zil" automobile factory, the same company that made the prestigious limousines used by top Soviet officials. 

Church bells have always had a special significance in Russia. 

When Peter the Great ruled, he stripped many of the churches of their bells and melted them down to make cannons or bullets. During Soviet times, almost all remaining church bells were removed and many of the churches and monasteries themselves were either destroyed or closed, or used as clubs, schools, or dance halls. 

A photo exhibit at this monastery shows how its original giant bells were pushed out of the tower into the snow and then destroyed. But some of the monastery's bells survived.

The man in charge of the reconstruction, Father Aristarkh Smirnov, says bells have always been the voice of the church and of Russia itself.

Father Aristarkh says the bells are a symbol of belief and independence, a symbol of greatness and of the state. He says it is hard to imagine the life of a Russian person in the pre-revolutionary period without bells. They rang out often to call people to prayer or to alert them to danger. 

The fact that more than 1,000 people gathered for the bell-hanging ceremony is a sign of how religious life is slowly returning to normal in Russia. 

Local resident Valentina Konstantinovna was in the crowd. 

Ms. Konstantinovna says she came to the monastery to see the bells hung, because she is an Orthodox believer, and wanted to celebrate this historic occasion. She says it is not at all like Soviet times, when almost no one went to church. She thinks religion is returning to Russia. 

According to a recent survey published by the Russian newspaper, Izvestia, almost 60 percent of Russians consider themselves Orthodox.

Among them is Russian President Vladimir Putin. And although Mr. Putin was not at the bell-hanging ceremony, his presence was felt. His name is written on both of the bells. Church officials say it was a tradition during czarist times to write the name of the czar, or leader, on the side of a new bell. Many church leaders also credit him with creating the political environment in which this ceremony could be held. Many thanx to the Digital Journal!