Bells and the Belfry

Archbishop Eulogy (Smirnov)

A lot of stories are connected with the bells and the bell tower. Its revival from the non-existence was a real miracle. We were happy to witness the three laced tiers of the bell tower surmount the church-over-the-gates which had stood decapitated for over 50 years. Surprisingly, the dome and the cross were mounted in winter. It happened only once in SoyuzRestauration practice.

I clearly remember the day when I climbed the scaffold leading to the top of the church to have a look at the bell tower construction site in company of the few St. Daniel’s monks. Once on top, I addressed the monks: — I say, brethren, let’s consecrate the site before the start of the bricklaying work, which is planned for tomorrow. It will be a great day! Go, fetch the vestments, the holy water and the Book of Needs and we’ll perform the consecration office.

While we were sprinkling the future bell tower base with holy water, accompanying the ceremony with appropriate prayers and chants, a huge cloud appeared as if from nowhere and burst with torrential rain.

During my very first days at St. Daniel’s Monastery I met a man who had been the monastery bell-ringer in the old times. Now, Mikhail Ivanovich Makarov was about eighty. He started ringing the monastery bells when he was a very young man but he still remembered the ringing masters who taught him the art of bell-ringing. Together with their skill, monk Andrew and Uncle Nikolay, a boot-maker, had passed over to the boy their Christian piety and devotion. 'We rang right after Ivan the Great Bell Tower. The sound of its powerful bells could be heard all over Moscow, while our chimes were the most melodious, unparalleled by the rings of other churches and monasteries. St. Daniel’s biggest bell weighed 750 poods. It was mounted not on the bell tower, but on a big platform outside the monastery wall next to the Chapel of the Blessed Prince Daniel (which was later pulled down). It took two people to swing the bell. Once you struck the bell, you no longer knew where you were: whether you were standing on the firm surface or floating in the air. They say that in the 1930s our bells were sold to America’.

It was absolutely true: St. Daniel’s Monastery bells landed on the far-away shore. However, they were not lost and their further fate can be easily traced. In the autumn of 1985, important visitors arrived at St. Daniel’s Monastery. They were the US Ambassador Mr. Hartman and his wife. It turned out that the Ambassador had first heard about the monastery due to its bells when he was a student at Harvard, where the bells from Moscow were lined on a special ground.

— 'That is why, I wanted to see your monastery as soon as I heard about its reconstruction’, — said the distinguished guest. 'As a matter of fact, we wouldn’t object to returning the bells to the monastery,’ he added. — 'We’ll bear it in mind, Mr. Ambassador’, — I said.

Thanks to Mikhail Ivanovich we managed to sketch the arrangement of the bells in the bell tower. This sketched became the project design basis.

We started to build plans of the bell tower revival as soon as St. Daniel’s Monastery was reopened. In those days, I thought we wouldn’t have any problems with the construction of the tower. The problems arose when it came to the bells: the art of bell founding had been lost and the remaining bells belonged to the churches, which were most unlikely to part with them. There seemed to be no solution of this issue. Today, every time I hear the thirty bells of St. Daniel’s ring their beautiful velvety chimes, which challenge even the Laura ring (or so, at least, I have once been told), I can’t help thinking with gratitude that God is wondrous and all-wise. Everything is within His power!

Soon people, whom I had known since my stay in Zagorsk, offered me their help. And soon, even before the bell tower was ready, I could see the first results of their efforts. I had just settled down in Chistiy Bypass when I received a number of addresses and photos of the bells. We carefully studied all the addresses. My assistants visited each bell tower and inspected the available bells several times. His Holiness Pimen, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, personally applied to the Council of Religious Affairs with a request for its contributory influence. I supported his appeal with the documents. A year later we received a permit from the Department of the RF Ministry of Culture for the transfer of the first seven bells we had set our hearts on. For us, it was a great holiday. We immediately sent forward a team and the necessary equipment to bring the bells to the monastery before the officials had changed their minds. If we had lingered for a day or two we might have lost the chance. But God didn’t leave us – we had all the required documents at hand; the authorized officer for religious affairs in Yaroslavl Region and the Regional Department of Culture had received due notification. However, when everything seemed to be going smoothly the events took an unexpected turn. When the local residents saw our equipment and workers they rushed out of the houses, surrounded the bell tower and absolutely refused to move.

— 'We won’t let you take the bells down! They belong here; our fathers had left them to us. We fought for them in 1937 and saved them. Just forget about it’, — said the people.

Although my engineer produced the official papers with seals and stamps, and although the local officials confirmed that we were going to act in full compliance with the law, all the permits were void without the consent of the local people who were real owners of the bells. My engineer phoned St. Daniel’s Monastery to inform me about the situation. We decided to find the parish priest and ask him to leave for Troitskoye at once and try to convince the residents to let us take the bells from the inactive belfry and install them in the monastery bell tower under the blessing of His Holiness the Patriarch. An hour later I was having a telephone conversation with Father Ioann, a Yaroslavl Province parish priest. It turned out that I used to know him quite well when he studied at the seminary. Father Ioann left for the village without delay and addressed the local residents with an appeal to let the bells go for the common good. His heartfelt address proved to be more powerful than the official papers.

