I’ve been in Russia at Easter three times, and I’m thankful for the experience of a Russian Orthodox Easter. I’m thankful for the mysterious pageantry of the Easter vigil, the priests in their gold and white robes, engaged in a thurible dance, censing the thronging congregation against a background of icons, crying out apparently at random, ‘Khristos voskres!’ and evoking the joyful reply ‘Voistinna voskres!’
I’m thankful for the richness and depth the experience of processing around the outside of a lit Orthodox church building, carrying candles in the snowy dark, declaring to anyone who would listen that ‘Christ is risen!’ ‘He is risen indeed!’ I’m thankful for the liberally sprinkled water on Easter morning, the kulich cakes, the painted wooden eggs, and the opportunity I had one year on Iona at Easter to read the gospel in Russian at the Easter Sunday service, and say a Russian grace at lunch. I’m grateful for the way this has connected me at this very special time of year with a different Christian culture and by extension with Christian cultures across the world, and in particular to a vision of God that is awe-inspiring, mystical, beyond our human understanding.
Elsewhere in Moscow the ex-patriot community met in the British Embassy for a service led by the Church of England priest stationed there, and I’m thankful to him and his team for the cultural home they provided for believers from the UK and other English-speaking parts of the world (me included occasionally).
After leaving Moscow at short notice, I worshipped at St Aldate’s in Oxford for three months, then at St Thomas’ Crookes for a short while. Thanks to Mark Stibbe, whom God used to call me back to a former level of commitment, grown weak in my travels abroad. Thanks to Mark too for inspiring me to think for the first time, as he led an interactive all-age service, ‘I could do that’…. I had preached on occasion before, but this was the first sense that I could ever be a vicar. I remember thinking ‘I’d have to know God better and be more convinced than I am now if I were going to throw my hat completely in that ring!’ Thank you, Lord, for meeting me and revealing yourself to me.