Sunday, April 19, 2009

"The Great Day" (at Night)

When I wished someone Happy Easter on Friday, and asked what it was in Russian or Ukrainian, they looked a bit puzzled, but decided that the correct response was something like, "The Great Day!" In the US, Easter has not only a religious connotation, but for many, it's primarily a time of Easter bunnies and jelly beans. Here, it's, in general, a more serious holiday--spiritual but also tied to the spring and rebirth.

Last night, we went to Pechersk Lavra at about 1:30 AM to see a part of the Easter service. The Lavra was founded as a caves monastery in 1015 and is a World Heritage Site. I've been inside the Lavra territory often, as a number of museums are located there, but attending the Easter mass was entirely a different experience.

As we walked over in the dark, we passed people carrying willow Easter baskets, filled with food and covered with an special embroidered cloth. There was both a sense of excitement and a sense of quiet.

We enter the Lavra and suddenly the cathedral is lit up in front of us and we join thousands of Ukrainians in craning our necks to see the priests dressed in glittering red vestments in front of the cathedral. Songs and chants soar through the night over the newly blossoming cherry trees. It's dark, but the churches and bell tower, along with the stage are brilliantly lit. The crowd is informal, but faithful and attentive. As we observe lots of security, a hum runs through the crowd as Victor Yuschenko, President of Ukraine, emerges to take his place near the stage and the crowd waits with their baskets, which will be blessed at the end of the service.

As it's breezy and cold, we don't stay for the entire service, but head back. As I fall asleep, I hear the peal of church bells ringing out through the city. A lasting memory as my time here begins to draw to a close.

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