Heaven Meeting Earth
M o s c o w - Dimitri Lotov’s career as pastor began in 1992 in the virtual ruins of the Lutheran church in Samara/Volga. The road has been stony and long, but Lotov, now pastor of the Russian-language congregation in Moscow’s St. Peter-and-Paul cathedral, has been able to chalk up one success. This success is best taken in acustically: the church organ built in 1898 by the German firm W. Sauer in Frankfurt/Oder. In 1928 she had been rescued from Moscow’s St. Michaelis Church, then slated for demolition by the new Bolshevist regime. Using appropriate amounts of cunning, the pastor and others were able to rescue the organ from a Moscow crematorium in 1996 and bring it to St. Peter-and-Paul. But restauration needed to wait on sufficient funding. Would the organ be too small for the cathedral’s vast expanses? When the first chords were struck on December 2, 2005, the considerable fears of the passionate organist Lotov evaporated. The organ could be enjoyed at the cathedral’s 100th-anniversary celebrations 16 days later. In February 2006, the Reinhard Hüfken firm of Halberstadt, Germany completed its restauration. The pastor calls the results “the fruits of a 12-year-long struggle”.
A much more impressive event is still in the offing: the restauration and backdating of the Moscow cathedral and Bishop’s seat to its original glory. The church just east of Red Square was returned to the Lutherans in 1993. Original plans had foreseen that the additional floor cutting the sanctuary vertically into two would remain; worship services would only be celebrated on the 2nd floor. But in 2004, unexpectedly high funding arrived from Russian government quarters on the condition that the church sanctuary be returned to its original state. A number of church representatives were less than thrilled – but this had been Pastor Lotov’s goal all along.
Retention of the original and continuity are where it’s at for Dimitri Lotov. He’s especially delighted that two women who belonged to the church prior to its forced closure in 1938 are still members. In old churches he feels himself “like a fish in water”. Even the tiny living quarters of his four-member family feature a neo-Gothic altar. He celebrates the liturgy as it was done under the Czar 100 years ago. In Leipzig’s famous Thomaskirche he was startled to discover that its organ was Sauer in name only. The organ has been made over technically and acoustically. “That’s no longer the original sound,” he laments. “The instrument no longer harbors the aroma of the 19th century.” Moscow is a different story.
The elevated pulpit attached to a column is slated to return to St. Peter-and-Paul. The 40-year-old Pastor attributes the demise of such pulpits to “Western stupidity” and an incorrect understanding of democracy. Yet the roofed pulpit in front and the organ up back were central parts of the original acoustic and visual concept.
Lotov’s tastes can stomache small changes, but a neo-Gothic church must remain neo-Gothic. A mixture of styles (he notes the Marienkirche in Lübeck, Germany) is unacceptable. He hopes the Moscow cathedral will become the showpiece of Russian Lutheranism. He believes that none of St. Petersburg’s numerous Lutheran churches are being restored with similar attention to detail. “Moscow is the heart of Russia,” the Pastor concludes. “Many people will form their opinion of Russian Lutheranism on the basis of this church. That’s why she needs to be the most beautiful evangelical church in all of Russia! Russian church tradition is over a millenium old. Russians believe that only sects would hold their church services in a school. Only those meeting in historic buildings can hope to be regarded as churches.”
The final dedication is scheduled for 2006, but Lotov is no stickler for dates. The quality of results matter more to him than the moment of completion. Now the church’s restoration is estimated to cost nearly seven million Euros more than the original three million. But the pastor is not fazed by the task at hand.
Why is Dimitri Lotov so emphatic about neo-Gothic art and high-church liturgy? As the 13-year-old offspring of an atheistic Moscow family, he had been floored by the neo-Gothic grandeur of Riga, Latvia’s never-closed Old-St. Gertrude-Church. Today he is convinced that every detail in the church building and liturgy must fit, the service needing to be performed with meticulous precision. When liturgy and the surroundings form an impressive whole, they create an ambience in which heaven and earth meet. Not only the sermon is important – the total experience is of greater significance. That’s how he as a kid visiting Latvia found the path to Christian faith. He is convinced that others will have a similar experience. The concerts planned for St. Peter-and-Paul will be no cheap entertainment – they will instead help create Christian faith.
The St. Peter-and-Paul church is a part of ELCER, the Evangelical-Lutheran Church – European Russia”. The ELCER for its part belongs to the St. Petersburg-based ELCROS (Evang.-Lutheran Church in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Central Asia). The ELCROS represents roughly 40,000 Lutherans in 300 congregations. Lotov’s partner and pastor of the German-speaking congregation at St. Peter-and-Paul is Gottfried Spieth. Bishop of the ELKER is the Russian-born German Siegfried Springer.
Dr. William Yoder
Moscow, 26 June 2006
Article created in
cooperation with ELCER and freely offered for publication, 868 words.
Note from June 2021: In Fall 2010, Dimitri Lotov broke with the “Evangelical Lutheran Church-European Russia” and left the St. Peter-and-Paul cathedral while taking the majority of the congregation with him. In May 2015, his congregation joined the St. Petersburg-based “Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia” (ELCIR). They are currently holding services in a rented dance studio in Moscow. Note for ex. our press releases from 4 November 2012 and 3 April 2016.