19th April 1919 Saturday

Standing Room only and Rascally Priests

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“On Saturday, April 19th, the cars stopped running on the frozen river between our island of Solombola and Archangel, as the ice is expected to break up any day now. A wooden track was laid across the river for the use of pedestrians. At 11.30 p.m. Lt. Herman, Capt. Steuart and I went along to the Russian Church in Solombola to attend the midnight service. The church was absolutely packed full of people, but we managed to squeeze in somehow or other. There are no chairs, or seats of any description in Russian churches, and the whole floor space of this large church was crowded with all sorts of Russians, male and female, old and young. The crowds outside kept shoving and pushing in all during the service, and my toes and back suffered severely. It was more like a free fight, or one of Patrick Thomson’s cheap sales, than a church service. Everybody was buying candles at a stall just inside the main door. They lit them, and put one in front of one or other of the many ikons dotted about the church interior. Each worshipper also held a lighted candle or two in his or her hand, so that the heat inside the building soon become well-nigh unendurable. The smell of burning candles was sickening too, and my coat was soon festooned with candle grease! At midnight the altar doors opened, and a procession of rascally-looking priests entered. They marched, or rather elbowed their way through the mob in the body of the church, to the main entrance, where they left the church, and walked round the building outside with lighted candles. As they passed through the church they chanted a dismal ditty, and everybody tried to light their candles from those of the priests. It was a rare old scramble, and I was tossed about like a cork on a stormy sea. On the return of the priests all the electric lights were switched on, and the heat got worse. A mixed choir sang some lovely music whilst the priests visited the ikons. When we left at 1 a.m. the crowds were still in the church burning candles, moaning and crossing themselves. The church bells rang all night. It is an Eastertime custom in Russia to greet one’s friends with ‘Krasni Kress’ (Christ is Risen), and then embrace and kiss. When we left the church the streets were crowded with people (there was a special extension of the curfew order), and Steuart tried this on with one of his Barishna friends. He got his face soundly slapped for his trouble!

It snowed very heavily all that night, and lay about a foot deep next day.”

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