Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Resurrection, Renewal and Hope

ХРИСТОС ВОСКРЕС! ВО ИСТИНОУ ВОСКРЕС! Christus ist auferstanden, Christus ist wahrhaftig auferstanden! Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed! Just as this message was joyfully spread from disciple to disciple on that first Easter morning, so the good news continues to reverberate around the world. Here, Easter is the highpoint of the church year. Interestingly, this year, for the first time in 500 years, Orthodox Easter coincides with the Western calendar. Orthodox believers spend the Saturday before Easter in thoughtful reverie - no work is done and it is said that on this day even the birds stop building their nests.

Sunday morning just after midnight we attended the Orthodox service. As we stood shoulder to shoulder with local townspeople, we tried to enter into the spirit of worship with its unfamiliar liturgy. Candles, incense, icons, vestments and banners engaged our senses as well as the chanting and singing. At a certain juncture we joined the flow as all processed around the exterior of the cathedral. We were told that this occurs three times during the course of the four-hour service - perhaps paying tribute to the triune God. Since our church had scheduled a 7 a.m. breakfast service, we left to catch a few winks before heading to Kutuzovka. There we were greeted again and again with the above joyful message, culminating in "Alleluya". Despite lack of sleep we felt refreshed in our inner being.

Spring - a season of renewal and regeneration. We look around us and see the earth reawakening. Birds are building their nests. Apricot trees are in bloom everywhere. People are hoping for a good crop - late spring frosts did a lot of damage the last two years. Tree trunks and walkway edges have been newly whitewashed. Everywhere, people are out in their "kitchen gardens", which are kept meticulously weedfree. For many in our town, these are the means of survival. Enough potatoes, carrots, cabbages, onions are produced and stored in their root cellars to see them through the year. The month of August is spent canning - delicious combinations of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant and onion mixes. We've been the fortunate recipients of many a jarful. That, and several laying hens, plus the means to buy bread, keep these people alive.

We were privileged to deliver Easter food hampers to several families with disabled children. One case was particularly heartrending - a 17 year old boy suffering from cerebral palsy, bedridden, legs horribly twisted, parents alcoholic, living in abject poverty. Mennonite Centre has started a support group for parents of disabled children; other than internat care there is little state support for these families. What hope can we bring? There seems so little we can do. Poverty feeds resignation which is so often drowned with alcohol.

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