The Tretyakov Gallery invites... to the temple

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The Church of St. Nikolay in Tolmachi is a unique example of cooperation between the Church and museums. Having come a long way in establishing these often difficult and painful relationships, it became the first art gallery temple in Russia, combining prayer and respect for the priceless cultural heritage. Therefore, the 20th anniversary of its second consecration, which is being celebrated these days, has become a great cultural event in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Tretyakov Gallery. Archpriest Nikolay Sokolov, rector of the church, tells about his parish and many years of service experience.

— Father Nikolay, in discussions about church-state relations, which have become especially aggravated the last year, I invariably cite the recent history of the church in Tolmachi as an example. Many cardinal decisions in building these relations were made 20 years ago, but disputes, and sometimes even accusations, do not subside.

- I'll start with the most important thing. Our temple is truly unique. Now it is a functioning temple-museum open to all. 20 years ago, I became the first priest in Russia to receive a salary from the state budget for my service, but, of course, not as a priest, but as the head of a department of the Tretyakov Gallery.

Our temple has the status of dual subordination: being a state museum, it is spiritually subordinate to the Patriarch of Moscow, and secularly - to the Ministry of Culture. It does not belong to the Church; it is a museum building, a museum hall. Therefore, we coordinate each service with the museum management, but we are never hindered.

From eight in the morning, according to the museum regime, the temple opens and, while there are few visitors, a service is held in it, to which anyone can come. True, it should be borne in mind that you have to pass through the police post and a frame of the metal detector and the underground vault; besides, outerwear will have to be left in the cloakroom. The exposition starts at 12 noon. The temple is also open to everyone, but you can enter it only through the museum by paying an entrance ticket. Candles are not allowed to be lit during exhibition time. In addition, we have special air conditioning; the microclimate inside the temple is constantly monitored by sensors. There is video surveillance. We are given two days a year for night vigils – these are Easter and Christmas. The headman of the parish (museum employee) agrees on such a schedule with the administration. I’d like to stress that all the temple employees are also employees of the museum.

- When the decision was made to restore the temple, it was the depository of the Tretyakov Gallery. Today I would like to remember those, who took part in its revival, and how it all began.

“Our church has fallen to a fate common to Soviet times. On April 6, 1922, the temple was robbed by the Bolsheviks - 157 kilograms of gold and silver items were seized, and on June 24, 1929, it was transferred to the Tretyakov Gallery for storage of the painting fund. In the 1930s, the bell tower was ruined, some of the bells were destroyed, and some were sold abroad, to the United States. Once I was consecrating some dacha, its owner boasted that the steps leading to his house were made from fragments of the roof of a Zamoskvoretskaya church, located in the immediate vicinity of the Tretyakov Gallery. And only a few years later, having received an appointment to the Tolmachevskaya Church, I realized what kind of church they were talking about. The last rector, Archpriest Ilya Chetverukhin, died in the Gulag in the village of Krasnaya Vishera near Perm.

Probably, I will surprise you, but the first decision to restore the St. Nikolay Church was made back in 1983. Of course, it was not about transferring it to the Orthodox Church at that time, they planned to restore the building of the temple as an architectural monument (it is more than 300 years old), arranging a concert hall in it, as was customary in those years. One of the first, who understood the need to revive the temple in its original meaning, was the then head of the museum, Yuri Konstantinovich Korolev. He felt that the temple should become an integral part of the gallery, not as a storeroom or a concert hall, but as the place, where the works of ancient Russian painting - icons - should be located.

In 1990, the gallery's Orthodox employees decided to revive the Tolmachevskiy Church, forming a church community. His Holiness Patriarch Alexiy the 2nd blessed this undertaking. In 1992, the Charter of the temple was approved, which determines its status as the home church of the Tretyakov Gallery.

The charter prescribed that only employees of the gallery and a few more parishioners who remembered the church before closing had the right to be members of the "twenty" - the initiative group of the parish. These included the children and grandchildren of Father Ilya Chetverukhin. In November 1992, I was appointed rector of the returned church. On December 25, 1992, a separate agreement was signed between the museum and the Moscow Patriarchate, drawn up as an addition to the Charter. And then, on April 23, 1993, an order of the President of Russia "On the transfer of religious buildings and other property to religious organizations" was issued.

