Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What I did on my birthday.

My birthday falls on the Exaltation of the Cross, one of the major feasts of the Church. It also happens to be a strict fast day—no meat, poultry, fish, or dairy! This year, I was in kitchen helping prepare a Lenten meal for the feast. I like working in the kitchen, being assigned kitchen on one’s own birthday is a rare occasion, so I relished the opportunity. Plus I figured it would be pretty blogable.

I dragged myself out of bed a little before six in the morning. I went to the refectory, my way faintly illumined by twilight. There, I met Fr. Gabriel, who was going to be cook. Being on kitchen with O. Gavriil on a fast day is as simple as you get; all you do is chop vegetables, and he takes care of most of the rest. After Vanya, another seminarian, showed up, we were tasked with peeling potatoes. I followed Vanya down to the basement.

We have an industrial-strength potato-peeler. It works by agitating and rubbing potatoes against each other in a kind of centrifuge. An old alumnus compared seminary life to being in the potato-peeler. Seminarians—all with their different viewpoints, personalities, quirks, and flaws—get thrown into common life. We smash up against each other, share joys and sorrows, and then come out more or less okay. At least I hope that’s the case for me.

There was a lot of peeling and chopping and mixing and other cooking activities. We successfully served the food and cleaned up afterwards. I washed the small dishes.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What came next.

Last week we picked apples and made some of them into 155 gallons of delicious cider. That gives the best pretext opportunity to share our produce with the outside world!

Yesterday, the Albany parish celebrated its parish feast, the Nativity of the Mother of God. The last time I visited was for the church consecration about a year ago. This time I went with a couple classmates of mine, supplied with 25 gallons of cider and about as many jars of honey. One of our hieromonks came as well to serve with the other clergy. Bishop Jerome of Manhattan was the main celebrant.

At 9:30, the parish greeted Bishop Jerome at the church with bread and salt.

Then the bishop was vested in the church.

The bishop’s particular vestments, especially the sakkos (dalmatic), is taken from Byzantine court ceremony. In fact, a hierarchical liturgy is probably the closest we get to being back in the time of the Palaiologos. What was once a symbol of secular pomp is now transformed into an icon of heavenly glory.

Vladyka blessing with the dikiri and trikiri.

The liturgy was wonderful. At the end, we had a cross procession around the church; I was in charge of the lantern at the head of the procession. One of the standard-bearers said to me jokingly, “If we mess up, it’s all your fault!” Thankfully, that was not the case. After everything finished, I looked at the time and was surprised; time really did fly by!

We set up the cider and honey table in the parish hall, where lunch was under way. Working the table did not prevent us from enjoying other refreshments, as you can see above. There was also the most delicious cheesecake ever:

The rector of the parish, Fr. Vsevolod Drobot, celebrated fifty years in the priesthood, so of course we sang many, many renditions of Mnogaya Leta.

Fr. Vsevolod pointed out that he served his first year in Schenectady, with the remaining forty-nine in Albany.

“So we can celebrate again next year!” someone said.

I hope we can! Not only did I have a good time, I also made some new friends and reconnected with old ones as well. I’m very thankful to the parishioners at Albany, and especially to Fr. Vsevolod for blessing us to come sell our cider.

S prazdnikom!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Apple Picking!

It’s that time of year. The weather changes, the leaves turn into sunset hues, and apples become ripe for picking. We have quite a few apple trees at the monastery. Actually, the first time I’ve ever seen an apple tree was at Jordanville. Apples don’t grow in tropical Hawaii, after all. Or San Francisco.

By early September, the ground was littered with apples. You couldn’t walk anywhere near the area where the apple trees are (next to the garage, across from the monastery building) without hearing the crunch-crunch, or rather smoosh-smoosh, of apples under your feet. The trees, pregnant with fruit, ached to be relieved of their produce.

So, I was happy to hear that Father Luke blessed, or rather instituted, a general obedience to pick the monastery’s apples on September 22 (last Thursday). Not only would that be fun in itself, we would also get to enjoy the fruits (get it?) of our labors. Plus for me it makes good journalistic fodder for the school website.

Father Cyprian split us up into several groups involved with apple picking and processing. I ended up on the Party Planning Committee, i.e. getting stuff for the barbecue afterward. Before we headed out, I took some pictures of people picking apples.

Most of the apple-pickers used staves to whack the apples from the trees. My classmate S. didn’t bother with that. He climbed the biggest tree and started shaking the branches pretty vigorously. Apples fell like hail onto the ground. “I’m an energetic Serb!” S. shouted from the treetop.

Soon, it was time to get going. My team went to several stops to get the best prices on different goods. We got hot dogs from Price Chopper, burgers from Wal-Mart, and kielbasa from a Polish sausage vendor in Utica:

Doesn’t that look beautiful?

