Friday, April 24, 2009

Easter Vigil, Orthodox Style

19 April at midnight, I was standing in the Moscow cold outside a Russian Orthodox Church wishing I had had the foresight to realize I would be standing in the cold for the Easter service. I was wearing my light, spring coat, a calf-length wool skirt, nylons, and yes, high-heels without insulation, and the temperature was below freezing. You would think that a girl who grew up in Idaho would weigh looking fashionable against keeping warm and end up with keeping warm, but you have to keep in mind that it had been around 13 degrees C earlier in the week, and I was crossing my fingers and hoping for spring. Luckily Rachel and I crammed our way into the small church before it started snowing, but I still froze my legs and feet.

Due to the layout of Orthodox churches, they are constructed in the Byzantine style with sections of the church each devoted to a saint and columns obstructing the view of the front of the church, I was unable to see what was going on and because of the cold and overwork was completely exhausted. What I did understand was pretty spectacular. So many people crowded into such a small church, thousands of candles outside the church, a three hour service, incense, and the wish that I had made Rachel brief me on what would happen before I went.

Raised Roman Catholic, I am familiar with tradition, routine, and it all seeming strange to visitors. Regardless, I was still blown away by the amount of repetition and reverence in the Easter Vigil service. The congregation constantly crossed themselves. There was a call and response sounded over and over - in Russian, of course - the priest says, "Christ has Risen" and the response is something like "He has risen indeed." AND people stood for at least 3 hours! Again, I wish I would have known because heels are not the greatest things to stand in for a prolonged period of time. Despite the pain I experienced, perhaps it was my penance, I'm glad I attended the service, if even just for the vast number of people who attended, it was definitely unforgettable.


  1. Sounds unforgettable indeed!
    What an awesome experience to participate in.
    I love reading about your experiences! Thanks for taking the time!

  2. Interesting! Waiting outside so long may be part of the penance, even if it was not the intent. Thanks for sharing your experience. We admire you for making the effort to learn how things are done there. Keep warm till spring. Babu na Bibi

  3. hi Kimberly
    I'm proud of you to stand in high heels and be a church in freezing temperatures. I am glad you are not cheating yourself out of experiences...God loves you and I miss you very much. I am so proud of you!
    mary K