On Orthodox Christmas (January 7) I participated in my very first крестный ход, or Procession of the Cross. Usually this procession simply winds its way around town, with more and more people joining as it passes by their homes, but this year I lucked out: the procession was to escort the Cross for the top of the new church being built up the closest mountain.
I've been up this mountain before. At the end of June my soon-to-be godfather, Iva, took me and Reziko up to see the convent there. We were give a tour by Sister Barbara after riding most of the way up the mountain in a sort of scary Soviet-era bus and then walking the rest of the way. This time we'd be walking the whole way up.
Reziko and I got off to a late start due to a (typical) morning bathroom traffic jam, so the first half hour of our procession was us walking very fast to catch up with everyone. Once we caught up, it was a very cool thing to be a part of. There were probably 500-700 of us, from priests, deacons, and alter boys to lay men and women, teenagers, even some very small children. Two bulls (or oxen?) pulled a cart filled with donations for orphans to be distributed by the nuns at the convent, and a little donkey, representing the donkey that Mary rode into Bethlehem, hauled a cart with a large cross and an icon. The poor donkey pooped out before we even got out of Batumi, so he didn't make the journey up the mountain.
But the rest of us did! It took over an hour just to get to the base of the mountain (we took the scenic route). The road started out as asphalt, then just past the cemetery became cobblestones (at least a century old!), then the cobblestones gave way to a mix of dirt, gravel, and mud. Even for Batumi it was unusually warm for January, and I carried my coat for the entire trip. Fresh air, beautiful views, and participation in an ancient and holy tradition – I can't think of a better way to spend Christmas day.
Reziko and I kept up a good pace, and once we got to the mountain the crowd became a long, thin line snaking up the old roads. Even at our clip we reached the summit two and a half hours after leaving the house – and this is the littlest mountain around here! The church bells rang out every once in a while, calling us further up and providing encouragement.
At the church I expected there to be a formal service of some kind, but there was none. There were candles to be lit in prayer, and, of course, the new Cross was blessed before being raised and affixed atop the church. The church itself, still under construction, was closed.
We were among the first to arrive, and the summit slowly but steadily filled with other processioners until it became quite crowded. After lighting candles, we watched the Cross as it was raised into place on the church, then turned our weary legs towards home. At the edge of town we gave in and took a marshrutka the rest of the way, and arrived home around 5 PM.
I look forward to the day the church will be completed, when I can ride up on those creaky buses or get a workout climbing the hill myself, reach the top, look around, and feel my heart burst from the beauty of this place. I will offer up my prayers to God and the Saints among the mountains by the sea, where I feel closer to Him than anywhere else.
3 days ago