Friday, April 30, 2010

Seen and heard around town

Present at the annual inspection of the local police force was a pair of priests who blessed the squad cars with holy water to "protect" them from accidents...

(See the original here at

Thursday, April 29, 2010


"Dear God, please meddle in our affairs."

Maybe it would have a good outcome, but doesn't it sound a little negative, asking God to do that? Yet I kept hearing my Russian friends voice a similar prayer.

You see, I had been acquainted with the verb when it was used in the context of "Don't meddle in other people's affairs."

It also sounds like the verb for "mix" or "bother." I imagined God getting in there with a big spoon and stirring things up.

read more/-

Of course I knew there had to be another translation, and sure enough, the alternatives "intervene" or "intercede" would make much more sense in this context!

Here's an example from Proverbs with the Russian verb that was confusing me:

Сердце знает горе души своей, и в радость его не вмешается чужой.

In the KJV it says this:

"The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy." -Proverbs 14:10

BUT the NIV is a bit different:

"Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy."

You can see how there could be variation.

From Strong's Concordance:

`arab aw-rab'

a primitive root; to braid, i.e. intermix;
technically, to traffic (as if by barter); also
or give to be security (as a kind of
exchange):--engage, (inter-)meddle
(with), mingle (self), mortgage, occupy,
give pledges, be(-come, put in) surety,

 Of course we wouldn't want to ask God to "meddle" in our affairs, or in other people's! But thinking of Him engaging in our struggles as an active participant, sharing pain and joy with us, interceding on our that is an encouraging concept.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Alone or together?

"Let him who cannot be alone beware of community...let him who is not in community beware of being alone." -Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p.77

I find this to be an interesting pair of statements because we often group people into introverts and extroverts by saying that there are those who like to be around people more, and those who prefer alone time (this is actually not the correct definition, but is commonly believed). They are naturally happy and thrive when in their preferred social zones.

So it is interesting to think that a person who prefers being with people would actually be a hindrance to the community, or that a person who loves solitude would actually be harmed by it.

But I think that Bonhoeffer was not talking about personality here. read more/-

He continues,

"...only as we are within the fellowship can we be alone, and only he that is alone can live in the fellowship." (77)

"One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair." (78)

My thoughts:

Fellowship fruitless without solitude
-One part of this (and one that Bonhoeffer emphasizes) is that our fellowship will be richer when we have spent time alone with God.
-Another part is that God sometimes wants us to be alone for a time so that we may receive a certain lesson before going back to fellowship. He wants us to be isolated for a reason.

Solitude fruitless without fellowship
-If we run to solitude out of anger, disillusionment, fear, etc, we are only running away from the problem. A problem with our brother is a problem that we solve together, not sitting at home in our prayer closet..we have to come out.
-We may find it hard to enter back into fellowship if we stay away too long.
-Being in the fellowship gives us nourishment for when we are to be alone.
-What else could Bonhoeffer mean by this?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Upside down and backwards

Here's a fun fact about Russia.

Take a look at these books. What do you observe (other than a Josh McDowell title that used to be seized by border guards)?

Exhibit A:

Okay, obviously the Cyrillic on the Russian book stands out. But if you will also notice, the title is going the opposite way...from bottom to top, as opposed to top to bottom. This isn't always the case, but it happens often enough that I sometimes mistakenly open Russian books upside down...

It would be interesting enough to leave it at that. But to be fair, I decided to take a wider sample and check out a few Spanish books I have in my collection... continue/-

Exhibit B:

One title goes the "Russian" way, two go the "American" way! Now I don't know what to conclude! Funny, though!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Servant Leadership

Rehoboam was doomed before he even came to the throne (1 Kings 11).

If only he had listened to his father’s advisors, who clearly sought wisdom from the Lord…

They told him, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” (1 Kings 12:7)

This is in contrast to the advice of the younger generation, who said, “Tell these people…my father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier.” (12:10a, 11a)

In the first example, we see the qualities of a leader who wants to please his people; listen to their needs; perhaps even put their needs first, if this can be understood by “serving.”

