“Why Ryazan?”, a common question I was asked when I listed my planned cities to visit in Russia. Admittedly my initial plans didn’t include St Petersburg. Ryazan is absent in the major Russian guidebooks and the curiosity of friends may make one think there is not much to see.
However Ryazan does have a lot to see and a historical, literary heritage making it worth visiting and is only 3-4 hours by coach from Moscow Domodedovo Airport (DME) airport. Well I wish I could say it was because I uncovered an untalked about gem. However the only reason why I went there was to visit one of my best friends, Olya. And I am glad I went for both that reason and the fact that the region itself is interesting in its own right.

Ryazan is an ancient city. Like Suzdal and Vladimir, some argue on the century of its foundation. Its roots are in the 9th, 10th or 11 Century.
I took the bus from DME airport having no sleep from when I arrived in Moscow around 1:40am until I caught the bus sometime from after 8am if I remember (Note: the timetable on the DME website is wrong!). It may have contributed to the unfortunate fact that I caught a cold and was ill throughout my Ryazan trip.
Anyway the bus drive passed through some nice scenery but I drifted in and out of sleep until I arrived.

The city itself is fairly attractive not on the scale of St Petersburg but resembles Chernivtsi to me not in history but atmosphere it has a nice setting, monuments and parks. Ryazan itself has had a turbulent history. It had been attacked by both armies of Suzdal and the Tatars who burnt the city down. The present day Ryazan being situated a little way away from the old Ryazan. The region was also responsible for one of the defining points of Russian history. The battle of The Battle of Kulikovo, the first Russian victory in 140 years against the Tatars and appropriately names beginning of the end of the Tatar yoke). It is the battle where the Russians carried the wonder-working icon (see Moscow) of our Lady of the Don into battle and defeated their formidable foe.

Olya showed me the beautiful Ryazan Kremlin. There are several beautiful churches and buildings in the area and in the nearby vicinity and we also took a nice but chilly boat ride along the banks of the Kremlin.
Some of the churches and monasteries we visited or walked nearby include the beautiful Kazanskiy monastery and Spas na Yaru church. Some visited with Olya’s lovely sister Sasha. Who has an impressive English pronunciation skills.
I also tried some authentic Russian food as Olya cooked on a few occasions including pelmeni . One of the most traditional Russian foods.

Ryazan as a place of pilgrimage

Goodbye, my friend, goodbye
My love, you are in my heart.
It was preordained we should part
And be reunited by and by.
Goodbye: no handshake to endure.
Let’s have no sadness – furrowed brow.
There’s nothing new in dying now
Though living is no newer.

by Sergei Esenin

Ryazan is not Moscow. And while Moscow may appeal to those who will enjoy dynamic or flashy restaurants, bars or nightclubs, Ryazan is likely to be of interest of pilgrims. Whether that be of Orthodoxy, Russian history and/or literature.

Sergei Esenin a heavyweight in Russian poetry was from the Ryazan region. And despite or maybe because of his troubled life wrote some of the most famous and perhaps poignant of Russian literature. One can view places and monuments connected to this life in the Ryazan Oblast region). The above poem is reputed to be written in his own blood and given to a friend the day before he hanged himself.

Ryazan is also connected with a famous astronomer and a number of saints including and wonder working icons such as one such icon of Saint Panteleimon. Ryazan Oblast is also the place with the relics of one of my favourite saints. St Theophan the Recluse. That monastery is one I plan to visit next time. illness not helping me this time either.

On the weekend Sveta (who I met through Olya) kindly drove us to several places.
The first place we stopped was at Kiritsy, a picturesque estate once palace with grounds now containing a children sanatorium. Off a main road out of Ryazan but within the oblast in the spassky district it is situated near a pretty lake and the main highlight is to walk the grounds. There is a small church nearby that we did not enter in fact it may not have been open at the time and a nice walk. The mansion on the bank of the river prony was once the property of S.P.Derviza, son of the builder of the Moscow-Kazan Railway. The grounds and the architecture is nice with some pretty views and monuments. Add to the fact there do not seem to be many visitors it is a nice place to walk, relax and talk.

