Tuesday morning I walked into a movie theater and unexpectedly ran into 42 Alaskans from the St Innocent Academy came to Gori, and I’ve been following them around for the past five days; staying the night with them at the Nikozi monastery, then visiting cultural events, monasteries, and supras with them during the day. They’re in Georgia for another nine days, so there’s a possibility that I might rejoin then next weekend as well.
A bit of back story. I first met some of the ladies of Kodiak at the St James House in Eagle River, where I stayed for Holy Week three years ago. They unexpectedly took me with them to Homer for Palm Sunday to meet Fr Paul, where we stayed at the church guest house; we went to services together for a week, and had a beautiful sunrise Pascha service followed by a delightful feast full of polkas, rag-time, and American folk dances. A year later their bus broke down in Santa Fe, NM, where a member of Holy Trinity happened to see them on the side of the road (one of the advantages of clergy in cassocks is that people always know an Orthodox priest when they see one), and invited them to church. They stayed there all afternoon while their bus was being fixed, and sung a beautiful, touching, grace-filled daily Vespers, into which I stumbled late, coming over from school. I think I know some of those people! I thought. And so I did — the young women from Eagle river had moved to Kodiak and were traveling with the young men of the Academy. I went out to dinner with them that night, and then they left to continue their singing road trip. (These people are a kind of Orthodox traveling Happening — they go hither and yon in their bus painted with murals of the Alaskan Saints, and every now and again burt into beautiful acapella harmonies).
I hadn’t heard from any of then for about a year until this Tuesday, when I unexpectedly ran into them at a showing of Russian short films, and was given a blessing to follow them around as much as I could. Meanwhile, I had planned to begin teaching on Thursday, but was informed shortly after meeting up with the Academy that I couldn’t teach until I had attended a introductory meeting, which was to be held on Saturday. Later they changed it to Sunday morning (a terrible time for a work meeting!). So other than a few hours in the afternoon when they’ve been practicing their performance, I’ve been with them ever since, for five days; we just parted ways this evening.
Bishop Isaiah of Nikozi has been overseeing a cultural festival based in Nikozi and extending into Gori this past week. I missed the first two days because I didn’t know about it, but since I’ve been following it, it has consisted of short animated films in the morning, pilgrimages in the afternoon, and a performance followed by a fairly epic supra at night. Tuesday there were rather delightful Russian short films by a director from Belarus who has been at all the same events as the Academy, along with other directors and a poet (who, we found out last night, is connected spiritually with the academy in a way that will be fairly obscure to anyone not familiar with the history of the Platina Monastery), and other people who come and go, including the Polish ambassador, polish animators, Georgian teachers, chanters, shadow performers, people from the community at Nikozi, and other people I don’t know. I’ll try to report on the places we went in my next post.