Xenia in Baku

May, 2001

Greetings from Baku:

   Been real busy here in Baku with new and even more exciting things seem to be happening everyday. Hope all is well with everyone and we hope that you all enjoyed our disertation on the happenings here during Holy Week and Pascha. At times when I think back at what transpired those days, I will have to say that Pascha 2001 will go down as one of the most memorable. Fr. John has been sent some of the pictures that we managed to take at Pascha and we hope that he has shared them.

   Continuing on from our last communication; Bright Week was also very exciting for us and seemed like a natural continuation of the joyous celebration of our Lord's resurrection. Monday of Bright Week as I got back to work after attending morning Liturgy, I received a telephone call from Bishop Alexander's secretary, Fr. Alexy. Fr. Alexy told me that Bishop Alexander requested my presence at lunch the following day. Since up to this time I had not really had the chance to talk to Bishop Alexander, I was very excited by the prospect. So at noon on Tuesday, I showed up at the Cathedral and no one was around. The Cathedral was open, there were some worshippers there but no one that I knew. Instant panic! What happened? Finally Fr. Alexander showed up and asked me why I was at the Cathedral and not at the OTHER church where the lunch was supposed to be? He quickly got one of the workers at the Cathedral to take me over to the other church. As you can see we had some translation problems with the initial invitation.

   I got to the other church and luckily the procession around the church following the Bright Tuesday Liturgy was still in progress. Between the end of the Liturgy and lunch, I managed to get to know some of the other local clergy. Lunch was served in a room adjacent to the church. First everyone entered and was greeted by Bishop Alexander and assigned a place to sit. I was at the Bishop's left hand. We then all sang "Christ is Risen from the dead" and the Bishop offered the blessing. There was about 15 people at the luncheon, mostly clergy but also the Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan, who sat across from me. The table was fully laden with very good food and of course this being a "Russian" event - vodka. Luckily Fr. Sergi was there who was able to provide interpreting help to me. Many toasts were said, however I had to be very cautious not to drink too much since I had to go back to work later that day. It soon came to be very apparent that I was the guest of honor. Bishop Alexander presented me with some very lovely gifts including a decorated Easter Egg, and gifts also for Xenia and Nia. I was told repeatedly during the luncheon that I was not an American but a Russian and chided for not being able to speak Russian very well. During the luncheon many songs to the Fatherland (Russia) were sung. It was very enjoyable to sit there and listen to many stories about the Russian Church in Azerbaijan. It was also very sad to hear many of the stories about the torture and beatings some of these priests endured during the communist regime. One thing that was very puzzling during lunch was Bishop Alexander's intent interest in my upcoming trip to the US. I had told him that we were all going to Dallas to attend the consecration of the new Cathedral, St. Seraphim's. Bishop Alexander was very concerned about how long I would be away from Baku. Finally he told me that at the end of May, the Patriarch of Moscow would be paying a visit to Baku and that I better be here in Baku for the visit! This would be the first visit ever by a Russian Patriarch. I assured Bishop Alexander that I would be back to Baku by early May.

   One very important fact that I did learn at the luncheon is the proper name of the Cathedral. The book that I have on Azerbaijan lists the Cathedral as St. Michael's which is wrong. The Cathedral is actually named the Nativity of the Virgin Mary while the church that we just had lunch at is actually named St. Michael's. I always wondered why the icon of St. Michael was not to the right of the icon of Jesus on the iconastasis. Anyway, the rector of St. Michael's, Fr. Seraphim wanted to show the church. First he took me into St. Bartholomew's Chapel to see the restoration work being performed. St. Bartholomew's Chapel was one of those churches that "mysteriously" burned downed during the 1960's. Wonder if the communist authorities had anything to do with the blaze? Anyway the entire chapel is undergoing renovation including new iconography being written on all the walls. We then went into the main church where I saw a breathtaking collection icons. Just think of all the old icons that we have seen in museums and now imagine them in a church where they belong! I could have spent hours just looking at all the icons on the walls. Fr. Seraphim took me to a very old icon of St. Seraphim and told me that he wanted to give me a gift. So we went to Fr, Seraphim's residence and he gave to me a small piece of St. Seraphim's stone. This is the stone that St. Seraphim at one time kneeled on for 1000 days and 1000 nights praying, "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." Fr. Seraphim told me that he knew that I would place the relic in a proper place. Fr. Seraphim also gave me a relic of St. Ignati of the Caucuses and a story of St. Ignati's life. Fr. Seraphim also gave me a relic of the new St. Nicholas, last Czar of Russia and numerous other items. It was a shame however that I finally had to leave and go back to work.