In the second, we see a leader who rules by force and by fear; control and “order”…but a kind of order that led to rebellion.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


This is a part of my series on pursuing a Temporary Residency Permit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

 In this episode: I officially hand in my application for review

I will write a more informative summary post later, but for now I will just tell about my own experience.

My appointment was on Friday, and I got my final document on Thursday, took it over to be translated, and picked it up on Friday morning.

I was really happy at the prospect of handing everything in, but at the same time I was nervous that I had forgotten something or made a mistake. I knew it would all work out in the end, but I really didn't want to have to go run around fixing something and then have yet another appointment at Immigration. read more/-

The queuing has been different each time I've gone. This time I wasn't sure of my number because I made my appointment over the phone. At 2:00, we were allowed to make our way to the back porch where the security guy was waiting. There were more people than I thought, and we sort of clustered around.

First he started calling people by name....was that how it was going to be?

People were slow to respond.

Now he invited people to give their numbers and started letting them into the building, a few at a time. Wait a minute...

I caught a glance at the sheet of paper and saw that I was at the top of the second page, #24. Interesting that the woman on the phone had said they were "full."

I had heard that the people next to me had a higher number, so the next time the security guy appeared, I squeezed in close.

"I have #24!" I said.

He ignored me and let #31 proceed.

"I'm #24!" I tried again.

He ushered in #28.

Then he finally let me go in.

After a few minutes in the waiting room, it was my turn for the consultation. The attendant started going through my documents.

"Elizabeth, where is the translation of your passport?" she asked. Noooo. This is what I had been afraid of. Did I leave it at home? I looked in my reserve pile and found it. Whew.

She checked and checked, going from one document to another, making sure everything was consistent.

She stared closely at the FBI background check with its apostille. Let her inspect away...I was confident that everything was in order. But there was a slight error. Apparently, the translator had messed up the date... in the U.S. we write month, then date...while the rest of the world writes date, then month.

"I will accept it," she said, "but we may call you and ask you to redo the translation."

She also stared closely at the medical forms, noticing the Jan. 27th date.

"You realize these are only valid for 3 months?" she asked.

"Yes." April 23rd was right on time; April 30th (the next Friday) would have been too late.

She gazed at my various stamps in my passport and visa. Something was missing.

"Do you have a photocopy of the page with these recent stamps?" My Estonia trip. I looked through my papers even though I knew I hadn't done a new round of photocopying since traveling.

"No, I don't." Now what? Would I have to run to a copy place? No, she would make a photocopy herself. Thank goodness.

Then I had to put my signature on everything and fill out a little statement, and that was it.

Before leaving, I filled out a customer satisfaction survey, where I answered favorably except for concerning the queuing (today's confusion), the website (not enough information), and the waiting period (5 months from submission of documents).

Then the secretary called me over and asked me to help her with something. She called another employee to the desk, who asked if I had any tips for finding housing and tickets to New York. :)

So I now am in possession of a stamped piece of paper (see earlier post) from Federal Migration Services stating that I have submitted all my papers for review for the purpose of obtaining a Temporary Residency Permit.

To be continued in the fall...

Friday, April 23, 2010


Today I can breathe a sigh of relief and say a prayer of thanks... I was able to hand in all my documents for my temporary residency permit!

What a difference a day makes

In this episode: Fun with FedEx

I suppose it will be “fun” one day when my grandchildren ask, “Tell us about the time when a volcano almost stopped you from getting Russian residency.”

At least, that’s what I had been telling myself all this week.

My father received my FBI results just before leaving on vacation, and sent it to my brother in DC, who was able to get the apostille and immediately ship it out via FedEx.

That was last Wednesday.

