Sunday, September 21, 2014

Four states in four days

Today I would like to congratulate you all with the feast of Our Lady’s Nativity, especially the parishioners of the parish in Albany which is celebrating its patronal feast day.

It’s been a while since my last post, which recounted Holy Saturday, with a promise of Paschal joy; sadly, I never managed to get around to it! Since then, much has happened. Fourth year ended, I went to San Francisco to seek my fortune, and I managed to get a decent summer job in the city. I came back to Jordanville several weeks before the beginning of the school year. My last year.

The Thursday before the school year started, I took a trip down to Lakewood, New Jersey for the feast day of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. In addition, it was the official retirement celebration for Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov and the opening of the new Diocesan Center for the Eastern American Diocese.

I drove down with Fr. Ephraim, who was going there both to sing and to act as representative for the Seminary. He said that he had to make a speech for the banquet accepting the St. Alexander Nevsky Scholarship.

“Oh…so, who’s getting the scholarship?” I nonchalantly asked.

“Well, you are,” he said. It was quite an unexpected relief, especially since I would have otherwise had to use my summer money to pay for tuition! In addition, I am merely one of the many recipients of the scholarship. Apparently, the organizers of the scholarship are planning to expand it to help out up to twenty seminarians each year, so hopefully this will allow for more to come to the seminary.

We managed to get to the church in time to practice a little for the vigil. The choir director was the formidable Maestro Vladimir Gorbik. Although he was very strict with us, the high caliber of the singers allowed us to proceed at a quicker pace. For my part, I barely managed to hang on!

Vigil was long and festive. After vigil, Fr. Ephraim and I tried to find a place to eat, but it was already ten and many places were closed. We settled on Applebee’s, not known for its Lenten food. We ordered onion rings, fried shrimp, and other heavy food. I don’t recommend going to Applebee’s on a fasting day. After dinner, we went to our lodgings. Our host was a long-time parishioner, a very friendly and hospitable woman, who gave us an impromptu tour of her curio-filled house.

On Friday, the next morning, we drove to church, which took longer than usual because apparently Lakewood is infamous for its bad drivers. There’s even a popular bumper sticker which says “Pray for me—I drive in Lakewood.” Nonetheless, we managed to make it to the church on time.

Liturgy happened, followed by long announcements and awards, and then a cross procession round the church. By the time we had the banquet it was already two o’clock. I was a little worried, because I was planning on meeting Sophia in Albany; we were to go to Massachusetts for the weekend. When all was said and done, it was almost five when we got back on the road. Fr. Ephraim dropped me off in Albany at half past eight, where I met a long-suffering Sophia, who had spent the past few hours in Albany going stir-crazy.

“I hadn’t gone stir-crazy! I helped out at the church, listened to podcasts, and stretched,” said Sophia, who is currently sitting next to me while I type out this blog post.

Sophia and I went to Massachusetts in her grey Honda Odyssey (the “mom van” as she calls it) and arrived in Springfield, where gracious Matushka was awaiting us at Fr. Brendan Crowley’s.

On Saturday, we went to Amherst and Northampton, north of Springfield, where the knuckle-shaped mountains of the Pioneer Valley protruded from the horizon. We also went shopping for a sweater, because I was chilly. After scouring the Salvation Army racks and finding only badly-fitting, ugly sweaters, Sophia settled on a few gardening books, and was standing in line for the cashier when she spotted a brand-new grey sweater, with the sticker still on it, hanging practically in front of her. It was my size! I immediately accepted this turn of fate.

That evening, we went to St. Nicholas Church for vigil. Though the parish is said to be based in the Springfield, MA area, its new physical location happens to be across the state line in Enfield, CT. After a half-century of having their church life centered in a former store building with a spooky basement (and a pretty flower garden), the parishioners at St. Nicholas prayed and raised enough money to relocate to a newer building. Because she had been farming in Central New York all summer, this was Sophia's first visit to her childhood parish's new home.

After the morning liturgy, we joined in for coffee hour, where the parishioners had realized that the new building’s kitchen was adjacent to the yard and that food could be simply passed out through the window. Sophia and I then went to meet up with her parents, and we had a delightful time munching on Chinese food and visiting Forest Park, which had a lot of stuff in it.

Sophia: “No!!! There’s a zoo and waterfalls and ducks, and—”

Me: “A lot of stuff.”

Sophia: “Imagine if I was in Hawaii and I wrote a blog entry saying there was a lot of stuff there!”

