Thursday, December 30, 2010

Orthodox Elders (Youtube Playlist)

I spent some time searching for videos of Orthodox elders in English. Greek, Romanian, and Serbian elders are represented here. I haven't found any Russian elders on Youtube, but I'll add them when they come available.

I also include a 5-part documentary on the Monastic Republic of Mount Athos.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Special Report: St. Herman's Youth Conference 2010

Last weekend, 150 young people of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad descended on Holy Trinity Monastery for the annual St. Herman's Youth Conference (or, as we just call it, Syezd). I was on official assignment at the conference as one of the English correspondents; our collaborative efforts resulted in this (partially complete) news update. Since all the main details (and lots of pictures) from the conference are on the Seminary website, I'll give my inside perspective on what went down at the conference.

I went to last year's conference in Methuen, but I had a rough night staying at the hotel and was surrounded by unfamiliar faces; I ended up leaving early. So, I was pretty stoked for this year's conference, especially since I didn't have to go anywhere.

There wasn't much social interaction on Friday, which was dominated mainly by eating supper and going to Matins for St. Herman. At dinner, we had the usual trapeza fare, which was (no offense to the cook) a little disappointing, somewhat like having turkey sandwiches on Thanksgiving. However, later on I tagged along with Ephraim and went to the hotel, where they had very, very delicious cookies baked by Natalia.

The morning liturgy was very nice, and it was a pleasure hearing so many young voices fill our church. After the liturgy, Vladika Gabriel gave a short welcome address to all of us, including the immortal lines: “There are 150 of you, and I hope to see 75 marriages.”

Lunch was provided by the conference, and it was pretty good and Chinese-y. Then we met in the seminary hall, where Fr. Seraphim Gan gave a great lecture on the symbolism of the wedding ceremony, using two volunteers (who happened to be related). In the course of the presentation, he suddenly whirled around and pointed to the first seminarian he could see: me.

Fr. Seraphim: “What does a ring symbolize?”
Me: (deer-in-headlights look) “Uhhhhhhhhhh ETERNITY!!!!”
Fr. Seraphim: “Yes!!!”

Dodged a bullet there.

Later on, when it was time for discussions, I had to sneak out with Anthony to write up the latest update for the website. Coming back, I kind of floated around the discussion groups, stopping at one when I randomly heard the words: “This guy had his thumb bit off in a fight…”

On Sunday, we used the Liturgy of St. James*, which was very different from the liturgies we use today. The first thing I noticed was the deacons facing the people while doing the litanies, perhaps a leftover from the congregational singing of ancient times. Vladika was dressed in a phelonion and omophorion, making him look like an ancient bishop. Apparently, the altar was pretty chaotic, but I'm sure that hardly anyone really noticed.

After the lectures, we had free time. I was being pulled in multiple directions, because I had to both man the book kiosk and write updates. But, I managed to make it to the Face in the Snow competition being held outside.

The rules of the competition are simple. No hats or gloves. Pious girls can wear a headscarf. Put your face and hands in the snow. Last one to get up wins. I felt that I had to represent Hawaii, and was one of the first to raise my hand to volunteer. I lasted for about a minute, the others, for nearly six. It took a while for the feeling to return to my fingers.

Later, we hopped in cars and went to Cooperstown for some Christmas caroling (half-price because it was the day after Western Christmas). Gathering in a warm coffee shop, I made some new friends, and sipped hot cider.

That night, we hung out at the hotel, where we played a great many party games, my favorite being Silent Ninja. The Russians taught us some Greek dancing, and we also did some other activities designed to tire us out.

We had the usual sandwich of lecture-discussion-lecture, but before that we had a tour of the monastery, meeting in the seminary hall. On the way, I took some people down through the not-so-creepy basement. It was only later on that I found out that girls weren't allowed down there. Oops! After the tour, we met again in the hall, where Fr. Roman gave a really interesting talk about how his spiritual father, Archimandrite Cyprian the iconographer, would chew him out over his choice of music, among other things.

I was rushing around before the banquet in a mad dash to wrap some presents for friends. I went, presents and all, to the Radisson. After having the usual hotel fare, we were treated to three hours of talent show. Some acts were good, some were really, really good, and some left me scratching my head. One of my favorite acts was the rendition of “Traveling Soldier” by Jojo and Daria, as well as Misha's creative recital of “Jabberwocky.” I was also drafted at the last minute to do “Wagon Wheel” with Anthony and Sergei.

The last act was a send-up of “Amen,” which appeared in the film “Lilies of the Field,” entitled “Amin.” Three seminarians (and one graduate) came up and sang some great verses, including:

Eating more potatoes (Amin)
Gotta find a bigger belt (Amin!)
Gonna be a deacon! (Amin! Amin! Amen!)

The next day, as I was walking to the Computer Lab to complete one of my papers, I noticed a little reminder of the good times we had, and composed this post-Syezd haiku:

An empty courtyard.
Traces remain in the snow
Of faces and hands.

All in all, this year's Syezd was really memorable, and it felt like a pilgrimage as well, owing to its location. I am very glad to have made new friends, and am looking forward to next year in Ottawa (God willing) so I can see you all!

