On Friday, the entire village of Korbouli was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Patriarch. Classes were cancelled and it was clear to me that this was a Special Occasion of note.
What and who the Patriarch was remained a mystery for some time. I assumed he was the businessmen who paid to rebuild my school and was also responsible for paving the road and bringing electricity to our area—a sort of benefactor. When I checked my assumption with the English teacher, she answered in the negative. No, not the businessman. How irritating. We “negotiated interaction” in both English and Georgian. Eventually something she said made me ask “eklesia?” or “church?” and got a huge head nod in the affirmative. Ah-hah, mystery solved. The Patriarch is the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church. I indicated an appropriate level of awe and said that of course I would like to meet him.
However, I did not know how much time this would involve. I arrived at school at the usual time, a bit before 9 AM. I stood around waiting for someone to tell me what I was supposed to be doing. After awhile it dawned on me that there would be no classes; this was the sole event of the day. Both teachers and children had brought bouquets of flowers and spent time arranging them to their best advantage. After two hours of waiting I was thoroughly bored.
We finally began walking at around 11. I now assumed that we were walking to a church. No, we were just walking to the main road. Apparently this majestic personage would just be passing through. We lined up on both sides of the road. It seemed the entire village had turned out for this. Georgian flags began to appear, as well as St. Nino’s Cross, a cross where the horizontal beam is bent down. Martshutkas and other cars pulled in and out. The priest and his altar boys appeared in full regalia, carrying icons from the church and a large cross. I saw two other teachers from my program. No one seemed to know when the Patriarch was going to appear.
The sun beat down. We shifted our feet and walked around. Flowers brought for the Patriarch began to be used as weapons, either to tickle ears or thwack heads. I met some 12th grade students who spoke very good English. It was nice to be able to ask some of the questions I’d been storing up and have them answered. The younger children from my school circled around and I tried to learn some names. I checked my phone. 1 PM. Incredible. However, I was content to be making friends with the students. I was not bored. Yet.
Just before 2 PM I had honestly given up on seeing this personage. I was happy just to be standing in some shade. The 12th graders I was with indicated, with typical high schooler disinterest, that they did not care to see the Patriarch. I agreed. Moments later people began running back to the road. We turned to see the beginnings of a motorcade, led by a police car. I indicated with my head that I was going to walk back to the road and the students nonchalantly strolled in my wake.
However, there was little to see. The motorcade rolled past, about 15 cars total and did not pause at all. The Patriarch was apparently on a schedule and was unswayed by the number of faithful who had turned out to greet him, by the signs, the flags, his priest, or the now tattered flowers of the children. I turned to one of the students and asked, “Wasn’t he going to stop?” It was not a matter of personal interest to me, but I could not help feeling a little put out for the people of my village who had been waiting all day. “We are a very small village,” he responded, “perhaps not important enough for him to stop” I expressed a little indignation. I dislike the semi-servile relationship between major religious leaders and their followers.
With the last cars of the motorcade disappearing over the next hill, people turned to one another, philosophically shrugged a shoulder and headed home. The remaining flowers fell forgotten to the ground. Of all the faces I saw as I too turned to begin the long walk back to my home, the face of the local priest caught my eye. He looked a little forlorn, a little lost, his eyes following the motorcade over the hill, as his altar boys looking questioningly at him, icons in hand. But eventually his eyes returned to the present, he shouldered the cross brought out from his church and started on his way.