A saturday between heaven and hell

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My last day in Yekaterinburg was a Saturday, and this is a good opportunity to have a look at what the Russians are doing in their free time. I wouldn’t have expected that so much of it is a matter of heaven or hell, though 😉 To set the right mood before continuing, click on “Play”!

It was impossible to overlook all the churches in the city. I counted over thirty on the map, with Christianity absolutely dominating everything else. The Religion came to the region when the emperor of the Kievan Rus’ got baptised according to Greek Orthodox faith in the year 998. The Russian Orthodox church split off later, and maybe some already know that Orthodox customs are a bit different than others.

Priests and deacons may stay married if they’ve been married before joining the holy order, celibacy is technically only mandatory for bishops. Generally speaking, the Russian Orthodox seem to mostly agree with Catholics on a lot of things, down to the point where they accept the Catholic Pope. The Pope just seems to have the status of a bishop within Russia, though, and is not infallible.

A typical church is the already mentioned Bolshoi Zlatoust Church („Большой Златоуст“, „Great Chrysostom“). I immediately noticed the missing altar and the abundance of golden iconographs and other objects. Appearances are deceiving though: the altar is just behind the wall of pictures. You can hear what is spoken at the altar, but you’re not supposed to see too much, and the altar room is off limits to the normal worshipers.

Many objects have very elaborate embellishments. Clearly it’s much easier to make them with today’s machines, but I haven’t really seen such detailed objects in most western churches.

Icons and other pictures are of special importance. This picture contains many important personalities from the history of the church, but they are painted so small, it’s hard to properly see them with the naked eye!

Step one: Light a candle.

Step two: Bow in front of the icon or kiss it. Depending on the church and the customs, the ritual is repeated, and some of the worshipers position themselves directly in front of the glass and just continue kissing for a while.

There is no church without the old russian lady sitting at the stall at the entrance. The smallest candles go for 20 to 30 rubles (about 30 to 50 Eurocents), the big ones can go up to 300 rubles (about five euros). Icons in all forms and sizes are on sale as well.

Holy water can be filled into containers by the litre from big tanks. Some worshipers allegedly use it to water their plants at home, and others bring a glass and drink it right on the spot. Gossip has it that orthodox holy water, unlike catholic holy water, doesn’t have to be salted because it contains the holy ghost and can’t go bad. That seems to be an urban legend though 🙂

Russian priests are well-known to baptize everything, by the way – even nuclear weapons oder whole submarines.

In the Cathedral On The Blood („Храм на Крови“, also mentioned before), it is much darker. No outside light gets into the room, the only sources of light are a few candles and lamps.


Behind the Church On The Blood there are two more houses of worship. You can never have enough churches, even if the small wooden church is just large enough for the stall and maybe three worshipers.

But not only the worshipers in the churches were praying towards heaven that day, I’m pretty sure the sailors on the river Iset had sent one of two prayers as well. Their reward was an icy wind. The high temperature on that day was just eight degrees Celsius, at night the temperature fell to zero degrees. I was quite happy I had packed a thick jacket and a cap!

Close to the sailboats I came across the international Europe Asia Marathon, going across three and ten kilometers. According to the website more than a thousand participants had registered. The security people probably mistook me for a press photographer due to my huge camera and just waved me through, and I forgot to protest… 🙂

Tall or tiny, young or old, everybody was running the Marathon. I am used to walking a lot, but running a Marathon at 9:00 AM when the wind is blowing at six degrees Celsius, that can’t have been far away from hell!

Hard work for the ladies at the finishing line: handing out hundreds of medals without a break.

This man had just finished ten kilometers, on just one leg and crutches, in a best time…

…and these two girls had done the same on two legs. What’s your excuse? 🙂

Here are some more impressions to wrap up my last morning in Yekaterinburg. That day would later take a very crazy turn, but more about that next time 🙂

This post was written by Simon for One Man, One Map. The original can be found here. All rights reserved.

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