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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.