Shortly after midnight, Bishop Pitirim of Tajikistan marks the start of Easter by leading several hundred faithful outside, each carrying a burning candle, to circle The Church of St. Nicholas in Dushanbe.
Before beginning the Easter Sunday service, the bishop, swinging a censer of incense, proclaims, “Christ is risen.” The attendees, including about two dozen Russian soldiers stationed in Tajikistan, respond, “Indeed, He is risen.”
Tajikistan’s Russian community dwindled after the country gained independence following the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse and the ensuing civil war. In the last Soviet census, in 1989, about 8 percent of Tajikistan’s population was ethnically Russian. By 2010, Russians officially comprised one-half of 1 percent. (Of course, it is difficult to account for the large number of children born to ethnically mixed marriages, many of whom speak Russian as a first language). But Bishop Pitirim said he has seen growing attendance at St Nicolas in the two years since the Moscow Patriarchate sent him to Tajikistan.
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David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.