With the help of the package tracker, I was able to see that by Friday the document was already in Frankfurt, and I would have no problem getting it by Monday  or Tuesday, with plenty of time to get the translation and make my appointment on Friday...continue/-

I have to admit, I wasn’t initially concerned about the volcano in Iceland or even about closed airspace. My loved ones were all where they needed to be, and no one was planning to travel through Europe. This is not to say that I felt no sympathy for anyone affected, nor concern for the mess it would cause, but it wasn’t high on my list of Things to Worry Pray About.

But then the name “Frankfurt” rang a bell and I suddenly realized that the situation was of importance to me after all.

My FBI results were in Frankfurt. They needed to get here by plane. No planes were flying.

And so, the vigil began. I alternated between checking the news incessantly and trying to stay away and think of other things.

The “status” of my document changed to “delay beyond our control,” and a few days passed before there were more updates.

T-2 days: By Wednesday there was still no news.
T-1 day: Today I was going to avoid checking the status, but my mother had asked in an email, so I entered the tracking code one more time on the website…

News:  “In Transit.” The location had now been changed to “Sankt Peterburg.” Was it really possible?

I made my roommate call the office because I was too nervous. They said it would be delivered by 3pm, so I canceled my plans for the day and prepared to stay by the door. They had also said it would need my signature. It’s a good thing we inquired, since I had planned to have Zhenya sign for the package if she was going to be home.

-The callbox rang-Courier services!

“Leave a phone number next time so we can get in touch with you,” he said as I signed for my documents. So anti-climactic!

I still had 15 minutes to get ready and be at class on time…

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Making flashcards...

I HOPE this isn't an indication of how the lesson is going to go!

Comic relief

It's been awhile since I've truly felt "stressed." But this week, deadlines, presentations, and various emergencies have given me that tense feeling in my stomach.

On the other hand, now that I'm used to my instructors, I feel much more relaxed with them and my classmates. It reminds me how important it is for students to feel safe in the classroom, especially when learning a foreign language.

My grammar instructor takes an intense approach to teaching, but at the same time her emotional character provides moments of amusement.

Yesterday, for instance, someone in a nearby classroom was speaking rather loudly and boisterously, but not very coherently...

Tatiana's eyes widened.
"Girls,...that person...that intonation!" She teaches Phonetics too, so she listens for these things.

The talking went on. The speaker was presumably Chinese since there are many of them in the department.

"Oh, how I would love to give that student a lesson in intonation!" Her curiosity got the best of her.

"Excuse me for a minute, I just have to take a peek to see who is talking." We sat and snickered, glad for the interruption.

Soon, she was back, hanging her head.

"Oh girls, I'm so ashamed! The person speaking is a Russian instructor!"

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Turning into my mother?

...taking bread out of the oven at 11pm...

....just in time to do dishes and check e-mails before bed!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wading in the kitchen

4:30 am.

Why am I awake? I'm not hungry, thirsty, cold, or hot. Everything is silent. I don't remember any dreams.

I roll over...

WOOSH...or was it CRASH? Something is happening, but I don't know what. Zhenya is out of town, so it's a good thing I invited my friend to stay the night.

Neither of us know what is going on. Did I leave something on in the kitchen? Is there a fire?

I walk towards the kitchen in dread. It's coming from the bathroom, but I'm afraid to open the door.

I open the door and a spray of water hits me in the face like a geyser. I don't even know where the water is coming from, but the neighbors upstairs have "flooded" us twice before, in the middle of the night. It's hitting the walls and ceiling and me, and the floor is already covered. continue/-

I panic, wondering what to do first...rescue everything on the floor, or find the source of the leak? While moving shoes and rugs to safe territory, I send Lida upstairs to tell the neighbors to turn off their water. That should cover it.

She returns, saying that it isn't coming from their apartment.

The water is a few inches deep now. It's in the kitchen, front hallway, and bathroom. At least it's cold, not boiling hot. Should I put on rain boots? Oh, I don't have any. I can just pretend I am wading in a river...

