My alarm went off at 4 am, and I got up in search of coffee. Venturing out into the unknown, especially when it involves getting up before dawn, requires strong fortification from caffeine. I made the coffee extra strong that morning. We left the flat at a brisk walk, heading uphill to the tram stop that would take us to the transfer area. The birds had begun to sing by then, and the sky had changed from darkness to a deep, luminous blue. The caffeine was beginning to take effect. A few tram stops later, we alighted at Namesti Miru (Square of Peace), to switch to the number 22 tram. I had visited this square the day before, and wandered among the stalls of the Easter Market, admiring the painted eggs, jewelry, and scarves for sale. Now the stalls stood closed and bare, and the spires of the cathedral stood out black against a deep blue sky. After successfully evading a pickpocket artist (thanks to Andrew’s experience in this), we boarded the tram which ran up past Prague Castle to the Strahov Monastery, one of the highest places in Prague. Most of the other passengers on the tram were going to the same service, so we were in good company. Collecting the rest of the group waiting at the tram stop, we set out, along a streets lined with closed shops and pubs, through an ancient archway and up the stone staircase, and finally, through the open gates of the monastery. The grounds of the Strahov Monastery include most of a hillside overlooking Prague Castle and much of Prague, and they are well-tended and filled with flowering trees. Different varieties of cherry and other fruit trees dotted the hillside, and stately trees, covered in tender new leaves, formed a thick forest near the top of the hill. A winding path led through these trees, curving back and forth and then heading straight up the hill. Most of the birds had awoken by now, and a chorus of birdsong accompanied our walk. Then suddenly, after a few steps up the steepest section, we arrived at the top of the hill, a broad paved semicircle which gave an unobstructed view of Prague. The Vltava River lay below, winding around the Old Town, and dotted with arched bridges. A cascade of red tiled roofs showed the slope of the land toward the river. Farther in the distance, I could see the smaller rise that signaled the edge of the Vinohrady neighborhood, marked clearly by the utterly hideous radio tower (affectionately known among the Czechs as ‘the second ugliest building in the world’. Not surprisingly, one floor has been turned into a restaurant, whose marketing campaign centers on this dubious distinction).
One by one, different members of the congregation took turns reading from different passages in the Psalms and the four Gospels. I thought of the Easter morning centuries ago, and what it must have been like to find the tomb empty, Christ risen, and to finally understand the significance of the Crucifixion. To know that Death had been conquered, forever. I cannot imagine the joy the disciples must have felt.
Halfway through the service, a sliver of deep orange appeared along the horizon, and slowly grew. The light shifted against the clouds, and deep pinks gave way to shimmering silver. Slowly, the rising sun lit up the city, the morning light softened by the mist that still hung near the river. Fortified by more coffee, we made our way down the hill, each lost in our thoughts. The morning had begun in the rest of the city, and early morning worshipers made their way to the trams, each carrying their Easter baskets. Each basket was unique, filled with a selection of meats, breads, and eggs, and covered with a richly embroidered cloth. Traditionally, these Easter baskets are brought the Easter service to be blessed, and after the service the delicacies form part of the Easter feast.
And my group? We ended up at McDonalds, feasting on hashbrowns, eggs, and orange juice. ‘He is risen!’, one of the group said, before starting his meal. We repeated this three times, as is traditionally done: ‘He is risen indeed’. Truly, Christ has conquered death and has risen victoriously. May I never forget this.