An Unusual Sunday Morning

Today, January 19, is the Feast of the Epiphany according to the old Julian calendar, which the Orthodox Church in Russia follows.  It is also the day of celebrating the baptism of Jesus – and for that reason, the date of the Blessing of the Waters ceremony. As it was a Sunday , it was a celebration Dee and I could go to – and although we didn’t understand what it was all about, we are both very curious about the happenings here in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.  All that we knew was that they cut a hole in the river ice in the park, someone jumps into it, and it was a big deal.  We were also told it began at 10 am.

Saturday morning, I took Snoopy for a walk in the park.  These men were chipping out the hole in the ice.  I had seen the hole in the ice last year and was amazed that they keep it open all winter long.IMG_7296

The Cathedral of the Resurrection sits at the corner of Gagarin Park.  The building was built before the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-05. During the Japanese occupation, it was used by various Japanese institutions.  After the dissolution of the USSR, it was rebuilt according to ancient Russian architectural traditions, and reconsecrated in 1995. The bell tower has been added, with a carillon of bells dating  from 1998 to 2003 – more on them later.IMG_7374

I arrived at the church a bit early, so went inside to see what was happening.  The service was in progress, and the church was filled with people.  I love the chanting, and the icons are amazing.   IMG_7309


I stayed a while, and when it was almost 10 am, I went outside to join Dee and her little dog, Missy Fleur.  IMG_7358


We stood and talked…. and talked.  A young man named Roman came up when he heard us talking English.  IMG_7318

He didn’t speak much English, but was eager to try out what he knew, and probably more important when he discovered we were not Orthodox Christians, to discover what on earth we were doing there on this cold January day.  There was also an older woman who spoke just a bit of English, but spoke Russian slowly so I did manage to catch a few words.  Her daughter lives in Texas, and she hopes to visit her there. Roman served as interpreter for us.IMG_7317

There were quite a few people waiting outside for the procession to begin.

Conversation is all very well and good, but we had been outside 45 minutes, and still no sign of anything happening.  Our toes had decided not to report in to the rest of our bodies whether or not they were even attached. there was a grocery store just across the street, and we hustled over for a warm coffee.

Dee is a handy person to know – I didn’t even realize that they had tinned coffee in small heated cabinets. We bought two each – one for each hand, and stood inside the entrance drinking one and holding the other.

When we returned to the Cathedral, we went downstairs to see what was happening.  People kept going by with water jugs….. full water jugs.  Well, in the cathedral basement, they have a wonderful gift shop. In the back room, there were also huge tanks of water, and people were filling their bottles and jugs to take home.  Many were just heading straight home from there.  So, what was this water ceremony really all about, if they already had Holy water to distribute?

The procession was already on its way when I emerged from the basement…. we scampered along after them, our toes still feeling like they would break off our feet when we walked.  IMG_7320

The walking did help however.  The whole street had been blocked off all morning, all the way to the park entrance.IMG_6091

Past the statue of Yuri Gagarin, for whom the park is named, and  on to the river.

The main procession headed right down to the water’s edge……. banners on the far side of the hole, which was now ringed with a wooden walkway. Many of us went on to join those who had come ahead to get a good view.IMG_7326

The Bishop and his assistants were on a wooden dais.  There were prayers and chanted responses……IMG_7327

and the he put on his hat, picked up a huge cross, and made his way down to the water’s edge.  An assistant on each side made sure that his didn’t slip into the water.

He went to each of the four sides of the water hole, dipping the cross into the water.IMG_7335

Then two men came out with gold and silver jugs and dipped them into the water. The Bishop dipped a brush into the water, and waved it over the people gathered at the water’s edge.IMG_7344

Then this man jumped into the water.IMG_7348

It looked like there was something wrong with his feet and legs, so I believe that to jump into this newly blessed water is believed to have some healing quality.  All I know is that, in spite of the walking and the sun’s warmth, it was still really, really cold.IMG_7349

Soon everyone was on their way back to the Cathedral, or to their own homes.  A young man was handing out leaflets entitled (in Russian) Christening Water.  He spoke to us in English when he heard us talking, and walked back to the Cathedral with us.  Dee laughingly asked him if he had ever been swimming in the sub-zero water, and he said “Yes.  At 3 am this morning all of us from the church swam in there.” That put a few questions into our minds, including just how crazy this young man might be.

What a lovely young man!  He was a teacher of math and science, but this year was working somewhere else as the pay for teachers is very low.  We got to understand that he is also connected somehow to the Cathedral.  He told us that he would ask and see if we could go up to see the bells.  He had a friend who could hold Dee’s dog while we went.IMG_6208

Up many, many stairs – and very steep ones at that.  These are the fourth set… good thing there was a strong hand rail.IMG_7360

And then out – at the top of the bell tower.  The view was truly incredible –IMG_7364

The air was crystal clear

And the bells – not at all what we had envisioned. The clappers were attached to cords, which were in turn attached to rubber straps and then to a central post.  I had expected ropes hanging from each bell, like in the movies.IMG_7365

And then Roman played them. Wow. By tapping the cords, or the rubber straps, he played a wonderful carillon of music.  Our new friend Roman is one of the cathedral’s bell ringers!IMG_7367


When we arrived back at the bottom of the stairs, he had one additional treat for us – a piece each of the special ceremonial Holy bread – to be eaten first thing in the morning, to break fast.IMG_7377

Here is a shot of the cathedral from the front – looking way up to the bell tower –IMG_7311

We went out again, retrieved Missy Fleur, who was quite excited to see Momma, and toodled off down the street to a place Dee knew that served Gluvine.  After such a frosty morning, we were ready for a warm drink, and a sit inside.

What an adventure!  There are always so many doors that open if you are interested in people and not afraid to take a chance.  Thanks Dee.  I think we will have many, many adventures together here in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, amid the friendly people and interesting culture.

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10 Responses to An Unusual Sunday Morning

  1. Karen Latimer says:

    What is the temperature there? As I am reading this, the bells at the local church are ringing their normal Sunday morning music so it made this story really come alive for me.

  2. What a fun day! 🙂 And we braved -19 for this Kathi ….

  3. Reblogged this on The Whimsical Musings of a Menopausal Miss and commented:
    Kathi and I had an amazing time together this Sunday morning – and her blog about our adventure is fabulous. An adventure shared is always so much more fun – and Kathi is a wonderful adventurer…

  4. Karen J in SW Ontario says:

    Thanks Kathi for another great insight into Russian life. You are the best “tour guide” ever!!

  5. How fun to experience that. I don’t think I’d be swimming in that water at 3 AM!!!!!! Thanks for sharing.

  6. orthodoxchristian2 says:

    Cute bread! We have bread like that sometimes, here in Rostov. Blessings from Russia!

    • I found out they are not all the same, as my friend’s had a different symbol on top. We thought they were really special.

      • orthodoxchristian2 says:

        😉 We make these engravings on bread with Prosphora seals. They are special seals made of wood by monks to put different patterns on the bread. Sometimes IC XC is put on the bread, too, being the first letters of Jesus and Christ in Greek.

      • I thought it was probably a mould or stamp. Thanks for the information – I love to find out more about what I see.

  7. elainecanham says:

    what an absorbing read, thanks. I wonder why they don’t have the clappers in the bells.

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