Xenia in Baku:

August, 2001

Greetings to All:

   The summer is slowly winding down here in Baku. I can not say whether this summer has been especially hot; it seems not to be as hot as last summer. It has certainly been dry. We have not had any rain since some time in April, so everything is looking brown.

   As many of you know, Nia and Xenia were back in the States for three weeks. They were in Dallas where Nia had some needed surgery. Nothing to worry about but something that could not be performed here. Xenia spent a lot of time with her grandparents and godparents while Nia was recuperating.

   As for me, I spent my time working here in Baku. Nia and Xenia left for Dallas in the early morning hours of July 23, and I do mean early. Flights leave here at very early hours, like 4:40 AM, so that connections can be made in Europe and on to the States. They flew to Zurich where they spent several hours and then connected onto a direct flight to Dallas. After I saw them off and then got some sleep, I went to work that morning. When I got to work, I received a telephone call from Fr. Sergi. He told me that Bishop Alexander requested my presence at supper that night. He told me that it was the feast of St. Anthony whom our Proto-Deacon is named after. I arrived at the Church at 7:00 PM and was directed around back. They had several grills going in the courtyard on which they were grilling shashlik. Also, a big long table was set up outside with food and plenty of drink on it. Luckily, the sun quickly went behind the buildings before the meal started otherwise it would have been just unbelievably hot out there. It was bad enough I had come from work so I was still wearing a jacket and tie. The clergy started arriving and several of them I hardly recognized in their "civilian" clothes. Wearing clerical cassocks on the street is still frowned upon here. Anyway, they changed into their cassocks and finally the Bishop arrived. With Fr. Sergi interpreting, Bishop Alexander asked what I thought of the Patriarch’s visit and how everything was with Metropolitan Theodosius. Bishop Alexander said that when he was in Moscow he had met the OCA representative to Moscow.

   I sat at the Bishop’s left at the table with Proto-Deacon Anthony at his right. Fr. Sergi was next to me providing interpretation. The meal was started with the singing of the Lord’s Prayer followed by the Bishop’s blessing. As usual the meal was superb. Everything from the zakuski (hors d’oeuvres) to dessert. Of course, what would be any Russian meal without lots of vodka and toasts. Everyone was toasting Proto-Deacon Anthony on his Name’s day. I learn so much from talking to these people, especially what they all went through during the Soviet era. Following the meal, I took the two Fr. Sergi’s home. We stopped at Fr. Sergi #1’s flat where we enjoyed some tea. Here I am, in a stifling hot apartment, wearing a jacket and tie, drinking hot tea at mid-night exchanging experiences with two Russian Priests named Sergi in Baku. We had a good time talking and drinking tea. Then it was time to quickly take Fr. Sergi #2 home and I finally went home myself.

   With Nia and Xenia gone, I decided to do the church tour here in Baku; I attended a different church each week. First I went to the Church of the Holy Myrrh-Bearing Women which the Patriarch had consecrated back in May. Work is now proceeding more slowly on the church’s restoration. This is now the Baku Cathedral as witnessed by the Bishop’s staff in this Church to the right of the Royal Doors, next to the icon of Christ. Unfortunately, attendance here is poor. There are several reasons for this. First of all the church is not easily accessible. Most people do not have cars and the church is not located on any major bus or tram route. To get here from the nearest bus route you have to walk up a very steep hill. Second, many people have been going to the other churches for a very long time and are reluctant to change. Anyway, several of the priests are now assigned to this church and the full liturgical cycle is being celebrated. They pray that as time goes on the attendance will increase.

   The next week I went to St. Michael’s and I picked the wrong Sunday to be there. It was a very hot day with no breeze. The church is located on a second floor and they must have locked it up all night because when I walked in the heat was just unbelievable. And it didn’t help that the windows were closed on one side due to traffic noise. Let’s say that by the end of the Divine Liturgy I was ready to wilt. We know many of the people at the three churches and of course they were all asking about Nia and Xenia. While I was at St. Michael’s I got the time to look in awe at the magnificent icons that are on the walls. I know that many of them are hundreds of years old.

   Nia and Xenia arrived back in Baku on August 15. Just as flights leave Baku in the early morning hours, they also arrive in the early morning hours. Their flight landed at 3:50 AM. Luckily, the flight was not crowded, they quickly cleared customs and we got home and I was able to get a couple of hours of sleep before having to go to work. Xenia quickly moved back in and spread herself out again all over the apartment.

   Last Sunday was the Feast of the Transfiguration (Old Calendar). So we had everyone bringing in their fruits for blessing. Tables were set up in the back courtyard where the fruits were placed and the babas stood guard over their baskets throughout the Liturgy in the hot sun. We were now at the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary – the old Cathedral. Of course being a holiday, the church was the fullest I had seen it all summer. The old babas would bring in their fruit and occasionally you would here something drop and see an apple go rolling by. The fruit was blessed at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy and as usual, Xenia made out very well with everyone giving her blessed fruit. Hieromonk Alexander walked in with a gigantic bag of fruit for Xenia and gave her a big kiss on the forehead. I think we walked out with 20 pounds of apples, pears, grapes, plums and figs – all organically grown, of course.

   This week we got to experience first hand the expertise of the Baku Fire Department. Someone supposedly saw black smoke coming from the roof of the building we live in and called the fire department. It was like watching the Keystone Cops. They rattled up in antiquated fire engines that must be at least 50 years old. One of the engines almost drove right past the building despite one of the fighters flagging him in. The trucks entered the parking lot and men dressed in camouflage jumped off and jogged into the building. I was not home yet but Nia and Xenia were in the kitchen, saw all this and decide that since no one was going to tell them anything, they’d better leave the building. They walked down the fire stairs and entered the lobby. In the lobby the firemen were all standing around, with the Hyatt Security guards and the building maintenance staff. They were standing in front of the elevators and everyone was yelling at each other and pointing up. Suddenly, an internal whistle blew and everyone went outside for a cigarette. Meanwhile, Nia and Xenia were already outside with the rest of the Exxon residents just standing around. Next thing you know, the firemen cum soldier, leapt back into the fire trucks and left. Bottom line, there were boiler troubles that resulted in black smoke coming out of the chimney. No fire.

   The past two days has been interesting militarily. Iran has been repeatedly violating Azeri air space recently so Azerbaijan decided to call on some help from their friends in Turkey. The Turkish airforce has been doing flybys the past two nights that has resulted in window rattling sonic booms. Tonight they were criss-crossing the city in their F-16 fighter jets which resulted in massive traffic jams downtown as people crowded along the Caspian waterfront to see the air show. I guess they’re just trying to show Iran that Azerbaijan has friends that they can call on.

   Next week Xenia begins school again. She will be going three days a week for half a day. However, she will only attend for the first week because the first three weeks of September we will be going on holiday. We will be spending three days in Istanbul, three days in Paris and then two weeks of rest and relaxation on the French Riviera.

   ‘Til next month. Nick, Nia and Xenia


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