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2: Russian Orthodox Cathedral, London
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Selling candles outside church
Mystery Worshipper: TsarWars.
The church: The Cathedral of the Dormition & All Saints
Denomination: Russian Orthodox.
The building: Basilica built in Victorian times, dark interior lit with hundreds of flickering candles, an impressive icon screen at the front, clouds of sweet-smelling incense…
The neighbourhood: A near neighbour of the Royal Albert Hall, the church is on the edge of Knightsbridge.
The cast: Bishop Anatoly.
What was the name of the service?
Easter Matins (the Orthodox celebration of the resurrection, which starts at quarter to midnight on Easter Saturday and continues into Easter Sunday).

How full was the building?
Imagine a church so full that the police have to be called in to put up crash barriers to stop more people from fighting their way inside. This is the scene that greeted me when I arrived 10 mins before the service started. 'There's already 1400 in there, mate,' said the policeman at the barrier. 'It's like an oven in that church.'

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Apart from the friendly policeman, no. When I finally squeezed inside, the stewards were carrying out a man who had passed out, so greeting me with open arms wasn't quite at the top of their agenda.

Was your pew comfortable?
Ahem... the Orthodox do not have pews. They stand for their services. My shoes stopped being comfortable after about an hour.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Outside, behind the crash barrier, the large crowd was quiet and thoughtful, buying candles in readiness for the service (see the picture above).

What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Blessed is our God, now and for ever and to the ages of ages.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We had a nicely printed service sheet in English, although a great deal of the service was sung in Old Church Slavonic (the equivalent of Latin in the old Catholic services).

What musical instruments were played?
None. The singing by the choir was unaccompanied and spine-tingling.

Did anything distract you?
At the back of the church were Russian men who seemed to be concluding business deals and telling jokes, quite oblivious to the service going on at the front.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
We had passionate and joyful Russian singing, the lighting of over 1000 candles when the priests burst through the main door to proclaim the resurrection, frequent shouts of 'Christ is risen… He is risen indeed' by the entire congregation, and occasional raids by the St John's Ambulance team to rescue the fainting faithful…

Celebrating Easter, Russian-style.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
About 4 mins.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In keeping with tradition, the wonderful Easter sermon of St John Chrysostom was read out. As St John rates as one of the greatest preachers ever, he must be good for a 10.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God welcomes everyone, regardless of their slowness of faith, to rejoice in the feast of the resurrection, because Christ is risen from the dead and has overcome death and hell.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Shortly after midnight, the main doors of the church burst open, and the priests and choir entered the church with singing, acclamations, candles, icons, incense and… well… sheer joy. It actually felt like a good moment to be alive.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
No part was like this. There were moments of boredom when the prayers seemed to go on for ever, but mostly it was like being in the Russian section of heaven.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no point in doing this, as there were hundreds of visitors looking lost after the service!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any. The service of Matins ended at 1.15am, and after a short break the 'Liturgy' (the communion service) started, which probably continued until 4.00am. If I'd stayed, maybe I would have been rewarded with a cup of coffee…

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The joyful singing of the choir, which was at times almost indecently passionate!

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