Russian Reprise: The Bells Toll Again from Moscow’s Kazan Cathedral (VIDEOS)

Russian Reprise: The Bells Toll Again from Moscow’s Kazan Cathedral (VIDEOS)

If you listen carefully, you can gradually discern the complex rhythms and patterns of Russian Orthodox bells. These ancient musical instructions are called zvon, and originally there were many of them, rung during various parts of the liturgy and on special occasions, from weddings to funerals.

Though some of the unwritten zvon were lost during Soviet times when bell-ringing was outlawed, the ones that lived on in the memories of older bell ringers have been collected and can be heard again today. For me, there are no bells more grand and meaningful than those of Kazan Cathedral on Moscow’s Red Square – here on an early Sunday morning in summer.

Russian Bells 101 In this video you can see that the bells don’t swing back and forth. Instead, a lone bell ringer uses his hands and feet to pull a series of ropes connected to clappers, which strike the stationary bells large and small. Bell ringing is considered an honor and typically undertaken by a church member.

The bell ringer gets a workout, using hands and feet to pull the bell clappers <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

The bell ringer gets a workout, using hands and feet to pull the bell clappers
Photo credit: Helen Holter

A Church, Resurrected The Kazan Cathedral which you see today is not the Kazan Cathedral of the past. It was first constructed in 1636 after a military victory and dedicated to one of Moscow’s most revered icons, “Our Lady of Kazan,” credited for that victory. Stalin demolished the church 300 years later in 1936, ostensibly to make room for military parades in Red Square.

Just before the Soviet Union fell, work began on rebuilding Kazan Cathedral – a three-year undertaking that ended in 1993. It’s easy to spot the church in Red Square, with its salmon-and-cream color scheme topped with green arched roofs, golden domes, and Orthodox crosses. Its interior is decorated with a massive chandelier, mosaics, murals, an iconstasis, and gilded icons, including a copy of its namesake icon, “Our Lady of Kazan.”

A Comforting Cathedral My connection to this church goes back to 1993, when I was living in Moscow and received a telegram from my family that a beloved uncle had died suddenly. Knowing I couldn’t return to the States for his memorial, I trudged the few blocks through falling snow to Kazan Cathedral, where I lit a candle and said a prayer for my uncle, surrounded by hundreds of Orthodox worshipers who had crowded into the newly opened sacred place. The bells were tolling for the first time in nearly 11 years.

This sign highlights the history of Kazan Cathedral, its destruction and reconstruction in 1993 <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

This sign highlights the history of Kazan Cathedral, its destruction and reconstruction in 1993
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Whenever I return to Moscow and stand in Red Square, I imagine these bells are conveying  joy, happiness, and comfort to all.

Travel to Russia with MIRMIR has nearly 30 years of travel experience in Russia and MIR affiliate offices in the Siberian cities of Irkutsk and Ulan Ude, as well as in Moscow and St. Petersburg, which offer on-the-ground support and quality you can trust.

You can listen to Russian bells ringing on many of MIR’s scheduled tours to Russia, including Russia’s Imperial Capitals & Ancient Villages, which circles the Golden Ring with its 12th and 13th century churches.

You can hear the bells of Irkutsk  in Siberia on these small group tours:

You can also book a custom private journey to these destinations.

(Top photo: Once destroyed by Stalin, Kazan Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square was re-opened in 1993. Photo credit: Helen Holter)

PUBLISHED: December 21, 2015

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