Magazine article Russian Life

The Once Large Little Church

Magazine article Russian Life

The Once Large Little Church

Article excerpt

This place, just four versts (4.5 km) from the Kremlin, was, during the time of Ivan the Terrible, a wild forest. In the eighteenth century, it was the site of the city's first plague cemetery. Today, this section of Moscow is nearly in the heart of the city and, as with many similar neighborhoods, it is embroiled in a disjointed struggle between different architectural eras: hulking masses of glass and concrete lay siege to classic Stalin-era buildings and their Constructivist hangers-on. And yet, amid all this diversity and chaos, an entirely different cultural layer manages to seep through--all the more striking for being carefully cleaned of city soot and modern markings. Indeed, it is like a tiny fragment of an ancient icon ...

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Tiny is no overstatement. For even though it is located on a rise, this little church is literally drowning in the cityscape, barely peeking through the leaves and shadows cast by neighboring buildings ... Its footprint is a mere 5.5 [m.sup.2] (60 [ft.sub.2]). After it was renovated and reopened for services, there was just one central candlestick, in order that the space could accommodate the maximum number of visitors. Still, it can hold no more than 15.

The Church of the Holy Martyr Tryphon in Naprudny ("On the Pond") was built before Italian architects made their appearance in Rus, and therefore belongs to the so-called Pskov-Novgorod School, meaning it is of time-honored Russian design. Known to all art experts as one of the earliest preserved monuments of Moscow architecture, it was also the first Russian church with a cross-shaped, vaulted ceiling. Surprisingly, very few others (even among knowledgeable Muscovites) know of this extraordinary building, and many rush by on their preset trajectories, not even noticing the church, as if it were located in some sort of parallel dimension.

The exceptional nature of this place is a result not merely of the timelessness, grace and austerity of the church's white stone walls, but also of the original and semi-apocryphal legend that is told of its foundation.

This is how it goes. Ivan the Terrible's falconer, Prince Tryphon Patrikeyev, lost a bird during a hunt. The furious tsar gave him three days to catch the falcon, saying Tryphon would be executed if he failed. The falconer wandered the forest for three days and was both unsuccessful and inconsolable. Almost at the end of his rope, he prayed to his name-saint, promising to build a church if only he could find the bird. Immediately after that, completely exhausted, he fell asleep, then dreamed of a rider on a white horse with a bird on his outstretched arm, indicating where Tryphon would find the missing falcon.

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  When you recover, make toward the East, There you
  will find the falcon you released ...

  A.G. Lukyanovsky, Bylina of Tsar Ivan the Terrible
  and Prince Typhon Patrikeyev

  "I awoke, and not knowing how, understood that the
  warrior was the sainted martyr Typhon. I mounted
  my horse and galloped to Moscow. Would you believe
  it Maxim Grigorich? When I arrived at that very
  spot, 1 saw the exact fir tree and my Adragan sitting
  in it, exactly as the saint said it would be!"

  The falconer's voice trembled, and huge tears
  rolled from his eyes.

  "Maxim Grigorich," he added, wiping away his
  tears. "I will now sell all that I own, without
  exception, even if it means going into eternal
  servitude, and I will build a chapel to my saint! … 
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