It was midnight when we finally left our apartment to walk over to Danilovsky Monastery for Easter Vigil service. Fireworks were going off in the distance marking the city's welcome of Easter. The streets were quiet, relatively empty of people which seemed so strange for Moscow.
We entered the gates of the Monastery, a 10 minute walk from our house, after passing through a non-working metal detector (not unusual in Moscow). The service from the main Hram (XPAM) was wafting out of speakers in the courtyard. Hundreds of people were milling about carrying candles in a subdued, yet festive atmosphere.
Russian Orthodox houses of worship are relatively small compared to their Catholic counterparts. There's also no seating and worshipers stand throughout the entire service (4 hours for Easter Vigil!). We tried to squeeze (literally) through the doors to get a peak and hear the music. The church was ablaze in light and the enormous golden chandelier radiated from the ceiling. An all male choir sang a repeated refrain in old church Slavonic while three priests encircled the inner part of the church carrying large, ornate candles. The congregation joined in with the choir on the refrain "XPUCTOC BOCKPECE" (khri-STOS vos-KREH-seh) 3 times. A joyful welcoming of the Risen Christ.
XPUCTOC BOCKPECE (khri-STOS vos-KREH-seh), which, in English, means "Christ is Risen!" It's the Paschal greeting, to which the proper answer is, "BOUCTUHY BOCKPECE" (vo-EEST-ih-nu vos-KREH-seh), which means "Truly he is risen!"
This dance of the candles, refrain and congregational response went on for at least half an hour while we were there, and I suspect long before and after we arrived. Growing tired of being packed in like sardines, we wandered to the basement where several icons were being prayed to and priests were offering Easter blessings. The crowds continued to amaze me as they lined up for a blessing. A few words were whispered in the priest's ear, the petitioner leaned over and the priest's stole covered their head, the priest offered the sign of the cross over the stole draped on one's head, a kiss to the cross and the Bible lying on the podium and the sign of the cross finished the ritual.
We wandered to the other XPAM where a mixed voice choir sang in the upstairs sanctuary, icons and frescoes lined the walls. Children lay sleeping in parents arms or sacked out on benches. Again everyone stood and some joined in the acappella singing. There was quiet stillness.