AT THE ENTRANCE OF THE DANILOVSKY MONASTERY
At five minutes to six on 20th November President Putin walked up to the main gates of the Danilovsky monastery known as the Gates of St. Simeon Stylites. It was a very cold evening. With him was the Prime Minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, who was more confused than he had ever been before in all his life. Years later, when remembering the strangest adventure that he had ever had in his life, he could never recall whether he flew to Moscow, or whether he was transported by other means. In fact the official reason for his visit had almost been wiped from his memory. He did remember one fact that he had turned up at President Putin’s state residence at Novo-Ogaryovno for breakfast unannounced. Oddly, the Russian President did not seem at all put out, and was so charming, hospitable and warm, that Binyamin wondered if something quite miraculous was happening in the complicated sphere of international relations. After the excellent breakfast he could remember almost nothing of the political discussions during the rest of the day.
As they approached the main gates of the monastery, known as “The Holy Gates” with its great belfry, its Church dedicated to St Simeon Stylites and with its great 18 bells dedicated to St. Daniel, both men were completely taken aback, for there was the Patriarch Kirill waiting for them. Binyamin was wondering if he had been transported back in time, either to Medieval Russia, or perhaps even to the Old Testament. It all felt very ancient, barbaric, and magnificent. It was very different from Modern Israel, which seemed to be an extension of the United States, and its frequent tastelessness, was anything but magnificent. Vladimir knelt to kiss the Patriarch’s hand, while Binyamin looked slightly uncomfortable. He could hardly kiss the hand of a Patriarch of Moscow. Normally he would not have even considered such a thing, but events were so strange. His life was being somewhat turned upside down. If he only knew what was round the corner, he would have been aghast.
“Your Excellencies, you are most welcome.” said the Patriarch. I knew that you Vladimir Vladimorivich, would be coming, but St Sergius and St. Seraphim gave me the idea that it was only you who were coming at 6 o’clock, and even now I do not know whether they came to me in a dream, or in reality, for before I saw them I had the most wonderful dream, but enough I have said too much already. Let us go now for some refreshments. It is a cold night, and I fear that there will be snow. It was indeed getting colder all the time, and Binyamin was feeling the cold getting right into his bones. Walking through the Holy Gates, the Patriarch said to Benyamin” “ Prime Minister, you can see this is to Russian Orthodoxy what The Vatican is to Catholicism, but it is monastic, whereas the Vatican is more bureaucratic, which I suppose it has to be, but it is quite a drawback.” The Patriarch continued, “Now not many years ago, Harvard University returned the bells that belonged to the bell tower of the Church of St. Simeon Stylites. Ahead of us you can see the Chapel-over-the Well which honours the millennium of Christianity in Russia.”
The patriarch then turned right, and walking past the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on their left, which was a very 19th century building and looked quite out of place, in what is essentially a medieval monastery, he explained about its foundation to the Prime Minister, “It was the first monastery to be founded in Moscow. It was founded by St. Daniel, son of Alexander Nevsky. He was renowned for being a great ruler because he was meek, humble and peaceable; traits that we do not usually find in rulers of great lands do we?”, and smiling at the two men the Patriarch continued his tale. “Daniel only went into battle once, and that was purely for defensive purposes; it was when Constantine, the prince of Ryazan, with the aid of the Tartars tried to invade Moscow and its principality, but Daniel with the aid of God defeated Constantine, but did not take the prince’s lands. Instead he took him prisoner, gave him great hospitality, and made peace with that avaricious prince.” As the Patriarch concluded this lesson in sacred history, Vladimir suddenly felt a presence, which he immediately recognized. On his left, walking at the same pace as himself a was St. Francis. Vladimir whispered, “Aren’t you a bit early?”, “Well yes and no, but I can never resist any mention of rulers who are peace makers, and it’s rude to eavesdrop, so I thought I had better make myself present to you, and then to the Patriarch, and a bit later to Binyamin, just to get him (he winked in the direction of the bemused Prime Minister) used to the supernatural".
Vladimir turned to the Patriarch, and whispered, “Your Holiness, one of the visitors has turned up earlier than either of us would have expected.” “Oh” said the Patriarch “ who is it?”. “It is St. Francis of Assisi!”. “Ah now that is very good news.” “Shall I introduce you?”, asked Vladimir, “I don’t think that it is necessary. The saints are with us all the time, praying for us and protecting us. It is enough that he is here and praying for us, and I think that Benyamin would be most alarmed if he knew. At least it’s not our holy and most glorious father , St. John Chrysostom.” The patriarch chuckled as did Vladimir. It must be added that the Patriarch could not see Francis, because he didn’t need to, as he was a man of profound faith, unlike not a few bishops in the West, who are too imbued with the culture of the Enlightenment and Liberalism. Vladimir certainly found St. Francis very congenial company, most probably because Francis reminded him of the Russian Staretz, the Russian holy man who was seen all over Russia, before the Revolution, and who was now making a come back with the fall of Communism.
The three men, and the saint, were walking down a tree lined avenue towards the Patriarch’s residence, which was a pleasantly severe white building with a fine entrance, above which was a great mosaic icon of Christ’s face. Vladimir Putin could not help seeing St. Francis’ wrapt look as he gazed on the icon of Christ. Looking at St. Francis’s feet he saw how very real the wounds were. “How they must have hurt him, when he was on earth.” Vladimir thought, and Francis answered his thoughts, “Yes they caused me great pain, but then I wished to suffer with Christ and experience the joy and pain of his passion, for only in that way can one come to true peace.” “Peace, peace, what an elusive thing” said Vladimir and continued his musings, until they were entering the square in front of the Patriarch’s residence, when the Patriarch said “What have we here, another visitor? Heaven must be very busy.” As they neared the entrance, Benyamin said “Goodness me, it is King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, what is he doing here?” The old King looked up from the ground, where only a moment ago he had been talking to the most beautiful and wondrous mother that he had ever seen. He was leaning on his walking stick looking towards the little company, and he was amazed "Where am I, is this the great land of the Eastern infidels?" asked the King, not in an insulting way, but somewhat quizzically. “You are “ said Vladimir “on the soil of Holy Russia”. The Patriarch then took the King very kindly by his arm, and said, “Your majesty, you will catch your death of cold in this cold night air, if we stand here any longer, and you must be in need of refreshment.” As he said this, the door of his residence was opened by one of the monks, and a welcoming warm glowing hall was seen beyond the doors. The King slowly was helped through the door by the Patriarch. “We are not getting any younger, and you are older than I. Vladimir Vladimirovich can you take the King’s other arm. He needs more help than I can give him? That’s better.” Vladimir was smiling, because it was St. Francis who had sprang forward to help, not him. The King looked to his left and saw St. Francis and knew exactly who he was, and smiled a bemused sort of smile. Then the Patriarch saw the saint, and thought “If Catholicism was like this man, then there would be unity tomorrow.” With that the company moved into the Hall, and the door was closed.