Thus, I had been in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut over the course of four days. I am very grateful for the kind hospitality, not to mention the convivial company I enjoyed.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Great and Holy Friday and Saturday

On Thursday night, we celebrated the matins for Holy Friday. This service is very old, and can be traced as far back as Jerusalem in the 4th century. The structure of the service also follows the older pattern of matins, which was a series of sung antiphons interspersed with prayers. Here we have fifteen antiphons on the theme of the Crucifixion, as well as twelve selections from the Gospels telling of Our Lord’s Passion.

The most well-known and poignant antiphon is the fifteenth:

Today is suspended upon the Tree, He who suspended the land upon waters.
A crown of thorns crowns Him, who is the King of the angels.
He is wrapped in the purple robe of mockery, who wraps the heavens with clouds. He receives smitings, who freed Adam in the Jordan.
He is transfixed with nails, Who is the Son of the Virgin.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection!

The next morning, after the Royal Hours, I finished cleaning up the restrooms across from the bookstore, which was part of my assigned pre-paschal cleaning. Sophia, who is of course here for the weekend, volunteered to help with the eggs. One of the women asked Fr. Cyprian how many eggs they were doing. “A little less than last year,” he said, “only nine hundred.”

On Friday afternoon, we had vespers, with the removal of the winding-sheet or “burial shroud” of the Lord, which was put in the middle of the church. After that, we had a light repast in the trapeza; otherwise there was no eating or drinking.

In the middle of the night we did matins for Holy Saturday, which essentially was a funeral service. Like during a funeral, we chanted the 118th psalm, which was interspersed with verses known as the Lamentations. The service began at two o’clock in the morning and lasted until a little after five. The church was completely dark, lit only by candles. I was honestly getting so tired I was afraid that I was going to light my hair on fire!

We got enough sleep to have yet another service this morning, which is the Holy Saturday vesperal liturgy! This liturgy was originally the ancient paschal vigil; in fact, it’s technically supposed to be served much later in the day, before the traditional reading of the Acts of the Apostles and the paschal matins. This is why the vestments in the church turn white today. There are many readings from the Old Testament (15 in all) which originally served to “cover” the baptizing which went on during this time. Although we served the liturgy much earlier than prescribed in the typikon, we did follow ancient custom by serving bread and wine at the end of the service, which was quite refreshing after long days of fasting.

I got assigned to set tables for the paschal breakfast that takes place after the midnight liturgy. Putting the milk chocolate eggs and other goodies on the table made me feel sorely tempted!

But it’s just a few more hours! Tonight we will have the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the Midnight Office, and then…Pascha!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Do this in remembrance of Me...

Well, it looks like the snow’s mostly gone:

Today we had a vesperal liturgy of St. Basil the Great for Holy Thursday. This day commemorates the institution of Holy Communion at the Mystical (Last) Supper. Everyone in the monastic community was expected to commune today, so yesterday and today we had preparation prayers, and at the end of Liturgy everyone heard the prayers of thanksgiving after Holy Communion. The practice of the abbot/bishop washing the feet of twelve men, common in cathedrals, was not done here.

Also of note is that as of last night we stopped reading the long sections from the Psalter known as kathismata, which are usually done at vespers and matins (as well as the hours) in the Orthodox Church. Less psalter reading means more festivity, and when we get to Pascha we won’t have any Psalter reading at all, but everything will be sung.

The myrrh-streaming icon of the Mother of God, “The Softener of Evil Hearts” is also here at the monastery through Pascha.

Since this is a great feast, it’s also an oil/wine day. In the trapeza we had some tasty pasta drenched in olive oil. No wine, though!

The rest of the day I’ve been resting. I’ve had on average about nine hours a sleep every night this week, repaying all the sleep debt accumulated over the past semester. Also, even though the snow’s melted, it’s still cold and I don’t feel like turning on the radiator in my room because it turns it into a furnace. There’s nothing much for me to do except spend my hours under the covers and blog away…

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I'm dreaming of a white...Pascha?

The first three days of Holy Week repeat themselves to such an extent that I lose track of time. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning, the serving priest reads all four gospels, symbolizing Christ's preaching in the Temple. At ten in the morning, we serve Presanctified Liturgy. And in the evening, we have the Bridegroom Matins, which takes its name from one of the hymns we sing:
Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching, and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death, and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, art Thou, O our God, through the Theotokos have mercy on us.
There are differences on certain days. On Tuesday evening, we had the service of Holy Unction, which is commonly done during Holy Week. Seven priests anointed everyone gathered with a mixture of oil and wine, recalling both the the parable of the Good Samaritan and the epistle of St. James: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord”. By the end, our faces and hands were covered in holy oil; we wiped off the excess with paper napkins, which we disposed in a special container for “holy trash”.

