Searching for "Russian things" in DC

stnicholasdcjpgThis is Holy Week in the ancient Orthodox churches of the East, which means that today is Good Friday and, just before midnight on Saturday, we will begin the lengthy and glorious rites of Pascha, which is called Easter in the West. This is our feast of feasts and follows and lengthy march through 40 or so unique services of preparation. So, as an Orthodox guy who is also a journalist, I have been watching to see if the major newspapers offered any kind of Ortho-friendly (or critical) coverage heading into Pascha.

Earlier this week, I saw the following A1 headline in the Washington Post: "Five Russian Capitals Find Comfort Zone in D.C. -- Teammates Provide a Taste of Home."

I thought to myself, "OK, that is a little strange. But it is the start of the NHL playoffs and it's Holy Week, so maybe someone found an interesting little story here." Here's the top of this long feature:

In the second floor lounge of Russia House, a Dupont Circle restaurant and bar that is a gathering spot for expatriates and diplomats from Moscow, St. Petersburg and beyond, the ceiling is still stained from the champagne that sprayed on a raucous night a year ago when four Russian-born hockey players celebrated their success in the U.S. capital.

For Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov and Alex Ovechkin, leading the Washington Capitals to the playoffs last year was a huge achievement for a franchise mired in mediocrity and obscurity for years. This year, it will take more than that to set off another vodka-fueled celebration.

As the Capitals begin the playoffs tonight against the New York Rangers at Verizon Center, they carry with them the expectations that come from being one of the National Hockey League's most exciting young teams. And whether the Capitals advance far in the postseason will depend to a large degree on the play of Semin, Fedorov, Kozlov and Ovechkin.

Now trust me, I know that Russians like their vodka -- to a degree that is tragic, back in the mother land. I am not surprised that Russians would find a friendly bar, or two, in which they can relax and speak in their native language with friends who understand what it's like to be in a new culture and a new land. And that question is the actual connecting link in this story: Where can Russians go in the Washington area to speak some Russian and find vital touchstones that allow them to connect with their culture? After all, we read:

Unlike some East Coast cities, the District has no neighborhood of Russian immigrants, no equivalent of Brooklyn's Brighton Beach or Miami's Sunny Isles Beach. The Russian community here, such as it is, is scattered, much of it in the suburbs, small pockets of software executives and IT professionals in Gaithersburg, Rockville and across Northern Virginia. The corner store doesn't provide their social glue. The Internet does. ...

So the Russian Capitals -- who, for the playoffs, include backup goalie Simeon Varlamov, a rookie who gives Washington more Russians than any of the NHL's 30 teams -- have not only combined to make the Capitals hugely popular in their home country, they also provide one of the few tangible bonds for Russians here.

OK, "one of the few" is certainly accurate. I'll buy that.

I will also admit that it is highly possible that the five Capital stars just happen to be -- the odds are long, but it's possible -- a totally secular circle who, thus, have not discovered that the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, the national cathedral (photo) of the Russian-heritage Orthodox Church in America is located here in Washington. It's possible.

There is also the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, part of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Rest assured that there are plenty of Russian-speaking people in that sanctuary.

In other words, the fact that young men like to speak Russian in a bar or two does not mean that they may not enjoy meeting some Russians in church (although the OCA does almost all of its services in English, due to high numbers of converts and an emphasis on the birth of a united Orthodox flock in this culture). But, again, in terms of journalism, the focus of this story is places in the Washington, D.C., in which Russians gather to, well, let's allow Ovechkin describe the fact that there is more to life than hockey.

"You have to have life here, too, other things you do," Ovechkin said. "We all do. We need friends, reminders of home. Sometimes, you just like to speak Russian, do Russian things."

Russian things? Indeed.

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