Saturday, November 20, 2010


Dear Readers,

I'm going to be out for the next week on an extended holiday for Thanksgiving. I hope that you all have a joyful Thanksgiving, being grateful for all that God has given you.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

3 days. 2 seminarians. 100 books. Gallons of honey.

I went on a book-selling junket last weekend to Mayfield, Pennsylvania. My senior colleague in the bookstore chose me to help him load the van and convince the residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania to unload their wallets. So, we drove three scenic hours south to Mayfield, where St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral was having their annual Christmas Bazaar.

The cathedral is one of the oldest Orthodox parishes in the United States, formed in 1878 by Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants. At first an Eastern Rite Catholic parish, the hostility of local Roman Catholics led to the church's acceptance into the Russian Orthodox Church in 1903. St. John's parishioners helped establish St. Tikhon's Monastery. Since the two monks that founded our monastery were from St. Tikhon's, one could say that St. John's is like Jordanville's spiritual grandfather!

After arriving at the church, we hauled in our goods (mainly books and honey) into the parish hall. Our booth was located right next to a kielbossa [sic] maker's. “Iskushenie [temptation],” I kept saying, as it was a Friday night. The sausage-maker was apparently an old friend of Metropolitan Herman of the OCA, and his business card bore the epithet “The Picasso of Kielbossa.” After the bazaar closed down, we were welcomed by the local parish priest and his son in the parish house, where we feasted on leftovers from that night's dinner and settled down for some R&R.

The next day moved on steadily. I got to sing that evening for Great Vespers in the church. The interior of the parish is quite striking, and reminiscent of 19th century Russian Church interiors. The high ceiling provides perfect acoustics for the choir, which sing very beautifully. After Vespers, I returned to our booth, which my colleague was manning for the both of us. Before we closed shop, we had several interesting theological conversations with a Maronite Catholic concerning the Immaculate Conception and a Pentecostal bathroom remodeling salesman. Apparently, Pentecostal services need to have three, not two or four (five is right out), messages in “tongues”, with interpreters. Glossolalic discussions finished, we returned to the house to rest. Or at least one of us did; my sensitivity to sounds caused me to stay up to early morning, to no little consternation.

On Sunday, we both went to Matins in the morning (what a concept!) and then Divine Liturgy, and sang both services. Although it was a short business day, the presence of parishioners and a sudden attack of gregariousness on our part led to decent sales. As we finally packed up, we were gifted with many, many, boxes of food from the kindly church ladies, who even gave us green beans because we were growing boys. Thus we left with the fleshpots of Mayfield.

Many thanks to all the wonderful people in Mayfield, especially Fr. John Sorochka and his family!

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Seminarian: Classes

This part of a seminarian's day is probably one of the most varied, since of course he has different classes each day. For example, I'm able to write this post because I don't have to take English, and thus have free time until 10 am. But, I will try to draw a little sketch of what classes are like.

Our seminary building is two-storied, with a basement. On the first floor is a large hall, used for choir practice, lectures, and the like. On the second floor are the classrooms and offices. The basement is mainly taken up by our library. The second floor has classrooms for each of the years of seminary. We first-years stay in one room basically the entire year, while the teachers move around. The rooms are big enough to fit all of us (and a few more) comfortably, while small enough to prevent anyone from hiding or sleeping.

Here's a selection of our classes:

Russian I: Natch. We have Russian every day, including scheduled Facebook checking independent study hours in the library.
Church Slavonic I: Actually takes up a good deal of my time, since we have to memorize parts of the Small Compline service. Помилуй мя, Боже...
Russian History: A prelude to the Russian Church History classes. Fr. Andrei Psarev leads us through Russian History from Ryurik through Rachmaninoff. Also, there are many interesting side-conversations, mostly involving monastic footwear, coming from one of our more animated classmates.
Patristic Anthropology: Our professor, Fr. George Dragas, a disciple of Fr. George Florovsky and one of the greatest living Orthodox theologians, presents the anthropological view of the Church Fathers, a great deal of which is over my head. Fr. George is rector of a Greek parish in Boston, and a professor of the seminary there, which means he is with us only once a fortnight. I was going to make a reference to My Big Fat Greek Wedding*, but that would be too clichéd.

Most of our class-hours in the first year are devoted to Russian, which I should be studying now. For the next post in this series, I will write about the afternoon.

*They should make more movies with Orthodox people in them, because I'm starting to get tired of references to the Greek origin of the word “kimono.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Forget about it!

I found this little gem in one of my many old (and hopefully forgotten) blogs. Fr. Michael Pomazansky was one of the greatest theologians to have taught at Jordanville. His magnum opus Orthodox Dogmatic Theology is still required reading for seminarians. Fr. Michael reposed several days shy of his hundredth birthday.

