I finally got to go to church WITH other people……lots of them! But I should start at the beginning. First they fast. It’s a big part of the Easter tradition. Some fast from meat for the entire period of Lent, and others 15 days before Easter. The fast is mostly from meat, but as Easter approaches, the fast includes any animal products including eggs and cheese. During the last few days the fast includes oil, nuts, certain types of breads as well. Apparently there are actual church services (called liturgies) on Thursday, and Friday, but nobody could tell me what time to go and informed me that I wouldn’t understand it anyway. (sigh!) The major event is held on Saturday night.
Another interesting tradition is crawling under the table at church on the days leading up to Easter. Apparently it is symbolic of participating in Christ’s death….but I didn’t know that until after the fact and missed the table trick. It would have been a trick, too because you’re supposed to crawl under the table and come out the other side without disturbing the icons and symbolic pieces that are sitting on top of it. Maybe next year…or maybe NOT!
I happened to have a friend visiting and on Saturday we went to the St. Osogovo Monastery during the day. We saw the table set out in the middle of the Monastery, but neither of us knew we were supposed to crawl under, which in retrospect was probably a very good thing. After looking around the most famous site in my town we walked the ~5km home and (she) took a nap. Then, full of good intent we headed to the Kriva Palanka church at 11:40PM to experience the Macedonian midnight ritual. There were caravans of cars headed for the Monastery, but we wanted to stay in town.
We were prepared to “walk around the church 3 times with a candle”. What we weren’t prepared for was the literal crush of bodies descending upon the town church with candles at the ready, and a surprising representation was the large amount of young people. (Church first then off to the disco!) We determinedly worked our way forward through the throng to accomplish entrance to the church where we could buy candles for 10 Denari (about 5 cents) per candle. We then joined the what seemed to be half the population of Kriva Palanka outside and waited for the ceremony.
The bells started ringing, the Pope (preacher) started chanting and people were just standing around with lit candles. You’re supposed to light your candle from someone of the opposite gender, and everybody was pretty obliging. Now let me just say a word about ‘personal space’. There wasn’t any. I’m talking full-body press in a crowd of people holding candles. I’d been warned to keep my hair away and was grateful it’s rather short. Candy had hers up in a bun and was glad of it. We worked our way to the back of the crowd to light our candles and watch for the time people would start walking around the church. And then I saw it…about half the people were walking close to the church in a counter clockwise orbit, but we seemed to be with the other half just watching. So we worked our way back to the center and joined the walkers. The tradition is that you make a wish for each time around the church and if you successfully complete the trip without your candle blowing out, your wish will come true. After our second time around the crowd moved en-mass down the front walkway and out to the street. So we had joined the walkers too late to make the three circles, but I guess for me 2 will do fine. After all, my dream of serving in the Peace Corps has already come true, my family is healthy, and I feel very blessed indeed.
Christ is risen…..He is risen indeed!
Христос воскресе……Навистина воскресе!