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Built in the Byzantine style, the Orthodox Church St. Peter and Paul stands away from the center of this small city. Czar Peter the Great visited the church at least once during one of his visits. It is also said that he carved his initials on one of the wooden crosses on what is now called Peter's Heights.
In our travels around Central and Eastern Europe we have seen numerous churches with onion shaped steeples, but this is the first Orthodox Russian Church we have visited. Also, we have not seen such expensively steeples before.
Our first view of the church was from the top of the mountain where we were hiking. That evening we decided to try to visit the church if we could find it. Though we had looked on the Internet and at the hotel for a map of Karlovy Vary we had failed to find one. After walking about a block Nancy pointed to our left and said, "I think we should go up that street."
To our left was a street going up a very steep hill. I thought the church would be further along, but not really knowing I agreed. Up the
hill we went, past an old Anglican church whose architecture was a bit strange to say the least. The steeple simply did not, to my eye anyway, fit the rest of the stone church. But then who am I to judge architecture.
Once past this church it became obvious this was one of the very upscale sections of Karlovy Vary. The hotels looked like eight star ones, even though five stars are as high as the scale goes. Also we passed a very elaborate building that houses either a Russian consulate or a Russian association. As my Russian is zero I really could not tell from the sign. Not far beyond this, on the opposite side of the street is a statue of Karl Marx. It seems he stayed in Karlovy Vary and liked the town very much. This seemed a bit of a contradiction to me as here he was rubbing elbows with the rich and famous and not the downtrodden workers paradise that he wrote about creating. But who says we humans need to be consistent.
Just beyond the statue the street divided and there to the right, up another hill, stood the Russian Orthodox Church.
When we entered a service was being conducted, so we stayed for the service. There were only three or four places to sit and these were filled with elderly men and women. As is typical in the Russian Orthodox churches everyone else stood. The priest was a young man dressed in the flowing robes of the church. I was a bit surprised when I realized that only the priest partakes of the Lord's Supper. The communion table is set behind a wooden latticed screen. We could see the priest and his activities, but that was it. So much for Vatican II and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Typical of Russian Orthodox churches there are no pews or seats in the sanctuary, though there were two short built into the wall benches where, perhaps, four people could sit if necessary. Basically everyone stands for the entire service. No lulling about and going to sleep in a worship service here. The walls are lined with icons. Nancy and I have a greater appreciation and understanding of icons since reading and discussing in a book discussion group Henry Nouwen's book Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons
. Until reading Nouwen's book
I had not idea of the immense amount of symbolism contained in an icon.
If you ever visit Karlovy Vary, visit this church. It is most beautiful.
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