Yesterday I traveled downtown to the National Mall. My primary mission was to attend the 36th annual March for Life. A secondary mission was to take a few photos with my guest, Flat Ajay. I got off the train at the Archives-Navy Memorial Metro Station around 11 AM, and the march was not scheduled to begin until noon, so I took a short detour through one of my favorite places in Washington, the National Gallery of Art. On the lower level I found a room with a few pieces of sculpture, including stained glass, on the theme of the Annunciation. Since no one else was around, I decided that would be an appropriate place for a quick prayer. Then I pulled Flat Ajay out of my backpack and posed him for his first photo, with the 15th-century marble sculpture Kneeling Angel, by Giovanni Antonio Amadeo.
I suppose this would be a good place to explain why I'm taking photos of a construction-paper image of a kid. In the children's book Flat Stanley, a boy who is accidentally flattened takes advantage of his state to be mailed in an envelope to friends in other places. Inspired by this tale, children create flat images of themselves and mail them around the country, where their hosts take them to interesting places and record their adventures. Flat Ajay is the alter ego of a third-grader in California.
Then I headed for the mall, looking to meet up with some other folks from my parish who were planning to attend. The march was to begin around 4th Street, at the Capitol end of the mall, and proceed around the Capitol to the Supreme Court. I walked back and forth across the mall, looking for some of my fellow Orthodox Christians, but I only spotted one priest. Finally, on my third pass, I found a big ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS FOR LIFE banner with an image of Christ blessing the children.
As you can see from the picture, it was a beautiful, sunny day - the first nice day, in fact, after a couple of frigid weeks! Christian pop music was playing from the loudspeakers on the stage as the crowd grew and grew. I read one estimate that about a quarter of a million people attended - about one-seventh the size of the crowd that had gathered two days earlier to see Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. If you out-click the photo above to full size, you'll see that some of the apparatus from the inauguration, including five big historic U.S. flags, are still in place at the Capitol.
Another Orthodox banner featured an icon of the Visitation. The ByzanTeens (Byzantine Catholic youth, I presume) had a similar banner based on the same icon. It shows Our Lady greeting her cousin Elizabeth, with their sons in their wombs made visible (Luke 1:44).
The event began with introductions by the founder and the organizer and a prayer. Then more than a dozen members of Congress spoke. And then the speaker all the Orthodox had been waiting for - Metropolitan Jonah, the new primate of the Orthodox Church in America. Then a few more speakers. The most rousing speaker was a black minister, who decried abortion as genocide against his people. And while most of the participants were Christians of various sorts, one of the speakers and many of the marchers were Orthodox Jews, who had come down from New York for the day.
By the time the speakers had all finished and the actual march could begin, it was 2:15. We got off to a slow, crowded, and disorganized start, with a lot of stopping and waiting.
I was with a group of fellow Holy Cross parishioners, mostly students from St. John's College. Finally, we started moving forward. But within a few minutes I had lost site of everyone I knew. I could still see one Orthodox sign, but it was moving farther and farther ahead, and I was surrounded by people who were practically standing still. It took me a few minutes to realize that I had become surrounded by a knot of Catholics who thought it was more important to keep their group together than to keep up with the march. I took to the sidewalk to circumvent the crowd and eventually spotted the Orthodox banners, but the crowd was so thick there that I could not get any closer.
I finally caught up with the other Orthodox marchers at the southwest corner of the intersection of 1st and Constitution, NE, where they had stopped for prayers led by Metropolitan Jonah. (In this picture you can see the flag that flies in front of the Supreme Court, just to the left of the Guardian Angel banner.)
(In this last photo you can see Metropolitan Jonah, in the white headgear, just under the left edge of the big banner.) To complete the Orthodox participation in the march we all lined up to receive the Metropolitan's blessing, along with an icon card to commemorate the event. Then I continued on down the street past the Supreme Court.
I walked all the way around the Capitol. I hoped to pose for a Flat Ajay photo in front of the Capitol, but I soon realized that would be more difficult than I had anticipated. They were still tearing down the inauguration stage, so I could not get as close as I had hoped. The best I could do was across the street, from the Ulysses S. Grant memorial statue.
You can see that by this point they had removed two of the five flags from the front of the Capitol. On my way back to the metro station, I passed by the Canadian embassy, which was displaying a banner welcoming our new President.
I walked back to the metro station tired after several hours on my feet. Fortunately, being Orthodox gives me a lot of practice at being on my feet . . .