After last year’s incident with a misunderstood alarm clock I felt like I had missed a large dose of my village’s culture. This year the stars aligned and they guided me to the church for the Easter service and saw the traditions that I missed the last time around. I can happily say that I have seen the Russian Orthodox Easter celebration, I do not regret the decision at all but I safely can say I will not be doing that again unless there is some sort of bribe involved or someone is threatening to eat my first-born child. It is not that I have anything against the church but aside from a few interesting minutes and the observation of ‘punishment’ upon the most ardent of believers it was rather taxing and very hard to stand through.
When I say ‘punishment’ I do not mean that church itself is subjecting its believers to Inquisition-esque torture yet they do mean business when it comes to respecting and venerating God (after all every joke has a dose of truth in it right?). The service I attended lasted 6 hours and was accompanied by another hour of standing outside of the church waiting for the Father to bless the people’s premade traditional Jesus-has-risen foods (colored eggs and sweet bread) by throwing holy on their faces and their food. If you do the simple math that is 7 hours which might not be horrible if not for the fact that you are to stand in place practically the entire time—I sat once during the process for a total of 2 minutes—I was more sore from church the day after than I have been from most sports I have played in my life. The standing also has to be of a certain variety: There is no putting your hands in your pockets, which I found out after a half an hour of getting mean-mugged by a local. He approached me and said that it was a sin to have my hands in my pockets, I curtsied (in a manly apologetic way) and promptly crossed my arms which also was rebuffed shortly thereafter as sin #2. I countered with the hands behind the back—sin #3—you would think I would have seen that one coming. Another show of respect to God/Jesus/Holy Ghost is the sign of the cross which took place almost every 20 seconds with a subsequent reverential bow.
For me personally I saw this as a test of patience and willpower more so than spiritual gratification. I need to be honest here I may have barely passed the standing test but I failed the patience test by going through peaks and valleys of anger and impatience at the little things. Call me a product of a modern ADHD society, I would and do.
The veneration of God is something I feel is respectable here. I know that the paraphrased Protestant church mantra is simple is better and closer to God, although I can understand the alternative everything-of-gold approach that is the tack of the Orthodox church. If there truly is a God up there/down there/over there then why don’t we respect him/her/it with the best of the best. Although if God/history has taught us anything it is that materialism can dilute the soul/moral rectitude of a society faster than the forces of simplicity and austerity can rebuild them—tough choice. If you listened to the preponderance of religions in the world you would think that life is one big A-Z multiple-choice question with catastrophic consequences.
After the service a few people asked me what religion I practice in America and why I didn’t cross myself during the service. To the first question I usually answer that my parents are Lutherans and that people usually stop after that or ask what the difference between our services are. I usually just say we get to sit. That truthful joke usually gets a laugh and a dose of envy. If I was in the business of saving souls I probably would have a shortened service and one where people could sit and not dread Sundays as another day of work. I think that may be a big reason why the major majority of people at the Easter service were much closer to death’s door than the minority. If you worked 8-10 hours six days a week like a lot of people do here, do you think you would have the willpower to endure a 4-5 hour service every Sunday.
If there was a broad-stroke generalization that I could make about the Orthodox religion versus Lutheranism (the religion I grew up with). It would be that Orthodox’s focus is on respecting and worshiping God for exactly what He is—GOD—take it or leave it God and Lutheranism (Protestantism) places understanding and fitting Jesus into your life as paramount, surely after hearing or reading enough of the bible you will find a phrase or 10 that speak to you. In this way people come to find Jesus.
I love to flirt with sacrilegious-ness (maybe that was why I wrote this post) I find that to be a strong part of my life—both in a sincerely interested and humorous way. Growing up religious made part of me who I am today, scraping that religion and the spirituality in my teenage years developed another part and perhaps now I can safely say that I have no problem with the spirituality aspect of it—an amalgamation for me, if you will, of doubt and respect. I don’t think I could ever develop a belief in one single religion that idea seems absolutely preposterous, but maybe one day I will name one of the ideas in my head God. Probably not for awhile though.