Celebrating Fests in the East
How People celebrates their fests in the East, that simple question ask me many persons. I am ever a bit puzzled, because soviet atheism and old Russian customs mix with prejudices and pagan beliefs mad such a chaos, that it is difficult to imagine even to describe.
For example Celebrating Christmas people start 24 January, because everybody knows it is western, Catholic Christmas, people know it, even sing American carols to create known from Hollywood movies atmosphere...
Main fest and celebration still stays soviet style New Year. Russia is theoretically Orthodox, and in all the Russia have to be deep lent, according eastern Julian style calendars...until 7-th of January. In fact the 1-st of January and later 13-th January (so called Old New Year) continues celebrations started in 24-th December in never ending story...
1. Main Fest
Armenians in own old "Gregorian tradition" cumulates Christmas and Epiphany day (Baptism of Jesus) in one Christmas celebration of 18-th January. There are many Armenians in all the Russia so there are many additional occasions to celebrate Christmas again and again.
Same story we have with Buddhist New Year. We have Buddhist minorities in Kalmyk Republic, Altai, Tuwa Republic, Buryat Republic, and Aginsk Autonomous Region in Chita oblast (Zabaikalye), so in the beginning of February people the third time celebrate New Year together with them. Many times we have Moslem Ramadan, soon happens 23-th February as most famous military people fest...People in Russia slowly calls that day as "Man's Day" and behaviors from 8-th March which is "Women's day" slowly repeat in February also.
Male gender which really needs support in his dignity in Russia has opportunity to be venerated. Women give to the man perfumes and other small gifts but happen again in the beginning of Lent that people start drinking and celebrating without end...
I was advised in Sakhalin by one parishioner officer in Army to tell the people casual talk and greetings respecting man, it was fully accepted.
Soon will happen 8 of March! To describe 8-th of March I have to use only one analogy: Christmas or Easter. So in the middle of these two Christian celebrations and in the deep Lent we have again never ending "woman's day" with many flowers, parties and vodka of course!
2. Woman's day
After woman's Day, we have small pause. People can rest and start working or just caring own souls.
Telling the truth when I realized how important for Russians is 8-th March I start slowly explore that opportunity to evangelize people.
Russian journalists with big enthusiasm permitted me to talk in TV or Radio and print in papers many official greetings with small Christian motifs. I ever was using John Paul II encyclicals "De Dignitate Mulieribus" (About woman's dignity", explaining that Pope was many times greeting women personally in that day.
I was ever telling the man in such occasion to not abuse such event by drinking because ladies may do not like that and church have to be against, because of Lent time.
In fact Russian ladies do not care very much and drink with same strength as men but it is separate story to be explained and understood.
Lent is in Russia popular term and topic. Old women keep still custom of fasting and it influence positive way also Catholics in Russia.
I met Armenian Catholic ladies which made promises to eat only the tea during Lent time... They explained me that in their native village in Georgia many people do the same. I never was criticizing these extreme forms of fasting. Such is the way of understanding in case of some simple Christians.
In Orthodox calendar the number of feasts is less than fasting days...it was "positive balance" for these extreme in everything Slavic believers.
Today in post Soviet society all these proportions are destroyed, we have both: exaggeration in committing sins and exaggeration in efforts to be holly!
I was also told that some Orthodox to spent Lent time nicely fast only the first and the last week of the Lent, they try to eat nothing these days but the rest of the lent they try to forget any Christian duties.
The last signal to start fasting is so called Verba (Palm) Sunday. Word Verba comes from the tree which is used in place of palms in local climate.
4. So, Easter...
At the first in Russian tradition Easter similar as New Year, especially for believers is the most important feast. Easter in some sense is perhaps more important than Christmas.
The reason is also because the people in Russia have very special understanding of death. The people in Russia do not care so much as other Europeans about keeping their own lives and death for them is ever some of cultural more than religious events, excuse to enjoy time.
Easter in some sense for local people is the same "feast of Jesus funerals", more than Jesus resurrection. It is why the most accents is during sitting on graves than being in Church, especially a week later in so called "ancestors day". People call this way the Sunday and Monday next after Easter. It is excuse for sitting and drinking just in the cemetery. For that purpose each grave has for permanent installed wooden or iron tables and benches like in summer club.
Seeing the first time in my life such procession of drunken people returning from cemetery I was in shock. Once I was in one Volga-German's Catholic family on funerals and Germans were acting the same way as local Russians, eating food after burial ceremony by spoons avoiding fork as local prejudice dictate.