We eventually find an emergency phone number to call. They ask us some questions. I reach into the bathroom wall again and find a place where the water is spouting out. There's a lever, and I turn off the water. Oh. That probably would have been good to do about 20 minutes earlier....

The pipe has a hole in it. This will need to be fixed. For now, it's time to get rid of the water before it starts dripping on the neighbors downstairs.

We grab the buckets and begin collecting the water with the help of containers and a few rags. It's almost like we're small children, playing in the sandbox.

An hour later, everything is just about "dry." The plumber is supposed to come at 9 in the morning, and it's now 6:30.

After getting a few hours of sleep, I get up and go to the store to get a bottle of water and to the ATM for some cash to pay the plumber.

He does the repairs in about 30 minutes, and then life is back to...normal?

Except for the volcano.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

(Russian) rules for life

While waiting for my pupils in the orphanage the other day, I amused myself by looking at the bulletin board set up in that particular group.

Along with birthdays, awards, and other announcements, there was a list of rules displayed prominently in one of the sections.

I found the phrasing of the rules intriguing, as well as the juxtaposition of moral standards with rules meant to preserve order. Of course, the orphanage is a place for academic pursuits as well as a home, so it’s natural that classroom rules and rules relating to family life would be combined.

First, a sample of American classroom rules for comparison (found in a forum here):
1. Raise your hand.
2. Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
3. Walk.
4. Treat people the way that you would like to be treated.
5. Follow directions.

The rules posted in the orphanage: (loosely translated)
1)    Respect yourself and others.
2)    Listen to your elders, for they will not lead you astray.
3)    Help the younger ones, who look to your example.
4)    Wash your hands before meals.
5)    Do not walk around indoors without changing your shoes or while wearing your outdoor coat.
6)    Strive to keep everything tidy.
7)    Don’t linger at school, so as not to worry the adults who are responsible for you.
8)    Be polite towards others.
9)    For safety’s sake, do not run in the hallways.
10)    Don’t wander aimlessly during homework time.
11)    Read books during your free time; it will benefit you in life.
12)    When leaving the grounds of the orphanage, don’t forget to write a notice.

Friday, April 16, 2010

On not taking "no" for an answer

In Russia, you often get a "no" answer, but it doesn't always mean No.

Yesterday after reading Ruth, I kept thinking of the verse where Naomi says, "Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens." (3:18)

Meanwhile, I had to call Immigration to see if they would change my appointment to next Friday, when I'll have my last document. Well, I wasn't going to ask, more like request...or plead...

I called them yesterday and they said to call back today during a specific time window. I would have to call them between class and the orphanage.

After class, I realized that I hadn't taken the phone number with me. Uh-oh. I got in touch with my friend from Canada and she was able to send me the number in a text.

Phone calls are a big deal for me... I feel more comfortable now in Russian, but it is still a big ordeal each time, if it's an important call.

After a few tries, I got through to Immigration and they transferred me to the referent, or "reference desk," which actually means secretary, but referent sounds much more intimidating. continue/-

She asked me to hold on while she directed people to different counters, then I told her I wanted to sign up for next Friday.

"Let's Friday is full..."

Ummmm, no. How was this matter going to turn out? She couldn't see me opening my mouth in protest, but suddenly changed her mind.

"Although...well, fine. What country are you from?"

"The U.S."

"Okay, let's make it next Friday. Last name?"

I gave her my info.

"Okay, next Friday, the 23rd it is."

My apostilled FBI report is now in en route. It should be here by Monday and then I'll have a few days to get it translated before my appointment...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Nature" and the problem of sin

Charlie Allnut: A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it's only human nature.

Rose Sayer: Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.

- The African Queen (1951)
An article over at Boundless (referencing Mohler) tipped me off to something that I hadn't completely come to terms with before.

As Christians, we often condemn a particular sin (often homosexuality) for being unnatural. That is our argument.