Later we also visited a beautiful blue church Kazanskaya church. Inside there was grass on the floor in preparation for the Orthodox Great Feast of Pentecost.
Unfortunately I was unable to attend vespers there (having only discovered the church then) but I hope to one day time permitting. Outside in the grounds there is a statue of St Nicolas on a globe. And the monument has an interesting history. It was built to replicate such a monument that once stood in the Turkish city of Myra (now Demre). That statue of what some call the original Santa Claus (being the inspiration for but in my opinion far exceeding the modern day Santa Claus). The Turkish authorities sacrilegiously removed the statue replaces with a plastic Santa Claus! (See this article in Russian – http://www.antalyaturkey.biz/doc/oku/12/districts/demre/ )

Along with the church we visited a pine forests perhaps to feed the many mosquitoes!, unfortunately I had gone totally unprepared having only really prepared before for such menace on trips to Asia. it is something for me to remember in future for sure. I had plans to visit a sacred spring (the route to which was unfortunately closed ta that time). Later Sveta’s husband Vladimir drove us to a wooded area to have shashlik (a Russian BBQ). With more of their friends. The BBQ was really nice as well as the people and although it may have been night the fire kept us warm. Whilst driving to and from there the road was full of potholes, Russians have an image that the condition of their roads is really bad. I have seen worse from my travels however some of these roads with potholes were either newly repaired or should have been.

Vladimir came up with following joke.
“America offered to fix our roads. They said give us 10 years and we will fix all your roads and you wont have any problems!
The Russian reply was “let us fix your roads and in 10 years you wont have any unemployment problems!”
Russians do have a sense of humour about about some perceived issues with their country.

Saint of Russia – St. Matrona of Anemnyasevskaya (Ryazan region)

This is a summary (or rather a small extract) of an article in Russian only of – Confessor St. Matrona Anemnyasevskaya
I was able to visit a church connected to her in Ryazan city.

Maryana G. Belyakov (Matrona Anemnyasevskaya ) was born in the village of Anemnyasevskaya in the Ryazan province to unloving parents in on November 6 1864.
Her father an alcoholic known as the village drunkard. And Maryana was hated and abused by parents since childhood. Things didn’t get any better when at age 7 she contacted chickenpox and went blind.
Despite being blind it was her job at home to look after her younger siblings and at one time the blind and now 10 years old Maryana accidentally dropped one of them from the porch onto the ground which unleashed the hatred of her mother who beat her in a very severe and vicious way.
At this point the Theotokos appeared to her. When she mentioned this her mother beat her even more. The Theotokos appeared to her again twice more and on the third time gave a comforting note to Maryana. The contents of which she has never revealed.
The next morning Maryana badly beaten was bed ridden due to her injuries.

She spent her life until she was 17 years old in bed, and suffering resentment and bitterness towards her. She spent her time in prayer. Villagers were aware of her suffering and showed much more reverence towards her. She began to be able to walk again and people sought her prayer and one villager unable to be cured of back pain asked her to touch it and he would be healed. Sensing Gods presence in her. When he was healed he told many and many others came to her for healing.
Over time people came across Russia but her family sought financial gain to this and it got worse when her parents dies, with her own siblings seeking an income from her healing gift.

So she moved out to her nephew a religious and kind man. Matrona spent her life in prayer and remembered so many hymns by heart, she was given a kind of clairvoyance ability to see the spiritual needs of others. From Lent in 1933 she withdrew more and began to only speak on spiritual matters.
Since the Russian revolution, Russia was in the hands of the anti religious soviets and their persecution did not spare Ryazan. Over 300 in her village were arrested as ‘harmful elements’. Matrona was on the list, but out of the fear of the locals Matrona was not touched., That was until one village chairman decided to personally take her. He picked her up exclaiming “you are such a lightweight!” to which the Blessed Matrona replied and “so will your children be!”.
She was moved to Kasimov then to Moscow.
And from that day not one of the chairman’s children grew in statue of that of their father.
A few years later the dying village chairman repented and died at peace with the church.
Matrona reposed in July 1936 and canonised in 1999.

Olga and myself saw an excellent play Dreams from the theatre company of Elena Kamburova. Ryazan Drama theatre. it was in Russian but I did not feel at bored.

We had planned to see the home village of Sergei Esenin but because of my cold and the morning weather (it improved later) we didn’t go. I knew I would enjoy Ryazan just on account of visiting Olya, and it was great to meet some of her family, and friends and make new friends such as Sveta.
Ryazan is definitely a city I hope to be returning soon and there are several places I look forward to visiting with interest.