I remember a steep trail, new leaves on birches, and the embroidered crosses on my grandmother’s white towel. We were walking up the hill with my grandmother to visit the graves of my ancestors. We reached the top, and my grandmother spread the towel and said to me, "My great grandmother knit it".
She always brought the towel when we visited the graves of our departed family. We went every year, on the ninth day after Pascha. She held my hand as we walked from grave to grave. One by one, we approached each family member. We rolled a painted egg, said the paschal salutation, lighted a candle and prayed. My grandmother talked to them as if they were alive.
She spoke to me about my ancestors– my great grandfather Ivan, her two brothers who died in infancy, and many others. She kept them alive in her memory and asked me to do the same. With these visits, she passed on to me the belief in everlasting life. She is no longer with us, but I come to her grave to say my paschal greetings. I do not have the towel with the crosses, but I come with a pure heart. I bring my children, and I hold their hands like she did mine.
We celebrate the Day of Rejoicing on 11 May. We remember all those who have died and pray for their resurrection. In my country, this feast is also called Radunitsa. Both names share the same root and have similar meanings. But how can commemoration of the dead be synonymous with rejoicing? How can we rejoice as we visit our departed, stand at the graveside, mourn for our loved ones, and are reminded of the fragility and finiteness of our own lives?
There is great wisdom in celebrating Radunitsa during Paschaltide, a time filled with the joy of Christ’s resurrection. It is present in our church services and our exchange of Paschal salutations. During the first week of Paschaltide, we see our godchildren, friends and relatives, online and in person. We rejoice and exchange gifts. Likewise, on the ninth day after Pascha, we honour with the rest of our church our departed friends and family. This day brings us all together on the church floor as we share the same hope of resurrection. We are no longer separate but united, and no longer in grief but in joy.
We are members of one family and one church, and our togetherness lasts well beyond this day. As one wise man said, when our loved ones depart, they just move to another room of the same house. Yet they are also rejoicing, as Pascha is no less real to them than it is for us. We make the paschal salutation to them, and their response resounds in our hearts. We reach out to them as they do to us.
Our departed ones still care for us. "Fear not," they say to us, reassuringly. Their love transgresses the boundaries of this world and works miracles. It keeps us going during our moments of weakness, and makes our happy moments even happier. Our prayers resonate and chime in, making us more resilient than before.
On earth or in heaven, we are going in the same direction and share the same hope. Straight or winding, narrow or broad, visible or invisible, our paths lead us upwards, where we will unite with our Lord. Making progress on this earth is an uphill battle, but our departed are watching over us as we tread along. My grandmother is praying for me, and so are my ancestors.
Our ways may lie in different words or go in parallel directions, but they will cross. We will meet our ancestors somewhere between heaven and earth, amid a boundless ocean of wind, love and spirit. We will salute to them, “Christ is risen”, and life will triumph over death. Their response, “truly He has risen”, will warm our hearts, like it did on Radunitsa.
Yevgeny Lukomsky works at the Convent's audio studio, and his wife Ludmila teaches at the Convent's school. They are parents of three children and have agreed to share their views on the challenges of family life and parenting.
On 2 June, 2019, the church in honour of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco was consecrated. Among our guests was Bishop Emeritus of the Russian Church Abroad Michael (Donskov). He shared with us his childhood memories of St John.