By Yulia Podskrebayeva, Vyborg newspaper, gazetavyborg.ru
November 14, 2020
“I have some Finnish heritage on my father’s side, but I first knew about it after I became a Lutheran. His ancestors lived somewhere in Leningrad Oblast and moved to Moscow in 1914. A hundred years later, my mother and I moved back. And everything changed in my life in an amazing way . . .”
The whole Church of Ingria is one diocese spreading from Kaliningrad to Ulan-Ude. Darya Shkurlyatyeva is head of its press service. The rest of the time, she is an organist and the leader of the Vyborg Lutheran church choir.
“My mother taught international fiction, and in the late 1980’s, as soon as this became possible, she bought a Bible because many stories in arts are related to the biblical ones. Our whole family decided to be baptized and took a long time choosing a confession. My father did not live to do it. He was buried in Moscow’s Vvedenskoye Cemetery, also known as German Cemetery, where there is a church – Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. We took it as a sort of a sign. I’ve been a Lutheran since 1998 and celebrated the 20th anniversary of my confirmation last year. In Moscow, I was a choir leader for two congregations. Like all musicians, I like to perform on a tour and get to know new concert halls. There are not that many Lutheran congregations with a real pipe organ and one of them is Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral of Vyborg. Its organ was built by the famous Finnish firm Oy Kangasalan Urkutehdas Ab in 1963, according to the label on the organ. It was a gift for the Lutheran Church of Vyborg from the Cathedral of Mikkeli and the Union of Lutheran Congregations of Lappeenranta, Finland. In 2007, my friend Yelena Baranova, an organist from Rzhev, and I came here together to perform an organ & cello recital. (By the way, there was a short article about it in Vyborg newspaper.) I went for walks in the city and—fell in love with it.”
Artists are known for unexplainable behavior, says Darya. But the fact that she, a Muscovite, chose the history of organ performance in Vyborg as the subject of her degree paper, is more likely part of a consistent pattern.
“Today, there is ample literature about the subject. One example is the book by Pavel Kravchun Organnaya ‘Atlantida’ Ingermanlandii i Karelskogo peresheika (‘Organ Atlantis of Ingria and of the Karelian Isthmus.’) But when I became a student at the Nizhny Novgorod Conservatory, there was hardly anyone who had explored the subject, so I chose organ music in Vyborg and I’m happy I did. I had a chance to work in the archive of Mikkeli, Finland, and I had a feeling I was the first-ever visitor to touch those documents. I found archived notes of Venni Kuosma, the last organist of Vyborg’s New Cathedral, and met his godson, an old man, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Helsinki. It is symbolic that Venni Kuosma, a well-known musician in Finland, died the same year the cathedral in Vyborg was blown up (1953). My research resulted in a 10-minute film called ‘The Vyborg Partita.’ It’s on the internet.
“I graduated from the conservatory, majoring in music journalism, and in 2014 I was offered to become head of our church body’s press service. I would have had to find an apartment in St. Petersburg to live in. But then I had this wild thought: ‘What if we settled in Vyborg?’ I would only need to travel to my office two or three times a week.
“And—here we are! Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral had a choir since the congregation was established, but the choir didn’t have a leader when we moved to live in the city. Thus, I became its leader. Since 2017 when Lutherans celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, our choir is called Mikael Agricola Choir. It’s not only church members who sing in our choir. So, if you are interested in Lutheran musical culture, if you are willing to participate in our worship services and our educational projects, if you like old music (as medieval music is our core repertory), you are welcome to join our choir! I have to add though that we use musical notation in our singing, so we are pretty stringent in our choice of singers.
“I spend a lot of time in front of a computer as I edit a lot of text, including the magazine our diocese publishes in Russian, English, and Finnish. We work mostly from home. Our press service secretary lives in Petrozavodsk, Karelia, and the person who does English-language information ministry lives in Moscow. We have colleagues in Finland as well. We mostly use Zoom to get in touch with each other, so during the pandemic the conditions of our work stayed much the same. Our diocese has become much more active online as we came up with new projects. Our centralized organization, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia, has 80 congregations. Every day at 6 pm, a pastor of our church body went online from his congregation or from his home altar, prayed for the end of the pandemic, and spoke a short word of instruction and comfort. Pastors made regular phone calls to those church members who don’t have internet access and maintained a congregational journal on vk.com. The idea was for us to feel we are together in such a difficult time.”
Darya continues to explore the musical history of the region. “Organ Meetings” and “Musical Saturdays” are special projects in Vyborg she started after the pandemic.
“I learned Finnish while I lived in Moscow, attending a course offered by the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After all, I’m a cantor in a bilingual church. The first “post-Soviet” pastor of the congregation in Vyborg Rev. Aimo Kümäläinen authored an interesting book on the history of the city – short stories about its churches and different other buildings and about Agricola. Of course, there is a spiritual idea underlying each of his stories, but in essence they tell history. I have translated some of them into Russian. They are available at our congregation’s website wiborg.jimdofree.com.
“This year, Ivan Laptev from the congregation of Koltushi became the bishop of our church body. His grandmother was an Ingrian Finn, but his native language is Russian. In our cathedral, too, there’s no one anymore who would sing in Finnish. The Congregation of Vyborg was so large in the 1990’s that there wasn’t enough sitting space during the worship services, so some people had to sit on the window-sills. Today, we have around 30 people attending our worship. But our senior pastor Vladimir Dorodni likes to say, “Jesus said, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.’”