From July 21-27, 2013, at the invitation of Protopriest Ilya Limberger, Rector of St Nicholas Church in Stuttgart, Germany, a group of Muscovites visited Germany to attend the “Days of Olga” (Olga Nikolaevna Romanova, Dowager Queen of Wurttemburg). They included representatives of the Church of the Ascension of the Lord at the Serpukhov Gates; the Society of Holy Grand Duchess Olga, Equal-to-the-Apostles; various colleges of Moscow; members of “Altar of the Fatherland” Society, and members of the Moscow Association of Teachers of Orthodox Culture.
Heading the delegation was Protopriest Konstantin Tatarintsev, Rector of Ascension Church, Director of the Air Force Section of the Synodal Department of Cooperation with the Armed Forces and Security Services.
The trip took place with the blessing of Archbishop Arseny (Epifanov) of Istrina, First Vicar of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, during the celebration of the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus and within the framework of the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty and the feast day of Holy Grand Duchess Olga, Equal-to-the-Apostles.
The scholarly pilgrims participated in events connected with the memory of Dowager Queen Olga Nikolaevna Romanova of Wurttemburg, the 6th such event under the auspices of Fr Ilya of St Nicholas Church in Stuttgart.
In addition to the “Days of Olga,” specifically, the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the House of Romanovs, a classical concert was held along with an academic conference titled “Historical Bonds Between Russia and Württemberg,” hosted by Stuttgart University, at which German and Russian researchers spoke.
The program also included visits to many historic sites in Germany and Christian shrines.
Arriving in Dusseldorf, the pilgrims first visited the Palace Museum of the Hesse Dukes in Darmstadt, dear to every Russian because Holy Passion-Bearer Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and Holy Martyr Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna both grew up within its walls. Also from Darmstadt were the first wife of Emperor Paul I, Natalia Alekseevna, and the wife of Emperor Alexander II, Maria Alexandrovna.
The pilgrims were greatly impressed by the surviving interiors of the palace, which relay the spirit of the epoch through many portraits of its inhabitants, and the Room of Russian Tsars. The Muscovites viewed the baptismal garments of the sisters Elizabeth and Alice with special reverence, as they were to have become saints. The pilgrim’s leader, Fr Konstantin, left a special inscription of gratitude in the palace guest-book.
The excursion continued with a visit to the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Equal-to-the-Apostles, built by Holy Passion-Bearer Tsar Nicholas II for his beloved wife. The church stands on a hill comprised of imported Russian soil, called “Mathilda Hill” by the locals, and was built by the architect Leonid Benois in 1897-1899, The mosaics interiors were made by the Feodorov brothers and were based on drawings made by Vasily Vasnetsov.
Ekaterina, a parish member of the church, welcomed the pilgrims, opening its doors and telling them about the church’s history and relics. This place is considered the heart of the city. As Fr Konstantin said, St Mary Magdalene Church is mystically connected to the church of the same name in Gethsemane Convent in Jerusalem, both are connected with the Royal Family.
The following day, July 22, was devoted to Munich, the capital of Bavaria, and its environs. The pilgrims visited Marienplatz, where a gilded sculpture of the Mother of God stands; they visited the old and new town halls; attended a “knight’s tournament,” and a carpenters “mechanical doll” dance.
The pilgrims were granted access to a reliquary in the Catholic Cathedral of Archangel Michael which contain the honorable heads of Holy Martyrs Cosmas and Damian.
The group visited the sole Orthodox convent on the outskirts of Germany, dedicated to Holy Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna. Abbess Maria welcomed the pilgrims warmly and allowed them to venerate the convent’s relics of SS Elizabeth and Barbara, portions of the shirt in which the body of the former was wrapped after removal from the mine shaft in Alapaevsk where she met her martyric death, and slippers belonging to St John of Shanghai.
At St Job of Pochaev Men’s Monastery, the pilgrims had the opportunity to pray at evening service. Hegumen Evfimij then led them on a tour, during which they venerated the relics of St Job and other saints. An additional pleasure was an unplanned meeting with His Grace Bishop Agapit (Gorachek) of Stuttgart, Vicar of the Diocese of Berlin and Germany. The visitors were then offered refreshments.
Finally, having traveled hundreds of kilometers and acquainting themselves with the historic German land, its traditions and holy sites, the delegates arrived in Stuttgart.
On the morning of July 23, Fr Ilya Limberger welcomed the pilgrims during lunch in their hotel.
The “Days of Olga” then commenced, from July 23-25. Here in Stuttgart, they honored memory first of all of Grand Duches Olga Nikolaevna, Dowager Queen of Württemberg, daughter of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, the wife of King Charles I of Württemberg, as well as other members of the Romanov House whose names were connected with the region.
Fr Ilya then led the delegates on an excursion through the city, the main goal of which was to visit the crypt of Grand duchess Ekaterina Pavlovna, daughter of Emperor Paul I and favorite sister of Emperor Alexander I, whom Vasily Zhukovsky [Russia’s leading poet and translator of the era] called a woman “of an exceptionally lofty mind.” During the brief three-year period in Stuttgart, Ekaterina Pavlovna made great contributions to the development of Württemberg and is fondly remembered by the local population.
The spiritual heart of the celebration was Divine Liturgy in St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, at which His Eminence Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin and Germany officiated, along with the church’s rector, Vladyka Agapit, Fr Ilya and other clergymen of the church, as well as Fr Konstantin Tatarintsev. Many of the parishioners and almost all of the delegates partook of the Holy Gifts of Christ.
During the service, Fr Ilya was awarded the right to wear the decorated pectoral cross.
Vladyka Mark, in his sermon, emphasized that Holy Grand Duchess Olga, Equal-to-the-Apostles, led Russia to become a Christian nation through her prayers, and we must remember her legacy and firmly hold to the symbol of Christ.
During the festive trapeza luncheon that followed, the parishioners and delegates came to know each other and exchanged mementos.
After a stroll through town, the Muscovites and many of their hosts gathered at the Old Castle, the former residence of Queen Olga of Württemberg. A pannikhida was then performed in German and Russian at the crypt containing her remains and those of her niece, Vera Konstantinovna, as well as her husband.
A concert was then held that evening with musical and literary compositions devoted to Olga Nikolaevna, which included excerpts from her own journal, romances and instrumental music by Peter Tchaikovsky, Serge Rachmaninoff, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert, which bore witness to the cross-pollination of cultures between Russia and Germany.
The following day, July 25, the historical conference began at Stuttgart University’s History Department. Its goal was to expose the people of Stuttgart with the contributions made towards Württemberg’s development by Russian émigrés, and the accomplishments of the people of their region in Russia. Speaking on various topics were historians from Russia and Germany. The forum was held in Russian and German with synchronized translations.
That evening, July 25, the Muscovites came to Strasbourg to briefly tour this ancient town, especially its cathedral.
The next morning, July 26, they visited the Christian relics of Holy Martyrs Faith, Hope, Love and their mother Sophia in the Catholic Church of St Trophimus in Eschau, a small town in the outskirts of Strasbourg, to pray to the saints. Fr Konstantin called this day the “minor namesday” of those pilgrims who share these names: two Veras (Russian for Faith), one Liubov (Faith) and one Sofia (Sophia).
Later that day they traveled to Koln, the spiritual heart of Germany, where the pilgrims prayed at several Christian shrines in the Church of St Andrew (relics of the 8 Martyrs of Maccabee are here) and the crypt with the relics of the Wise Men in Koln Cathedral.
Igor Gorkavy, Director of Butovo Memorial Center in Moscow, acted as tour guide and interpreter.