The longer I travel, the more I realize the truth of this statement. Prior to visiting Paris for the first time, I associated it with the Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum. After three visits, the City of Light evoked the yeasty aroma of fresh-baked bread from the boulangerie and sipping espresso at sidewalk cafes. Mexico once meant the artificially created tourist island of Cancun. Four and a half months of wandering around the country made Mexico synonymous with its Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns), where families emerge from their houses in the cool of the evening to share the gossip and exchange news. Everywhere I go, a shift happens deep within me as I immerse in the local culture.
Russia was no different. I expected and saw broad boulevards choked with traffic, and immense stark buildings. I visited Red Square and the Kremlin in Moscow, as well as the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. But by the end of my journey, more than any of the iconic tourist sights, the essence of Russia was defined by its exquisite churches….
Today the Russian Orthodox Church is enjoying a tremendous resurgence. Church attendance has continued to climb since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and many younger people, who were married in civil ceremonies under Soviet rule, are arranging to be remarried in the church. Even Vladimir Putin, the current President of Russia, regularly confers with the Patriarch of the Church on religious holidays. Standing in the center of the new Cathedral of Christ the Savior, I was overwhelmed by the perseverance of the Russian people, who refused to give up their religious beliefs in the face of such extreme oppression. More than any other institution, Russia’s churches symbolize the indomitable spirit of the Russian people.
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