Warning: As with the first part, I still don’t know anything about religion and still, no insult is intended.
(Part 2 of 2)
Midnight. Something is happening. OK, I think the show is about to start. I look around to see if anyone else is taking pictures, as to not insult people by taking some with my pink cellphone. The guy behind me is videotaping the crap out of this; I take it as a sign of approval. Above the main entrance of the church is a window covered in metal bars, 5-6 women stand close to it and start singing. At the same time the …priest (I do not know the correct lingo for the Orthodox religious leaders, very sorry!) and his helpers (sorry!) step out. The main guy has a long beard and is decked out in golden robes; his helpers are pretty similar, only less beardalicious. The main guy is holding an old book that is covered in a golden shawl. He reads a passage or a prayer and the women sing after it, it sounds groovier than it actually was. At the end of it, everyone signs the cross; I stop after one time only to realize everyone is doing it three times. I do not even know which hand to start with or from which side, so I half ass it and look down quickly. The main guy follows it up by saying “Christ has risen” three times, with the people answering “yes, he has” after each time. Again, I am doing in phonetically so I pray no one around me notices that I am a black sheep in an Orthodox costume. At last, he takes his smoke vessel thingy and makes a circle and waves it around. Must be a blessing or something of sorts, I look down and am secretly happy.
Six minutes past midnight. Main guys walk inside. My first reaction “is that it?” But everyone keeps pushing towards the church again; I am a bit suspicious as to what is happening so I wait a bit before I enter. At the door I see one of my students, I wish her happy Easter and ask (in English) what will happen now, she points to her boyfriend and says “boyfriend, girlfriend” in English. I start doubting my teaching skills and repeat the question in Bulgarian; she says we will now light the candles. Sounds harmless, I enter.
The Sliven church looks bigger on the inside and it is quite stunning, actually. Lots of old, wooden details, as well as the typical slightly pimped out iconography. It is really hot inside though and smells like candle wax. When entering, everyone signs the cross again three times. The priest guys are reading/singing more prayers. The main hall is filled with people so it takes me a few minutes to realize what is happening. People are standing in multiple queues. One queue leads to the altar where people light up their candles with a certain…special candle. Another queue leads up to one of the helpers. It goes as follows: people approach the guy, put some money on a tray next to him, he takes a metal carved paintbrush of sorts, dips it into a pot of candle wax (includes little burning candle) and draws a cross on their foreheads. They sign the cross three times and leave.
I feel a little out of place, this is all beautiful and fascinating but I do not share their belief so I am just awkwardly walking around. I see some of my students, I wish them happy Easter. They are surprised to see me there, frankly so am I, so I exit quickly, even forget to sign the cross again.
Outside, one of my students is waving at me, she asks me where my candle is, I show her my orange candle, her whole family physically bursts out laughing, I put the candle into my jacket pocket and smile awkwardly. She says now it is time to walk three times around the church. I am thinking to myself that this is finally something straight forward that I can participate in, so I get my feet moving. Right next to the church I notice a fire truck, how very thoughtful considering that I saw toddlers buying fireworks over new-year but hey, letting it go. On every circle some people are walking off; after my third one, I briefly re-enter the church to see what is happening. The queues have gotten smaller, I accidentally end up standing in one, the helper guy waves at me, I smile and run out.
On my way home, I pass people smoking and chatting, I hear 2 people speaking French (omg foreigners, must contain myself, we are in church) and I see a group of around 20 people using sign language with each other, again, I am thinking to myself that Sliven is more inclusive than I would have guesses. With this positive mindset, I continue walking home. I pass by the palm trees that have been placed on the main street, Easter and palm trees, heck yeah for Southern climate!
An experience, an eggventure even (see what I did there, I took the word adventure and put “egg” in front of it, I am funny)! I am very glad I got to visit the local church and see, how people celebrate Easter. I am happy to have seen lots of young people who were not forced to visit church but seemed to genuinely want to be there. Also saw quite a few really dressy dresses, next time I would dress nicer I think. Overall, the hour spent was an hour worthwhile but I couldn’t help but think that not only was I at a party where I did not know any of the guests, I was also not familiar with the party theme or close with the host (yes, I mean Jesus). It was a cultural adventure that made me feel a bit out of place from a religious point of view.