A beautiful start to Lent in Tblisi
A beautiful start to Lent in Tbilisi
Posted By:Sarah Marcusat Mar 3, 2009
Posted in: Foreign Correspondents , Religion
Yesterday was the start of Orthodox Lent, which is still a rather stricter affair than the excuse to diet that Lent is in many non-Orthodox countries. (I've no doubt many non-Orthodox Christians take Lent seriously and think about why they're giving up their vice of choice, but I have not met many of them.)
Not that I would have known the significance of yesterday had I not stumbled on a rather beautiful occasion in Tbilisi's old town.
Dusk was falling when I was enticed down a cobbled street by the sound of a choir of female voices uplifted in a hopeful, beseeching melody. As I drew nearer to the music I saw a small crowd of men and women surrounding an open doorway, straining to get a glimpse inside the building, mobile phones held aloft to capture a moment.
The music was coming from the women in the crowd, who repeated its few beautiful bars over and over. As the crowd - more women than men, more young than old - surged forward I caught the sight of long black robes swishing up the stairs inside the open door.
One of the women told me that it was the first day of 'the fast' and that the excitement in the crowd was because the Patriarch of Georgia, Ilia II was inside the building. The melody being sung so movingly had been written by the Patriarch and the repeated words meant something like 'Lord, forgive us'.
Soon young boys in cream and wine-coloured silk robes emblazoned with the sign of the cross emerged from the building and began to make a path through the crowd along which a black car reversed and positioned itself by the door. The black robes began to swish down the staircase and eventually the Patriarch himself emerged, pausing briefly to make the sign of the cross (which he appeared to struggle a little to do - he is elderly and frail) before being driven off.
A dramatic chorus of bells rang out and the crowd began to scatter - many of them rushing down nearby steps into the nearby church. The twilight, lamplit scene with women in headscarves and young men in church robes hurrying into the old stone church was like something from Zefirelli's Romeo and Juliet.
As the crowd awaited the Patriarch, the mood had been one of quiet, respectful excitement. As I've mentioned before on this blog, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church is loved and revered here, and most Georgians talk eloquently of his goodness and kindness.
Whilst I am wary of the immense power and influence the Orthodox church has here, I also think that for many if not most Georgians the church and the Patriarch himself have provided spiritual and emotional sustenance and constancy during a long period of tremendous upheaval.
In a fairly irreligious world, one often comes across reminders of the positive role of religion and religious leaders and the gap that there can be in societies which have largely left religion behind. The scene I saw last night in Tbilisi was one such reminder.
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