Victory Day

Victory Day is on May 9th.  Important for the Russian mind this national holiday commemorates the victory of the Soviet Union over the Nazi Germany and the end of the Great Patriotic War in 1945.  The significance of this day cannot be overestimated, especially since the events in the last decades in ex-Soviet republics and, more recently, in Ukraine, prove to us that the people’s collective memory may be rather short.

I always noticed how people who lived through the long four years of the Great Patriotic War were eternally shaped by it.  The war not only left a huge mark on each veteran but was rather a major event from which each one, no matter how successful in his or her peace life, seemed to count time.  For my grandfather’s generation you were not only a doctor, an engineer or a teacher, you were a veteran of a certain division or you were a Soviet partisan – a member of the resistance movement.  This phenomenon has absolutely nothing to do with the militant ideology.  Rather, the war left such a big impact on each individual and each family that its echo was resonating well into many years past the war itself.

For myself and my peers – those of us whose childhood happened to be in 1970s and 80s – Victory Day is one of the essential holidays and I can assure everybody that our veneration of this historic event is not the result of the Soviet propaganda.  We honor Victory Day because we understand the importance of defeating the fascism.  We consider the 9th of May a very dear day because it was always personal.  Every family was affected by that war somehow.  Growing up we heard veterans’ stories, we participated in their meetings.

In my family four men fought in that war – my grandfather, his father, and his two brothers.  My grandfather started the war as a nineteen-year-old in 1941.  A teenager, as we would say now.  He fought in the regular army, was a head of a partisan group and finished the war in Czechoslovakia.  Every 9th of May he would meet with his war comrades, usually in Moscow in front of the Bolshoi Theater.  I remember polishing his medals – he usually wore them once a year – and going with him.  I could recall many stories I heard during their meetings and I can still feel that atmosphere of comradery and joy but also of sorrow and remembrance of the fallen soldiers that prevailed there.

 

My grandfather passed away 20 years ago.  With every passing year there were less veterans here to share their stories with us.  “Two or three years from now who will our children see” on Victory Day? was a question organizers of the Immortal Regiment initiative asked themselves in 2012. (http://moypolk.ru/ustav-polka)  The non-government non-commercial initiative started in Tomsk as an idea — on Victory Day bring a photograph of a soldier, a veteran, a partisan, a person who worked on the home front, was in a Nazi concentration camp – anybody who has to be honored and remembered – and go in a symbolic parade so people can see and remember all members of this Immortal Regiment.

Since its inception two years ago the project grew in popularity.  This 9th of May Immortal Regiment participants marched in 450 cities in 6 countries.  (http://voiceofrussia.com/2014_05_09/photo-Immortal-Regiment-forever-remembered-by-descendants-4028/?slide-1)  Tula was among these towns.

 

There were several places in Tula where you could make a placard from your photograph.  The cost of each one was really symbolic (80-150 rubles or about $4.  In comparison, a 1 litter of milk costs around 60 rubles).  I think that participating printing shops volunteered their work and charged only for the materials used. (http://moypolk.ru/tula/inform-bureau)  You did not need to have a placard to participate – you could make your own poster or you could march with just a photograph.

In Tula Victory Day was celebrated with a parade on the central square and a multitude of events in city’s parks.

It is estimated that Russia lost about 26 millions of people in the Great Patriotic War.   Today not only those who fought on the battlefield but also people who worked on the home front, those who were on occupied territories and in Nazi’s concentration camps are honored.

Later, fireworks were held in several areas of the city.  Central streets became a big parking lot with everybody cheering the fireworks and Victory Day.

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Easter

It took me a while to write about Easter.  Easter – Paskha – is the most important holiday for the Russian Orthodox as for many the miracle of Christ’s resurrection surpasses the initial wonder of His birth.  Being Christian I celebrated many Easters.  I also saw many pictures of people celebrating Easter all over the world.  Photographs of Easters in Russia are usually colorful, concentrating on magnificent processions taking place at big cathedrals.  “Why write about Easter in Tula?” was a question I asked myself during the past week.  “A church service is a church service and the Cross procession at my neighborhood church, however special and significant it was for me and other parishioners, may not seem any different compared to many other services and processions from better-known cathedrals around the world.”  I then realized that this unity – of services, processions and people – is exactly what makes Easter so unique.  Services in churches in Tula were held in unison with services in many other cathedrals – big and small – throughout the country and the world, echoing, in turn, other processions and ceremonies held throughout many years of Christianity.  This spiritual unity was heightened this year by the fact that both Western and Orthodox Easters were celebrated on the same day.

If the week after the Easter Sunday is the time of celebration then the week before, the Holy (strastnaia) Week was the time for reflection.  People came to Saints Peter and Paul cathedral to pray.  Father Sergius is seen here with the cathedral’s parishioners.

The symbolism of resurrection can be seen in many things, big – such as the people’s growing faith and the restoration of a very special cathedral in Tula — that of Saints Peter and Paul — and seemingly small – such as the miracle of the nature’s renewal, brighter, for some reason, this year.

 

Or in the city’s Spring cleaning with its usual yearly freshening of curbs.

 

Or, even, in the abundance of Easter’s cakes, kulichi, which in my childhood used to be baked only at home.

On Holy Saturday people brought kulichi and colored eggs for the sanctification.  This is done every twenty minutes or so, when new people come.

Easter Vigil, held later Saturday, is followed by the Cross procession at midnight.  “Christ is Risen!” proclaims Father Sergius to the people for the first time after the procession he lead around the church comes back to the front doors of the cathedral.  “Indeed he is Risen!” are the joyful replies of the faithful.  People then come inside the church for the Divine Liturgy — a very solemn and important service for every Christian.

Later the Holy Fire was brought to the cathedral.

Holy Fire Russia Peter and Paul Cathedral

Eastertide or Easter Season lasts forty days, from Easter Sunday until the Feast of the Ascension.  The importance of this festive time to me lies not only in celebrating per se as in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice and the ethical values emphasized by the resurrection.  Love, forgiveness, renunciation of violence and unity based on tolerance sound especially important in light of the recent events in Ukraine.