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Thursday, April 23

Ukrainian Pasxa

Imagine that you are at one of the Big Ten Universities, like Purdue. It's a bright day. The sky is cloudless blue and there is a chill that bites into your cheeks. You and hundreds, thousands of others are scurrying to the stadium for a game. Everyone is focused on making it there before the first kick-off.

Now transport yourself to Ukraine and experience Pasxa (Orthodox Easter). It is 5:30 am and the sun is not quite up. I quickly dress and pack a basket filled with foods. Typically, the foods include Pasca bread, kielbasa, colored eggs and anything else that the family might eat that day.

Luda and I wait for a taxi. She is on crutches and it is impossible for her to walk long distances. Together we take the taxi to one of Chernihiv's oldest and largest churches. The day is breaking as we depart. It will be one of those bright chilly Big Ten football days.

But to my surprise the analogy continues.

I immediately notice that the streets and walkways are busy. Hundreds, thousands of people are walking to church. Each family or couple holds a big wicket basket filled with Pasxa foods. One after another after another they form a procession scurrying just like the crowds at a football game. The difference is that many of these people will walk miles. Few have cars and buses will not be used on Pasxa. This is a holy time, a holy procession from every corner of Chernighiv. The sight and extent of devotion is remarkable.
We arrive at the church. It is one of Chernihiv's oldest and largest. A fence and gate encircles an inner courtyard. Today the gate is flung wide open. Kneeling at the gate are a half dozen beggars. Bibical images come alive as Luda stops, holds her crutches in one hand and bends down to places a few coins in a beggar's hands. I do the same.

In the court yard, families stand side by side in a winding snake like formation. All are focused on a Pasxa morning blessing. The baskets of food are uncovered. The priest and several acolytes slowly pass along the line chanting “Christ is Risen” and then in response “He is Risen Indeed.” Along with the chant, copious amounts of holy water are slung onto the food and families. All cross themselves and some fall to their knees in an act of humility as if before the risen Christ.
Inside huge crowds wander between pictures, statues and tombs of holy men. Slowly and devoutly prayers are muttered, the sign of the cross is made and often a kiss – a holy kiss is placed on the icon.

Luda has an advantage with her crutches. The people seem to part to give her space. I follow her in her prayers. A few candles are lit and placed on pedestal displays. Their reflection shines in the massive golden altar stretching from floor to ceiling and wall to wall.
I remember family and friends who I know are having difficult times. I think of the blessings we all havein sharing each day. After an hour or so, Luda asks, “Ready to go?” I am.

We pass by the beggars again giving a few extra coins . I take photos of the church and the priest blessing more families and Pasxa food. My Ukrainian church time ends as the blessings of Pasxa begin.

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