Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Kashveti, Laguna Vere

Derek and I attend services at Kashveti Church on Rustaveli avenue in the heart of Tbilisi. Fr. Theodore had introduced us to Fr. Giorgi Zviadadze (or Mama Giorgi--yes, in Georgian "Mama" is father, and "Deda", or "Dedi", is mother), the rector of Kashveti, during our second day in Tbilisi, as he is one of the few English speaking priests in Tbilisi. It is for this reason (i.e. so he can hear our confessions) that we attend Kashveti.

Kashveti is a relatively new church, having been built in the early 20th century, but like Sameba Cathedral (built in the last decade and still not complete), it was built in the traditional Georgian style (i.e. cross-cupola). The name Kashveti comes from the words kva (stone) and shva (give birth) in honor of the legend that a pregnant woman who falsely accused St. David of being the father gave birth to a stone when he touched her belly, and it was revealed who the true father was. The interior of Kashveti reminds me of most Orthodox churches I've seen, but everything is made of stone. Even the iconostasis is made of marble. What I find most interesting is the fresco above the altar. It is definitely not Byzantine style, and if it's Georgian, it reminds me a lot of South Asian art. I'll try to take a picture of it and post it. I also found it curious that a copy of DaVinci's last supper is framed above the royal doors.

Vespers begins at 5 pm on Saturdays, and even though we make a point of getting there by 4:45 at the latest, the church is already quite full. I would guess that the floor area is no more than 2,000 square feet, but hundreds of people fill the church, so many that the church is overflowing with people standing outside (maybe this is why Orthodox churches are "standing room only"). More than likely the huge crowd is due to the church's downtown location, but every one of them are serious churchgoers, clearly there for prayer. It is quite encouraging to see that so many of the faces there are young, from infants to young adults.

The Georgian Orthodox Church does not practice frequent communion as the OCA does; therefore, in order to receive communion, you must give confession the evening before--every time. But this hardly means that people rarely take communion; rather, most of the serious Christians simply make a habit of going to confession very regularly. I draw this conclusion partly from the observation that confessions are very short, lasting no more than 2 minutes, and most around the 1 minute range. There may be a practical explanation for short confessions, too--if you have several hundred parishioners and only 3 priests, and a priest might hear dozens of confessions on a Saturday night... I have gone to Kashveti twice now and taken communion both times (the OCA and Georgian Orthodox Church have a warm relationship, so communion is not a problem). Even though it's all in Georgian, the Divine Liturgy is the Divine Liturgy no matter what language, and I can follow along. Besides being crammed next to each other, going up to take communion itself is a bit of a hardship: Georgians don't believe in lines, perhaps this is rebellion against the Soviet Days, but there is simply a mob of people jostling against each other to reach the chalice. Luckily, I stand out as a foreigner, and as Georgians considers guests as "Gifts from God," both times I have been (eventually) ushered to the front of the mob by old ladies.

After Liturgy last Sunday, I went with my friend Giorgi Chekhiedze to Laguna Vere, the swimming pool of Tbilisi. During Soviet times, the pool was the training center for potential Olympic Athletes. Thinking that it would be simply a matter of going to the pool for a swim, I was surprised when Giorgi said that first I would need to have ID photos made. As it turns out, Laguna Vere takes the health of its customers' feet very seriously, and before any new member can swim there, he must first pass a health screening, which consists showing one foot to the nurse. No fungus, no problem. I was promptly issued my Laguna Vere ID and proceeded to the pool.

The pool was your standard outdoor pool with three depths: 6 meters, 2.5 meters, and 1 meter. After swimming a few lengths, Giorgia and I made our way to the water slide. Once tired of that, we joined a couple of kids in a game of pool volleyball. I would have played more if my legs hadn't decided to cramp on me (it always happens to me when I haven't been swimming for a while). After having spent a few hours there, we left and I returned home.

Monday and Tuesday were spent at Gudushauri, as usual. We have settled into a nice routine there and are beginning to really enjoy our time there. The nurses enjoy having us around and are intrigued by our Georgian homework and eager to help us out. On Monday we observed an inguinal hernia repair. I'll spare you the gory details, but I will say that I was fascinated by the manner in which the small intestine was simply shoved back into the abdomen.

Today, our free day, was spent without Fr. Theodore, so we made our own plans. As it was July 4th, Derek and I agreed that the only proper way to celebrate the holiday would be to eat at McDonald's. We invited Ana (a Georgian U of C student whom we had met earlier) and Nikoloz, an incoming U of C student whom we hadn't met yet. We filled Nikoloz in on life at the U of C and I did my best to defend his top choice of dorm (Shoreland), as it is my dorm, too, from the critical comments of Derek and Ana (Shoreland is the best!). The McDonald's was much like your typical European McDonald's: nicely furnished, multiple stories, and (for Georgia) an island of cleanliness. During our meal, the electricity went out a couple of times. No one there was surprised, as power outages were once very common just a few years ago.

Not quite full (McDonald's never fills me up), we left our separate ways. I headed off to meet Giorgi, Derek felt like exploring Old Tbilisi, and Nikoloz and Ana returned to their respective homes. Giorgi and I were off to the American Chamber of Commerce in Tbilisi to buy tickets for the 4th of July celebrations at Turtle Lake (Kus Tba), actually held on July 7th. By now used to impromptu meetings with Giorgi's many friends, I wasn't too surprised when he told me that we would first be going to an Azerbaijani restaurant to eat with some of his friends. The food was delicious and very different from what I had been eating. There were shish-kabobs made from lamb, beef, and turkey, and a repulsive looking soup (it consisted of lamb, fat, and garbanzo beans--supposedly the perfect treatment for a hangover) that actually tasted quite good.

Eventually I made it to AmCham where I bought tickets for myself, Giorgi, Ana, and Nikoloz. Being a hot day, Giorgi and I decided to go to the swimming pool again. We ended up spending 3+ hours there swimming, sliding, and napping. I returned home only to find that the electricity was out, which is why this post is late in being published!


Anonymous said...

This is Peggy, saying that I have been very good during your absence, and therefore I demand that you buy me a drinking horn or a dagger.

Your deserving sister,

Ps. both will be better

Anonymous said...

Hey bro,

You should buy me a dagger or a dinosaur.

later tater,

inga said...

Shoreland is the best. No question. Which dorm were the other kids in? If it was Max please hit them on the head for me. Thanks CB.