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Friday, August 17, 2012

The Box and the Amber Necklace That Got Away

It was supposed to have been an amber necklace.

Years afterward, I bought myself an amber necklace to replace, in my mind, the one that got away.

In the spring of 1987, I hosted a small delegation of some six or seven Russian Orthodox bishops at our congregation in Chicago for an ecumenical prayer service. It was a meaningful evening with early American (think Sacred Harp) and other traditional hymns and moving homilies about Christian Unity from the leader of the Russian group, an Archbishop Kirill, and the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, The Rev. Herbert Chilstrom. My baby was barely five months old and the photos show I had not lost the pregnancy weight.

Later that night, Archbishop Kirill wanted to see the top of the Sears Tower so off we went through the streets of the South Loop, Orthodox hats with their long tails trailing and flying in the wind. It was rather hilarious, really. It turned into a fun day with lots of good feeling and a warmth I had hoped for but barely dared to expect. They had been a bit taken aback when I was the official representative to meet them at the airport, tiny imp in my arms. But we bonded. And at the end of the day, when I dropped them off at the Sofitel, they implored me to come up to their room. Their was much hush-hushing and murmuring among them.

As it turned out, the beautiful amber necklace they had reserved for me was given, an obligation, to the wife of Bishop Chilstrom instead. They had no gift for her when she turned up at the service and she must receive something. They felt chagrinned at having nothing left for me. So.

There is a malachite box on my kitchen island this week, reminder of their visit. They gave it to me late that night as a consolation gift in place of the afore-lamented amber necklace. It is a beautiful little box. I have a small Orthodox cross tucked inside. It also happens to be the perfect size for holding AA batteries. It usually resides on the living room bookcases.

Why did I move it to the kitchen? As it turns out, Archbishop Kirill is now Patriarch Cyril of the whole big Russian Orthodox Church, their pope, as it were. And a top supporter of Putin. Patriarch Cyril is currently visiting Poland, trying to promote and ratify a better relationship between their Roman Catholics and the Russian Orthodox. That is a longer story than this brief blog post can even begin to tell.

I am simply being a bit sentimental. Remembering a long time ago, a meaningful evening, a riot of bishops billowing in the windy canyons of downtown Chicago. Cyril has long been a vehicle of the Russian government -- I'm not that naive -- but he was a funny, kind man when I met him. And I understand something of the cost of discipleship in impossible places. No excuses, just a bit of nostalgia. And a wisp of wistfulness for the amber necklace that got away.

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