I opened a yellowing book of sheet music and began to fumble through Schubert's Serenade. At this point, it might be better to draw a curtain over that attempt, and redirect the listener to Horowitz's version. He adds a few extra flourishes, which are not in my book. Snazzy. (Blows kisses in Horowitz's general direction.)
In my hand I hold a laurel leaf, collected from the floor of the church. I pinch it and inhale its clean, lemony pungency. Laurel leaves whisper to the senses of ancient victories, of heroes, of the priesthood, nobility, of a myth about a forest nymph who ran from the sun god, and was transformed into a tree.
Today marks the holiday of Pascha in the Eastern church, where it is not uncommon to memorize Paschal greetings in 12 languages and to garble them, or not, according to the amount of sleep one has had recently. A light shining from the cupola cast an eerie four-armed shadow into the ice fog before dawn this morning. Gathered together, quietly, in the dark, we passed a flame from candle to candle until the church was filled with light and, then formed a slow, shuffling procession around the building.
I recalled an early account of how this story began:
"When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body." (Mark 16:1.)
It was the women who were there at the last, and at the first. Not the male apostles, but the women, to whom not very many pages of the scriptures are devoted. This coincidence may well have registered with some other thoughtful persons, including the writer Mandelstam, and the painter, Nesterov.
I find it poetically fitting that while the women were engaged in one of the most earthly, mundane, and heart-wrenching of tasks, a bright angel appeared to them, and them alone.
|Mikhail Nesterov, The Empty Tomb|