Monday, May 30, 2016

Travel Log: Day Eleven

Vladimir and Bogolyubovo, Russia 5/26/2016

              There were two themes of today: Eastern Orthodox Churches, and Russian mosquitoes. After the morning lessons, we started off the day having a picnic in Bogolyubovo, near a couple of historic cathedrals. All of our lunches were a little strange, seeing as we had to attempt to scrape them together out of a Russian grocery store, in which I of course couldn't read anything - I bought an entire pack of some kind of cheese, a fruit-filled pastry (cherry, probably?), and some fairly sketchy sushi. We bussed to the edge of the city and walked by a large convent on the way to the site of our picnic, which was a lovely field within sight of the Church of the Intercession of the Nerl (I don't know what that means). It was picturesque, rolling fields, a winding river, and the Church, high on a hill in the distance; as soon as we started eating we were swarmed by mosquitoes. I don't know why I thought Russia would be a mosquito-free place, but I was quite wrong. It must've been hilarious to watch, all of us dancing around, trying to eat while shaking the mosquitoes off of us.
             After lunch we explored, walking through the fields and into the church (we it's a functioning Orthodox church, so all of the girls had to cover our heads and put on long skirts), and then we went and visited the convent. The church was huge, with shining blue cupolas and an enormously ornate interior. Once again we had to put on head coverings and skirts; David got turned away near the entrance because he was wearing shorts, but I managed to get through despite my visible knees on account of my not understanding the nun trying to make me leave. The cathedral was beautiful, I got to sit and pray for a while, it was very peaceful.
              From there we went back to work in a cemetery in the city; it was at least a few acres, and was very different from American cemeteries. While a graveyard in the US is organized and has been cleared to accommodate the graves, a Russian one is set into the environment: the graves sit among the trees, with families buried together covered in flowers and greenery. It was more of a peaceful place than a sad or creepy one, and there was a beautiful monument to the soldiers of WWII on one end. On the other was the church we worked with. We were put into groups of a couple of American students and several Russian students and we all went out and weeded graves (which was something of a challenge, seeing as how many flowers and other foliage decorated the graves. I got into a very interesting conversation with the priest, who was working with us at our site. We compared religious life in America and in Russia, and it is incredible how different it is. I get the feeling that fewer people are religious in Russia, especially with the youth, but it seems like, for the religious people in Russia, it is more of a vital part of life. We had a little mini-service at the end; Orthodoxy is more like Catholocism than Protestantism in that it is mostly ritual and rite, except that there is no music (other than chant, which was what most of the service was conducted in), everyone stands the whole time, and there is very little movement and no sermon. It was very different from anything I was used to, and I can understand why it doesn't appeal to youth as much, but it was fascinating and everyone's devotion was impressing. I also learned that Russian mosquitoes are huge and more vicious than American ones. The last time my legs were bit up this bad was halfway through my first summer at camp.

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