Hamilton students of Russian civilization and language outside the Holy Trinity Monastery.

Communications Office student writer Libby Militello ’22 was among students from two classes who recently traveled to the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville for a glimpse at Russian Orthodox traditions. She describes the visit here.

The interior of a Russian Orthodox Church is intended to deeply engage the senses, transporting worshippers away from earthly troubles and distractions. From viewing the colorful frescos covering the walls to smelling the fragrant incense filling the air, my classmates and I learned firsthand about a few Orthodox traditions during a trip to the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, N.Y., just 30 miles from Hamilton’s campus.

Students in my Russian civilization course, taught by Professor of Government Sharon Rivera, traveled last weekend with Professor John Bartle’s Russian language class to Holy Trinity to experience one of the most influential parts of Russian culture: the Orthodox religious tradition.

My class has particularly focused on icons, or sacred artistic renderings used in religious devotion. Upon entering, I was amazed by the totality and detail of the church’s iconography. One of the defining aspects of Orthodox churches is the iconostasis, a wall of icons depicting key figures and elements of the faith that historically was used to communicate religious principles across literacy barriers.

Holy Trinity monastery
The iconostasis at Holy Trinity Monastery. Photo: Libby Militello '22

Because this wall is located between the main body of the church and the altar, the iconostasis has been called the “wall that separates two worlds.” Though we have discussed this belief in class, viewing this barrier and its breathtaking images in person deepened my understanding of the iconostasis’ value in connecting worshippers to the divine realm.

After a tour of the church, our classes were led through a guided tour of the monastery’s museum of icons and artifacts, once again adding visual context and further historical background to my understanding of religion in Russian culture. Our guide also explained Holy Trinity’s history, including its role as a publishing hub of Russian Orthodox literature during the Soviet period, when religious life clashed with the government’s policy of state atheism.

Our trip to Holy Trinity not only provided a refreshing break from lectures and readings, but also allowed us to witness the traditions that have shaped Russia for centuries. It was a privilege to learn via firsthand experience about Orthodoxy and its history, both globally and here in Central New York.

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