Monday, January 02, 2012

My Siberian Adventure - Day 23, July 19, 2011

Begin: Chelyabinsk
Drive to: Yekaterinburg
Drive to: Polevskoya
Drive to: Yekaterinburg

I woke up a little on the late side and took a shower.  I was beginning to think that there was no hot water - but my patience was rewarded.

Dan, Alexy, and I enjoy a very nice buffet breakfast in the Green Restaurant downstairs - which is included.  This breakfast is like Russian supper - with sausage, chicken, and pasta - along with more typical breakfast foods like boiled eggs.  There are also the traditional drinks - water and fruit juices.  One berry drink is translated as "hip drink."  Father Alexey doesn't know why.  The music is a little odd, quite loud, a sort-of disco or fitness club version of Indian or Middle Eastern music.  I actually dig it.  We check out of the hotel and meet Father Sergey.  I'm armed with bottled water that Alexey purchased for me.  Russians drink a lot of bottled water.  This one is sparkling ("living.").

We drive to a drab factory building where Dan's wife's company has a branch office.  He hopes to get inside for a picture, but security won't let us in.  We wait in a cramped reception area.  A manager with whom Father Daniel has corresponded comes down and apologetically gives Dan some brochures to take home.

We hit the road which is terribly bumpy, posing for pictures at the sign indicating that we have just left Chelyabinsk.  The terrain between Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg is wide open with bright yellow fields.  There are birch forests in the distance.

We arrive at the church flat, drop off our things, and eat lunch at the food court - at Blinoff, a pancake (blini) place.  It's outstanding!  I had a pancake with "old Russian meat" - which is a spiced beef - as well as a cherry pancake with a sweet condensed milk sauce.  I also had a soulanka, a roll, and a coffee (which was not instant!).  The pancakes are actually crepes.  They are made on the spot on two large griddles.

After lunch, we head off the to the Orthodox diocesan store for my last opportunity to buy icons for souvenirs.

Father Sergey drives us to the archbishop's residence - which is opulent.  There is an army of Mercedes and Lexus cars.  We see bearded and cassocked clergy surrounded by secret-service-type bodyguards with sunglasses and earpieces.  It was rather surreal - quite a contrast to our own bishop with his Toyota.  A lot of people have apparently been turned off to Christianity in Russia because of the financial dealings of some of the Orthodox churches.

After parking, we walk into the store and start shopping for icons.  Of all of our icon-buying trips, I have been unsuccessful in finding an icon of St. Raphael the archangel to bring back to Grace.  Even now I can't find one - until I visited the very last room and looked at the very last icon!  I see a small icon of an angel.  The Cyrillic letters are hard to read, but I sound it out and it comes out like "Raphael" to me.  I point to the icon to buy it, and the lady says: "Raphael."  Very cool!

Father Daniel and I pick up some icons and Father Alexey buys a stack of books.

Afterwards, we head back to the church flat for a quick change of clothes.  We all get into our clericals as we are headed to the local ELKRAS congregation for a visit.  This is Father Dennis's congregation, the pastor I offended regarding women's "ordination."  His predecessor was a woman who was there for three years.

Father Sergey drives.  He has been playing an interesting and eclectic mix of very good pop music in the car: soundtracks from House, MD, an album called Dead Man's Bones, a collection of Christmas tunes by Annie Lenox, some blues, and Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms album.  Father Sergey is a Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler fan.  Dan asks about Dire Straits and I fill him in on the Brothers in Arms album.  Sergey listens in with amusement.

The ELKRAS parish is located in Polevskoya.  The congregation meets in a rented room in an office complex.  We are greeted warmly by the pastor, who is young and speaks some English and German in addition to Russian.  The congregation is nearly all older women.  There are two younger women and one young man and one old man in the congregation.

Fathers Sergey, Daniel, Alexey, and I sit in the front row behind the small keyboard.  Father Alexey translates as Father Dennis explains that we will sing a couple hymns, have a prayer, and then we (the guests) will speak.

The service book has many short hymns.  They are essentially "praise songs" of a Taize character.  We sing one such song, singing the Russian part three times, a Latin translation twice, and then repeating the Russian again.  The next song we only sing n Russian.  Dennis led the singing and played the electronic organ.

There is a small but dignified altar set up for communion with a Bible situated in the middle.  There is also a small, dignified pulpit.  Both altar and pulpit are adorned by a pair of flickering candles.

There is a small icon of Christ on the wall, under which are three western depictions of our Lord.  There is a little table underneath with a candle, an open Bible, and a crucifix.  On the Bible is an Orthodox rosary.

After a short prayer, Father Dennis introduces us.  I spoke about our congregation back home, about New Orleans, and about my family.  Father Daniel does the same regarding his family and parish.  I related the story of how Grace had once told me that she would live anywhere but New Orleans which everyone found amusing.  I also told them how Grace was the daughter of a nun and the wife of a priest who was given a most appropriate name for a Lutheran pastor's wife.

Afterwards, a lady asked about Hurricane Katrina.  I took her e-mail and will send her links to pictures.

Dan also spoke about the catechism and the sacraments.  I spoke about the heroic nature of Russian Lutheranism and implored them not to take their freedom for granted as, unfortunately, many Americans do.  Sergey and Alexey also give brief addresses.

The congregation was very hospitable and treated us to tea and dessert pastries afterward.  They gave us a box of them to take with us.  I offered to take some home to my family, but they warned against it - as they were home-made with sour cream.  So I took a picture instead.

We drove back to the church flat in Yekaterinburg and reflected on what a tragedy women's "ordination" is.  These are nice people who have been led astray - including women in their eighties who had never seen such things in he churches of their youth.

We arrive at the flat and say our goodbyes to Father Alexey.  He is flying back to Novosibirsk, having found a flight for the same price as the train would cost.  Father Sergey will be by at 5:20 am tomorrow morning to bring us to the airport.

Dan and I change clothes.  I check e-mail and have an IM session with Grace.  I send my dad a SnapYap message.  Dan and I head back for one final visit to the beer tent.  First, we decide to walk around the mall.  Unfortunately, it is in the process of closing.  But we take a short walk and snap a few pictures.

We drop into the beer garden to find our familiar waiter working.  He knows just what beers to bring us.  I decide to eat, and so does Dan.  I order mante (steamed dumplings) and a plav (rice and meat).  The portions are pretty good-sized, and the price is reasonable.  Dan also orders a plav, and along with the beers and a generous tip, the total is 600 rubles - about $20.

Our waiter takes our picture.  We explain that we are flying back to America tomorrow.  Actually, Dan explains in Russian accompanied by hand gestures.

We head back to the flat to pack.  I decide to shower then rather than waiting until 4:30 am.  I am excited to be going home, as I am missing my wife and son terribly!  It is hard to fall asleep as my mind races.

Here is a link to all of my pictures from Day Twenty-Three.


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