At first, it was impossible to serve: the temple was destroyed; there were gaping holes, no windows, no doors, there was nothing. By the time the premises were handed over to us, seven years had passed since the gallery moved out of here, and the church remained useless and abandoned. A year after my appointment, serious repair work began, communications began to be laid, and it became impossible to stay in the temple. I had a room in the gallery.

This temple was difficult to revive, the period of its revival dragged on for ten years. Relations with museum workers were not so easy, although, by the grace of God, we were past the danger of heated conflicts. Problems arise, of course, but everything can be resolved, it turns out, positively, without nervous stresses and without involvement of outside forces. Everyone understands that this does not belong to us, that we do not dispose of the shrines and the temple; the Lord Himself does.

The Church of St. Nikolay in Tolmachi was gradually transformed from an auxiliary museum building into a temple again. On December 18, 1992 (this date became the basis of our anniversary), on the eve of the feast of St. Nikolay, the first prayer service and memorial service after the return of the temple was served on the memory day of its last rector, Hieromartyr Ilya Chetverukhin. As I remember now, it was cold, 19 degrees centigrade, everyone was wearing warm hats.

In 1994, the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated. And on September 8, 1996, after the completion of all construction and restoration work, the five domes and the bell tower with a belfry were restored, the main throne of the temple was consecrated by Patriarch Alexiy the 2nd. Divine service was performed in front of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God.

An amazing story with a miraculous sign reminded us of its destiny in a gloomy period. When Ivanov's painting "The Appearance of Christ to the People" arrived at the Tretyakov Gallery, it turned out that it was impossible to exhibit this large-scale canvas in cramped halls. I had to make a special two-story extension to the building of the former church for the painting. And so it happened that the picture was installed on the northern wall of the temple.

— The status of a house church is a rather unusual concept, especially in a museum. As you know, creative people are free in their opinions and, as recent events show, they do not accept any ethical framework. How did your relationship develop?

— The practice of opening house temples is quite unique. History has preserved information about their construction in Petergof, the Winter Palace, the Kremlin, etc. They exist today in some synodal institutions. But the case of organizing a house church in a state institution, especially in a museum, is isolated and unique.

Any Christian understands that a sacred object should be located, where it is revered as a holy thing, where they pray to it, where they honor the days of these icons’ celebration. But we remember that everything in life is done according to the Providence of God. And each sacred object must be worthy of the one, to whom it is given, worthy of those communities, those churches and monasteries, from where they were taken and whom, I hope, will eventually be returned.

As for other temples-museums, there are very few of them. The fact is that the life of such a temple requires rather large material costs and it is now beyond the power of existing churches to take on such a complex preservation. I believe that proper storage will be gradually organized in these temples, shrines will be placed securely (after all, you are well aware of dozens of cases of theft from temples) and accessible.

Today's life shows us that in temples-museums, monasteries-museums, there are sometimes conflicts between museum workers and church communities, to which the temple has already passed as a functioning one. This is largely due to the personal relationship between the director of the museum and the rector of the temple.

Now the question is about who is the custodian of paintings, icons, utensils, and all interior decorations, and whose jurisdiction is there in the temple? If the temple has its own independent existence, then the icons should be transferred there from the museum, if it was there, to "zero storage" (the exhibits are not exhibited) or something else, so that the temple is responsible for them as a museum collection, without having the right neither sell them nor put them up somewhere. And the temple has to be responsible for them. In this case, of course, you need to sign an appropriate agreement. But there is no procedure for the transfer of collections by the temple to the museum, or by the museum to the temple.

If you look from our time, the main thing is our low bow to those museum workers who, at the risk of their lives, especially in the 1930s, preserved, did not destroy, did not sell abroad those great spiritual treasures of Russia that once again become available today.

— Now there is a lot of controversy in the Church about the interior decoration of the church, but what about this situation in the Tolmachevo church? If you have a museum status, then the demand is greater.

– Many compositions have been preserved almost completely, so we managed to restore the system of murals. All murals are distinguished by stylistic unity; they are executed in the traditions of academic painting of the 19th century. A significant achievement of the restorers of the Tretyakov Gallery was the creation of the iconostasis of the main aisle, also completed in 1997. It combines images from the iconostases of the St. Nikolay Church and another famous church in Zamoskvorechye - the Nativity of Our Lady on the Polyanka, better known as Kuzma and Demyan in Kadashi. All of them date back to the end of the 17th century and were created by the masters of the Armory Chamber of the Moscow Kremlin. The recreated iconostasis quite accurately reproduces the original scheme of the five-tiered iconostasis of the St. Nikolay Church, combining icons from different churches; stylistically it represents a single artistic whole, being a unique monument of church art of the 17th century and the skill of restorers. In the "local" row, there are preserved icons from the St. Nikolay Church: the temple icon "The Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles" (1697), "The Almighty Savior" (1692), "The Mother of God Hodegetria", "St. Nikolay the Wonderworker" (1692) were also restored during the reconstruction.

