These ancient lands have been the favorite of Russian pilgrims for many centuries. They came here to worship St. Sergei Radonezhsky monk, guardian and defender of all Russia.
Ancient travelers used to make the journey from Moscow to Sergiev Posad on foot or on horseback. En route they would visit the Smolensk Church in the village of Sofrino for a prayer, and at the approaches to the village of Vozdvizhenskoye, they would turn left to the village of Radonezh the place where St. Sergei spent his childhood and youth.
From Radonezh, they would continue on their way to the town of Khotkovo to bow to the remains of St. Sergei's parents Kirill and Maria. The final destination was the Trinity-Sergei Monastery, founded by St. Sergei Radonezhsky.
During the Soviet era, the name Radonezh disappeared from the map. The atheistic state worked hard to erase these memories from people's minds.
The modern Yaroslavskoe Shosse is noisy and always jammed with cars. It is better to take a local train from the Yaroslavsky Railway Terminal. After some 15 minutes of pulling through peaceful suburbs, the train runs through picturesque fir-tree groves with intermittent meadows.
The first stop on our "modern pilgrimage" is the town of Khotkovo, 58 kilometers from Moscow, which has retained its appearance and atmosphere.
After refueling your body in a cafe, located on the square adjacent to the railway station, you can set off for a stroll to the Pokrov Monastery. Alternatively, you can reach the monastery by a bus from the railway station, it's an enjoyable ride as the bus meanders through picturesque hills.
Apart from its monumental churches (the Church of Pokrovo and the Church of Nikola) Khotkovo is famous for being the burial place of Sergei Radonezhsky's parents Kirill and Maria, whom the Russian Orthodox Church has made saints. Recently, believers brought the remains of Kirill and Maria to the church of the Pokrov Monastery. St. Sergei himself took a vow of silence in the forest while pupils gathered around him, and he became an abbot, the head of the monastery.
Soon after the 1917 revolution, the monks were driven out of the Pokrov Monastery, and at the end of the 1930s, the place was closed. They recently took away the rubbish from the disfigured church, restored the altar, hung up images and restarted regular services.
By the gates of the Pokrov Monastery at Khotkovo, you can get on a bus that goes between Radonezh and Khotkovo. Alternatively you can take a three-kilometer walk to the south of Khotkovo toward Moscow.
Passing the modern industrial outskirts of the town, you will immediately see the Transfiguration Church in the village of Radonezh.
The Moscow sculptor Vyacheslav Klykov depicted the youth and the adult abbot in his monument to Sergei Radonezhsky. St. Sergei gave his blessing to Prince Dmitry Donskoi at Kulikov Polye in the battle against the Tatars. The battle at Kulikov Polye in 1380 was the largest of the Middle Ages in Europe. There were 200,000 Russian losses and an equal number among the Tatars. "Go bravely and you will be victorious," said Sergei to Dmitry.
The Tatars fled and some 40,000 Russians remained. It took several days to bury the dead on the battlefield but this was the victory that became the cornerstone of Russia's future greatness.
On the way back to Moscow, be sure to look at a masterpiece of Russian architecture - a Smolensk Church of the 17th century, which is located near Sofrino.
One route takes you on the forest path westwards from Radonezh to the 55th Kilometer' railway station. But the best option is to take a bus from Radonezh back to Khotkovo, where you can either take a train to Moscow or drop in for a night at the Rus Hotel.
"We come to Sergei to ask for advice, help and guardianship," contemporary writer Yuri Loshits wrote, expressing his feelings during a tour around these sites. "We come to Sergei because we want to comprehend the essence of Russian sanctity and the essence of our fate in history."
How to get there:
To get to Khotkovo, you take a local train, an electrichka, from the Yaroslavsky Railway Terminus. The ride is 14 rubles.