February 21-23, 2020
A long weekend is a reason to go out on a visit. This time, 14 members of Agricola Choir (around 2/3 of the choir) traveled 600 km from Vyborg to Rzhev. Our luggage was usual: a viola da gamba, nine recorders, twelve handbells, eight music stands, and Vyborg’s signature Veresk cakes as a present for our friends in Rzhev.
There is a lot to learn from St. Luke’s Lutheran church in Rzhev! The congregation is very much united, open, willing to back any projects, and fantastically hospitable! We felt the kindness and care in our very first moments there when the pastor of the congregation Rev. Valeri Antipov and four church members (Aleksandr, Natalia, Nikolai, Sergei) came in their cars to meet us at the train station at 6 a.m.! It smelt of fresh bread in the church as Irina Sorokina, a cantor from Kingisepp, had conducted a cooking masterclass the day before. We are terrified to even think how early Natalia Antipova and Yelena Baranova had to rise in order to prepare breakfast for us!
The city of Rzhev is first of all associated with the war history, and therefore we really wanted to visit the Rzhev Memorial which is currently under construction. It is dedicated to all of the Red Army soldiers who never returned from the war. The 25-meter-tall figure of a soldier being carried away by a flock of cranes is now covered from the onlooker’s eye with a special cloth until its inauguration on Victory Day, May 9, so at the moment it’s not possible to come close to it and lay flowers. We laid red carnations at the eternal flame and in the Peace and Reconciliation Park memorial complex. The Great Patriotic War is the focus of the local history museum, one of its rooms presents a diorama, “The Battle of Rzhev 1942-1943.” In the words of poet Aleksandr Tvardovsky, “The front was burning like a scar on a body…”
Echoes of the war history can be heard in the Taizé songs. Brother Roger, the future founder of the Fraternity, settled in the little village of Taizé in Burgundy, France, in 1940. His house which was situated not far from the demarcation line dividing the German-occupied and the formally free parts of France became a shelter for many refugees, including Jewish ones. Sadly, in November 1942 the shelter was found out by the Gestapo.
Although songs written by Jacques Berthier for the Taizé Community, which are well-known among all Christians, belong to the second half of the 20th century, when we sang them in Rzhev, they doubtlessly came off not only as a prayer for peace with God, but also as a prayer for peace among people.
On Saturday evening, we practiced with the choir of the Rzhev congregation led by Yelena Baranova: we sang together and played the recorders as we prepared for the recital. Later, Rev. Valeri Antipov celebrated a vespers for us where we heard a sermon by Rosenius as a word of instruction. On Sunday, we sang during the divine service (with cantor Irina Sorokina from Kingisepp singing along and participated in the recital.
The trip was a challenging one as many caught a cold and we had to replace soloists on the go, but with God’s help we did it! Nadezhda Sinitsyna who came along was of great help! The Agricola Choir period cap really becomes her. We take her aboard as an Agricola chorister honoris causa.
Olga Nabatova, the elder of the choir, emceed for the recital confidently and very artistically. Everything went in one breath.
The recital opened and concluded with J. S. Bach organ pieces performed by Yelena Baranova.
Rev. Valeri Antipov did not only read the biblical epigraphs preceding the different parts of the recital, but also sang a solo part in one of the Taizé songs in Russian translation, known internationally as Bleibet hier und wachet mit mir (“Stay with me, remain here with me.”)
At the end, we received presents: magnet gifts with the coat-of-arms of Rzhev, paintings by Rzhev artist Natalia Kuznetsova, and little hearts made from straw by Natalia Kohn.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rzhev, a huge thank you to you!!! We hope we see you in Vyborg!!!
Photos were taken with Olga Nabatova’s camera. Photo credits to be confirmed later.