*Usually done only on the feast of St. James (October 23). Because of all the preparation needed to do this liturgy, it was postponed until the Syezd.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's the most (?!?) wonderful time of the year.

The (outdated) Schedule of Exams.

The second half of December is set aside for final exams. The schedule presents no big surprises: almost all the finals begin at 9 o'clock in the morning.* All the seminarians gather in the seminary hall and sit in order of seniority: the first-years on the far right, and the fifth-years on the far left. After singing “O Heavenly King,” the watchful proctors then distribute our exams, which we are given three hours to complete.

Exams can be a stressful time, especially for seminarians taking advanced subjects. However, we only have exams on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Moreover, we are freed for the most part from our regular obediences and other obligations that would hinder our study time. Thus, we actually end up with a lot of free time on our hands. This can be either a good or a bad thing. It seems that it has increased the number of posts on this blog!

As of this writing, I have completed all but one of my exams, though I have two term papers to complete. Soon, my thoughts will be turning to other things–to the upcoming St. Herman's Conference, and to a visit out West!

*Classes which have a mix of students from different years have exams in the afternoon.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Вечная память: Archimandrite Joasaph (McLellan)

Fr. Joasaph (then Reader Joseph) at the Summer School of Liturgical Music.

Today marks the first anniversary of the repose of Archimandrite Joasaph McLellan, the former head of the Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. Fr. Joasaph graduated from Jordanville in the 80s, and then went on to graduate studies at Brown University, becoming an expert in Church Slavonic (and singing in an a capella group). He then had a successful academic career, while at the same time teaching at the Summer School for Liturgical Music. Later in life he was tonsured a monk, made an archimandrite, and sent to Jerusalem. Soon, however, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, which he endured for a brief time before falling asleep in the Lord.

I knew Fr. Joasaph from taking his classes in Church Slavonic and Typikon at the Summer School. Fr. Joasaph was a very good teacher, and I consider his influence and example one of the major reasons why I am studying here at Jordanville. May his memory be eternal!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Free Stuff I Found (1)

I've developed a knack for finding stuff on the Free Table. For example, I found this navy pea coat about a month ago; it keeps me toasty warm.

About a week ago, Fr. Cyprian (our dorm inspector) ordered that the attic be cleaned out, and that everything piling up in it should be divided among the students. There were quite a few books, including this Medieval art book. However, this was nothing compared to what my classmate found: an entire encyclopedia set!

However, I think my favorite find (again from the attic) are these leather boots, which I believe are actually Russian military boots. I tested them out in church, and they turned out to be very comfortable, providing even support for my feet. And my posture's improved as well! All these need are a little touch-up, and they'll be good as new.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thanksgiving in Vacationland (3)

Note 1: For the first two days of my trip, I kept a meticulous diary of events. However, for the Maine part of my journey, I had little time to sit down and record what happened. So, what follows is a short account of the rest of my Thanksgiving. Which is good, because we're just a month away from Christmas!
Note 2: Again, for the purpose of maintaining privacy (from Google) I've changed some of the names. Even though, really now, it's pretty obvious who these people are.

Days 3–7: The Last Homely House

“…a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep, or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.” –Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring

The next morning, we awoke, had breakfast, and engaged in a long and fascinating discussion with Fr. Alexander, which included references to Kurt Gödel, St. Gregory Palamas, and apophatic theology. This conversation induced my brain to engage in morning calisthenics. As the sun passed its high point, we began to begin the process of departing, though this time we did not follow the Russian tradition of sitting on our bags. Fr. Alex led us with his car to the Field where the Shot Heard Round the World was fired, though nowadays it looks quite tranquil.

He then followed us to the Interstate, where we parted ways. Now was the last leg of our journey North. Several hours later, we encountered a sign saying: “Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be.” Coming from the Aloha State, I was quite skeptical. However, it did not take too long to convince me!

About an hour later we arrived at the Woodlawn homestead. The warmly-lit house, which looked as if blanketed in mist, prompted me to utter: “I feel like I've arrived at Rivendell!”

We entered to a fine welcome, and thus began the first of many moments we shared at that house. There are too many of them to describe them all, but they include:
  • Feeding chickens (and picking one up!)
  • Going on walks and watching for wild turkeys and pheasants
  • Seeing a bald eagle for the first time
  • Watching “Gilligan's Island” with the family
  • Of course, Thanksgiving!
  • Celebrating my namesday (St. John Chrysostom) with my dear friends
  • Attending and singing vigil and liturgy at the parish

Right now, I'm fighting the urge to turn this post into a novel, so I will stop here. This trip may seem somewhat tangential to seminary life, but it just goes to show that as a seminarian, you have the opportunity to meet and befriend many interesting and wonderful people. I am very thankful to the three families with whom I had the pleasure of spending my Thanksgiving vacation, and I look forward to the time when I can meet them again.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Although I've been through a little Winter in Japan, and got a taste of it on the East Coast, I've never really seen icicles, much less these huge things which grow on the sides of our dormitory.

Yesterday, I broke off one of them. Here it is on the kitchen counter, with my hand to show how big it is. Actually, this is more medium-sized.

