The Aeroflot airliner touched down in Novosibirsk at about 5:45 AM local time. The news reports I had been reading suggested that the local temps would be a relatively mild -15, but reality did not disappoint: -36. That’s okay, though . . . lack of sleep (about 30 hours) seems to have helped make me insensitive to the cold.
I rested for a couple of hours back at the flat where I will be staying, and then off to church. Church was wonderful. I was surprised at the increasing number of children that are there, and everywhere. Russia’s economy has recovered a lot in the last ten years . . . it looks like people figure they can afford to have children again. But the whole nation seems to be relieved. Even when it’s -36 out.
It is difficult to describe how the service goes here. The basics I can tell you: There is nothing “casual” about it. Oh, people come dressed in what we would consider “casual” attire. But their demeanor in church, the frequent bowing and genuflecting, their attentiveness and focus on the sacredness of what is transpiring: these things are anything but casual. They understand that what they are receiving is the most important thing that can happen to them in this world, and they conduct themselves accordingly. And, of course, they come. Even when it’s -36 out.
The pastor and the two (ordained) deacons wear traditional cassocks. The Pastor’s stole is draped over the back of his neck and hangs down in front in the same way as the stoles you are used to seeing me wear in church. The deacons’ stoles drape over one shoulder and are worn more like a sash. The incense is a great enhancement to the service, reenforcing both to the eyes and to the nose what the proclamation of the words that the Word has come and made His dwelling among us, in body and blood, in bread and wine.
I am reminded: coming here is a great “missions” outreach of my congregation. They encourage me to come, and teach young men (I think there will be about 15 this time!), and so we contribute to the building of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church. This alone is important, valuable, very “worth doing.” But for me, it is more than that. It is something of a spiritual retreat as well . . . coming to a place where “church growth” and “contemporary worship” is unheard of and unthinkable, I get the opportunity to see the work of the Lord being done by way of Word and Sacrament alone, without the strategies and machinations and programs of men being mixed in and confused for the saving work of Christ. And I too get to refocus on these, apart from the (very joyous!) distractions of my own family, vocation, diversions, and so forth. I look forward already to getting back to all of those things. But I pray God’s grace to make the most of this opportunity for three weeks of focused devotion to the eternal Word, who was made flesh that He might redeem the world and so be the Savior of the Nations . . . even nations where it’s -36 out.
As I type this, I sit at a desk in the “guest professor’s flat,” beneath a small wall altar with a Russian Bible and a couple of candles on it. Just over this, there is a crucifix. On one side of the crucifix is an icon of Christ, and on the other is an icon of the blessed Theotokos with the Christ-child in her arms. This is a great place for such a refocusing on Christ. Pray for me, as I pray for the saints both in this place and at home. Pray that I will come back to you a better servant of the Lord for having been here. Peace be with you all through Christ our Savior, now made manifest in the waters of the Jordan through the descent of the Spirit and the declaration of the Father, “This is my Son.”
Your unworthy servant in Him,