As the busses left Manhattan (circuitously!), we burst into prayer, singing Христос Воскресе as it was, of course, still Pascha. It certainly felt like it! We sang other troparia as well, as is customary for the beginning of a journey, ending, of course, with the troparion to the Kursk-Root Icon of Our Lady of the Sign -- the Hodigitria ("she who shows the way") of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
Of course, all the faithful children of the "Church Abroad" feel a special connection to this miracle-working icon, and I'm no different, except that I'm able to say that the Church Slavonic service for this specific icon was written by my own Grandmother, Valeria Konstantinovna Hoecke (nee Gubanova). But more about that later...
The mood on the bus was, well, Paschal: bright and joyous and full of hope and expectation. Even traffic on the BQE didn't dampen anyone's spirits.
I did have one little mishap at the airport, over which I nearly had a heart attack. After plenty of goofing off and bantering with friends on the check-in line, I arrived at the Aeroflot desk and slapped my documents on the counter. The woman attending to me took the tickets, sliding them across the counter. Then she asked me for my passport.
"But I gave it to you!"
"No, it is not here," she told me flatly.
"It must be, it was with the tickets," I replied, my voice already pitched up half an octave as I rummaged through my huge red bag.
"I do not have it," she remarked again, unfazed by the implications of a lost passport.
I searched all my usual stashing spots, and looked to my friends and scanned the floor with wild eyes. "Did you see my passport?!"
"Go after your friend," suggested the Aeroflot staffer, uselessly, pointing at Pavlik Roudenko, who had been gallantly helping me with my luggage but had just gone to check his own bags. I ran after him like a maniac, despite knowing that he most certainly did not have my passport.
I returned, quite distraught by now, watching everyone head towards the security checkpoint and imagining myself stranded, alone, at Terminal 1. At last, Ms. Aeroflot moved from her post and blithely remarked that "sometimes things fall behind the computer. Maybe we should look."
There was my passport. She had caused it to drop behind the counter when she took my tickets. She didn't even give me a voucher for free drinks, much less apologize for elevating my heart rate to near-lethal levels.
Once I passed through security, I headed right to the duty-free shops with my roommate and dear friend, Irina Mozyleva and Galina Schatiloff, a longtime and beloved friend of the family. I bought some Absolut vodka minis for the flight (verboten, but that incident with my passport was justification enough as far as I'm concerned!) and some nice champagne for later. Irina bought some lovely California wines, and we were ready to fly.
We boarded and -- groan -- I discovered that my seat assignment was in the very last row, right near the toilets! This could have been terrible, but it landed me alongside Hieromonk Roman (Krassovsky), whom I adore, and his admirable mother, and right across the aisle from one of my dearest friends, Ksenia Papkova. Hooray!
There were about seven bewildered people on board who were not affiliated with us, so it was quite a scene. Everyone was feeling festive, and Metropolitan Laurus and his personal delegation made rounds all the way to the back of the plane (the photo shows me with the "ArchSubDeacon" George Schatiloff, one of my family's oldest and best friends, and one of Vladyka's most trusted people as well).
Though some people managed to pass out, I got no sleep on that flight. Whether it was the bathrooms or my vodka stash, my neighborhood was a popular in-flight destination, so I got to catch up with many friends and acquaintances from across the U.S. and Canada. It was wonderful, if a bit surreal. Who cared about sleep at that point ? ( I did care, of course, about catching up with sleep enough to be in good voice for all the upcoming services!)
We landed safely, Слава Богу! The Church Outside Russia had gotten in!