My altar server — reader Mikhail “Misha” Moibenko enrolled to study in Rome.
Misha rented a very quaint apartment in the heart of the old city, so he could walk to school. He invited me to visit him and I gladly accepted his offer.
I arrived in Rome early in the morning of Thursday, September 1st, and stayed until Thursday evening, September 8th. I traveled with Turkish Airlines, through Istanbul.
I visited Rome many times, the longest stay being for two weeks, as long ago as 1973. I love the Eternal City for its history, beauty and many Orthodox holy sites. Many of the ancient basilicas have beautiful Byzantine frescos, relics, and icons. There exists an Orthodox guidebook to Rome.
We started our tour by visiting the Angelicum, the school where Misha will commence his studies in October.
Next we visited the Basilica of the Hieromartyr Clement, pope of Rome, where St Cyril, Enlightener of the Slavs, was buried when he died in Rome, in 869. Our guide, Fr Paul taught Archeology, and gave a most interesting tour of the basilica.
The Colosseum we visited on our own. There were many tourists, but we were pilgrims. The place inspires reverence for the many Christian martyrs who witnessed Christ unto death in its arena.
It was time for lunch and for my sake we chose a seafood restaurant. Low and behold, our waiter was a Russian, by the name of Yegor (Егоръ). Russian can often be heard spoken in Italy. Many signs at the Rome airport are in Russian.
HRH Princess Maria-Luisa of Bulgaria graciously arranged for the Ambassador of Bulgaria to the Holy See and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, His Excellency, Bogdan Patashev to give us a VIP tour of the Vatican.
With the ambassador we also visited the church of St Boniface, where St Alexius, the Man of God was buried. Next came San Giovanni in Laterano, the official papal cathedral of Rome, the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the Walls, and Tre Fontane, where the Apostle Paul was beheaded.
Saturday evening we attended Vigil at the new Russian Church of St Catherine, and Divine Liturgy on Sunday at the old church of St Nicholas on Via Palestro.
Monday we rested and I did some work for the upcoming council of ROCOR bishops.
Tuesday we flew to Bari. From the airport we went directly to the Basilica of St Nicholas. The Russian priest in Bari, Fr Vacheslav happened to be at the basilica with Fr Gabriel Lapardin from Australia. He arranged that we were given access to venerate the tomb. We read the Akathist to St Nicholas.
Next was the Russian church. After the tour, we were offered a wonderful lunch. We returned to Rome that evening.
On Wednesday the ambassador again fetched us and drove into the hills, east of Rome, to an area called Subiaco. In Roman times, the emperor Nero had a summer villa in the area. In the VI century, St Benedict of Nursia lived in the area. The monastery is dedicated to his sister — St Scholastica (an Orthodox saint, also).
The area is beautiful, with breathtaking views, and clean air. After a guided tour we were offered a lenten lunch, and returned to Rome.
Thursday, the ambassador arranged for a tour of Santa Maria Maggiore. We also visited the former Greek monastery, where Ss. Cyril and Methodius lived while in Rome. Lunch was at a private club, the former Russian imperial embassy to the Vatican.
That evening it was arrivederci Roma.
Food-wise, an Ukrainian acquaintance from my days in Jerusalem now lives in Rome and owns a restaurant. It is always nice to have such connections. One evening for dinner he offered raw shrimp, but I declined. Misha was brave enough to try them. We, also, had pasta in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. I am told that Italians eat pasta by itself. At the St Scholastica monastery we were served pasta as the main dish. Just pasta, olive oil, garlic, and parsley. Very delicious.
In closing I would like to say something about Turkish Airlines. At the moment, it is the only European airline that flies to Russia. Consequently, one meets many Russians. I met a group of pilgrims that visited the Holy Land and were returning to Siberia.
The service on the plane is quite good. My travel agent is a parishioner of our cathedral and knows my dietary requirements. She ordered vegetarian food for me. I was served a delicious mushroom soup (asked for a second serving), and something very similar to our piroshki, one with spinach, and the other with mushrooms. The Turks also know how to brew tea.
The only problem is the humongous airport in Istanbul. Some gates require a 20-25 minute walk. I ordered a wheelchair. The problem is that the men pushing the wheelchairs know just two English words: “Boarding pass” and “Okay”. Cannot get too far with such a limited vocabulary.
All-in-all, the trip was delightful, and educational. Many thanks to Misha and the ambassador.
God-willing, until my next trip to Rome.