Of course, we didn’t skimp for our monastic brethren, either:

As we were getting the goods the sky began to change and the temperate apple-picking weather turned into rainy picnic-ruining weather. We got a call from Jordanville: it was raining hard. Should we postpone the barbecue to Saturday? Of course not! Meat! The show must go on!

“Move the grill to the garage. We’re eating inside,” I said.

Once we got there the garage was already filled with eager and hungry seminarians. Some apple pies were in the oven, but man must not live by pie alone. We got out the good stuff and before long there was a queue forming at the grill.

Worth queuing up for.

The evening was a smashing success. Apples got picked and made into various apple-y products, meat was available in abundance, and people had a fun time. What’s more, we cleaned up after ourselves with hardly any fuss. I can’t wait for what comes next!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The First Week

Thanks be to God, we got through the first week of school. The week began with Labor Day weekend and ended with the (real) feast of St. Job of Pochaev. In between, we had a smooth transition to seminary life.

On Tuesday, we had a moleben for the new school year after the liturgy. Then we met in the summer kitchen, where Fr Luke had a short talk with us about the new school year. The question to ask ourselves, he said, was “Why am I here?” He gave us some other sound advice and finally blessed the new students to wear their cassocks. Then Fr Cyprian passed out our student handbooks, and we went in detail over the various rules of living in common.

The first days of class went by very quickly. For Russian Church History I am doing a term paper on ecclesiastical architecture. for Russian Literature we are studying Ilya Muromets and other heroes. And in Biblical Greek, we are struggling to pronounce the [gh] sound. Things are back to normal!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Last Weekend

It’s been a pretty good weekend, the last hurrah before the new school year begins, and we all start to get a little (but not too) serious.

Labor Day weekend is a pretty big deal at Jordanville, usually second only to Pentecost or Memorial Day. The ever-memorable Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko), the third abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery, instituted an annual pilgrimage on Labor Day weekend in honor of both St. Job of Pochaev, the patron of the monastery’s printshop, and the Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God. He took the idea from St. Tikhon of Moscow, who instituted a Memorial Day pilgrimage at St. Tikhon’s Monastery when he was still in America. The pilgrimages on Memorial Day and Labor Day help sanctify the summer, encouraging Orthodox people to visit the monastery and spend their time in a God-pleasing manner.

Usually, quite a few people show up, but it was a little less than last year, perhaps because of the weather. There was, however, a sizable contingent from New Jersey led by Fr. Serge Lukianov. I also heard rumors of a certain M.M.* who was in search of a husband/going to be engaged, but those claims were absolutely, definitely groundless.

Sunday was the longest day for me. I had to wake up early in the morning, go to the first liturgy, and then open the bookstore, which was pretty quiet because everyone was at the later liturgy. The weather was quite muggy, and the heat hung off one’s skin; wearing a podryasnik didn’t help. The morning was quite relaxing with the (unfortunate) lack of customers for my shift; I feasted on some bacon and eggs that a friend brought from a restaurant in nearby Richfield Springs.

After the lunch, I left my duties to my superior, and went with a certain seminarian to another certain married seminarian’s house, where we watched episodes of The Office. Later that afternoon, I hung out with people from New Jersey, who kept feeding me hamburgers and sausage: “Eat, eat! You’re a growing boy!”

Later that evening, we went to Mr. Shake, another Jordanville Haunt, where we second-years had a last meal with a former compatriot, who is becoming a novice at Holy Cross Monastery in West Virginia. We’ll miss him terribly, but are thankful that he’ll be praying for us!

All in all, it was a very full weekend, and a good way to end the summer. I’m very much looking forward to whatever the new year brings!

*Matushka Material

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Don’t Panic.

Serving in the altar is not something you learn from a book. It doesn’t hurt to have a cheat-sheet, like the one you see above. But, like dancing, serving just requires developing a sense for what’s going on, which takes time.

Unfortunately, I’m a singer, which means that I am more required on kliros than in the altar. Indeed, here at Jordanville there is a division of labor among the seminarians between those who serve and those who sing. Those who do both usually do one better than the other, and represent that exception that proves the rule.

I don’t expect to be able to serve blindfolded, like some of my classmates. But I do hope to know the basics. This week, I was supposed to serve with one of the more experienced monks. But, a last-minute change made me the senior to an incoming seminarian. Being forced to be the “responsible” one for a change, I had to really start watching what was going on, and learned a thing or two.

Case in point: one does not use regular candles during a hierarchical service, but just the dikiri and trikiri. I learned that yesterday, when Metropolitan Hilarion, our First Hierarch, came to serve Liturgy for Ss. Florus and Laurus, the namesday for one of our elder monks (Fr. Flor) and late Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory. I was guided here and there, and moved around like an action figure. But it was magnificent. The service, I mean.

As I enter my second year as a seminarian, I guess I have to raise my standards a bit higher, beyond “not setting self on fire.” Yes, serving in the altar can’t be learned in a book. Just like life.