Holy Week, Schmoly Week

It’s Holy Week but it doesn’t feel that way. Lent hasn’t felt like Lent, either. I’ve made and eaten a lot of cake. I’ve had wine in the middle of the week. I’ve slept late almost every day, and went for days at a time without meditating.

It’s weird, but back in February, when I was trying determine what I would give up for lent, I kept coming up against a big blank. I tried to give up coffee because that seemed sufficiently painful—and I lasted exactly three days. Now I think I must have been intuiting how bad things would get without any help from my lack of caffeine.

I find myself reminiscing about Holy Week back in my Orthodox days. Those who could went to church every single day. It was a hassle, but the church-nerd in me loved it. On Good Friday alone there were three different services to commemorate distinct events Christ’s sentencing and crucifixion. The services were exceedingly sad and somber, but in between there was an undercurrent of camaraderie and joy. Using fresh greenery and real roses, the women would clean and decorate the bier. Downstairs, people were boiling and dying red eggs for Pascha.

I miss those days. Those ancient songs and rituals connected me to a lineage of countless faithful (and unfaithful) believers. It comforted me to press my body into those familiar postures of veneration, to prostrate myself or kiss an icon or tip my head back for a spoonful of warm wine during Eucharist.

Now I watch the priests on Facebook, lofting the host above the altar like a tiny moon, breaking it for an empty church. Only the dead are there, in the columbarium. At home, my partner and I exchange Ritz crackers and sip the dregs from a bottle of Chianti.

What’s the deal with church anyway? What’s the point? I’ve been asking myself for years and can never get a straight answer from myself. It is for structure? For an aesthetic experience? For a collective in which I can share and examine my particular experience with God? For me it’s all these things and more. It’s also less. By which I mean, it’s simpler than any of that: I go because I’m drawn to it. I love church—Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish—I love it all, as long as no one hands me a live snake.

I miss St. Mark’s. I miss standing and kneeling for liturgy. I miss reading Psalms from the lectern. I miss exchanging the peace with real handshakes and hugs. I miss the smiles now concealed behind masks.

I miss the holy water font and the colored stones in its basin.

I miss the way the light is all golden in the sacristy and yet cool and blue as it falls over the pews. I miss the reassuring flicker of the red votive above the small door where they keep the goods. I miss how some of the prayer books are new and stiff and creaky, and some flop open, exposing their spine-flesh. And because I don’t have a prayer book of my own, I miss the prayers themselves.

Somehow I suspect Sunday isn’t going to feel like Easter. I can put on my Easter dress (instead of yoga pants) for some #quarantine photos, I can roast a chicken and bake (another) cake. I probably will.

I will probably remind myself that faithful people have endured worse than this, that our church hasn’t been bombed, it’s just shuttered for a while. That feasting can be an act of hope and defiance. I’ll probably light a candle for you, whoever you are. Light one for me, too.

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