"Why is it wrong?"

"Because it's unnatural."
read more/-

By unnatural, perhaps we mean that it isn't a God-given desire. We were created to be attractive to the opposite, not the same, sex. We were made to love one another and not to commit murder. When a gruesome killing occurs, we shiver in's so unnatural. It's perverted.

But this argument is not entirely correct. To say that "non-traditional" sexual and other desires are unnatural is to ignore the Fall of Man.

Unfortunately, since Adam, these urges have become a part of our nature as humans.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. -Gal. 5:19

In fact, one might even say that these urges are God-given....He gave us over to our sins that we might have the freedom to choose which nature to submit to. (Rom. 1:26, 27)

I suppose the challenge is to avoid condoning sinful behavior while realizing that we, as Christians, are the exception, not the rule (according to man). An aversion to sin is something that comes from God, through the Holy Spirit. Although we all feel the pull of both natures, it is only by submitting to the Holy Spirit that we will begin to see another kind of fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. Gal. 5:22-26

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

No arrest record

This is a part of my series on applying for a temporary residency permit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In this episode: The FBI takes its time

Since I couldn’t get my original criminal background apostilled, I had to start a new one back in February, for which I made a little trip to Moscow.

I was optimistic about getting the results back in 4-5 weeks, as I had the first time, but no such luck. I don’t know if the FBI had more requests because of recent policy changes, or if they just weren’t working as quickly, or what. They don’t guarantee a specific turn-around, although I had written URGENT all over the place.

So it was getting down to the wire as my medical test results are only good until April 28th. As you can probably guess, I don’t really want to redo them. That means the last day I can submit my paperwork is April 23rd, since they’re only open on Fridays.

Then I found out that my parents were going on a trip, leaving Sunday (the 11th). If the document came while they were gone, it would be too late to get the apostille and get it to Russia in time... continue/-

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday came and went. Friday would have been the last day to go get an apostille.

It was not looking good for the medical tests. More peeing in a cup…more needles….noooo.

And then I got the “Good News” email on Saturday saying that the background check had COME. Just in time! I had begun to doubt if it was even still in existence.

So my final document is on its way to Washington, D.C. to be apostilled, then will hopefully make its way to me here in time to get a notarized translation before showing up at Immigration next Friday.

No happy ending yet,  but progress…

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

You know it's almost summer in in St. Petersburg when...

Yes, the 8:30 pm sunshine would be a clue. Ahhh, basking in the glory. Well, it's maybe not so glorious from a productivity point of view. So hard to make myself sit down and do something when the sun is shining outside.

What, how did it get to be bedtime already?

Yep, that's one aspect of summer coming.

Another is that the schedules for turning off the hot water have already been posted! I didn't take a photo for fear of freaking out the security guard, but I walked into the building this evening and read that they have already chosen the three weeks during the summer when our building will not have hot water. This is an annual procedure in St. P., done for maintenance purposes.

Good thing we have a hot water heater! Not sure where I will be living in the summer, though...

Monday, April 12, 2010


I've never really been a fan of searching all over town to get that one special ingredient to make an American dish. Especially if it's something Western and expensive. I'd rather use what's more available and cheaper.

However, I do have a grasp of what is sold where, so that I can stop off to get cocoa on my way home from worship practice, for example.

Meanwhile...I have been doing a lot of baking lately, but sometimes I worry about all the white flour. Supposedly it is not great for your health, but giving up bread products is not something I see myself doing anytime soon.

That's why I recently started the search for healthier bread-making ingredients.

Like whole-wheat flour.

Here's the story: click to continue/-

One friend suggested a certain store that would have whole-wheat flour, and mentioned something about online bread-making forums. Hmmm, what juicy bits of information could I dig up in the forums? I found that there are ways to get wholesale ingredients from warehouses, although it's all very casual: you call them up and see what time random people are allowed to come buy things, and they tell you a price and minimum amount you can buy, like 1 kg. And you might have to bring your own bags and bottles.

