Monday, October 31, 2011

“That’s going in the blog.”

Things have been getting pretty quiet here at my blog. Second year actually feels more busy than first year for some strange reason, even though we technically have less hours of class (and don’t have to wash dishes, for that matter). Even so, for whatever reason I haven’t had the time to post, until now. Our Church Slavonic/Music teacher rescheduled classes this week, which means that I am free all morning. Huzzah! And it’s Fr. Luke’s namesday, which means ice cream! Huzzah! Here’s what I did over the past couple of weeks:

  • Participated in the Eastern American Diocese clergy conference
  • Attended a youth choir weekend in New York City
  • Sold stuff to a busload of pilgrims from DC
  • Watch a few episodes of Downton Abbey and Doctor Who for Movie Night(s)
  • Go to church a lot
  • Oh yeah, study.
With that brief update out of the way, let’s put a little meat on the skeleton and talk about the youth choir weekend. The last one of those I attended was in June, right after the Boston Ball. This time we were singing at the Holy Fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Councils Russian Orthodox Church in Upper Manhattan (think Harlem). Four of us set out for New York City: my friends Harry and Ben from Buffalo, fellow seminarian Nicky Kotar, and myself. We spent the time going there talking about sundry subjects such as yak-dragons* and Don Quixote. The seminarians tried to get some productive work done in between bursts of conversational creativity.

After arriving in Manhattan we headed straight to the church, where rehearsal was just about to begin. Rehearsal went on for quite some time because we were basically going over all the music for both Vigil and Liturgy, and moreover were gathered together for the first time in months. Alex Cooley (that guy people made a Facebook page about) conducted. I met quite a few new people and reunited with old friends. After rehearsal we had some delicious lasagna and readied ourselves for the Vigil.

Vigil ended later than expected; we were all too tired to do any wandering around the city, so we just went to our respective places-to-sleep. Harry, Ben and I went to the Djurdjinovic** household, where our hosts fed us with some delicious pelmeni. It was a lively evening; up to three conversations were going on at the same time on the long table. We talked into the night and finally went to bed. The girls went upstairs, leaving the guys to sleep in the basement, which was actually pretty comfortable.

The next day we had Liturgy. On the way there we complained about the toll ($12!!!) to get over the GWB. I also had a cold that weekend, so my singing ability was quite compromised. I kept sniffling and coughing all through the Liturgy (“Lord have mer—cough!—cy”). We did all right in the end, especially since it was the first time in many years that an actual choir was singing liturgy. The moleben at the end of liturgy was a mouthful though, with the refrain “Holy Fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, pray to God for us” in Slavonic.

The parishioners fed us pretty generously. I enjoyed the meat and caught up with some people I met the previous weekend at the Youth Symposium. A few made toasts, including one of the sub-deacons (pére Djurdjinovic):

“You might have heard about an old band in the 80s called Kool & the Gang…now it’s Cooley & the Gang!”

“That’s going in the blog,” I said to Nicky.

Right after lunch, we had a group photo and parted ways. Good times were had in NYC, and I only regret that we had so little time to enjoy the city. Well, maybe next time!

*That creature that appears in the Neverending Story. Correctly referred to (according to an ardent Reader) as a luckdragon. We discussed the merits of keeping them as fire-breathing guardians of an estate, as well as for milking purposes (“It’d taste like burning…and milk,” said Ben).
**It’s pronounced as read.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night Vigil!

October has been quite a busy month for me. It seems that almost every weekend there’s been something going on. That plus studies plus work (plus, let’s admit it, sheer laziness) equals not much time to write posts. This business unfortunately creates a backlog of potential posts, making it difficult to choose one. If I followed chronological convention I would simply begin with writing about the big fat Russian Orthodox convert wedding I went to in the beginning of the month. But since thankfully I can write about whatever I want, let’s start with something more recent: our trip to Synod and back.

The view from the roof.

Synod, or rather the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign, is the literal HQ of the Russian Church Abroad. A very pious and equally rich Russian bought a Park Avenue mansion for the ROCOR Synod of Bishops. Its main hall and dining room were transformed into a cathedral nave and a chapel respectively.

Four of us seminarians were invited as guest participants at a youth symposium conducted by the Synodal Youth Department. Fr. Cyprian, the Dean of Students (and my Greek teacher), was slated to talk to the youth on missionary work. When we arrived at Synod, we were ushered to our quarters, which turned out to be the conference room. Four cots were laid out for us:

Despite the Spartan appearance, the beds were comfy, and a nice lady with a love for Apple products fed us very well.

The next day, we got up early to help Fr. Cyprian serve liturgy in the lower chapel. It also happened to be his namesday (Hieromartyr Cyprian). I struggled through the liturgy with my co-sufferers and at the very end mangled the polychronia, promoting Vladyka Ieronim to the metropolitanate.

Moleben before the relics of St. Innocent of Moscow, enlightener of Alaska.

The symposium itself was great and I liked Fr. Cyprian’s talk. I liked just as well the chance to meet new people and eat barbecued meat, not necessarily in that order. We also discussed future activities for the Synodal Youth Department, including pilgrimages to various places such as Jordanville. I bit my tongue; I didn’t want to appear too self-interested.

The services were interesting. Vigil at Synod was short and sweet. After a long day of conferencing, I welcomed the respite. However, Synod is perhaps one of the few places where the liturgies are longer than the vigils, because nearly every Sunday liturgy is hierarchical. On Sunday morning, I stood in awe seeing an army of altar servers come out with Bishop Jerome. The Sunday choir was also pretty impressive and sang lots of difficult pieces.

After liturgy and lunch, we bid farewell to our hosts, and left laden with leftover chicken and other food for the road. But instead of a straight shot to Jordanville, we went to Holy Protection Convent in Pennsylvania. Holy Protection (Agia Skepi) is a beautiful Greek Orthodox convent founded by Elder Ephraim. The nuns unsurprisingly knew Fr. Cyprian well. We took a detour to the convent in order to stock up on supplies for the Autumn Pastoral Conference. The abbess, Gerondissa Olympiada, came out to greet us in the bookstore. We received her blessing and she gave us some refreshments. While ministering to us, the phone rang. She ran to answer it.

“That’s a Greek abbess,” Papa-Kyprianos proudly said.

We had called ahead to order spanakopita, baklava, and other dishes. The nuns brought out box after box of food for us to stuff in the back of the van:


They also packed for us, without our knowledge, some cheese-filled pita for us to have on the road. This time I actually had the presence of mind to take a picture of my food before completely devouring it:

We got to attend Vigil and Compline (with the Akathist to the Mother of God) at the convent. The soft sound of Byzantine hymns chanted by the nuns served as a nice close for the day.

Our last stop was at St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, New York. There, a visiting priest had a large relic of the True Cross, which we venerated and were blessed with.

It was quite an amazing weekend. I’m very thankful to the kind people at Synod, Holy Protection, and St. Nektarios for welcoming us as pilgrims. I hope to visit again soon!