Kresty Inmates Receive Easter Eggs, Loaves

Kresty Inmates Receive Easter Eggs, Loaves

By Irina Titova

Tuesday, April 13, 2004 SPTimes

More than 4,000 inmates of Kresty, one of the St. Petersburg’s oldest
and most notorious prisons, received painted Easter eggs and loaves of
Orthodox Easter bread, or kulich, on Sunday.

“The chance to attend an Easter service here, in Kresty, gives great
relief to my soul,” said Alexander, 20, one of about 70 Kresty inmates
allowed to attend the holiday service in the prison’s Alexander Nevsky

Millions of Orthodox believers celebrated Easter on Sunday. Although
the church uses the Julian calendar which usually means religious
festivals are celebrated at a different time to those in the West,
this year the western and Orthodox Easter coincided.

Thousands across Russia went to midnight masses, painted eggs, and
bought or baked themselves kuliches, made from sweet dough with

During the last decade religion, which underwent a revival after the
end of the Soviet Union, has come to prisons. Many of their churches
have reopened and new churches have been built in some.

“I know it’s hard for you to be here,” said Father Alexander, who led
the service at Kresty. “But on this holy day of Easter you should
repent and think of how to improve yourselves and lead a good life.”

The other prisoners, who for security had to stay in their cells,
looked out from their tiny cell windows as Father Alexander passed
along the long corridors performing the traditional Orthodox Easter
procession of the cross, and giving them blessed eggs and bread.

“Christ has risen!” the priest said. “Truly, he has risen!” prisoners
responded, in accordance with Easter customs.

About 4,700 painted eggs and 1,075 kuliches were donated to the prison
by the city’s Armenian community, which traditionally helps the

Father Alexander said that for many of the prisoners an opportunity to
attend an Easter service or just to receive blessed Easter food, was a
real joy.

“It shows them that they are not outcasts and not damned,” he
said. “It’s very important for them to realize that someone cares
about them.”

Yury, an inmate, said he had almost never been to church before he was
jailed, but had since come to regularly attend services in Kresty.

Kresty prisoners are able to attend weekly services in groups limited
to no more than 20 people because of security fears.

Since the number of believers is much greater than those that can be
accommodated inside the prison church, prisoners have to wait their
turn, sometimes for several weeks, said Alexei Gerasimov, a senior
Kresty officer

Father Alexander said the work of a priest in prisons is rather hard.

“It is hard morally because in prisons a priest deals with spiritually
broken people, who are often depressed or skeptical about many things
and don’t want or can’t repent,” he said.

However, he chose the posting himself after once trying to serve in a
women’s prison, and then feeling immense sympathy for inmates, he

Working in Kresty for the last five years he had seen many examples
how the church can help prisoners to improve their lives, he added.

“They get out of their depression, quit smoking, cursing and plans for
revenge.” he said. “And after their release they resume normal lives,
get happily married and have children.”

Kresty, located in the center of St. Petersburg beside the Neva river
was built in 1893 as a prison for solitary confinement. For a long
time it was the biggest prison of its kind in Europe.

Its name means crosses and refers to its design in which two large
buildings are built in the form of a cross.

For many years, Kresty was a symbol of political repression. Prominent
historical figures, including Leon Trotsky and Anna Akhmatova’s son
Lev Gumilyov, were among its inmates.

Today Kresty serves mostly as a detention center where prisoners await
trial, often for years. Built to hold about 1,500 people, Kresty holds
at least four times as many inmates.