Well, that sounded a little too informal for me. I wanted an actual store with set prices. There are also some Internet stores set up, but I've never ordered off the Internet before in Russia. Not sure about the reliability.

Then I stumbled across an Indian store claiming to have whole-wheat flour. What especially grabbed me was that it was right across the street from my classes. No further convincing necessary!

After class the next day, I headed over to find "Himalaya," the Indian store. I pictured myself browsing the aisles, smelling the Indian spices, finding an exotic treat or two to bring home.

The store was marked clearly enough, with colorful signs. Right next to a garbage heap.

I walked in, and could barely take more than a few steps since there was a long line at a counter and the store was quite cramped. So much for browsing and poring over all the interesting products (most were behind glass). It did smell nice, though.

For some reason I had pictured an Indian family working there, perhaps a pair of brothers who would speak Russian with an accent and ask me where I was from. Nope, just a soft-spoken, middle-aged Russian woman.

I elbowed (gently) my way up to the counter and asked about whole-wheat flour. They did have it in stock.

"How much do you need?"

"Ummm....a kilogram?"

"It starts at two."

"Okay, let's go with two."

She plopped a plastic bag down on the counter (pictured above) and I plopped down some money, and that was it. My field-trip to "India" had taken about 5 minutes.

Once home, I opened the bag, and peered at it, trying to see if the flour was actually whole-wheat. It did seem to have some speckles in it. I probably wouldn't have known the difference anyway.

I whipped up a batch of flat-bread, (pocketless) pita, lavash, or whatever you want to call it.

Now to find molasses...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Little man

An attempt to make a Sunday school craft...

Since I used ribbon instead of yarn, Zacchaeus was having trouble climbing that tree. I wonder how nimble he was in real life?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My turn

The first time I read about little Justin, my heart was troubled.

You see, for many children, orphaned life starts out this way: being left somewhere with a note or maybe a little backpack with some food, or even nothing at all.

But Justin had already been through all that...he was being abandoned for the second time.

Now that some time has gone by, I've been able to get away from the tragedy of the situation and think more about the logical implications.

Getting help- return to sender?
-How many adoptive families have the thought cross their minds to send the child "back" to where he/she came from? Let's face it, the decision to adopt is life-changing and anyone might find himself wondering whether or not he made a mistake, regardless of whether or not the child (or parent!) develops psychological problems. It is like any human relationship with its ups and downs. read more/-

There are certainly cases where the child should be removed from the home. However, I think the situation should be dealt with by appealing to U.S. social workers, and not to the child's country of origin.

If you are taking a child out of his native country, you are implying that you believe your country has the best environment for him.

-For some reason people are always shocked when children are implicated in violence, but doesn't it make sense that witnessing violence or being a victim could lead to further violent acts on the child's part? I know I would be nervous if someone in my house was setting to fires and threatening to kill family members.

I am not excusing any parents for abusive behavior, but I can understand the feeling of panic and desperation when you just do. not. know. what. to. do. Don't we have some kind of crisis/emergency services for this kind of situation, without having to wait for a court date? Hot-lines? Maybe I've been living out of the country for too long...

-And here is an interesting cultural note. American independence sometimes leads to abuse or missed opportunities because we are afraid to get help. There is a stigma associated with giving up. In Russia there is far more precedence for turning one's child over to professionals for "retraining."  For example, by living in an orphanage, he escapes living with his parents' alcoholism. And there is less precedence for adoption, because there is more caution exercised toward taking on a big responsibility (I'm generalizing here).

-Many are afraid that adoptions of Russian children by Americans will be halted. I can think of quite a few families right now who would be affected, and I hope everything works out for them. However, I wouldn't blame the Russian government for wanting to take disciplinary action. Maybe something in the procedure needs to be revised in order to better protect adoptive families and kids.