The bells looked as good as new – there wasn’t a single scratch on the seven of them. The most remarkable thing was that each of them bore an inscription with the date, on which it was cast, the name of the foundry and the name of the master. Unfortunately one of the bells was damaged – it had cracked. It left us with one bell less than we had expected! Something had to be done.

— 'Can we possibly exchange it for another bell’? — asked my assistant, addressing the official in charge. — 'It would be a shame to bring a broken bell to Moscow’.

— 'Well, let’s have a look in the nearest village’, — suggested the official.

The nearest belfry was empty, but a big 220-pood bell was lying on its side nearby.

— 'Can we take it instead of the cracked one?’ — asked our engineer. — 'Oh, look! It has no ‘ears’’.

— Well, we can still make use of it. It’s big and quite new, — answered the official.

The legend on the bell ran: ‘The Province of Yaroslavl, Danilovsky District, through the endeavor of churchwarden Smirnov…’

— 'Sakes alive!’ — exclaimed our agent. — 'Danilovsky District … through the endeavor of Smirnov. I dare say, it must be our bell all right … St. Daniel’s Father Superior is Smirnov as well! Please, let us take it to the monastery and that will be the end of it!’

—Ok, go ahead, take it!’ — agreed the official.

At last the bells arrived at the monastery. They were met with the chime of ground-based zvonnitsa (set of bells). We were amazed with their sizes: the bells weighed 220, 159, 100, 75, 50, 25 and 15 poods. While the bells were on the ground we made pictures and copied the legends for the monastery chronicles. Some bells needed clappers, which were duly made and hung; the biggest bell got the missing ‘ears’. Archbishop Bartholomew (Gondarovsky) of Tashkent and Middle Asia who was visiting the monastery, consecrated the bells. Now they were ready to be mounted on the bell tower.

I will never forget the day, when the bells were raised to the tower. It was still under construction. But there was nothing unusual about it. In the old times, the bells were lowered on to the tower before bridging over the tiers. Once the ceilings were in place, it was impossible to remove the bells from the bell tower. It was a wonderful bright summer day – the sun was shining in the blue cloudless sky. The powerful arm of a huge Japanese crane lifted the biggest 220-pood bell high into the air and stopped right above the bell tower.

The spectators caught their breath as they watched the crane lower the sacred load carefully on to the tower. Everybody felt unusually elated. It felt as if the soul rose high into the blue sky together with the bell and experienced some pure and delightful presence. Quite a lot of people were present at the event although we had not made any special announcement. All of us – monks, parishioners, Department officials – stood fascinated with an unforgettable sight: one by one, the bells flew into the sky to be finally settled into their ‘nests’. One of the monks asked me:

— 'Father Superior, will you give me your blessing to ring the ground bells in honour of the happy event?’

— 'God, bless you, ring the bells!’

The joyful chime of our first set of bells placed on tubular structures among the big trees merged with the excitement of the people who had gathered to watch the bells take their place. The old women were making signs of cross and singing prayers, their eyes filled with happy tears. And a small flight of white doves, which suddenly appeared in the sky and started making circles above the bell tower, put the finishing touch to the heartwarming picture.

Monastery Chimes

Following the old tradition of Mount Athos, every monastic morning started with the sound of the so-called 'bilo’, i.e. with the dull sound produced by striking a wooden (birch) bar with a mallet. It was a preliminary or rather a preparatory toll, which resembled the voice of the Old Testament prophets coming to us from the ancient times. The sound of the monastery bilo resounded in the neighbourhood in the stillness of the Moscow dawn. Next came the sound of the waking bell. Twenty minutes later, it was followed by the sound of the regular bell calling the monks to the morning-prayer. The sound of the bells was part and parcel of the monastery life and marked its special rhythm. We rang the bells for the liturgy and for the performance of 'We Hymn, Thee’. At twelve o’clock on weekdays, the bells were rung for the midday meal. At five o’clock in the afternoon, they were rung for the vespers service. On holidays the monastery bell-ringers performed the full range of bell ringing, which included not only the 'red chimes’ but also treble peals, and involved all the available bells, especially for the performance of the Panhagia office. We rang all the bells on special occasions like the arrival of His Holiness Patriarch Pimen, visits of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church Principals; on Pascha (Easter), Christmas and other major holidays. Special festive chimes were heard when we celebrated church dedication services or laid foundations of new monastery buildings and chapels. On such occasions our bell tower with all its thirty bells was literally vibrating.

Bell ringing was the embodiment of the monastery soul. We started ringing as soon as the first bell was brought to the monastery. And we believed that it soon attracted several dozens of different bells.

Once I got an invitation from a certain Muscovite to see his collection of bells. One of his rooms accommodated a home campanile, which rose up to the ceiling and included all types of bells ranging from big 15-pood to small Valdai bells.

