greek easter, russian easter

TWO CHURCHES to attend, one near the river, the other deep in Karlova. I used to pass the Karlova church, Püha Aleksandri, a long time ago, when we had a little office over on Alevi Street nearby. It has I don’t know how many onion domes and looms out of the Earth, big and white and vaguely Greek-looking like a dream or a phantom ship.

This is the church of Constantinople. I recognize the chairs inside. In the Russian churches, they do not have chairs, and it is standing room only. The Estonian Orthodox churches seem quiet and a bit forlorn, and yet they give one room to breathe, to think. I mainly go to church to think, though it does bother me how much I think about sex in church.

But doesn’t everybody? Hey, who’s that guy in the shirt? That girl in the headscarf?

I think about other things too, the long litany of drug overdoses and terminal diseases, the sirens and the accidents, to quote an old singer from LA named Arthur Lee. Colorful headscarves, devout peacocks. I like to hear the women sing, even in Old Slavonic. It gives me goosebumps. I know each and every person with head covered sings not out of obligation, but because they have probably lived through something awful. You have to live through something awful before you wind up in such a place singing. And yet there is joy in their eyes. They sing joyously. They know something. Have learned something. Have come to an arrangement with the man upstairs.

The bearded priests in the Estonian church look alert and interested but a bit lonesome. In the Russian church, the priests are more like rock stars swinging caches of incense, “Christ is risen!” “He has risen indeed!” “Christ has risen!” “He has indeed!” Then the procession around the church, the one by the river, Püha Jüri, also known as Püha Georgi, for this is Moscow’s church, and perhaps that is why it is more ornate, more gold and glimmering, more Russian. The people are Russian, of that stocky, assertive build. They hold candles and speak to each other, huddle together before the staffs of the clergy, who lord over them like triumphant knights. There is a pleasing cadence to their prayers, a repetitive lift at the end, but I cannot understand them. This is all foreign to me and I am a foreigner, but that is fine.

You must at some point in your life stop worrying about why things are so, and why you are in a Russian church at Greek Easter, and just huddle beside someone who is holding a candle. The Russian church has an icon shop and candles are on sale too. I had no change for a candle and I didn’t want to steal somebody else’s lit prayers, so I went and walked around the church without light in my hands. That was okay though. It was all okay and it is all going to be okay. Such was my midnight Easter revelation.

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