Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter in Zagreb

From Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia
After Friday night's sins and an early bed on Saturday night by consequence, I was ready to atone and to attend an 8 AM Easter service at the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Zagreb. I am not a believer, but I enjoy ceremony and I find other people's faith calming*.

Croatia is a predominantly Catholic country, so they're not into silly American Easter things like bunnies and baby chicks**. They are into eggs. Giant eggs, decorated in naive folk art style, have appeared in cities all over Croatia. Here in Zagreb an impressively realistic life-sized sculpture of Jesus and his Disciples (should "disciples" be capitalized?) at the Last Supper (also capitalized?) is in the main square; you can pull a seat up to the table yourself if you feel cheeky.

I feared my blue jeans would render me under-dressed on an Easter Sunday in a cathedral that houses a triptych by famous bunny-painter Albrecht Dürer, but clothes ran the gamut from casual to "Sunday best." The 8 AM service was attended mostly by gray-haired men and their dyed-haired wives, making me wonder about the future of the church in Croatia. The cathedral was not packed. In fact, attendance-wise it looked as I imagine a regular Sunday service would. Perhaps later services were more heavily-attended.

(That night I asked a group of four young women enjoying drinks if they had attended church that morning. Two had gone, the other two had not, but they all assured me that religion was important to them and still had a strong hold on Croatian youth in general. The two who went had also attended 8 AM ceremonies, but did not go to the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the other hand, musician Joe Pandur, who I bumped into at a bar later on that evening, was more dubious about the future of faith in Croatia.)

Many women and a few men carried baskets, the contents of which were concealed under linen. I suppose these are bread baskets connected to the ritual of the Eucharist?

I have a bad cold, at least partially attributable to the bad behavior I've documented previously in this blog, so during half the ceremony I was painfully self-conscious of my coughing and runny nose, but fortunately several others present seemed to be just as sick as myself, so I blended right in. During the second half of the ceremony I pulled myself together and was relatively free of outward signs of sickness. It was a minor Easter miracle.

I liked best the part of the ceremony where everybody turns and shakes hands with the people around them. Of course, I did not know the Croatian line everyone says to one another as they do this, so I muttered random syllables as I made eye-contact and desperately hoped I did not offend anybody. They should extend that part of the ceremony and turn it into a sort of speed-dating thing, except it would be a speed getting-to-know-your-random-Croatian-neighbors-in-church-on-Easter-Sunday thing. After all, considering how many wars have resulted in the Balkans and everywhere else at least partially as a result of religious division, wouldn't a greater emphasis on community over sermonizing help smooth things out a bit? OK, I've been drinking beers all evening, but that feeds into an earlier point, which is that no amount of beer interaction compares to the warm sincerity I felt looking into the eyes of those church-goers as we shook hands with one another at the Easter service, none of us sober, but drunk on something else. I'm beginning to understand the powerful social draw of religion.

At 8:45 sharp the ceremony ended, allowing for a fifteen minute transition between the exiting of the attendees and the entrance of the next batch of faithful eager for their own 9 AM injection of faith.

* Usually. But during my exodus from Hungary I was terribly irritated by the guy manically whispering his prayers as he read aloud from his Bible in the seat across from mine. In fact, I will be crude enough to say that he was really fucking annoying.

** Cristina, my girlfriend who was born in Orthodox Romania, is currently in the U.S. and was surprised by how little Americans celebrate Easter. For the benefit of Americans, I should explain that in addition to bunnies, Easter marks the time Jesus triumphed over death, thus trumping Adam and Eve's original sin and saving humanity.

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