Kriste Aghsdga! Cheshmaritad!

There are some things that are just kind of hard to write about, or to think about with just one’s brain, for that matter. For me, the Georgian church is one of those things. That’s because I always experience several overlapping thoughts and feelings about it simultaneously — the event itself, the way we’re celebrating the event, and my own personal experience of the way that we’re celebrating the event are a little dissonant for me, as is even my own experience, seen or felt in different ways. It’s Pascha — the feast of feasts! Holy day of holy days! It is the day of Resurrection! Let us be radiant! Let us embrace one another, and call brother even those who hate us! A feast so great even prisoners unjustly punished sing its praises with joy.

All of which I affirm — but I have to say that I affirm it, because I don’t necessarily feel it — or not in precisely that way; perhaps in a different way, but one that I would have to be a much better poet than I am to even attempt to communicate. And I’m not a poet at all yet.

It’s celebrated with a ten hour vigil. Yeah, a ten hour vigil. Standing in an ancient, crowded stone church. In Georgian. With Georgian chants. And then we leave, go home in little clumps of two or three or five. Unless it’s surprisingly unbearable or surprisingly thrilling, what does one say about such a thing. Actually, what does one say even then? That you appreciate what it’s about, but it’s still quite difficult? Someone could probably get that from the mere fact that it’s a ten hour vigil. It was the kind of thing one might imagine, just by knowing what kind of event it was. If I were to say that I spent Easter at some Catholic monastery somewhere where they had a ten hour vigil all in Latin, what would I then be expected to say? Probably you would hope for a story about how and why I did that.

Perhaps, then, what’s more interesting, or more worth considering, is that in Georgia the services are pretty much what they are anywhere, in any church, give or take a couple of hours, and that it’s not so much that some people are having epic ancient vigils while everyone else sings a few hymns and listens to a sermon, but rather that, if you’re going to church, this is what you do, and as a free person one can leave at any time, but the service won’t budge an inch. Even the little Gori church that’s not monastic and didn’t have a bishop attending had an epic, crowded eight hour vigil. One can participate in the same services as the monks, or stay at home.

I have mixed feelings about this, and always have. I’ve missed a lot of services because of it, and left some more half way through. I admire monastics and their vigils. I’m sure they’re important for the life of the world. I believe that “seeker friendly” churches tend to pander and practice “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” At the same time, monasteries have communities that support their efforts. I haven’t found that to be generally true for the rest of us.

But I don’t want to go into that, because I don’t have an informed opinion. Basically, it’s pretty mysterious to me. Even the way that we celebrate in America is a little mysterious to me sometimes, probably because no actual, outward service or feast or party, or anything else we could possibly do with food and songs, could possibly fully express the feast, for which all words are and must be inadequate to the underlying reality. And yet we can’t simply say so and give up, so we make a very long, loud, celebratory Liturgy, followed by a long, loud, celebratory feast. Or, in Georgia, we have a long, crowded, distracting Vigil (in which the physical circumstances of the service tend to make prayer extremely difficult), and then go home and eat meat — probably from animals raised in the village where we’re celebrating.

This isn’t necessarily what I want to write. It’s more true that Pascha is the Feast of feasts, Holy Day of holy days (!) than that we’re unable to express it in actions that convey that in a way that’s easy to enter into. And yet — I can’t write well on the former. I’ve read people who can, and they usually write very theologically, which I’m not up any more than I’m up to writing poetry.

On Bright Monday it’s traditional in Georgia to have a picnic by the grave of one’s dead relatives — I went with a friend to the graves of her father and grandparents, in two different villages:


2 thoughts on “Aghsdgoma

  1. Exactly.
    I pretend to be a poet, and if I were to make something to deal with this…

    …it would be a blend of three natural images, a disheveled predator beast, a docile herd animal, and water that’s alive…or maybe a majestic tree. There would be conflict and tension between the animals, not of the predator/prey kind, but something like a cold war between lovers. There would be hatred, but not murderous. Then in turn each would approach the great tree, as to a wayside shelter, looking in their differing ways for cool air and clean scent, in the mood of a questioner. The tree would stand tall and majestic without answers, even as there would be subtle shimmers of scent and shade and light. Glimmers only; otherwise only tree. Big tree. The animals would find themselves again away from the tree, and again the intrusion of suspicion, fear, and, in turns, both fascination and revulsion–again like lovers. In this exchange they would discover themselves in a dance, opposing each other, either as fighters or tamers, but all the while feeling increase of exhaustion and decrease of fright. The dance would reach a climax of confusion and depletion, and there they would be at last, calmed, leaning on each other weary, in mutual exhaustion and surrender. The arrival at this moment would be slow but notice of it now would be sudden, causing a surge of mirth, in which they would be most at ease, followed again by an equally sudden notice of their whereabouts: beneath the great tree, which seems to smile, while showers of scent and cool air envelope them as momentary equals. They sleep. When they wake they are each in separate, distant, wooded places. Alone, among all trees, the continue on their separate roads to find their next meal.

    It’s not crafted, but this is how I see the Lenten-Paschal journey and all work involved with services (either long, short, many, whatever); work that turns into blessings only after I look back, as I eat my fat and juicy burger. Work I wouldn’t ever want to do, but for the backward glance that moves me through it.

    Christ in Risen!

  2. Glad I found your blog. I spent some time in Tbilisi back in 1990 and fell in love with the country and it’s people. I am learning Georgian now and have many friends I hope to go back one day and see again. Your blog offers me reminders of a place that means the world to me.

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