Moreover, the gallery donated to the church more than 200 icons from the storerooms, as well as altar crosses and liturgical utensils. The process of transferring holy objects has been going on all these years. So, in 2005, an old crucifix, the Dmitrov Cross, was installed in the Pokrovskiy aisle. Researchers differ in its dating: some, following the legend, attribute it to the 13th century, others, based on picturesque features, consider the end of the 14th - beginning of the 15th century to be the time of its creation. The Tretyakov Gallery received the Dmitrov crucifix from the State Historical Museum in 1930. And since 2009, the Iberian Icon of the Mother of God has been located in the Nikolskiy aisle of the temple. In 1929, the Iverskaya chapel on Red Square was closed, and the icon was confiscated; for a long time, nothing was known about its whereabouts. Recently, again thanks to the efforts of art historians and restorers, it was possible to find out that the Tretyakov Gallery, most likely, stores this miraculous copy from the Iberian chapel. It entered the museum in 1933 without indicating the origin; the size of the linden board, the characteristic loss of the paint layer, other details testify in favor of this assumption. It was decided to transfer this icon to our church, and today believers can pray before it during their troubles and sorrows.

Since 1997, a tradition has been established: on the days of the celebration of the Holy Trinity, the "Trinity" of St. Andrey Rublev is brought from the gallery hall to the church.

- Speaking of icons, it is impossible to ignore the greatest Orthodox sacred object - the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God. Actually, for her sake, in order to enable believers to pray in front of her, your temple was revived. But, as you know, it was not easy. The fears of opponents of the transfer of the icon to the temple, even at the museum, were not justified?

- On September 7, 1996, the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God was installed in the church for the first time in a special icon case. On September 8, the day of the celebration of the icon, Patriarch Alexiy the 2nd consecrated the temple. From now on, September 8, the feast of the Vladimir Icon, has become the main temple holiday of the parish. And until that moment, for several years I served a prayer service in front of the icon right in the hall of ancient Russian art. The gallery did not close, there were guided tours.

It is clear that the placement of such an icon required a special technical solution to ensure its complete safety. Specialists of the “Moscow Polymetal Plant” proposed to make a special capsule, which guaranteed not only safety, but also compliance with the temperature regime: +18…+20˚C at 55% humidity. This unique engineering solution, which had never been in Russia before, also required money. For armored glass alone we had to pay about 10,000 marks, which in the mid-1990s was not an easy task. At the same time, technical solutions from the experience of the mausoleum and military aviation were used. As a result, the capsule guarantees the safety of the icon in any situation: in water or in case of fire, or it will withstand a grenade explosion or a burst from a Kalashnikov assault rifle, and it will also cut off ultraviolet and infrared radiation.

The process of manufacturing and debugging the entire system lasted several years. At first they brought the icon, set it up, monitored its climatic state, then they took it back and checked its safety. Even now, gallery employees regularly open the glass and check the condition of the icon. Today, believers can venerate the Vladimir Icon through glass; only for His Holiness the Patriarch the kiot (icon-case) is opened.

After a series of experiments and several variants of the capsule, in 1999 the final decision was made, and on December 15, the director of the Tretyakov Gallery issued Decree No. 958 ordering the sacred object to be placed in an icon case. Since January 2000, the main holy object of Russia has been kept in the St. Nikolay Church. And this was done largely thanks to the work of the gallery director Valentin Alekseyevich Rodionov. He was able to establish the best relations with the Church, allowing today’s thousands of visitors to the gallery to see and pay tribute to the great holy objects, and believers to pray before them.

“Having more than 300 years of history and unique Orthodox sacred objects, parishioners also offer prayers for everyone, who served within the walls of the temple, who supported it.

— A parishioner of our church was Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov. He bought a house nearby, in which he founded the famous Tretyakov Gallery. Every morning Pavel Mikhailovich began with a prayer, and when he came to the temple, he brought his employees there. Tchaikovskiy, Zelotti, the Rubinstein brothers - they were all parishioners of our church. Not to mention the artists, who surrounded Tretyakov and prayed with him. Therefore, our temple was the center of not only secular, but also spiritual culture.