— 'They are the music of my soul’, — said the man. — 'But I want to donate some of them to Danilov Monastery’. We were surprised at the speed, with which the monastery collection of bells was growing. Moscow bell-ringers, who had heard about our bells and who had faced the problem of their shortage, often came to ask us for help. Once we were visited by the secretary of Elias, Georgian Catholicos-Patriarch, who wanted to find a way for the solution of the bell problem, because even the Assumption Zion Cathedral in Tbilisi had no bells.

Once we were given four bells. One of them, which weighed 90 poods broke during transportation. I took it really hard, as if I had lost a close friend. The only thing for us to do was to collect all the fragments and bond them with a special adhesive for metals. Once again we admired the exceptional beauty of this bell which subsided into total silence so suddenly. Soon we devised a plan for its recasting, which demanded making a bell mould. We had made the necessary arrangements with a nearby factory but new circumstances prevented me from completing this task. When the belfry above the Holy Gates had a complete ring of bells, we constructed another everyday ground-based belfry in the Pskov tradition. It perfectly fits into the architectural design of the Seven Ecumenical Councils Church front and gladdens our hearts with the joyful chimes of its bells 'from early morning till late at night’.

In the same way as the church is the revelation of an unearthly beauty, the sound of our bells is the living voice of Heaven, which can move the soul put to sleep by earthly passions. Not surprisingly, when the question of St. Daniel’s emblem arose we decided on the image, which appeals directly to our hearts – the image of the bell which tells people about the Eternal God.The ringing of bells called us to carry out different jobs on the monastery premises, in the vestry, in the clothes storage room or, sometimes, in the churches when they were prepared for festive services.

Late at night, the bells called the monks for monastic prayer, which was established in 1986. It consisted of the Small Compline, which included the Canon to the Mother of God, the Canon to the Guardian Angel and canons to the daily saints (associated with a certain day of the week), which had been omitted during church service. The rite ended with Evening Prayers (read before going to bed) and the forgiveness rite, which was sometimes carried over from the vespers service.

We introduced bell-ringing in Donskoy Monastery as well. The church-goers who had not heard it there for decades were absolutely ecstatic. It was a very modest ring, which consisted of 5 small bells placed inside the church. On the Holy Pascha (Easter) day we took the bells out of the church and placed them on the porch. It was the culmination of the festivities, which arose warm feelings in the hearts of the people who attended the service, especially in the hearts of the museum employees who had promptly turned up to listen to our first Easter bell-ringing and were enjoying the beauty of the Orthodox Pascha.

The monastery didn’t have experienced bell-ringers, but our bell-ringers soon gained the necessary skills due to frequent practice. The best of them are Anatoly Grindenko, Vyacheslav Erokhin, monk Seraphim, Georgy Plyasov and others.

Quite often, St. Daniel’s was visited by Hieromonk Micah (Timofeev) who is believed to be one of the best bell-ringers and who came to the monastery to teach the art of bell-ringing to the monks. Later, Anatoly Grindenko created a special 'St. Daniel’s’ 'treble-peal pattern’ based on the Laura bell-ringing tradition.

When the bell tower finally rose to its full height it aroused a multitude of indescribable joyous feelings not only in the hearts of the brethren but also in the hearts of people far beyond the monastery walls. For the first time we rang all the bells on the Holy Easter Night of 1985. It seemed as if the darkness of the night had dispersed broken by the powerful peals of the bells, which announced that St. Daniel’s Monastery had come back to life. I thought that in the deep silence of the Moscow night St. Daniel’s bells were heard even on Borovitsky Hill. There was no end to our joy. When soon we arrived at Donskoy Monastery to celebrate the Holy Paschal Service, we were told that people in the monastery had heard the ringing of some new bells, which were not the bells of the nearby Church of the Deposition of the Robe. They had heard the bells of St. Daniel’s Monastery.

For the second time we rang all the bells on May 9, when the country celebrated the 40th anniversary of Victory Day. On the eve of the holiday we attended the meeting of the Department employees and gave souvenirs and gifts of money to the war veterans. Many of them immediately gave us the money back for the restoration of the monastery. It was very touching. On Victory Day, we celebrated a festive service in the monastery chapel and then rang the bells as a holiday gift to out dear war veterans. Many of them could not hold back tears of joy.

Beyond the monastery walls the ringing of bells roused the same warm feelings. The passengers asked the tram-drivers to stop the trams to listen to the ringing of the monastery bells.

Across the road from the monastery are the premises of the famous Pavlov Hospital, and naturally the sound of the bells reached the ears of the sick. The father of one of our engineers was a patient at the hospital. Shortly before his death he told his son what people in his ward felt: 'Some people in the ward cried, others made signs of cross. We are all old people’.

St. Daniel’s bells enlivened the old, gave strength to the sick and gave joy to the little. Once I watched kids in the nearby nursery school frolicking and jumping to the sound of our ‘red’ (the ‘most beautiful’) chimes – they had never heard such music before. Children’s souls are much more sensitive. Besides, they cannot hide their joy.