Monday, January 31, 2011

Preliminary Remarks on Serving in the Altar (2)

Last week I served in the altar. It also happened to be the first week of classes. Here are some new things I've picked up:
  • If you are closest to the curtain, you are expected to open and close it at the correct times, including: before the beginning of sixth hour, at the exclamation of "The doors, the doors!" and before communion.
  • When in doubt, pay attention to what the other altar server is doing, especially if you are outside the sanctuary. During the times you are entering the altar, make sure to match the movement/speed of the other server.
  • From the beginning of the Anaphora to the end of "It is truly meet," drop everything you're doing and quietly pray with the priest.
  • Also make sure to be very quiet and not distract the priest when he's communing.
  • And remember: Don't Panic!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hitting the Ground Running

Last week Thursday, I returned to Jordanville from San Francisco. I had a wonderful time there with friends old and new, but it feels great to be back. Actually, right now I'm feeling more of a fatigue, because I was assigned to serve this week from Monday to Saturday. That means getting up every morning at five and stumbling through the Divine Liturgy.

The semester also started, so that means that I don't have much time to update until things calm down this weekend…but wait! I was also assigned to clean the basement on Saturday. And of course there's Saturday night vigil and Sunday liturgy…well, I'm sure there's time somewhere for an update. Right?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Съ нами Богъ!

One of the most trying times for a seminarian, in my inexperienced opinion, is the period leading up to a great feast; the Home Stretch. For all Christians, there are of course temptations, but at a monastery, they seem to be especially magnified. Thankfully, by the time the feast comes along, everything is okay in the end.

After winter exams and before the Nativity of Our Lord we seminarians have to do a number of things in preparation for the feast. One of them is cleaning, known throughout the seminary as uborka, which my Serbian friend says sounds like the name of a scary Russian lady.

For my uborka, I was first assigned to clean and wax the monastic quarters, but then I got transferred over to cleaning the Seminary hall, which was relatively easy. However, I then found out that I also had to do the monastic quarters after all. Since we worked in teams, it turned out that the time that was most convenient for us was the night before Christmas Eve, or rather the very early morning thereof. We worked through the night, and (kinda) finished sometime around two in the morning. I went to my bed exhausted, and (un)fortunately slept through the liturgy of Christmas Eve.

That day, I also was assigned to work in the kitchen, where I managed to make the salad all by myself. According to Orthodox custom, on Christmas Eve we don't eat until nightfall, or specifically when the first star appears in the sky. I was working on an empty stomach, sustained only by a cup of juice or two. However, thanks be to God, people who work in the kitchen usually don't get very hungry, and I managed to work, standing up, for four hours preparing the festal meal.

After supper (which consisted of vegetables, mashed potatoes, soup, my salad, and kutia, a mixture of boiled wheat grains, raisins, and nuts) we went to church to serve the vigil service, which was a combination of Great Compline and Matins. It was another four hours of mostly standing; I was singing in the choir.

I was, to say the least, a bit tired. But then we sang the triumphal words:

God is with us!
Understand, O ye nations,
And submit yourselves,
For God is with us!

And then I began to feel that the Nativity was here, that the forty days of fasting and preparation were coming to an end, and that the time for celebrating the Incarnation of the Word made flesh was finally here. The suffering, the temptation, and the falls became as nothing. For God is with us!

Christ is born, glorify Him!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

End-of-Semester Reflections

The Orthodox Church actually begins her year with September 1, following the tradition of the Byzantine Empire. Russia also rung in the new year in September until Peter the Great, who moved the date of the civil new year to January 1. As an Orthodox seminarian, I didn't quite feel the same way was most of you all in the secular world. Nevertheless, we did have last night a short prayer service (moleben) for the beginning of the civil new year.

One thing that still remains with me psychologically is the sense of the new year being a blank slate, an opportunity for renewal. So, taking advantage of the new year, I will wax reminiscent about the last semester.

I entered Jordanville with a great deal of expectations and fears, mostly involving getting up at 5:30 in the morning. My original intention was actually just to stay for two years and move on to whatever comes next. Whatever the case, my entire life seemed to be shifting gears and changing course.

When I got here, I quickly realized that coming here had not automatically changed me, and the Uncreated Light didn't suddenly burst out of my face the day I stepped into my dorm-room. The same thing applied to my schoolmates: everyone was here with their own strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes they got on my nerves, and sometimes I got on theirs. But in the end, I think of my fellow seminarians as “a happy few,” a band of brothers.

Academically, I did fine, though I'm still waiting on my grades. Socially, I have to interact with people on a regular basis, something I haven't really done before. And I think I'm doing okay. Spiritually? Oh, I can't be good with judging myself in that department. However, I will say that I feel better off here than anywhere else. So much for my planned brief sojourn—God willing, I will be here for a few years more.

In a few days, we will be celebrating the Nativity of our Lord. May His light guide you throughout this new year.