Some time ago I was passing – as I usually do on Mondays – near the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It was just before eight a.m., every scrap of concentration that was available to be me at that early hour was concentrated on keeping me up right and preventing me from dancing a sliding dance on the very slippery metro stairs and pavements covered with snow. It was dark. Around me I could only hear the even steps of other dawn ghosts, going to work for the way-too-early shift. Suddenly, right above my head, the bells started ringing at that bitter, grey hour. It wasn’t just one, deep, rumbling bell, but a conglomerate of all sorts of bells, small and big, the chaotic sounds of which gathered together in one, uniform melody:
When an hour later I was coming back the same way, the bells kept on ringing. There was a steady, however sparse, crowd of people flowing from the metro. It was nine a.m. on a Monday. In front of the entrance to the Cathedral, right outside of its fence, two large screens were placed. The unfolding of the events inside was transmitted live. And inside a ceremony was taking place – what ceremony exactly and what was the reason for it I still don’t quite know. A large group of people gathered in the very centre of the church, around the priests celebrating the liturgy. The crowd was very Russian: personal space was but a concept. People seen by a camera near the ceiling looked like ants or like fillings of metal gathered together with a magnet. They were moving around the icon in the centre of the church and the priests near it. There were more and more of them.
I went inside. I was asked to walk through a metal detector. My bag was looked through. People were really gathering near the centre of the huge hall, as if pulled by the gravity of people who were already there, as if a galaxy was being born. The monstrosity of the church, however, was not impressed by the mass of people in it. The Cathedral looked empty.
Far away from the main celebrations a halo of all kinds of faithful was going in all different directions: stoop-backed elderly ladies murmuring something to themselves; beautiful, young women in shiny fur coats and flowery headscarfs; elderly gentlemen with hats in their hands; priests from other churches in the holiday attires, with big, golden crosses on the chests. They were approaching the crowd to cast a quick look at the celebrations, and then attending back to their own business. Chaos – or complete freedom and individualism, coming from where it’s least expected.