Top 5 Destinations for Orthodox Jet-Setters
Jet set—it’s an old fashioned, 1960s term for those who had money to burn and could just hop on a plane and travel wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and stay for however long they wanted. It implied a rootless, aimless, pleasure-driven existence that had no purpose except to amuse a jaded, hedonistic group whose sole purpose was self-centered enjoyment. We aren’t jet-setters, either by income or outlook, but let’s pretend for a while that we have a jet-setter budget, and go on an Orthodox world tour.
Our purpose is not to amuse and titillate our jaded senses, to fill empty hours and a purposeless life, but to visit and honour those places and those people in the world who have made a difference by their beliefs, and who in some cases, have died for their love of God. It’s also to marvel that how well our spiritual ancestors obeyed Jesus’s command, to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) for even though we won’t be stopping in every country in the world, we will be circling the globe. Because we’re limited in space, if not time and finances, we’ll keep our tour to five places every Orthodox should visit.
1. The Holy Land. Here’s where we’ll start, because here is where it all began – the Annunciation, the birth at Bethlehem, the home in Nazareth, the wandering in the desert, the Garden of Gethsemane, the tomb. Though it was centuries ago, holiness marks all these places and if we are careful and still enough, we may hear echoes of the crowds welcoming Christ into Jerusalem with palm branches and cloaks thrown down. We can walk along Jesus’s last route, on the way to Golgotha, and contemplate his sacrifice for us. We of course will start here at Holy Week and be sure we are in Jerusalem and at the tomb, on Pascha night. Make a note to remember the candles!
2. From the Holy Land, we travel to Istanbul, which is the first fully Christian city in the world. Constantine built it from a tiny village to THE pre-eminent city in the Roman Empire in a short few years. Our first stop here should be, of course, Hagia Sophia, the church of Wisdom. Even though the Church is a museum today, and was sacked and made over into a mosque by the Muslims, it’s still an impressive building and still conveys some of the miraculous wonder that so impressed the Russian envoys from St. Vladimir when they visited so very long ago. We can walk the streets of the old city and listen for ghostly echoes of Paschal and Theophany processions, of the crowds cheering St. John Chrysostom and praying while the city was besieged by invaders, of which there were many through its long history. Goths, Visigoths, Huns, Western Europeans, as well as the Muslims, who finally succeeded in taking the city. The Theotokos has a special affection for this city, and the prayer to her, Victorious Leader, is said to have been prayed in thanksgiving for her aid in resisting one of the attempted invasions. While we’re there, we can take short jaunts to some of the cities St. Paul preached in and wrote Epistles to—Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia—and marvel at the fervent spirit of those early believers and martyrs, our great-great-great grandparents in the faith, and ask their prayers for their descendants in nearby countries and areas, who are so threatened today.
3. The next step is to follow St. Vladimir’s envoys, back to Russia. And oh, such sights! St. Basil’s Cathedral, in Moscow, the site of Basil, fool for Christ’s burial place, with its brightly coloured domes. St. Petersburg, and the Hermitage museum, part of which used to be the Winter Palace of the Tsars and holds some of Russia’s, and the worlds, most amazing treasures, including some of the most awesome icons. From there, it’s a short, (relatively speaking) jaunt to Varlaam monastery, on Lake Lagoda, which is being repopulated and restored after its desecration during Communism and was famous for its saints and dedicated monastics. Then, we follow in the paths of the missionary saints, and take the train east into Siberia for two reasons. One is to honour the sacrifice of the martyrs under the Communist regime. 20 million people died for their faith under Stalin’s cruelty, not just in the gulags, but all through the nation, and it’s fitting to remember them as we journey eastward, in the footsteps of St. Herman, St. Juvenaly and their companions, stopping in Irkustk, which was the centre of the furtrade that brought the missionaries to the New World, and where St. Innocent and St. Jakov, among many other dedicated priests, were educated and ordained.
4. From Irkustk, we head to North America—starting in Alaska, in Kodiak, where the missionaries first landed in the 1790s, to bring the Good News to the Aleuts and the other native peoples. From the shores of the harbour we can see Spruce Island, where St. Herman lived and prayed and cared for his people for so many years. We can make a side trip to Sitka, to see the cathedral St. Innocent designed and helped build, and to the mainland, where St. Juvenaly died spreading the faith, where St. Jakov toiled faithfully in ill health for so many years, and where the Blessed Olga lived and in her humble round of life, showed the love of Christ to everyone she met. On our way to our next, and final stop, we can pause briefly in Vancouver and Edmonton in Canada, where St. Tikhon visited; and in San Francisco, where St. John of Shanghai lived and ministered; in Wilkes-Bare Pennsylvania, where St. Alexis Toth brought so many Uniates into the faith; and in Brooklyn, where St. Raphael did such amazing work. But those are quick stops as we head back toward the Old Countries.
5. Our final stop is the British Isles, to honour the very early saints of the Church there: the early Christian missionaries who established a faith that was essentially Orthodox and stayed that way for centuries. There are some mighty witnesses to the Lord in the British Isles: St. Cuthbert, of Lindisfarne, whose followers, even years after his death, loved him so much they took his relics on a protracted wander around Britain to keep them safe from the invading Danes and who has a species of duck named for him (the eider, or Cuddy duck); St. Brigid; St. Columba; and St. Patrick of Ireland, who did as impressive a job at converting the Celts, as Cyrill and Methodius did at converting the early Russians. We can marvel at the gospels the monks illuminated in Kells and in Lindisfarne, and maybe even see the page where a bored monk drew a cat chasing a mouse.
In some ways, it would be fitting to finish our tour at Mount Athos—that towering place of holy monasticism that’s existed for centuries. But we don’t, because at least half of us are women, and we aren’t allowed to set foot on the Holy mountain. So those who qualify can go there and marvel at the sanctity and humility of the monks striving on the slopes and in the valleys and peaks and get a word from a holy man, but the rest of us will end our tour at the oldest, continually occupied monastery in the world: St. Catherine’s at Mount Sinai, which brings us full circle, back to the Holy Land.
There are many other places in the world that Orthodox can visit – Romania, with its monasteries and ancient history of faith and persecution; Asia Minor, where the Cappodcian Fathers lived and preached; Antioch and Syria, home of some of the oldest churches and monasteries and where living the faith today requires the courage of the early Christians; China and Japan where the faithful still struggle as a minority. But the five places we’ve discussed highlight the dedication of all of our brothers and sisters, and the joy they wanted to spread among the people of all nations, of all colours and creeds, to unite the entire planet in the love and mercy of a compassionate and forgiving God. If you could go anywhere in the world, for an Orthodox tour, what would your five places be?
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