Russia's Orthodox Church Rings In A Revival of Sacramental Sounds

Dmitri Kuznetsov, a computer specialist and drummer, has learned Russian Orthdox bell-ringing. Click here to hear an example of his musical skill. Video by Peter Finn/The Washington Post
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 22, 2007

MOSCOW, Dec. 21 -- "Wonderful, wonderful!" exclaimed Alexander Prakov, punching the air in delight after student Margarita Krupka performed a rhythmically perfect ringing of Russian Orthodox church bells.

Krupka, a 25-year-old psychologist, stood before a head-high wooden frame from which nine bells and a bilo, a piece of flat metal, were hung. She held short ropes connected to the bell tongues and began to pull. First came one lonely bell, and then, as she deftly worked the ropes and a foot pedal, others joined to achieve a peak of controlled percussive sound.

Eyes shut, she gently rocked with the chimes. And as quietly as she had begun, she eased out of the short movement.

"I have a feeling my soul is singing," said Krupka, who lives in a small town near Moscow.

And indeed Krupka's chimes are not just a call to service but a binding link between the church and Heaven, according to Orthodox belief.

For three months, Krupka and a small group of other students, from schoolboys to pensioners, have been studying the theory and practice of bell-ringing. It is an integral and affecting part of Orthodox worship but one often missing from services here because of a chronic shortage of skilled bell-ringers.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, thousands of Orthodox churches have been built or refurbished, but only a small percentage have ringers, according to Viktor Sharikov, head of the Moscow Bell Center, which turns out about 800 graduates a year.

During communist times, he said, "we lost many things, and our task is to revive our traditions."

Students such as Krupka must be Orthodox faithful and regular churchgoers, and they are selected by their local clergy to attend class. The three-month course involves two hours of theory and three hours of practice each week.

The most recent course ended Thursday night with a short concert punctuated by applause and accolades. "It's a pleasure to see what they achieved in three months," Sharikov said.

Each bell-ringer must also have a prayer read over him or her and be blessed by a priest before ringing at church can begin.

For most of the Soviet period, Sharikov said, church bells were silent, except at famous monasteries, such as Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra in the town of Sergiev Posad near Moscow. And even those famous sites went through periods of silence on the orders of Soviet authorities.

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