Friday, April 9, 2010


I’ll be honest. The bullet-proof vests in the metro make me a tad bit uneasy. I’m not against “security,” per se. They are trained to notice things, act promptly in certain situations, manage crowds…

It just seems ironic that after a series of bombings, a new group of guys in uniforms pops up. Everyone is scared enough, and here is the added security to prove that their fears are not unfounded. Yep, it’s gotten dangerous around here. I suppose that’s the way it always is. I mean, one liquid-aided bomb and now we can’t carry our toothpaste on the plane.

Do I have a reaction to people who look like they might be Islamic militants? Perhaps. I’m not going to deny that certain thoughts cross my mind. But I also have a reaction to migrant workers constantly being pulled over for document checks. They just want to make a living. They are people.

So much of it is psychological. I don’t want my approach to life formed by what I’ve heard on the news. Life is too short for that.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Monday

Easter may be "over," but today we finally enjoyed the Easter bundt kulich (a new invention?). The preparation was about a 12-hour process interrupted by lazy yeast and a trip to the store for missing ingredients.

(5th attempt to get both of us AND the cake in the photo)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A glimpse into Russian Orthodoxy

In class on Friday, one of the teachers poked her head into our room and said that the last class was canceled but that we could attend her church’s Good Friday service. Of course it wasn’t mandatory, but she knew that it was Easter all over the world, and that we might be interested.

I wonder if American college professors would be allowed to invite students to church. I suppose a plus of teaching foreigners is that you can call it a “Cultural”  excursion.

Valentina is an Orthodox believer and sings in her church’s choir. Even though it seems that attendance at Orthodox services is intermittent, they do have ongoing activities as in other Christian congregations, and the liturgy is read only once a day, so people have to be somewhat intentional if they are going to attend.

There is definitely a mystical side to Orthodoxy, but I didn’t find it as intimidating as I had in the past. continue/-

Perhaps it just doesn’t feel quite as “foreign.” I suppose that kind of fear is a social fear; the fear of being ostracized for being an outsider; for not knowing all the customs. The fear of being plunged suddenly into an unfamiliar ritual; of being forced to do something that you’re not comfortable with; of someone turning to stare at you and say “you don’t belong here.”

No, it is something more. There is a spiritual element. Even when you don’t believe in the rituals yourself, when you are aware of everyone in the room praying to/kissing the icons, aware of them searching for the power of something unseen….well, you feel something “in the air."

Anyway, I had worn jeans that day and I had a scarf around my neck that I figured could cover my head if necessary. When we entered the church, I waited for Valentina to cover her head, but she didn’t. So I didn’t.

Then she led us up to a loft/backstage area where we hung our coats and settled on wooden benches (yes, you are allowed to sit during the service, as long as you are ready to give up your seat to someone who might need it). After giving us a copy of the liturgy so we could follow along, she disappeared downstairs to sing.

From up in the loft we could watch everything going on. I did a scan for head-coverings and calculated about half of the women wearing them, including members of the choir. I thought for a moment that it might be related to hairstyle (loose or pulled back), but there was a woman in the choir with long hair, loose like mine. And no head covering. So I didn’t bother.

We were joined in the loft by some families with infants who could nurse the babies and listen to the service at the same time.

We worked through the text, chanting different prayers, listening to Scripture readings, and offering prayers of supplication. The chanting was in Church Slavnoic, but with the help of the parallel Russian Synodal text it wasn't too hard to follow what was going on. The service is pretty rigid and they don’t do personal announcements or greetings, but at the same time people are all standing up and walking around and shepherding children and such, so it feels loose in that sense.

The priests and deacons were dressed in black and silver costumes, which reminded me of something knights would wear during the Crusades. I found it amusing that from above we could see beyond the iconostasis into the “Holy of Holies,” which just looked like a regular room, probably storing the priests’ coats and shoes and the different things needed for the service. The "Holy Gates" usually hide the room from view, but in this case all the secrets were revealed.

