On Maundy Thursday in the States, I would eat a Passover dinner of lamb, bitter herbs, nuts and dried fruit, grape juice, matzo, parsley and salt water with my church as my pastor explained the dual significance of each element (Old Testament and New). Then we would wash each other’s feet as a symbol of servanthood. In Turkmenistan, I managed to eat a Passover dinner of lamb shashlik and fries (which I pretended were matzo, God forgive me), nuts and raisins and grape juice. There was no ceremony since it was just me celebrating. I thought about asking my site mate if I could wash her feet but decided she would just think it was too weird.
In the States on Good Friday, I would go to the unity service, one of two services a year where all the churches in the city join together in one service despite denominational differences as a symbol of ecumenism and, well, unity. Here, I didn’t do anything except post Happy Good Friday on Facebook.
This is what Easter back home looks like: We get up early for a sunrise service, usually done in a cemetery, then we go to the church for breakfast, Sunday school and morning service. When we get home, we dig into our Easter baskets and have pizza for lunch along with malted eggs, chocolate eggs, jelly beans, etc. At some point during the week, we had dyed eggs and spend the next week eating deviled eggs, egg salad sandwiches and plain hard boiled eggs.
Here I went to the Russian Orthodox midnight mass. The service started at 11 and I’m grateful to my fellow volunteer, Casey, (who studied Russian and lived in Russia for a bit) for telling me what to expect. At first, the service was much like what I experienced when I went to the Orthodox church in Romania. People came and went, lighting candles and kissing icons. There was a woman who chanted, alternating with a women’s choir. This went on for some time and at first it was difficult for me because the ceremony is so different from what I know and, of course, I don’t understand the language. But the inside of the church is painted with murals in Byzantine style depicting the life of Jesus and saints. Eventually as I stayed at the back and no one eyed me askance for not crossing myself when everyone else did, I could pray. It was the most focused my prayers have been here.
Then the priest came out and sprinkled his censer. Then he picked up a board hung with cloth to resemble a coffin and carried it to the back room. Jesus was depicted on it and it was obviously a symbol of his death and burial. All the electric lights were turned off at this time, again, a symbol of death. There was more chanting and singing. Then altar boys lined up with banners depicting Mary and Jesus. Then a bell tolled. I lost count of how many times it tolled, but every time it did, the Russians crossed themselves. Then the lights came on and the priest came out of the back room and a procession left the church and walked around the building while the church bells chimed. The sound of the bells was so beautiful and I wish I could have videotaped it. When we had walked around the church once, the priest stopped on the front steps and said “Christ is risen” and the congregation replied “He is risen indeed.” I know this because Casey told me they would say this in Russian. So I replied “He is risen indeed” in English in the sea of Russian speakers. It felt really good. The Spirit is present regardless of language of denomination.
For Easter day, I’m enjoying a super size Snickers now that Lent is over and I’m decorating eggs, even if it is just with markers. (I found really cool egg wrappers here, but they’re too cool to use. I’m going to scrapbook them I think.) And I’m thanking God that I have people back home who are thinking of me and praying for me while I’m here.