Sunday, 12 October 2014

Nino Chooses White Floating Trousers

Father Andrew,

Kind smiling eyes in a

Brown walnut face

Spends time,

Telling me about St. Andrew

And his good deeds.


He calls me Nino,

My baptism name.


I unnerve him

In my earnestness.


I think, mistakenly that

My spirit is soothed and

As divisions open in my



My white floating trousers

Offend darting, covered women

Who brush, with twigs, and pick with bitten fingernails

The wax from tiny, hand made candles, that drip

Foetid liquefying mounds of prayer.


One darts forward and ties, around my hips

A blue sarong, the colour of my eyes.


My sex now covered I can confess

I craved, for an instant, the anonymity of these



Should I immerse, plunge?

Should I leave behind the hot fire of my joyful defiant life?

Should I enter the cool nunnery of conformity?


My throat constricts.

During the summer of 2011 I was baptised, in the river at the foothills of Mkskheta and took the name of Nino.  It was the day before I was due to fly home and the weather was about to change. I could smell the rain coming. We drove, at speed, because we were late, to a church nestling in a grove of cedar. We were late because he had been filming for one of his documentaries. The rest of the choir were all there, as was the priest, all waiting. After a conversation with the church father where I felt both curious and full of emotion, we all drove down to the river.


The entrance was gated, locked and guarded. There was an electricity station at the side of the river and no one could enter. My companions smiled smugly and there was a lot of gesticulation going on. I felt surprisingly disappointed. Perhaps this was more important to me than I first thought. The priest I had been talking with at the church earlier arrived and spoke to the guard who, shaking his head and pursing his lips refused to let us through the gate.  I could see that things were going to get more interesting when the priest started to talk into his mobile. He passed the phone to the guard, who listened for a few short seconds, then started to nod enthusiastically.  He then opened the gate and shouted blessings at us as we passed through.  The joke, whether it was true or not, was that the priest had a direct line to the patriarch, who had, in one word cemented my decision.


We all drove down a track to the river where, after I had changed into a full length black skirt,  black blouse and covered my head entirely in a head scarf, I stepped into the freezing water where my soon to be god-father and the priest were waiting. There was no doubting that the total emersion, the sacred oil, the ritual of chant and the intention in that moment, in that space and that time, was full of honour. There was also no doubt that the natural and complete expressions of love shown afterwards at a supra at the Armazis Khevi Restaurant were genuine and there was no doubting the pride everyone felt at the conversion of a foreigner to the orthodox religion. I however, did not feel any different.  I was glad I did it, but not for the same reasons they were. So why did I do it?  


I did it for several reasons. Firstly, I wanted to make getting  married to him easier. He had proposed the previous February.  Secondly, I kind of figured that if Armageddon was going to happen it would be good to be a member of one of the most fearsome religions in the world. Seriously though, I was already completely comfortable with my own system of belief and did not, and still do not believe in divisions and borders between faiths. I guess I did it for the experience but, unlike some before me,  I did not experience a cleansing revelation or an epiphany. This was, mostly, I think, because I have worked very hard over many years to become accepting of difference, and am able to embrace  diversity and people  without judgement.  Did I lie to them?  Not at the time, no. Did I lie to myself? I don’t think so. Am I sorry that I did it now? Yes. But only because of the feelings of bitter disappointment in how a community that had welcomed me with such open arms when I was conforming to their expectations, turned their back on me when I was hurting and questioning what they claimed to underpin the very essence of their teachings.

In the end, I returned the passport that gave me my official status as a member of the Orthodox Church, to my god-father with a note saying that I could not be part of any religion that excluded, judged, damned, stripped the voice from and intimidated anyone who did not conform. In whose eyes am I a member of the Georgian Church?  Certainly not mine.

When it's my time I would like to be buried in a quiet English Church of England grave yard, preferably under a shady tree. No keening and highly ritualised toasting for me thank you. If anyone wants to scatter wild flower seeds above me I would be most grateful.

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