   Bright Wednesday we left Baku at 4:30 in the morning for Zurich, Switzerland. We spent a day in Zurich wandering around the city and especially stopping in every toy store we saw. We bought Xenia some really nice Swiss toys and also got some of the Christmas shopping out of the way early. Zurich is really a nice city and we saw as much as we could in one day. Bright Thursday, just as the snow started to fall, we left for Dallas. The next couple of days were very hectic in Dallas. Besides suffering from the usual jet lag, we attended the Friday Vespers at the new Cathedral and the Banquet in honor of the Consecration of St. Seraphim's Cathedral. It was really good to see people that we have not seen in many years. Just after vespers, I saw Archbishop Dmitri and gave to him the relic of St. Seraphim's stone that I had received. As Fr. Seraphim told me I made sure the relic would be in its proper place. The next day was the Consecration of St. Seraphim Cathedral. There were five Bishops - Herman of Eastern Pennsylvania, Dmitri of Dallas, Nathaniel of Detroit, Tikhon of San Francisco and Metropolitan Theodosious. In addition there were many, many clergy. The Consecration started at 8:30 am, followed by Hierarchical Divine Liturgy and we finally venerated the Cross at 1:30 pm. At Saturday Evening vespers, Xenia received a blessing from Metropolitan Theodosious - pictures will be following at a later date.

  I finally went on to meetings in Houston on Monday while Nia and Xenia stayed behind in Dallas. Xenia got to spend time with her Godparents and Grandparents. I flew back to Dallas the following Friday, spent the night and flew back to Baku via Zurich the following day. Xenia and Nia stayed on in Dallas for a couple more weeks before flying back to Baku.

   When I attended the next service at the Cathedral in Baku it was what is happening here? The entire inside of the Cathedral was covered in scaffolding, the outside grounds were all torn up and men were scurrying all around working. Total renovation in preparation of the Patriarch's visit. Every week it was a new experience as the scaffolding was moved around the Cathedral. What was really strange was the work was going on as the services were going on. So here you had painters hanging from the walls, workmen carrying planks and other items around and just all this general construction noise at the same time as the services are being said. The worst part was the smell from the oil based paints and the dust from all the plaster work. There were many Baba's walking around with paint or white dust on their coats from where they brushed up against a wall. The really tricky part was at the end of every Sunday service, there was the procession around the Cathedral and the reading of the resurrectional gospels. Each time I held a fan or a banner and it was a real chore guiding everything around the scaffolding until you got out of the Cathedral.

   Last Sunday, we arrived at the Cathedral and the main church was totally closed off and the Divine Liturgy was held in the tiny side chapel. That was a real challenge as people pushed in and out the entire service. After a while Nia and Xenia finally went outside and sat because the pushing and shoving in the small place along with the smell of the paint was a bit overwhelming. At the end of Divine Liturgy, we were waiting around in the front courtyard when along comes Bishop Alexander and his entourage. They stopped just opposite us and I could see him call over a member of the choir. Next he calls me over and the choir member, who speaks some English, told me that Bishop Alexander wanted me to go with him and attend the blessing of the crosses for the new cathedral. So I got into the Bishop's car, along with his Deacon and the driver, who is also a deacon and we went to the new Cathedral. This new Cathedral is actually the Church of the Myrrh Bearing Women which was built sometime in the 1880's. Following the invasion of the Soviet Red Army, the church was desecrated and used as a fort. The church finally fell into total disrepair. The church is now being renovated and will become the new Cathedral. We were there to bless the crosses that were to be placed on top of the cupulas. So following the blessing, Fr. Seraphim that I mentioned earlier, went up to the top of the cupula on a cherry picker and planted the cross on top. Pictures will be sent as soon as they are developed. Following the raising of the cross, Bishop Alexander took me into the inside of the church to see the renovations. I was to learn that Bishop Alexander and Fr. Sergi were both baptized in the church. The interesting part is that this took place after the church had been desecrated. The church had no roof but they would have services whenever they could even in the pouring rain, all the time in fear of the communist authorities. The new roof has been raised on the church I walked with the Bishop up to the altar where the shell of the iconastasis has been assembled. Bishop Alexander had me by the arm and I stopped as he entered through the royal doors. He asked me why I stopped and I told him that I could not enter the altar through the doors. He grabbed my arm and led me through the doors telling me that I enter with him. It is anticipated that Patriarch Alexy will consecrate the altar when he is in Baku. Following the visit we went back to St. Michael's Church where we all had lunch. Again the table was fully laden. Much vodka was consumed and many toasts given. I toasted Bishop Alexander on the work he had done to both preserve and spread the Orthodox faith in Baku. Following lunch, I was able to see the progress of the renovation work in St. Bartholomew's Chapel and then went home.

   This is a busy weekend coming up for us. First of all this is moving weekend. Exxon has decided that due to the potential seismic activity in the area, we had a 4.3 magnitude earthquake Monday morning, that we would all move to lower accommodations. The problem is that this is only a temporary move. We will be moving into a three bedroom apartment at the Hyatt Complex. We will be on the second floor here. We will be in this apartment for ten months until new villas are built for us. Luckily Exxon is hiring movers to do the entire pack up and move. We get to spend two nights in the Hyatt Hotel while the move is done. The real shame is that we will be loosing that fantastic view of watching the sun rise out of the Caspian Sea every morning. Our new view will be of a brick wall on one side and a busy street on the other. What is Xenia's reaction? - I have a swimming pool! We will be able to use all the facilities at the Hyatt Complex - even though we are already members of the health club there. Also this weekend is the Patriarch's visit. I am supposed to have lunch with the Patriarch, Bishop Alexander and the rest of the Cathedral Clergy on Sunday following Divine Liturgy.

   As usual we will have a lot to talk about next month. Until then wishing everyone well.

Nick, Nia and Xenia

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