A short story of my first Easter here in Georgia. As most of you know, Georgia is a conservative Christian Orthodox country. On Saturday night my host sister Tamuna asked if I would go with her to the local church, and I told her I would.
Of course it is pouring rain, we left about 9:30 p.m. and set out through muddy, rain-filled, potholed streets and walked through the village of Surami to the church. It was pitch black since there are no street lights and the few there are were very dim. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the church, as most Georgian churches sit way up on the top of a hill, and we walked up 244 slippery wet and steep steps in the pouring rain. I know there are 244 steps, because Tamuna counted them to past the time. My vertigo set in about halfway up and I had to stop, but Tamuna was out of breath and needed a break, so it saved me from trying to explain what vertigo is in the little English that she understands.
Finally getting on the church grounds we find the church is illuminated nicely and we go inside. It’s a small church and most Georgians who go there spend 4-6 hours there praying–there is no church service per se, and no seats, benches or pews either in Orthodox churches so they stand for hours either praying or just being inside the church. The murals were beautiful and the domed ceiling had to be about 30 feet high. The villagers stood silently, prayed or touched the murals and framed paintings of Christ and the Black Madonna. Some of my students were there at the same time as I was, and the younger kids, like most kids in churches anywhere, just go there to hang with their friends. I noticed some of them were actually praying too.
They usually are there until 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. It was interesting, especially from my point of view, as I’m a non-believer. We left after about an hour and it was down the muddy, wet 244 steps, I was just glad I didn’t go tumbling down and break my neck in the dark, it was really hard to see at all and we just had a dim light on our mobile phones to go by.
Easter Sunday we all had breakfast around 11:00 a.m. After breakfast, it was off to the cemeteries to pay respects to their ancestors. It was chilly but at least the rain finally stopped. Most Georgian grave plots are surrounded by small wrought iron fences and the gravestones of the deceased have beautiful stone-etched photos of the departed. The cemeteries were crowded and I ran into neighbors, and more students visiting their deceased ancestors. Georgians bring a small basket of food with bread, cheese and hard boiled eggs during these visits. The eggs are left on the grave. One by one we all go into the grave site and spill some wine on top of the grave, make a toast to the dead then proceed to drink the rest. This ritual is repeated several times at each grave, then it’s on to the next cemetery to do it all over again. And of course, most grave sites are located on a hill so we all trudged through the muddy hillside climbing up and trying not to fall down in the wet mud and grass.