After Joseph Stalin shut the doors in 1929, this impressive stone cathedral stood silent for many decades. The midnight Pascha service, commemorating Christ's Resurrection from the dead, ceased to be celebrated here for 90 years.
In April 2019, two Russian priests and one American priest served the Pascha liturgy here, with about a hundred local Christians in attendance. The Gospel was read in both ancient Russian (Slavonic) and English.
According to the famous Primary Chronicle, it is one of the most ancient cities in all Russia, founded in the year 862. It is known for having the most beautiful Kremlin of all the cities in the Golden Ring.
The majestic Dormition Cathedral (a.k.a. Assumption Cathedral) is the tallest building in this historic Russian town. This architectural wonder was built in 1512, during the time when Martin Luther was still a Catholic monk in Germany. For more than four centuries, this cathedral was the center of Orthodox Christian worship in Rostov, until Joseph Stalin shut it down in 1929.
On April 28, 2019, three Orthodox priests celebrated the midnight Pascha liturgy at the cathedral for the first time in 90 years. Two of the priests are native Russians, one priest is from America, and approximately one hundred local Christian believers were in attendance, giving thanks for the Son of God's Resurrection from the dead.
Fr. Roman Krupnov served as the head priest for the paschal liturgy, leading the celebration. He is dean over all churches in the Rostov region, and is recognized as an Archpriest with over 20 years of distinguished service.
He and his wife Irina have eight children, and they live just east of Rostov, not far from Lake Nero. He oversees a nonprofit fund which rebuilds Orthodox churches in the Rostov area. He also leads the Russian Harvest organization, seeking to restore Christian community life to the rural countryside near Rostov.
Serving as the second priest, Fr. Dorofey was a guest from the local Spaso-Yakolevsky monastery. Of the five monasteries in Rostov, this is one of the most ancient, dating back to 1389.
In the late 1600s, the Spaso-Yakolevsky Monastery had been home to St. Dimitri of Rostov, one of the best known Christian saints from Russia. By the time St. Dimitri came to Rostov, the famous Dormition Cathedral had already been standing for over 150 years. It is likely that St. Dimitri himself served the midnight Pascha liturgy many times in this very cathedral.
Serving as the third priest, Fr. Joseph Gleason contributed an international flavor to the local festivities. In addition to censing the altar and chanting in ancient Russian (Slavonic), he also read from the Gospel of John in English. Quite possibly, this was the first time the English language had been used in a church service here, in the cathedral's 500 year history.
Fr. Joseph has been a member of the Orthodox clergy for over six years, and a priest for more than four. In January 2017, he and his family left America and permanently moved to Russia, even though they are of German and English descent, and have no Russian ancestry. A recent video documentary provides an inside look at their life in Rostov. Father Joseph is also the senior editor of the Russian Faith website.
Fr. Joseph's entire family took part in the historic paschal service. Two of his sons participated as altar servers, two of his daughters chanted in the choir, and his wife and remaining children joined the congregation. By all accounts, it was a joyous family affair.
Fr. Roman's children and grandchildren also served in the altar and participated in the congregation. In the middle of the night, for this historic midnight service, numerous local Christian fathers brought their wives and children to celebrate the Resurrection of the Son of God.
It is estimated that approximately one hundred local Christians took part in the celebration. This is in addition to the hundreds of Christians who attended similar midnight services occurring simultaneously at numerous other churches in Rostov.
With five local monasteries and about a dozen Orthodox churches in town, the residents of Rostov had a rich selection of locations for worship. Some chose a church that was closest to home, some selected churches which were newest or most beautiful, and for others, being a part of this historic moment at the Dormition Cathedral was an opportunity they didn't want to miss.
Fr. Roman preached the traditional Paschal Sermon by St. John Chrysostom, read the Gospel in ancient Russian (Slavonic), and gave Holy Communion to the faithful believers who were present.
Fr. Joseph read the Gospel in English, assisted with chanting in Slavonic, and closed the service by leading the congregation in venerating the Cross.
For those curious to know more about this ancient city and historic church, this is an excellent video about Rostov the Great, including impressive aerial footage of the Rostov Kremlin and Dormition Cathedral: