On Friday, April 14, Eastern Orthodox Christians of Brighton Beach gathered to mourn the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and to observe Good Friday at St. John the Forerunner Orthodox Cathedral, located in Sheepshead Bay.
In this corner of the city, Orthodox Eastern Europeans who live nearby marked Good Friday with prayer and attended services—read in Russian, throughout the day. For many Eastern European immigrants, attending church here, especially on this holiday, serves as an opportunity to connect to their roots and homeland.
“I’m here today because it’s been a tradition of my grandmothers, grandfathers and all of my ancestors. It means a lot to me, because I keep the tradition. I was raised that way,” says Natalia Galitskaya, 45, pharmacist from Kiev, Ukraine who has been living in the United States for 15 years. “Coming here makes me feel better.”
As you enter the church, numerous “icons,” traditional Christian-Orthodox paintings with images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and other saints line the walls and lit candles and flowers fill the room. Men dressed casually and women in long skirts and colorful headscarves stand in the middle of the church praying and crossing themselves. Father Oleksandr, or “Batyushka,” as he is referred to, stands at the altar, with images of Jesus Christ and other saints in the background behind him. Gold is the dominant color at St. John the Forerunner Orthodox Cathedral, which was consecrated in 2014.
On the left, “Matushka,” the pastor’s wife, together with helpers, sells candles, prayer books, Easter eggs and “pashas,” traditional Orthodox Easter cakes. A donation box stands besides the goods, where people make contributions to the church.
“I go to this particular church because I love the aura in it. This church is close to me and it supports me abroad away from home,” says Irina Izhuk, 50, babysitter, originally from Ternopol, Ukraine.
Jovo, 67, contractor and an immigrant from Serbia can relate to Izhuk. “I’ve been going to church since I was 6 years old and it’s a family tradition. It’s part of my home (away from home),” he says.
All services at St. John the Forerunner Orthodox Cathedral are held in Russian, because the majority of church visitors prefer it, says the priest. “The people determine everything that we do,” says Father Oleksandr.
Good Friday’s celebration started at 10 a.m. with people praying every 3 hours. Father Oleksandr read three psalms from King David, who predicted Jesus’s crucifixion.
At 3 p.m. Father Oleksandr solemnly carried out the shroud, a white cloth covering a wooden icon of the body of Christ, and walked around the church. Father Oleksandr explained that when Jesus Christ died, he was taken off the cross and covered in a shroud, so today everyone comes to worship this shroud. “People in their cars were looking with great curiosity,” he says.
Around 6 p.m. people gathered once again for three hours of final prayers.
Good Friday also marks the last day of strict fasting, confessions and repentance. “Yes, I did have a confession already and no, I don’t have many sins, “ laughs Gleb Kiula, 43, a volunteer at the cathedral, who is originally from Gomel, Belorussia.. “Sometimes I get mad though. It happens. But then I confess and God always forgives.”
While Kiula does not work for the church, he says he spends the majority of his time there. He says that he knew that his passion was serving God since childhood. “I just feel very good when I’m in church,” he says.
Meanwhile Father Oleksandr, who started services at 10 a.m,. finally left the church for the day at 8 p.m. “Not sure why, but I’m in the best mood ever today,” he says.