That little church in Kazbegi
The door of the tiny Kazbegi church is just half-closed, the gate is half-closed, two men are chatting on the garden benches: it is clear, tourists are not invited, whatever is happening within its walls… But it’s Red Friday, I’m taking a walk under a bright in the late morning, and that little door is irresistible…
Also known as “Good Friday” or “Great Friday”, Red Friday is deeply felt by Orthodox Chistians, who remember Jesus’ crucifixion and death praying and celebrating. In Greece, one of the Countries where it’s officially observed, there’s a ritual lament called the “Epitaphios Procession”, during that a symbolic decorated coffin is carried through the streets.
Inside the little church, two priests in purple robes with gold embroidery, three black as ravens, mutter the Scriptures behind their very looong beards, while young “altar boys” take turns easily, putting on vestments over their sneakers. Red Friday is the holiest day of the Orthodox Easter celebrations: the day of mourning, of pain, of blood-red eggs, traditional Easter food.
Three days later, these eggs will roll on the graves of dead loved ones, together with bread and wine, not allowed during the ceremony today. I’ve always felt an intimate and mysterious solemnity inside Orthodox churches: it’s like an untouchable “aura”, that even an atheist as I am feels and breathes with awe.
Deep canyons and mysterious rituals
In the afternoon I take a trip organized by a tour operator of friendly Poles, Mountain Freaks. The valleys surrounding Kazbegi, like the wonderful rust-colored Truso’s Valley with its mineral springs, cannot be explored because of the snow. A group of funny Italians from Genova, who practice ski-mountaineering, tell me that “at worst you get your feet wet”… but I’m alone and I don’t think it’s advisable, so I prefer to take a group tour.
Jumping on a minibus driven by a reckless Georgian driver we go to explore the Darjali Gorge, 1,000 meters deep. The first stop is Tsdo village: here live only 5 people, and it is said to be the place where ancient Georgian rituals are still practiced today, such as ritual sheep killing on a mysterious altar. We we visit a monastic complex very close to the Russian border, and here we clearly see from a distance soldiers guarding the customs, and queues of trucks stopped the night before, ready to cross after the opening. The end of this bright sunny day is like a family Sunday, visiting two cool waterfalls where it’s easy to imagine Georgian families during a picnic…