The church bells are deafening, ringing out across the city, announcing, “It is time.” Time for what, I don’t know.
I’m standing directly in front of onion-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia, trying to decide if I want to join the crowd in pushing my way up the steps and into the door.
It’s good I was hesitating.
Priests appear, green robes flapping in the wind, arms straining to hold the crosses erect. Five, six, seven priests, coming down the steps, in pace with the knell. Behind them are perhaps a hundred women, heads covered in scarves, purses clutched in hands in front of them, backs bent with age, making it easier to watch their feet so as not to trip down the steps. The crowd is energized, cameras whipping up, shutters whirring, people running across the street to get closer, to get The Shot. There is a moment of awe as the procession rounds the corner and is gone – did we really just see that? What an amazing opportunity!
I’m to the side of the church now, watching the other side, wondering where they are walking to, if they are just going around the church and then back in. Should I wait, camera ready? But the bells have stopped, the crowd is pushing its way back into the church, a massive tidal wave gaining in volume and height. I sigh, brace myself, and join the flood.
It takes five minutes to climb the twenty steps, push through the double doors, the lobby, and the second set of double doors into the nave. It is a disappointment – thirty feet wide by ten feet deep, nothing incredibly exciting. I wonder if the church can even hold the number of people I passed who were leaving as I was coming in. I head back out, telling my friends I’ll be across the street.
I fight the crowd back out of the church, cross the street, and find the front of the parlaiment fairly empty. Ah, space.
Klong-Klong-Klong. I whip around as the bells ring out again. To the left of the church, crosses and fluttering robes appear.
I am now the one racing across the street, getting The Shot. The church officials pass, the ladies with covered heads and clutched purses. The processional stops in front of the church, Priests on the steps, women on the street. Water flies, and the crowd is blessed. Snap-snap-snap – I don’t bother looking at the screen, checking the histogram, I just shoot, trying to get the water flying, trying to capture the experience. Photos never do it justice.
The street we are on is a through street. A woman in a Mercedes is aggravated, inching her way up, waving people out of the way, honking her horn. The lookey-loos move aside, but is she aware that the biggest part of the crowd is elderly, local women, currently still in the middle of some sort of religious ceremony? She honks again. Perhaps she doesn’t care.
I find my friends. “We’ve been blessed!” They were hit with holy water. No head scarves or clutched purses or bent backs, but no less awed by the experience.
(Did you see my first blog post on my trip to Tallinn?)