While I took pictures of the icicles, I also practiced for my Church Music I test this afternoon. Fr. Roman is having us do all of Tone 2.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday Morning Photos

Welcome, General Winter, to your new home.

This is the first evening prayer, in Church Slavonic. For my homework, I have to know and recite this by heart. For our final exam, we have to be able to recite from memory a number of church prayers.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Thanksgiving in Vacationland (2)

Day 2 - Manhattan to Massachusetts

We awoke the next morning, collected our stuff, and drove North to Manhattan. Our plan was to attend Liturgy at the Synodal Cathedral, because a recent seminary grad, Sergio Silva, was being ordained a deacon.

Parking in Manhattan, even on a Sunday, seems to be very hard to find. Even the paid parking lot that Big Jack frequently uses was full. So, we resorted to appealing to divine intervention. And the heavenly answer was not long in coming–we found a parking space just two blocks away from Synod, right on 5th Avenue next to Central Park.

If one didn't notice the sign saying "Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia" one could easily mistake the building for any common mansion, which it basically was. We entered rather awkwardly through the kliros, which was in an adjoining space next to the nave, which was actually a converted ballroom. We sang with the choir. I was happy to sing with Anatoly Ivanovich Panchoshny, who was my vocal teacher in the music summer school.

After the liturgy, we congratulated Fr. Sergio (who, as of this writing, has just been ordained a priest) and then proceeded to the trapeza, where we sat and listened to speeches about Metropolitan Philaret.

It was soon time to get going, so we went back to the car and put away our podryasniks. Jack taught me a special way to fold a cassock, which will make for a good post. Then, we started walking through Central Park.

It was my first time in Central Park, not to mention Manhattan. I was completely bowled over by the sheer scale of the park, as well as how accommodating it was to all the people walking therein. It was a nice, sunny afternoon, and we got to see all sorts of talented individuals on our walk. There were some black street performers who called themselves the “Afrobats” as well as a very talented young boy who could juggle while riding a unicycle.

It was getting late, so we had to start hitting the road again. Big Jack got invited by a Russian family in Massachusetts, the Donskoys, to have Thanksgiving dinner with them. Jack graciously declined, but asked if we could stay the night. So, we started the four-hour drive. This time, we took the scenic route, making sure the GPS had us avoid toll roads. It turned out to be a rather nice drive. On the way, we listened to Glenn Gould play Bach's French Suites. Pretty soon, we were in Concord.

Fr. and Mrs. Donskoy welcomed us with open arms. Over a steaming hot bowl of chili, Fr. Alex regaled us with various stories, including the tale of how "Silent Night" came to be written in a secluded Alpine town. I was becoming very exhausted, so he lent me his arm to lean on. I took a shower, got ready for bed, and went to sleep a little after 11:30 pm.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanksgiving in Vacationland (1)

Note: In keeping with my personal blogging philosophy, I have changed some of the names to protect the innocent...and the guilty!

Day 1 - Jordanville to JFK

The air was crisp, the day was fine, and I woke up way too early for my own good. I was excited because we were going to embark on an epic road trip across several states along the eastern seaboard. Our final destination was somewhere in Southern Maine, but first we had to go South in order to drop off our friend Tom Woodlawn, who was going to give a presentation on Pushkin somewhere in the frozen side of Europe.

So, we set off: Tom, Big Jack (a fifth-year), and me. We drove five hours, through quaint Upstate New York towns, and into the heart of New York City. The tension level increased accordingly, especially because we were having difficulties finding a place to stay, and it was starting to get dark. I resigned myself to the fate of having to go back to Jordanville, at least for that night. Meanwhile, Big Jack and I dropped off Tom at JFK International, and prayed that he would travel safely, and that they would not make Minsk-meat out of him.

Living on a prayer, we started South, to New Jersey, where a priest-friend of Jack's lived. After some lively back-and-forth before and after we dropped off Tom at the airport, Jack's friend, Fr. Seraphim, got us some accomodations at his parish in Howell. So, about an hour and a half after we dropped off Anthony we arrived at St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

Finally, I thought, time to get some rest! After nearly eight hours of sitting in a car, I was ready to crash. But then, I checked the time: it was six o'clock. Time for Vigil!

We went up to the choir loft of the beautifully-frescoed church, and stood and sang for about two-and-a-half hours, which actually gave some remedy to all the sitting we did. After the Vigil, Fr. Valery, the venerable protopresbyter and rector of the parish, had us do a pannikhida for Metropolitan Philaret, whose 25th anniversary of his repose was the following day.

That night, we ate supper at Fr. Seraphim's, and met his amiable family. His sister-in-law Tanya served us a very delicious meal, and we spent our evening chatting about seminary life. In particular, Tanya told us about some marital advice she recieved from one of our protodeacons:

Tanya: He told me to line up all the guys I'm interested in, and pick the one with the shined shoes.
Jack: But how are you going to line up all those guys?
Me: Call the police!

When it was time for Big Jack and I to rest, we were shown to our guest rooms in the Russian School with some bedding. The first day was eventful, but it was merely the beginning of our saga.