The Russian Orthodox Church in Liscard..
In the midst of our community we have a little known gem that is providing a new use for a previously redundant building and holding out the hand of cultural friendship to all. That gem is the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Elisabeth in Rake Lane Cemetery, Liscard.
I came across it by accident. Cycling on the prom at Seacombe recently, I got talking to a lady who hailed from Siberia (as you do!). My penchant for engaging in conversation with absolute strangers has rarely brought me into contact with a more fascinating person. After a while it came up in the conversation that she was a member of a thriving Russian Orthodox congregation in Liscard. This was news to me. A Russian Orthodox church in Wallasey? I was intrigued. “You are very welcome to attend” my new comrade exclaimed. ” We have a service at 9am this Sunday”. She gave me directions and then sauntered off into the distance. Well what’s a man to do? You dont get an invite like that every day!
The following Sunday saw me strolling through the grounds of Rake Lane Cemetery on the lookout for exotic persons from behind the Iron Curtain.All was quiet as I came to the door of the chapel. I opened the imposing latch and entered. I was met inside by my new Siberian friend and a mere handful of other people, who nonetheless made me extremely welcome.The interior seemed little altered in it’s fabric from when it served as a chapel for the cemetery. However it’s walls were adorned with multitudinous small icons, candles twinkled everywnere and at one end of the building an ornately carved altar screen seperated the public from the private domain of the clergy. I must admit, I was a little disappointed by the size of the congregation which numbered no more than ten but I was to learn later that there was probably a very good reason for this. My friend gave me a rite of service which was in both English and Russian. Despite the fact that it was in two languages, the tome seemed suspisciously thick. As I rifled through it’s pages, it struck me I was in for a long service. In fact a very long service indeed!
It transpired though that as well as being a solemn religious service, the Russian Orthodox mass is also a wonderful piece of theatre.Having been raised as a Roman Catholic in the sixties, I am well used to the dramatic in religious ceremony. However nothing I have experienced prepared me for the wonderful spectacle I was about to witness. Beautiful singing, mixed with incense, a priest elaborately dressed, the script in a foreign mysterious language all in a magical setting couldnt help but be a truly riveting experience. I spoke to the officiating priest after the service and was surprised to find that despite appearances he was English and was actually a convert from Anglicanism.
Despite being very dramatic, the service was also very long. After about an hour and a half the constant standing and gymnastic nature of the Orthodox sign of the cross (which would not be out of place as an Olympic gymnastic event) were beginning to take their toll. However as time wore on I began to notice a steady trickle of people entering the church to swell the ranks of the congregation and the decibel meter of the choir. These Ivan-cum-latelys were obviously no mugs. They had turned up for the essential part of the service which fulfilled their religious obligation without incurring the loss of circulation I was now experiencing. However on a serious note is was obvious that inside this building was a solidarity and love for each other that was positvely palpable. These people, part of a modern diaspora from all over Eastern Europe were united in a shared language, creed and experience. What was truly humbling in our increasingly insular country was the strength and sincerity of the welcome offered to me.
At the end of the service, I mingled with the congregation and was treated to home made cake and tea. I thanked my Siberian friend for the blessng she had bestowed on me by inviting me into her church. That same welcome will be extended to any of our readers who wish to experience a fabulous cultural and religious treat. One word of warning though. If you wish to attend the whole three hour service, get a good night’s sleep and have three Weetabix for breakfast!