Elder Alexiy Zosimovskiy served here for 28 years as a deacon. He was ordained a presbyter of the Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin, then took monastic vows in the Zosima Hermitage, became a schema and went into seclusion. At the Council of 1918, Elder Alexiy drew lots with the name of the future Patriarch Tikhon.

The St. Nikolay Church in Tolmachi has four patron saints: St. Metropolitan Filaret (Drozdov), he consecrated our church, restored after the war of 1812; Hieromartyr Father Ilya Chetverukhin - the last rector; our parishioner Martyr Nikolay Rein, who suffered for Christ and was shot dead in 1935; and Reverend Alexiy Zosimovskiy.

— And another distinguishing feature of St. Nikolay Church is its unique choir.

– Having a musical education, I was especially attentive to this component of worship. The choir has been gathering for ten years, at first it was directed by my “matushka” (“mother”, wife) Svetlana. Gradually, new people appeared, and, in 1994, the Ministry of Culture decided to put the choir on the state budget and make it the state choir at the Tretyakov Gallery. It is directed by Alexey Puzakov.

The choir participates in the life of the gallery and in concerts, it travels abroad. But at the same time it is also a church choir that sings at all solemn divine and festive services. Now it is quite famous, and I consider it one of the best spiritual choirs in Russia. We sing Rakhmaninov's Vespers, and Tchaikovskiy's Liturgy is performed annually. The choir tours not only in Russia, but also in Italy, and England. Now Alexey Puzakov is the director of the Synodal Choir.

Although today there are many different approaches to choral singing in our churches, in some of them, by the will of the rector or headman, for example, they adhere to very strict limits: they don’t give funds for the choir, they limit themselves to two or three singers, somewhere they like only znamennyy (echoes) chant in general. And there are a number of churches that follow the traditions of the synodal period. The choir of our church adheres to the same tradition. I would also like to wish the right approach and prayerful mood. Because all the music performed by the choir in the temple is prayer.

Interviewed by Yevgeniy Strelchik

First of all, we must think about the preservation of masterpieces

Commentary by Irina Lebedeva, General Director of the State Tretyakov Gallery

The fact that the great sacred object of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God is located not in a museum hall, but in an Orthodox church, which is also, in fact, a museum hall, is a unique form of cooperation with the Church. For 20 years we have been looking for ways of this interaction. Of course, it was difficult, tough for us to decide on some things ourselves, to understand what and how to do. Today we see that the framework of relations we found does not burden either the gallery or the parish. This is the result of a mutual desire to find a consensus, an understanding that both faith and culture are at the core of our society. When we talk about the unity of faith and culture, we must first of all think about the preservation of the greatest masterpieces, no matter where they are. Of course, museum storage gives more guarantees in this matter, as the museum is responsible for any exhibit transferred from the museum fund. And I, as a director, understand the complexity of this process... In my opinion, today the strength of these arguments has impaired. I think that the Church has also come to understand its responsibility, that it is important not so much to receive as to preserve, since many churches and monasteries already know the consequences of improper storage or restoration.


The first mention of the wooden "church of the great Wonderworker Nikola in Tolmachi" is contained in the parish book of the patriarchal order for 1625. The stone church was erected in 1697 by Longin Dobrynin and the main altar of the church was consecrated in honor of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, and Nikolskiy was moved to the refectory. In 1770, at the expense of the widow of the 1st guild merchant, I.M. Demidov, the Pokrovskiy (Intercession) Chapel was built in the refectory. In 1834, at the request of the parishioners and "according to the thought of Metropolitan Filaret," the refectory was rebuilt according to the design of the architect F.M. Shestakov and a new bell tower was erected. In 1856, the quadrangle was renovated and the main altar was rebuilt. Funds for the renovation of the temple were donated, among others, by Alexandra Danilovna Tretyakova and her sons. One of them, Pavel Mikhailovich, the founder of the Art Gallery, was an ardent parishioner of the church. Divine services in the temple were resumed in 1993. On September 8, 1996, the main altar of the temple was consecrated by His Holiness Patriarch Alexiy the 2nd. In recent years, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill has served in the church several times.

Yevgeniy Strelchik

Archpriest Nikolay Sokolov

Source: Церковный вестник

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