Like everything in the world, our human nature is wisely constructed. We are capable of acquiring and preserving knowledge, and we are capable of forgetting. Often even forgetfulness is useful and laudable.

Have you met with failure? Don't be too long in lamenting. Forget it! Chalk it up as a lesson for the future.

You lost something and can't find it? In this transitory world there's nothing eternal. Forget it!

Someone offended you without cause, they hurt your feelings? Don't let your memory hang onto it. Humble yourself; it will be good for you. You have a bad habit? In our souls a constant process of renewal is in effect. Determine to turn away from your bad habit and nature itself will help you to forget it.

Are you troubled or attracted by seductive memories or desires? Join your heart to the words of the prayer: "Guard me, O Lord, from vain thoughts and evil desires"... It will be fulfilled, and you will forget them.

Forgetting what is useless, acquire positive knowledge and preserve it. Don't think: I'll never find that useful. "Give here that bit of rope; even a bit of rope can come in handy" (from Gogol's Inspector General). In the course of your life each item in the storehouse of your memory will prove useful, even if it's only once.

Look ahead. Choose what's best. Think of that moral countenance which you would like to see on yourself in the last decade of your life. You've heard a lot of what is good, and you've read a fair amount. If you're acquainted with Church history, imagine to yourself the images of those people whom you find most attractive and close to your soul by nature. Don't strive to race ahead prematurely.

Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before. (Phil. 3:13)

Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

Monday, November 1, 2010

Special Report: The Iveron-Hawaii Icon visits Jordanville

Last weekend, a miraculous icon of the Mother of God visited our monastery. This icon, which came from such an unlikely place as Hawaii, began streaming myrrh three years ago. With an ecclesiastical blessing, the icon has been traveling, with its guardian, Reader Nectarios Yangson, to many parishes in North America.

The timing was quite auspicious: yesterday was the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, as well as the namesday of our abbot, Archimandrite Luke. Also, it was the anniversary of the death of Jose Muñoz-Cortes, who was the guardian of the Montreal Icon of the Mother of God. This icon, of which the Hawaiian icon is a copy, also streamed myrrh and visited parishes. Thus, the stage was set for a very busy and intense weekend.

The weekend began with a panikhida (memorial service) for Br. Jose, served by Metropolitan Hilarion, our church's chief prelate. A whole busload of pilgrims from Washington DC surrounded the grave, and sang the refrains in the panikhida: Grant rest, O Lord, to the soul of Thy servant who has fallen asleep! Many of these pilgrims venerate Br. Jose as a martyr, on account of his violent murder in Athens.

Several hours later, the icon came to the church for the Vigil. It was met outside by the priests and acolytes, and was escorted inside to the singing of hymns. A moleben was sung, and then Vigil started. I was in the kliros* with the rest of the choir, so my view of the congregation behind me was obscured. However, I could see that the church was quite packed.

Since both the Icon and our First Hierarch were present for this Vigil, it was destined to be a very long and elaborate service. Fr. Roman, our choirmaster, chose the most beautiful pieces befitting the Mother of God, including a Bogoroditse Dyevo (O Mother of God and Virgin…) arranged by Archimandrite Matfei, and a Great Doxology harmonized from the znamenny chant by Chesnokov. The beauty of the service kept us energized until the end of the Vigil, around 11 pm.

The next day, I was assigned to help prepare food in the kitchen. Since there were about 200 people to be served, it was a very physically demanding task. I worked from about 6:30am to nearly 3pm, with some pausing for breakfast and lunch. Among the things I did were: setting tables, cutting fish, and washing extremely large pots and pans. The sinks that we use for washing big pots got clogged-up at one point, and attempts to unplug one sink would just push the excess water into the other. So, with the help of my friend and co-worker, we used two plungers for both sinks, unplugging the drains. I looked outside. It was snowing!

Lunch was successfully served on time. Afterwards, Fr. Luke had a short reception in his office for his namesday; the Icon was also brought there. Because of the long day, I had to take some rest, but I got up in time to go to the upper cemetery for another service in front of the icon.

The next day, the icon was present for liturgy, but then it had to go to Utica for their parish feast. I said goodbye to Reader Nectarios, who had given me some icons for distribution.

This weekend was very long and tiring, but ultimately very grace-filled. The Hawaiian myrrhstreaming icon was a very important factor in my conversion to Orthodoxy, and I am very happy to see it again. Please remember in your prayers our little parish in Honolulu, and especially Reader Nectarios.

*A partitioned section outside the sanctuary where the choir sings.