She was obviously flustered as she strode up to me and asked rapidly if I came here often. I was taken aback – I had expected to repeat the pattern of my last few visits to the monastery, where I walked in, took photos and contemplated the architecture and belief, nodded to some grandmothers and walked out again. On autopilot I responded that I didn’t speak Russian, realising mid way through my sentence that she needed someone to talk to. For good measure I added that if she spoke some English, it would help…
And then began a rant in English.
She had come to this beautiful, derelict monastery because she had intended to join a special service after lent and wanted to enquire when this service was. The administrator she had found had told her in condescending and in no way mis-understandable terms that she was not welcome. The administrator then went on to ignore her to speak to a more regular visitor, proclaiming that the service was too difficult for those who don’t regularly go to Church. Apparently this was the tipping point for my conversation partner.
Upset, she told me how much she would have enjoyed to celebrate this service within the beautiful walls of the church, to observe. Instead, she would find a different place. One where she was welcome.
I asked her a bit about the history of the place, and what attracted her to it. I explained why I was in Moscow, how I had found myself within the walls, and my fascination with the Russian architectural style. After a few more words, she went on her way, and I walked around the monastery, realising that we had been the only two without a headscarf, and wondering if this and my age had made me the target for our chat. And as some people hammered away, attempting to fix the old buildings that only had received patchwork care since the fall of the USSR, a lady read on a bench, and two women chatted loudly in the entry of a different building, I felt that these people had founded a community. This only made me deeply sad that they were excluding this woman, who was clearly looking for some connection in the big city.
I hope she has found somewhere that opened their doors to her.