There may be lots of reasons why someone would choose going to Russia. Whatever their reasoning, they will face a rather challenging issue of deciding how to go on pilgrimage – plan it on their own, seek help locally in their home country among various Orthodox jurisdictions, or seek assistance in Russia.
When it comes to building a sightseeing trip from anything generic to an extensive travel itinerary as a tourist in Russia, there are opportunities galore for any tastes and interests. Planning a pilgrimage is a different story. Our project will try to ease the burden of planning a trip for anyone who needs a helping hand either in building their own special pilgrimage package or joining others on a group pilgrimage tour.
There are many paths to discover Russia as a tourist, from a well-worn route of sightseeing in and around its majestic capitals, Moscow and St. Petersburg. You may prefer going inside the country with a friendly Russian guide (which is THE best option, so let’s make friends in Russia!) and seeing lesser known towns and places. Or, you may choose to go off the beaten track to see the hidden gems. These days, anyone with an Internet connection and some backpacking experience and Google Translate, can book their own Russian trip to forgo the rather steep rates of Moscow-based travel agencies specializing in foreign travelers. AirBnB, vacationrentals.com, booking.com, tripadviser.com or hostelworld.com, for an example – all the major travel-related information portals are here and busy 24/7 to satisfy any tastes and travel budget.
When it comes to planning a pilgrimage to Russia, well, the picture gets a little fuzzy. Of course, it is mostly the case with those who are non-Russian speakers. There are lots of “Russian-language only” agencies and online travel and pilgrimage services throughout Russia who will cater to your particular spiritual goal and fulfill any itinerary you have in mind. Some of them are independent pilgrimage agencies; others are affiliated with certain church organizations and Russian parishes, while some regular travel agencies offer pilgrimages as add-on options in addition to their touristy offers.
At Way of A Pilgrim, we are up to a serious challenge – bring the mystery of Russian Orthodox faith close to anyone who always dreamed of going to see the holy places of the Great Rus but never knew how. We hope our itineraries will strike a healthy balance between showing the centrally located gems of Moscow or St.-Petersburg (or “Peter” as it is usually called here) before we travel inside the country, showing the real beauty of the country – its people, and the provincial towns and villages with their quaint churches, sketes and monasteries. We will head out to provinces and far-strewn places where Russians continue to keep and safeguard their ancient faith as close to their hearts as they did thousand years ago. You can see that faith for yourself as you sit down for tea and conversation (in English) with layfolk, monks and priests. If you are Orthodox, you can go to confession.
One American couple, an Orthodox priest and his lovely wife, Fr. Gregory Hogg and Matushka Cindy, made just that kind of introspective journey, but they traveled on their own. Luckily for them, they came to the country armed with advice from their Russian friends and had someone on the ground to assist them with their itinerary and logistics. Let us hear what they say about their trip:
“My wife and I made a pilgrimage to Russia in the summer of 2015. We retraced the life of Feodor Dostoevsky, and visited many churches and monasteries along the way. Our trip included the Holy Trinity St. Sergius Larva in Sergiev Posad, Optina Pustyn monastery in the Kaluga Province, and the monasteries of Moscow and St.Petersburg.
We spent three months in large cities (Moscow, St.Petersburg, Omsk, and Novosibirsk) as well as small towns like Staraya Rusa. We always felt welcomed by the Russian people we met. Our accommodations were excellent and reasonably priced. I felt as safe walking the streets of Moscow and riding the subway at 11:45 pm as I do in the streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I live—which is to say, very safe.
Those whose images of Russia as a “godless Communist state,” or the failed state under Yeltsin, will be very surprised at the reality they encounter. The Russians are upbeat, full of energy, and, in many cases, faithful Christian people. Many younger Russians are fluent in English, and Google Translate made it possible for us to journey off the beaten track. I cannot recommend a trip to Russia highly enough!”
Fr. Gregory Hogg and Matushka Cindy
We, at Way of a Pilgrim, hope and pray that your journey will help you discover thebeauty, both of Russia’s land and of her people…that you will come to understand that faith, hope, and love are still alive and well in this world.