Orthodox Churches and me

The places in the world I have travelled to so far have often brought me into contact with Eastern Orthodox Christianity; namely, their churches. The first time I had ever seen an Orthodox church was the Cathedral of St Sava in Belgrade, and it was an impressive introduction to their architecture. Although I’m not a religious person at all, the anthropologist in me just loves to watch how people express spirituality the world over.

Eastern Orthodox church architecture certainly has cornered the market in size. I’d never seen a church as large as the one in Belgrade. I remember standing in its grounds and listening to the bells ring out and being completely blown away by the sheer scale of it. The bells were so loud I could feel the vibrations in my chest.

Then, in Moscow, I looked over the river at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the golden domes like the tips of a crown in the sun. I couldn’t believe that there could be one bigger than St Sava’s; but it’s in the record books as the tallest Orthodox Christian Church in the world.

It was by complete coincidence that two two photos of me looking so small in front of these two amazing churches happened. As I ran ahead of my friends shouting ‘take a picture of me, take a picture of me!’ in Moscow, I had completely forgotten about doing the same thing in Belgrade three years before.

It was only until I looked at my photos when I got back that I realised this picture of me standing in front of a Cathedral looked so familiar . . .

I love these photos for the beauty of the buildings behind me, but also for the perspective my tiny speck of a body gives their size. I look so small in comparison to these ancient buildings that mean so much for so many people, and have done for generations. I’m just one traveller passing through in the blink of an eye.

I also think that on a personal level it’s quite nice to compare myself in the two photos. In the one on the right in Belgrade I’m standing a little awkwardly, my generic ‘look at me in front of a place of interest’ pose hardly practised. I’m wearing my grey university hoody (which looking back I just can’t believe that I wore all around the Balkans). I look slightly nervous, like I’m worried we’re doing something we shouldn’t. It was my first day on my trip around the Balkans, my first experience of travelling without my family ever. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed, exhausted from our stressful arrival the night before, and suffering some pretty high levels of anxiety.

In the photo of the left, in Moscow only a couple of months ago, I look much more relaxed. To give credit to the right-hand-side me, I wasn’t living out of a backpack on that trip. But I look easy standing in the shadow of the huge building, with my long skirt whipping in the wind. That long skirt will now be a staple piece of my wardrobe; it never looks crumpled no matter how much if gets thrown around, it keeps me cool but isn’t cold, and keeps me respectfully covered up if the situation dictates it. Much better than a university hoody.

I don’t look frightened, or like I suspect we’re about to be told to leave, or have our worldly possessions stolen. I understand that Moscow is a city like any other – just because it’s not home doesn’t mean it’s Mars.

So, I love these photos of  Orthodox Churches and me. Not only do they satisfy my inner love of photographing religious buildings, but I just love the complete coincidences that led these two photos to look so similar.

And it’s great to see that I’ve grown as a traveller.

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