The principal cathedral of the nation over the course of the last several
years has been considered to be the Yelokhov cathedral, which had been
attended by Boris Yeltsin and members of the government on religious holy
days. Putin, however, has changed the tradition by going to the Isaakii
cathedral in St. Petersburg for Pascha. The television broadcast emanating
from there was extremely choppy -- whether on account of the fact that
there suddenly turned out to be two "primary" cathedrals -- or on account
of other "technical difficulties." As to what transpired at the Isaakii
cathedral, we have the report of Elena Tregubova:
Putin appeared in the Isaakii cathedral at approximately twelve minutes to
midnight and situated himself and his entire entourage -- not there, where
all the parishioners were standing in prayer, but upon the left
_kliros_. In other words, almost right next to the altar, "balancing-out"
the choir, which was situated upon the right _kliros_. The arrangement of
Putin's suite was as follows: governor Vladimir Yakovlev was situated to
the right of the president; to his left was Igor Ivanov, the minister of
foreign affairs; and behind them were the functionaries who were of lower
rank, and Artur Chilingarov, the deputy-speaker of the state Duma.
When the people in the church, headed by Vladimir, the metropolitan of
Saint Petersburg and Ladoga, went outside for a procession of the Cross,
there was some discomfiture within the church, which served as a sign of
the fact that the service would go not entirely in accordance with the
canon. Two fools-for-Christ made their way out from the ranks of the
parishioners -- one was a bearded old man, with a golden coronet upon his
head, who was attired in a blue naval tunic; the other was a woman in a
small white scarf. They both began to vocalize something. One of the
parishioners explained that these were Nativity hymns, freely adapted for
Pascha. Putin and Yakovlev apprehensively kept their eyes upon the singers.
At this point the clergy returned into the church from the procession of
the Cross. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief: at last the actual Paschal
service would begin. But things turned out otherwise.
Metropolitan Vladimir exclaimed: "Christ is Risen!" and processed to the
altar, where he turned his back to the ikon of the Saviour and his face
toward Putin, as he thus interrupted the service and addressed him who had
been "universally chosen." The parishioners were
panic-stricken. Generally speaking, following the procession of the Cross,
all attention must be directed to the Risen Christ.
But _Vladyka_ Vladimir had his own hero.
"I have a little gift for you, dear Vladimir Vladimirovich -- a little
egg! But not a simple little egg! And..., well..., not a golden one,
either, of course, as only its shell is golden. But not a simple one,
either -- rather, one with a crown! We, of course, no longer have tsars
these days, but you are the universally-elected president, so accept from
us this symbolic gift, in this royal capital-city cathedral, that you might
have a long and fortunate reign!"
The metropolitan led Putin out to the open Royal Doors and presented him
with the egg. Putin, at a loss as to what to do, kissed the egg.
The metropolitan did not cease: "I know, of course, that they are mistaken
who think that you came to Saint Petersburg today only in order to see the
hockey match. If that were the case, you would be sitting in the stadium
right now and counting the goals!"
The central part of the speech came down to this: it was not by chance
that, ten years ago, God had brought Yeltsin to the cathedral; and now --
Putin. This, one might say, is a good sign -- and it would be well,
generally speaking, to transfer the capital to Saint Petersburg.
"I want to say that all of us in this cathedral, all of us, to a man..."
"...prayed for you!" some little old woman ventured to say, naively.
"...voted for you!" _Vladyka_ Vladimir concluded, in a proper secular manner.
Putin spent nearly an hour in the cathedral. And during all that time he
diligently endeavoured to make the sign of the Cross upon
himself. Minister Ivanov also tried to do likewise. Governor Yakovlev, on
the other hand, stood stock-still. The metropolitan christed (bestowed a
triple kiss upon) Putin. Paschal eggs were also presented to all of
Putin's entourage. But theirs, of course, were lacking crowns, having only
Translated by G. Spruksts from the Russian text of _"Paskhal'nyi konfuz"_
["Paschal Discomfiture"] which appeared in the May 3, 2000 issue of
_"Kommersant"_ ["The Merchant"] magazine. English-language translation
copyright (c) 2000 by the Translator. All rights reserved.