Moscow, August 16, 2016
In June 2015 children from a few Russian orphanages made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with the support of the “Mission” charitable foundation. In the view of Margarita Buryak, the foundation’s director and initiator of the program for orphans' pilgrimages to holy sites, such trips are necessary for children who are devoid of parental love and care: “If a child has contact with beauty, kindness, and the optimism of discovering and learning, then his heart will become the center of his thinking and feelings which are being formed. It is from his heart that he will draw his attitude towards the world around him. He will develop and expand his worldview and perception of life further, but the most important thing is that that humaneness will remain unshakeable”.
In the Holy Land the group of Russian pilgrims was received by the Russian Gorny Convent. It is situated in a very picturesque place called Ein Karem in the south of modern Jerusalem. It was here that the Holy Righteous Zacharias and Elizabeth of the New Testament, the parents of St. John the Baptist, lived, and it was here that the Holy Forerunner himself was born. According to the Gospel, the Holy Virgin Mary from Nazareth in Galilee, after receiving from the archangel the Good News of birth of her Son Jesus, came here to her close relative St. Elizabeth.
Every day the children would return to the convent as if it were their own home, receiving moments of solitude, contemplation, grace, new knowledge and preparing for the discoveries of the following day.
The pilgrimage itinerary, specially adapted for the children by the service of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, was rich in visits to wonderful sites. Travel began with a sense of the breath of Jerusalem, this eternal city. Amazement and awe could be seen in the children’s eyes as they realized that the events described in the Gospels had real geography. Each child was given a crucifix before he walked along the Via Dolorosa (“the Way of Sorrow”), the path of Jesus Christ to the Cross. The children were particularly excited at the fourth station of the Cross, where, according to tradition, the Most Holy Mother of God wiped blood and sweat from Her suffering Son’s face. The trip ended at the St. Alexander Nevsky’s Church, the Russian property which is the closest to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. On its territory the famous “Judgment Gate Threshold” is situated, which the Savior passed on His way to Golgotha.
The children visited shrines of the Christian world with reverence: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of Christ’s crucifixion; Nazareth, where the Annunciation took place and where Jesus spent His childhood; the Cana, Tabha, and Kursi villages where Jesus performed His miracles; the Mount of the Beatitudes and Mount Tabor; the Church of Venerable George the Chozebite and the Judean Desert; the Jordan River; St. Nicholas Church; the Church of Nativity of Christ; Bethlehem.
The group was also received by His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and All Palestine. In his speech Patriarch Theophilos addressed the pilgrims: “You have come here in order to see the places where Jesus Christ was born, was crucified and rose from the dead with your own eyes. Your visit to holy places can be described as 'a pilgrimage-contemplation,' using the language of the Church of Jerusalem." All the children were blessed by Patriarch Theophilos, were given icons of the Jerusalem Mother of God and commemorative cards depicting the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem which will bear good memories of the Holy Land and the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Russian orphanage educators note that pilgrimage trips are always a great revelation for orphaned kids. Visits to holy places awaken kindness, mercy, sympathy and compassion in the children’s hearts. A child begins to have confidence in the future, hope, faith in success, and a thirst for righteous lives.
In October 2016, twelve children from orphanages in Istra, Glazov, Volzhsky and St. Petersburg will embark on a new pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Fundraising to cover the pilgrimage costs was launched on the official website of the “Mission” charitable foundation - www.missia.org. “I feel certain that the participation of many people in preparations for the children’s pilgrimage will fill it with special meaning. Just as we used to build churches 'all together' in Russia, we are now uniting and teaming up to kindle the light of faith and hope in the hearts of children who are bereft of parental affection,” Margarita Buryak, director of the “Mission” foundation, is convinced.
The “Mission” charitable foundation was established on August 30, 2004. It has implemented programs for children living at forty-five orphanages and boarding-schools of Russia and many other countries. The priorities of the foundation’s work include the preservation and promotion of the cultural heritage, the connection of generations, and the fulfilment of the children’s dreams. The first trip as part of the “Following the steps of the 'Missia' foundation. Jerusalem” program was organized in 2012. Forty-three children have taken part in pilgrimages together with the foundation to date.