Project Tikhvin: Time to Work…
Ball gowns, tuxedos… It is a lent-free week [the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector—ed.], the preparatory period for Great Lent, and the missionary youth movement of the Russian Orthodox diaspora marked it with an evening ball, called the “Tikhvinsky Ball.” It took place in Albany, the capital of New York State, organized with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, through the efforts of Protopriest Alexis Duncan, Rector of the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God and its sisterhood. Present was Protopriest Andrei Sommer, Vice President of the Synodal Youth Department of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, who relayed the good wishes and blessings from the First Hierarch to the youth of the East Coast of the US and Canada in attendance.
- Fr Andrei: what was the goal did the organizers of this magnificent ball?
- The ball was organized with the aim of supporting “Project Tikhvin,” specifically to collect funds for a trip this summer by the youth of the east coast of the US. The participants of St Seraphim Camp in Pennsylvania will make a trip to Vvedensky Convent in Tikhvin (Leningrad oblast). The ball is truly grand: young people danced to live music performed by an ensemble called “Balalaika”, while the parish sisterhood prepared a delicious dinner. Ticketpriceswere $50, and $40 forstudents .
- Will this be a pilgrimage, a missionary or working trip?
- It is both a missionary and working trip. The first such trip to Tikhvin by the “Seraphim” youth took place last July. Not long before this, the members of St Alexander Nevsky Brotherhood in St Petersburg appealed to Metropolitan Hilarion with the request to bless some young people to visit the convent in order to help the nuns clean up the monastery grounds, churches and buildings. The Youth Department then turned to the active missionaries of the Eastern American Diocese. Protopriest Alexis Duncan of Albany volunteered to head what became known as Project Tikhvin. The group was comprised of 18 young people, who went to St Petersburg with the blessings of Metropolitan Hilarion, Metropolitan Vladimir and Abbess Tavifa, and who had previously participated in youth trips to Russia organized by the Synodal Youth Department. Their experience and knowledge helped those who had never visited Russia before. The youth spent all of last July in Tikhvin. They developed the details of this project—to employ the efforts of young people from Russia and abroad to rebuild Vvedensky Convent in Tikhvin. This year, the group plans to fly out in the second half of June and work on restoration and renovation of the Convent until mid-July.
- Fr Andrei, tell us more about the place where you are now making your second visit.
- Vvedensky Convent, near the banks of the Tikhvinka River, was founded in the 16 th century. The site was selected by the Mother of God Herself, through the appearance in 1383 of the miracle-working Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God, painted by Apostle Luke. The convent’s cathedral was built by Tsar Ivan the Terrible. The convent went on to endure invasions and periods of destruction. During the most recent one, which followed the October Revolution, the convent was looted and destroyed.
In 1929, the monastery was closed, and its Abbess Ioanikia executed. In 1937, the Bolsheviks turned the cathedral into a gymnasium, turning the narthex into locker rooms, and the altar into a bath, shower and toilets. Finally, the monastery complex was left to ruin and became a local symbol of poverty and despair.
Only in the spring of 2012 were the ruins returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. Thenunsnow livesolelyondonations .
Of course, it will take many years to rebuild the cathedral and monastery. But its future history will include the labors of youth from the Russian diaspora. God willing, they will travel there every year to their adopted Tikhvin until all the wounds inflicted by the Communist regime are healed.
I would like to note that our youth, both boys and girls, will be performing the hardest physical work in order to relieve the nuns so that they can exert their efforts in prayer and their many other obediences. They haul tons of debris from the main cathedral, which looks little like a beautiful Orthodox temple now, as it was once; they expand the trenches and monastery cemetery. Sledgehammers and shovels are eagerly taken up! These trips also have a spiritual element—the youth sing and pray at divine services together with the nuns. Our First Hierarch recently asked for an update on this summer’s trip to Tikhvin.
- That is, this missionary initiative is now not just on the Synodal but on the parish level?
- Ofcourse! We welcome this trend. This project illustrates what we have been able to accomplish in five years since the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion. Our trips to Russia, which have already involved over a hundred people, our joint events, meetings with Russian youth, visits to cities and monasteries have all borne fruit. Our missionary initiatives have spread to the parish level. And there are now grass-roots initiatives which are spreading throughout the corresponding dioceses.
Such missionary working trips ignite the hearts of our young people not only to labor far across the ocean, but it teaches them to be active members of their own parishes.
I would like to point out that all the money we collect goes exclusively towards these trips, mostly for airfare. During their stay in Russia and in the convent, the young people live with locals, in humble and even poor conditions. We reduce expenses to a minimum, which also gives us the opportunity to arrange visits to other churches and holy sites of the north.
The youth takes responsibility to seek out funding for these projects, knowing that benevolent foundations cannot always support youth programs.
I am certain that Project Tikhvin is not the last of the missionary initiatives aimed at renovating the holy sites of our historic Homeland, which could arise on the parish level in the future. The rebirth of Russia is not yet completed. A great deal of time and energy will be required for our Homeland to return to its old glory and greatness.