Saturday, October 30, 2010

Preliminary Remarks on Serving in the Altar

This past week, I was assigned to serve in the church altar from Monday through Saturday. It was the first time in my life that I had ever served as an acolyte (altar boy) in any Orthodox church.

Acolytes are an important part of Orthodox worship. They help the priest and deacons move gracefully through the service, making it easier for everyone to pray. An incompetent altar server is worse than none for a priest. Of course, since it was my first time, I was very nervous: what if I forget to hand over the censer? What if I trip over myself going down the stairs? What if I set myself on fire?

Well, the last one was not likely, though not impossible. I was still a little worried. Thankfully, seminarians are assigned in pairs to serve during the week, and I had several, more experienced people telling me what to do.

Seminarians usually are assigned to serve once a semester, for the morning liturgies. Among their main tasks:
  • Arrive 30 minutes before the liturgy begins, which means 5:30 am. This actually improved my sleeping schedule, since I had to stick to consistent sleep-wake times.
  • Read as many Russian names as possible for the commemoration. Parishioners usually leave lists of names to pray for, either in books or on slips. The names, written in Russian cursive, can be quite hard for gringos like me to decipher, but by the end of the week I was doing all right.
  • Cut prosphora (blessed bread) into bite-size pieces.*
  • Carry out candles at the proper times.
  • Light the charcoal in the censer, place incense in the censer, and give it to the priest/deacon at the appropriate times.
  • Generally follow whatever the priest/deacon/senior people tell them to do.
  • Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Acolytes need to also be practically unnoticeable; otherwise it will again be distracting. They kind of remind me of the black-garbed stagehands in kabuki, who come out into the scenes, but because of their graceful, inconspicuous behavior, fade into the background.

For me, serving in the altar is a very humbling experience; seven-year-olds serve in the altar better than I do! But the altar is a remarkable and holy place, and those who serve humbly and reverently receive a great reward.

*This is different from the actual communion bread, which is cut by the priest himself. The people receive bread at the end of the Orthodox liturgy. As this was traditionally for those who did not receive Holy Communion, it is referred to “antidoron” or “instead of the gifts”.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Seminarian: Early Morning

There's no such thing as a typical day for a Jordanville seminarian; every day, though having the same basic structure, has its own unique challenges. Moreover, these challenges vary from person to person. Here I present my own basic early morning schedule, based on a whole month-and-a-half of experience.

The first thing I usually hear in the morning is the sound of a bell and a light knock on my door, the customary wake-up call in the dorm. The bell-and-knock, considered by some to be the bane of their existence, actually seems to be too gentle for some people. I usually acknowledge the reveille by turning over in bed.

What really gets me up (after several hits of the snooze button) is my cell-phone alarm, set to a funky ringtone. It's about 5:45 am or so, which makes me a little late for Liturgy. Oh well: I throw on my podryasnik and coat, and brave the elements.

Divine liturgy is served nearly every day at Jordanville. In former times, seminarians had to attend Liturgy every day; now, we only have to attend every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, along with (naturally) the Sunday Liturgy.* On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we can get up around 7 am and attend communal prayers in the dormitory hall. This new schedule has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, we might be losing spiritual benefit from not attending Liturgy every day. On the other hand, the extra hour does give us the chance to catch up on sleep, which, like money, is a dear commodity for a seminarian.

The length of the liturgy depends on the priest serving, but usually it ends around 7:15. The language of worship is Church Slavonic. Recently, I've been singing on kliros, despite my novice abilities in the language. Singing, besides its spiritual benefits, helps a sleepy seminarian stay alert.

After the liturgy, we then go to breakfast in the trapeza (refectory). Breakfast is usually hot and cold cereal with milk. We also have bread, cheese, and if people are getting fancy, french toast and the like. On fasting days, we get rid of everything dairy and have soy milk instead.

Having written all this, I realize that my day seems a little busy in the morning. However, this is just the beginning...

* Of course, if one is assigned to serve in the altar during the week, he has to get up early every day.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Raindrops on Roses

I‘ll admit it: I‘m feeling sentimental.

Here at Jordanville, we seminarians have to live a relatively simple life, free of the fetters of much of what modern society has to offer, like Youtube, wifi, and medium-rare prime rib. Of course, our lives aren‘t easy—we have many of the same trials and temptations that everyone has. But, when I feel depressed, I turn to many of the simple things that I‘ve learned to enjoy, such as:
  • The pulsing ring of the bells at Matins.
  • The taste of fresh bread.
  • Cherry tomatoes.
  • A quiet walk to the Cross on the hill.
  • Incense.
  • Understanding something Lev Ivanovich says.
  • The fresh taste of Jordanville tap-water.
  • In-jokes with friends.
Nope, never a dull moment.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Five-Finger Discount

Let's say you move to Jordanville from somewhere more tropical than not, like (for the sake of example) Hawaii. And, like most other residents of the 50th State, you have no idea what it means for there to be 12 feet, let alone 12 inches, of snow. So, you bring a jacket, maybe a coat, but lack some other essentials, like gloves, a hat, scarves, snow shoes, etc.

Of course, you can go to the local Wal-Mart or other sporting goods store to get these things. But you're a seminarian, which means that money does not come easy. Never fear: the free table is here!

The free table is a long-standing Jordanville tradition. Locals drop off unneeded items for the benefit of the brotherhood, including:
  • Books (spiritual works, etc.)
  • Winter coats and jackets
  • Gloves
  • Lamps
  • Unused socks and toothbrushes (Before the owner realizes it's a free table!)
  • Nail clippers (like 20 of them)
  • Prayer ropes
  • A telephone
  • And much, much more!
Warning: do not leave items on the free table if you do not want a monk or seminarian to take them within thirty seconds.