The priests and deacons walked around spraying incense from a censer, letting it waft into the air in puffs. There were moments when the congregation crossed themselves repeatedly or got into a certain position. I didn't participate much because I didn't want to be false or bow to something/someone without understanding fully.

At the moment in the service where Jesus’s burial was referenced, a few elders came out with a “casket” draped in a cloth with an embroidered Crucifix.

In-between meditations of Christ’s sacrifice, I was analyzing this sampling of Russian Orthodoxy. How often did these particular people attend? How serious were they about the words they were uttering? And how did they happen to be there at 2pm on a Friday afternoon? Had they switched shifts with someone? Would an employer in Russia let someone off for a Christian holiday?

Earlier that morning, I had read in the newspaper various descriptions of people's Easter plans... mainly, going to the church to bless their Easter food so they could eat it. "I'm going to get my eggs blessed." Something like that. No mention of Christ.

To me, there are still gaps. I was a bit distressed to read the same newspaper's description of American Easter celebrations (all about the Easter bunny) even though they noted more religious celebrations in other countries.

I suppose it is often obvious to people what we really value. Maybe our Christian observations are not newspaper or Hollywood worthy, but hopefully they are evident...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Leaving again

You know you've been in Russia too long when...

-You stop at the store on the way home just to buy fermented cabbage sauerkraut. I really need to learn how to make my own...

Anyway, what I really meant to write is that I'm going away for the weekend. I'm not leaving the country, or even the surrounding region, but I am going out of town to a church retreat. It happens to fall on Easter this year, so that should be a blessing.

Just call me the Traveling Frog.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Typical day at the orphanage

A trek visit to the orphanage. Would it be worth it? It seemed like for the past few months I had often shown up at an inopportune time, when the kids were in bad moods or otherwise occupied. But I needed to at least fulfill my commitment, and I also had to get some information from the director, so that was another reason to go.

As I approached the orphanage, I went straight into the school/administrative building, in order to catch anyone that might still be in the office. I decided not to look for the director, because as friendly as he is, I couldn’t picture him sitting down and getting some information for me. I went instead to seek out the slightly intimidating, yet competent social worker.

Room numbers and street names are not always my strong point, and I usually rely on my visual memory. Walk into the building, turn to the left, then into the first door on the right, then a jog to the left. continue reading/-

There was a woman sitting at a desk in between the two offices. Was she a receptionist or had she just not gotten lucky with the choice of rooms? I peeked around her to see if the woman I needed was there. She was.

"May I enter?" I introduced myself and there was a flash of recognition. Yes, we would have seen each other 3-4 years ago, perhaps with my mother. We had had tea and discussed Nastia and Masha's latest adventures.

"Have a seat."

I explained that I needed some information for Nastia. The social worker sprang into action, looking up the information and making some phone calls, all while asking me some leading questions, finding out how her former charges were doing.

I left with the address I needed, thanking the social worker. Her eyes twinkled for a second and the corners of her mouth twitched as if she wanted to smile.

Across the street, my group of second-graders was out playing soccer. Easy access! That might sound strange, but I hate having to go through the "security" (babushkas guarding the door) and various other adults to have to get to my pupils. I know they are just protecting them, but I always feel like a criminal. Plus, I don't understand why they don't remember me or write down that I come at the same time every week. But on the other hand, I am lucky that I don't have to have any medical tests or other procedures in order to volunteer there. It's a mixed blessing.

We kicked a soccer ball around for several minutes, I reliving my youth while at the same time worrying what the adults would think of my muddy clothing and shoes.

After some time, the girls and I went inside and we had a mini-lesson.

No tantrums, no sticker scandals, no tears at all this time. Of course, they may have only remembered one or two words from the lesson, but the relationships were renewed.

June 2022

So, we are 4 months into what's happening in our part of the world...though, of course, we live pretty far from the border!   Currently:...