Dear friends and visitors,
I’m very happy that you have found and chosen to visit my website. I do hope that you will enjoy it and perhaps some of you will even join me on one of my tours!
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ilya Gotlinsky and I am a priest of the Orthodox Church in America. I am a graduate of St. Petersburg Theological Seminary in Russia and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York. Currently I am rector of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church in Binghamton, NY. Our Lord has been very good to me and I have been blessed to visit many different countries and meet some wonderful people. These very personal experiences are no doubt what has encouraged me in my desire to share what I know and what I have seen with you.
At the beginning of my priesthood I never thought of promoting travel or organizing tours, but a request from my parishioners to take them to the Russia that I know so well and love so much caused me to consider what I could offer. Personally I had never favored group travel and was not sure what I could offer that would be different from the many companies who were already doing it. But then I decided to organize a trip in the best way I knew, one that would satisfy me personally and would be rewarding and enjoyable for my personal friends.
When you are passionate about something that moves you, you want “to do it all”, despite having limited time. Therefore I replaced the endless free time of general tours with visits to less famous, but yet very special, smaller sites. According to the participants on my first pilgrimage, these places became some of the most memorable experiences they had on the trip. This first pilgrimage/trip turned out to be a success. Then another tour followed, and yet another one. Destinations other than Russia were added, and time after time, in every place where we went, the tours have been very successful. I tried always to apply the principle of “keep your friends busy”. These tours are not a business, they are “family ventures”.
In addition, and perhaps more importantly, these pilgrimage/trips have addressed the great need of Orthodox Christians who live so far from the original centers of Orthodoxy to be exposed to the forms and traditions that they try to maintain surrounded by a non-Orthodox environment. It also became apparent that in these days of advanced information technology when the world gets smaller and smaller that Christians of different denominations also desire to learn more about the somewhat foreign, but so curiously attractive tradition of Orthodoxy. It was an even greater pleasure for me to learn that some people, who in our greatly materialistic age are looking for some firm and well-defined forms of spirituality, are willing to look into something very contemporary and yet exotic, which has always been “next door” but yet never attracted much of their attention. I always try to do with my people something that will help them to understand not just the beautiful forms that we see, but also the history and tradition. The complexity in the midst of the rigidity and brightness of traditional Russian Orthodox churches and iconography is impossible to understand without exposure to and some knowledge of Russian history; the grandeur of early Christian basilicas, and I argue, even of later medieval and baroque cathedrals, cannot be realized without seeing the splendor of the monuments of the Roman Empire; understanding the Fathers’ teachings on “walking through the desert” is not complete without seeing the rocks of the Judean Wilderness or the Egyptian sands.
One may argue that real spiritual travel is always a travel of the heart toward the heavenly and not earthly Jerusalem, but I think that I won’t transgress by saying that my vision of a pilgrimage is that of the icon: both are crossroads where heaven meets the earth. Exposure to such places of glory is encouragement, reminder and inspiration of greater things in our everyday life.
So, finally, on the seventh year of my humble venture, with great encouragement from my good friends and colleagues, many of whom have traveled with me, I decided to start a formal website to share my experiences and plans with all. As you will see, we have done many great things already and our plans are even greater. We hope that we will be able to realize them all with your help and participation.
I invite you to explore this website, I invite you to join me in my travels and I invite you to share your impressions, thoughts and dreams. I hope to hear from you and to meet you personally someday soon! May God bless us all, my dear friends, in all of our journeys!
Fr. Ilya Gotlinsky