Friday, April 06, 2007

A Romanian Orthodox Good Friday

We didn't make it to Kew; J had to work til 2pm. I went and looked at my old haunts on the Southbank. We are going to Kew tomorrow to see the flowering magnolias, my favourite tree, and make a whole day of it.

Instead, we went and ate mezze in Tas, a Turkish restaurant , by the Southbank, in a flower-filled courtyard, near where I used to work. Helim, shrimp, feta, olives, whitebait and salad dressed with pomegranate juice, with a bottle of cold dry pink wine and a jug of water. It was a small holiday for us, in the warm sunshine. We talked about the wedding, and got excited. Not long now.

J had to go back into the office after lunch and quickly finish off the deal - the American lawyers on the other side are not having a bank holiday today, so it had to be done. Waiting for J, I wandered down Fleet St, sun on my bare arms, all the shops and offices closed, heat rising off the pavestones. It was almost too warm in my winter boots.

On an impulse, I went into a church on the corner of Fetter Lane and Fleet St, St Dunstan in the West. It is an English Victorian church, but it hosts Romanian Orthodox services as well as Anglican services. The cool air carried a faint drift of incense. The Good Friday Service had just finished and the Anglican congregation were leaving for tea and hot cross buns in the courtyard outside.

The church was dim after the bright sunlit streets. To the left of the altar were several large icons, still faces with wise eyes, and a bank of flickering tapers in a sand-filled trough. The candles were grouped and marked 'For the Living' and 'For the Dead'. A few young men in jeans or tracksuits sat quietly in pews, gazing up at the stained glass behind the altar where sunlight streamed in and coloured the stone. There was an immense sense of peace.

I lit two slim candles, and said a prayer for peace and the relief of suffering. Then I placed a third candle in front of the icon of Mary, holding a small Jesus in her arms. The baby had the sad face of an old man. I said the Latin prayer, Ave Maria, kneeling by the red roses placed at the Lady's feet, because it felt like the right thing to do. I have not said that prayer for about ten years, but I remembered it all like the words of a song. Afterwards, I felt very calm.

I walked out, because I needed to make a call, and then came back in again. Some men were carefully moving the icons so they stood in front of the altar. A bearded priest came out of the sacristy, leaving the door open, inside I saw there was a golden blaze of icons, covering the entire wall from floor to ceiling.

Afterwards, I sat and watched, as men and women began to stream in, waiting to light their tapers and cross themselves, twice, then walk to the altar and kiss the icons. The priest stood by the altar and lifted his - I'm not sure of the word - a sort of embroidered tabard, like a bib, worn over his black cassock - and a man knelt and began to speak quickly, in Romanian, as the priest laid the tabard over the man's head, covering him from view. The men and women near him leaned forward, listening. I do not know if he prayed, or confessed.

As I left, more and more men and women and children were waiting to come in, many of the older women all in black with headscarves, and the younger women in jeans, with henna-ed hair and eyes ringed with kohl. Most of them carried flowers, which they laid before the icons. Small children were lifted up so they could kiss the icons too. Nobody spoke.

It was unexpectedly moving, watching someone else's Easter preparations and taking part in rituals different to those I grew up with, but still old and familiar. And it was good to have a moment of quiet reflection. I don't stand still often enough, and as I get older, I notice that the spirit needs silence sometimes as the body needs cool water.

Sometimes, when you don't expect it, you find grace and peace when you wander away from your usual path. I am looking forward to our day out to see the flowers tomorrow.


Anonymous Helen G said...

Thank you for this and the previous post.

April 06, 2007 8:34 pm  
Blogger ChrisJ said...

I have been reading your blog for several weeks now and very much enjoy your writing. I was of course greatly moved by your blogs from July 7. Today's blog was beautiful and I'm so glad you found the sense of peace there. I'm an evangelical (how politically incorrect!), but please don't cut me off. I am also a human being who thinks and feels as you do and has the same strengths and weaknesses (many of them!. After I read your post today my overwhelming thoughts were, for one who has been so close to death, if only you could have done and felt all you did today and ascribed it all to Jesus. I know this is exclusionary, and I honestly don't want to offend you, but He said "I am the way." I won't preach at you again, I promise! We can agree to disagree.
Chris J ```````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````

April 06, 2007 10:25 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Happy Easter Chris and Helen. I do like religious celebrations, and am very interested in religions and theology
was brought up Cof E but I don't ascribe my survival to Jesus. I had no sense of Jesus being involved during any of the bad times in my life, none at all. Jesus never even crossed my mind, and I have never prayed to Jesus. Maybe Mary, as a manifestation of the sacred feminine, God in general, Jesus, nope. I am a great admirer of the man, but I do not see Jesus as divine. A great teacher, yes, inspired, yes, still around, no.

I am not a member of any church or congregation anymore. I just thought I'd write about Easter rituals as it's the weekend, and it's a subject I find interesting.

I hope that hasn't upset anyone but I do try and be honest on this blog.

April 07, 2007 4:21 pm  
Blogger ChrisJ said...

Not upset at all. Just glad to read your blog.Your choice not to hold resentment, seek revenge or become bitter Great strength.
ChrisJmeans you overcame evil with good.

April 09, 2007 1:05 am  

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