The chapel is small and dark: the air heavy with
the smell of beeswax, herbs and incense smoke. A little light comes from the window, but the blind reminds closed, and the
chapel remains unknown to all but a few of those who pass.
Fragrant beeswax tapers flicker before towel draped
icons, ranged along the narrow shelves of the eastern wall.
The Saviour seated in majestly as Ruler of All,
the Mother of God of Kazan with her shining metal crown, the saints of God, though dark with age, look down from
chased and polished metal frames.
In the centre, a lampada burns before
the life-giving cross: its tiny olive-oil fed flame rising and falling in the vesperal shadows.
Above all is the deesis - the Saviour flanked by
the saints in the Heavenly Jerusalem. To His right His All-Pure Mother, the Archangel Michael, the Holy Apostle Peter
and Venerable Zosima of Solovki - the spiritual meadow of Old Believer martyrs - incline towards the Lord in supplication
for the world, and to the Saviour's left, the Holy Forerunner and Baptist John, the Holy Archangel Gabriel, St Peter and our
Venerable Father Savatii likewise bow their heads in prayer. Above all, the icon of the Triumphant Church calls us to struggle,
to raise ourselves from the mire of sin and, with the help of divine grace, ascend to the throne of God on high.
Between the icon-stands, a polished brass candlestand
holds beeswax tapers offered as a token with words of prayer, a single red lamp burning at the centre. The silence is
broken by the faint crackle of the flames.
The brass, wooden-handled censer, now cold,
holds the ash of charcoal and incense, offered with the daily prayers, rising to the Lord with the chanting of psalms: 'Let
my prayer be set forth in Thy sight as the incense: the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice. Hearken
unto us, O Lord.'
So small is the chapel, that no icon screen will
fit between its narrow walls, so embroidery-covered icon-stands wall off the sanctuary, where the Lord of Glory is enthroned
upon the small altar: the onion-domed tabernacle holding the heavenly manna, which is the Body of the Lord.
The holy table, covered in blue and gold brocade
also bears the Holy Gospel layed at the foot of the cross: the Lord enthroned, not only in the mystical presence of His Body
and Blood, but symbolically in the Life-Giving words of the Word made flesh, Who still dwells among us, though the world still
'knows Him not'.
Behind the holy table and the seven branched candlestick
the principal icon stands .
'The Hospitality of Abraham', with its prefiguring
of the Holy Trinity glows in bright and radiant colours - the three angels seated around an altar-like table beneath the oak
of Mamre, their hands raised to bless the food offered by the patriarch in love.
To the right and left, icons of the Saviour and
the Mother of God of Tikhvin, relics of a long forgotten ikonostas are enshrined, and Saints Kyril and Mefodii, the Aplostles
of the Slavs stand, skillfully carved in lime.
A small preparation table decorated with the
three barred Orthodox cross awaits the coming of a distant priest to take up the chalice, the diskos and the lance, to prepare
the Holy Gifts for the altar and the coming of the Lord, to bare the bread and wine that short distance to the altar, whilst
the single monk chants 'Izhe kheruvimy', We who in a mystery, represent the cherubim'. The commemoration book, full of the
names of the living and the dead, awaits the reading of each name as portions are removed from the small white cross stamped
loaves and are placed next to the Lamb, soon to be mystically transformed into the Body of the Lord. The chalice awaits the
wine, soon to become the Blood of Christ. The small chapel waits for the joining of heaven and earth upon its slate paved
floor, between its narrow icon-covered walls.
The heavy 'ancient' wood and leather bound books
sit upon the krylos shelves and the chetni naloi - the reading stand - holds much newer, cleaner volumes, from which the words
of daily hymns are chanted, rising and falling with the ancient melodies, austere in their beauty - beautiful in their austerity.
No clever harmonies and tricks distract from the message and meaning of psalms and hymns. The single voice of Russian
plainchant - Znamenny and Demestvenny - is all that will be heard: sometimes simple, sometimes flowing and ornate in festal
I chant the words of the hymns slowly and quietly,
the chant rooted firmly in the faith of Holy Russia, in the monasteries which raised the holy monks whose icons surround me:
St Sergius of Radonezh, Saints Alexander of Svir, Kyril of White Lake, Nil of Sorsk, Maxim the Greek, Zossima and Savatii
of Solovetsk, Pavel and Sylvester of Obnora and many more, whose litany of names tells the story of the Russian soul. I join
them in this little piece of Holy Russia, asking God to preserve it, like Kitezh deep within the lapping waters of Lake
O Lord save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance...
and by the virtue of the cross, preserve Thy habitation.