I really enjoyed being there, and given the chance, would definitely go back for another visit!
So how did we spend our last day in Yekat?
1. We taught again in Anzhelika the Amazing's classroom. I shared the presentation that my 8th grade made with one of Anzhelika's 9th grade groups. They really enjoyed learning about GWMS and how it works. Cindy taught a fantastic lesson about stereotypes to another group. The 3rd class was shortened because the students in that class had an awards assembly of some sort, so class ended up being only about 15 minutes long. We did a question and answer session, and I had fun throwing candies at students who asked questions. I think everyone got at least one piece of candy. (I had brought Tootsie Rolls, and Cindy brought Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, both of which are candies that they don't have in Russia)
We also taught the students how to play Apples to Apples. They really got into the game. It took a little bit of coaching at the beginning, but by the time class was over, the students were really discussing and trying to persuade each Judge. We had to make a rule, though. No Russian! Only English!
One of Anzhelika the Amazing's most open and helpful students, Helen, gave us both a very personal gift. After she had spent time with us earlier in the week, we befriended her on Facebook. She had gone through our facebook photos and found a picture that she then used to draw a portrait for each of us! Her talent is amazing!
Father Maxim led us to the library in the Patriarch's residence where we were served tea. He patiently answered questions about the Cathedral, the history of the Orthodox faith and how it survived during Soviet times. He shared that most of the books in that library had been saved by Russians who fled to America when the Russian Revolution happened. Their descendants have been returning these books and other things to the church in recent years. America helped to save the Orthodox Church's history.
He also talked about how Tsar Nicholas II and his family came to be glorified as Saints. According to what Father Maxim said, and if I'm remembering the conversation correctly, Saints are examples to man about how to live, and how to die. While people may do many things in their life, what is important is what they're doing when they die. The family of the Tsar, were living their life in such a way that several servants voluntarily stayed with the family, knowing that they were going to die with them, the family stayed true to the Orthodox faith, despite threats against them because of it, and they died proclaiming God.
Finally, He had many wonderful things to say about the Orthodox Religion and his own history. He had been a fighter in University doing Karate, but when he was in his mid 20's, he was "called by God" and became a priest. In the Russian Orthodox Church, priests can get married. Father Maxim has 7 children! The obvious love he has for his family, and his voiced opinions about the importance of family mirrors many of my own beliefs from my own Religious background. The time he spent fairly flew by, and we didn't realize how late it was until he said that he had to leave to get ready for the evening mass.
He had another priest, Father Iley, who had also been talking with us, give us a tour of the Cathedral, and gave us permission to take photographs inside of the Cathedral. Father Iley also took our photos while we were touring! The first thing we did was climb up to the bell tower. Since it is Lent, the bells were all silenced and they don't usually allow people up there during Lent. It was cold, windy, and beautiful!
Then, Father Iley took us into the main Cathedral, which is technically closed. The Cathedral is a recent construction, and as such, the inside is still bare of the icons that traditionally decorate Orthodox churches. This Cathedral is closed because they are in the process of painting all the icons. The artists are using paints made from Ural Mountain gemstones and special techniques to apply the gold and the icons to the walls. At the time we were there, only the main dome and part of the main altar were done, the entire rest of the Cathedral still has to be finished. Father Iley says they are hoping it will all be done by July! (That's 3 months!)
Tatiana and her husband had prepared a feast! When we arrived, the table was already groaning under the weight of the Zakuski (appetizers). There were three bowls of smoked chicken salad, pickles that Tatiana's husband, Alexander, had grown and that she had made, forest mushrooms that they had picked themselves and preserved, toast, beet salad, salo (a Ukrainian specialty), ham, and salted / preserved fish that Tatiana had done herself.
We ate so much wonderful Zakuski. Tatiana's husband brought out some Vodka that he had infused with different flavors that everyone else tried. I had more Morse! (I love Morse!) and there were toasts all around. After we had slowed down and were all leaning back in our chairs from the exhaustion of eating all the wonderful Zakuski, Tatiana energetically popped up and disappeared into the kitchen. Bowls of soup came out, steaming with the delicious aroma of the wild mushrooms that Tatiana and Alexander had picked last summer. After the soup, Tatiana disappeared again! As the sounds of frying and the delicious smell of potato wafted into where we were sitting, Cindy, Jared and I looked at each other. There was more food coming! Tatiana had made some incredible potato pancakes that didn't just have potato in them, there were bits of ham and other vegetables... again, we stuffed ourselves! She kept asking if we wanted more!
We finished the potato pancakes and Tatiana and Alex cleared the table. We thought we were done! Think again! Tatiana came out with a two tiered plate full of the biggest grapes I had ever seen, fresh pears, apples and oranges, all cut up and ready for eating. I had half a pear and part of a banana. It was the perfect ending to the dinner. Or so I thought.
Tatiana disappeared again and re-appeared with some chocolate candies! They these little balls of deliciousness. A hazelnut in the middle, with hazelnut filling around it, with a crispy shell (like the crispy parts inside of a Kit-Kat), and then coated with chocolate. Delicious! After each of us had one, we thought we were one.
Nope! Out she comes from the kitchen with ice-cream! The ice-cream was covered with berries that Tatiana and Alexander had picked last summer and frozen. Then they poured some homemade strawberry jam over top! By this time, I had stopped taking pictures and was trying to figure out how all four of us, Anzhelika the Amazing, Jared, Cindy, and I, would fit into the taxi.
Tatiana had one final surprise just for Cindy and me. She gave us both a lovely necklace to remember her by! I was overwhelmed with her generosity. She gave us each a kiss on the cheek and about 4 or 5 of the best hugs I've had in a long time, and we went on our way, overflowing with food, and overwhelmed with the love, hospitality, and generosity that was shown to us by Tatiana, Alexander, and Anzhelika the Amazing.