You can understand that local catholic customs disappear and became similar as other soviet people behaviors. People even believe that such prejudices have to be in Bible.
There is so many things to correct in peoples believes and behaviors. To be honest people are very curious opinion of priests and under patient care they may change, they are ready to hear. Authority of priesthood is still very high in Russia, even sometime we are not worthy such confidence people believe we are "holly people" and officially call us "holly father" as in Europe we may call only the Pope.
Eggs and Easter bread, most popular attributes of Easter. What they may represent or symbolize, nobody knows, it happens that in Holly Saturday people give me eggs, bread end...vodka, to be blessed together ad symbols of Easter! Nobody knows that Catholics bless also meet in memory of "Agnus Dei".
The big problem for Catholics is also lack of information in official Medias about the date and place which they may celebrate Easter, such advertisement is time to time too much expensive for local small community and poor priest. Easter and other feasts which move are unknown to the simple busy people. They have no idea what is the principle of installing the date of Easter each year the different. It happens that they appear on Orthodox Easter surprised that Catholics have celebrated few weeks before.
5. Lack of knowledge.
It happened to me that woman which was baptized in Irkutsk Catholic Church in 30-ties, moved to Sakhalin and only as old lady she understood that Catholics and Orthodox is different people. She was realizing herself same Christian and same Russian as others, even she had polish roots she never cares.
She was good educated person so she wished to know more. She does big effort to find address of local Catholic Church in Sakhalin 300 km away from her Shakhtersk city to ask local priests which are the most important Catholic feasts and how to celebrate them far away from Catholic Church.
Telling the truth in such a huge country with so big distances the best way of evangelizing will be radio or TV, not traveling ever priests as me.
Unfortunately we have only three local Radio stations in Novosibirsk, Moscow and Petersburg, they have small audience only in the middle of these cities.
TV exists in funny form of Monthly "KANA", kind of 30 minutes news from all the catholic events in Russia. These video tapes in one unique exemplar obtain priests in Russia and very few of them have opportunity or will to show these programs for parishioners.
It happens that Moscow TV show some few seconds news from Vatican in many cases in indifferent form or full of criticism sensation.
Last times some politicians in Russia were trying to negate Catholic existence in Russia at all. Bishop Mazur from Irkutsk was dismissed. 19-th of April is a date of his dismissing.
In the past just these days of Lenin's Birthday to celebrate creator of atheistic country Catholic Priests were killed in prisons in big number in 30-ties.
Also the Easter time is in April... in Russian understanding as a fest of funerals!
Please forgive me if my story looks bit sad. It is difficult to hide sadness and nostalgia. Even Russians do so many mistakes in understanding of Christianity, they also are the same charming nation which ask own priests about all the simple things and follow their advices. It is the same nation, which until now call their sinful priests "holly fathers" or simply "papa","batiushka".
I dedicate my emotional description to everybody who has power and ideas or wish to support small Catholic minority in Russia any way possible. They to their best to restore own knowledge about own in many cases far away church of their ancestors and God which they believed and venerated.
To the list of old and new firsts I wish to add "Valentine Day", May Month Novena 1-9-th May and 7-th November which was day of October Revolution, but now under Mr. Putin regime, people celebrate in 5-th November, as memory of "Holly Mary of Kazan" which helped to fight with "polish invaders" and take Moscow Victory in 1611...
New Constitution days, independence days in June, August and December... are explained this way that people have additional holyday but according statistics only few of them know why, what that date means. Only happy to be home and celebrate without end...People have no money to buy bread but for vodka they will find ever, the state is helping them taking smallest price in the world.
These soviet rulers really like to rule the drunken nation! People got stupid in such a deep way that even drinking they drink pronouncing sacramental encouraging words "drink more, God likes Trinity"!
I was thinking much about this reality and finally I understood that these poor Russians are also happy having so many opportunities to be drunk, being so they6 may easily survive in so difficult conditions of life as them proposed previous Russian Emperors, all Communist General Secretary and actual arrogant rulers.
From another hand if Easter has not such sense of meetings and drinking communists will have more chances in effort to create atheistic society.
Magnetism of Easter and magic was so big that people that most of communist rulers were in secret celebrating Easter also visiting their ancestors graves in deep secret in far away province.
In the past was even joking about Brezhnev that his workers were greeting him in Easter time telling: "Khristos Voskrese" he answered: "Da, mnie uzhe soobshchili", Yes I was informed about it!
Fr. Jaroslaw Wisniewski
Czarna Bialostocka, winter 2003