Somewhere in all this, Nature greeted us with this sight:

Alas, the poor buds of Spring were swallowed up in an inverse Indian Summer (or should I say Indian Winter?). Thankfully, it looks like the snow’s melting…for now!

This morning, we gathered in church again for the rite of forgiveness. We lined up and prostrated to each other, saying, “Forgive me, a sinner!” and answering, “God forgives, forgive me!” This rite is also done at the very beginning of Great Lent. After making many prostrations to each other, it’s hard not to feel a sense of Christian brotherhood.

And after today’s Presanctified Liturgy, we did the last Prayer of St. Ephraim. The blue lights above the Royal Doors lit up, signaling the end of prostrations in church (for the most part).

It’s the home stretch!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday at Jordanville is like the first hints of light just before dawn. We formally end the forty days and begin the last week before the Bright Resurrection.

I spent most of Palm Sunday in the dormitory lounge working on yesterday’s blog post. Sophia, who was visiting, did some journaling about her farm work. Our intellectual work was fed by the Omega-3 fatty acids provided by some smoked salmon I had bought some time ago. We finished the pound of smoked salmon trim with the help of some other passing seminarians.

The trim of the trim.

Then, at half past four, we had combined Vespers and Compline for Palm Sunday, followed by dinner. After dinner we then started Bridegroom Matins for Great and Holy Monday. A hieromonk reminded us that we should keep the lights off on kliros for this service, so we sang in the dark, our pages of music illuminated by our lit tapers.

Holy Week is quiet here at seminary. The internet is on only at certain times of day (like during the first week of Lent) so we have more time for reading, reflection, and prayer. During this week we also do a general cleaning of the monastery. Since I knocked out my portion last week, I can use the extra hours to study and write papers.

To my fellow strugglers, I wish you all a blessed Holy Week and a beautiful Pascha!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Spring Ramblings

Spring is here!

As the snow melts, I awaken from my blog hibernation. As the peregrinating birds return, I return from my Lenten slumber (hopefully permanently!). The time afforded on this beautiful Palm Sunday, along with some gentle encouragement by ardent readers, inspired this post.

Recently, my girlfriend Sophia moved not too far from here to work at an organic farm for the growing season. She visits the monastery every weekend, and so on the weekends we’ve gone exploring the countryside.

Yesterday, we visited the nearby Hoyer Hill Cemetery, which served as the final resting place for locals in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the temporary resting place for someone we found napping there. Some of the gravestones are so worn down that it is impossible to tell who was buried. Others were fixed by metal ties. From the cemetery there’s a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside, including the monastery.

We then went south to Richfield Springs to get some supplies, and continued wandering. Between Richfield Springs and Jordanville, on Rt. 28, there’s a small maple sugar bush, Ingles Maple Products. We poked our heads into the gift shop just long enough to sample some delicious maple BBQ sauce. However, as we were about to leave, one of the owners came out and invited us into the sugar shack, where the maple sap gets turned into sweet, sweet syrup.

A sap line running from the woods to the sugar shack.
This equipment turns the sap into syrup!

Bill and Ruth Ingles, the owners of the sugar shack, have nobody to take over the business, but their passion for maple syrup keeps them going. They have some state of the art equipment which evaporates out much of the water from the sap, saving much of the energy required to boil the sap down into syrup. Bill poured us some samples into tiny cups; it was pretty good.

Cooperstown, seen from Three Mile Point

Finally, we spent some time down near Cooperstown, on Lake Otsego. The lake, also known as the Glimmerglass, was frozen over during the winter, but now was almost completely thawed out. The floating sheets of melting ice had a sapphire tint in the afternoon sun. Over at Three Mile Point, we had a closer look at the ice, which turned out not to be solid sheets, but agglomerations of multiform ice crystals.

On the way back, we saw some cattle grazing under the big blue sky:

I’m looking forward to more exploration in the coming weeks!

Friday, January 24, 2014

An UnTypical Blog

I’m come briefly out of hibernation to highly recommend my friend Liza’s blog, Typikon Days. She probably knows more about Liturgics than…well, most people I know, including me. Check it out!