Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lectures by Fr. George Dragas

I discovered some videos by my favorite professor at Jordanville, Fr. George Dragas. Fr. George was the last student of the great Russian émigré theologian Fr. Georges Florovsky, and is also a professor at Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts.

St. Cyril's Commentary on the Book of Genesis from Logos TV America on Vimeo.

A lecture on the Incarnation of Christ.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Youth Choir Weekend: Boston

Note: Normally I don’t use real names in this blog, but at the request of one of my ardent readers, I will mention a few. As Mrs. Maria Kasarda told me, “Tell the truth and shame the devil.”

The Boston Ball was just the beginning of an eventful three days. Twenty-odd young people converged on Boston this past weekend for a Youth Choir Weekend.

The youth life of the Eastern American Diocese is extremely healthy, perhaps due to the density of population and universities in the Northeast. The St. Herman’s conference, St. Seraphim’s camp, and other youth gatherings produce an energetic and close-knit generation. The Youth Choir is one such expression of this energy; they meet on a semi-regular basis at various parishes on the East Coast to sing. I wanted to go to previous Choir Weekends, but prior commitments in the seminary and elsewhere precluded any such plans. Thankfully, with school over I was able to make it this time. We were to sing vigil at St. Xenia’s in Methuen, and then the Sunday liturgy at Holy Epiphany in Boston.

After the Boston Ball wrapped up, and I said my good-byes to my new friends, I rode to my friend Dimitry’s house. Dimitry, who was going to direct the choir, is the son of the previously mentioned deacon. For the next two nights I would be sharing a room with two other singers: John and Alexander. Full of excitement and anticipation for the coming days, it was a wonder that I fell asleep.

I woke up earlier than expected on Saturday morning, a result of my regimen at Jordanville. John and I sat down to breakfast with Fr Deacon Alexander, who gave us a fascinating lecture on Riemannian geometry, and had us add fractions.

“What’s 56 plus 78?”
“Father, it’s too early in the morning for this!”

We soon departed for North Andover, where there was a park near the home of one of the children of Fr Michael, the rector of St. Xenia’s. We played soccer and hung out. After everyone was tired, hot, and hungry, we walked over to the house, where we had a lunch consisting of leftover steak from the Ball. It was a typical Summer afternoon.

We then had to head over to Methuen for practice. The basses vastly outnumbered the tenors, of which the sole representative was Alex Cooley, traveler of legend. When the time came for the service, however, Cooley was joined by a newly-graduated Ephraim. We were at first split into two choirs for antiphonal singing, but for the sake of greater cohesiveness we soon migrated to the choir loft. After Vigil some of us went to Outback Steakhouse, where the conversation was nothing short of convivial.

The next day we were in Roslindale for the liturgy. Practice paid off; I think we did quite well. And I was happy to be at Holy Epiphany again after an interval of no little duration. The frescoes are well done and include depictions of various parables, which I don’t see very often.

After the liturgy we departed to parts…unknown to me geographically, but it was a lovely home. I cooled my feet in the pool and munched on burgers and hot dogs. Since I was flying out from Boston on Monday, I had to find another place to stay on Sunday night. It turned out that I would stay with the Kasardas, of whom the second boy, John Belosselsky-Belozersky Kasarda, is an ardent reader of my blog. Mrs. Kasarda had in her youth lived in Jordanville for some time, and I listened happily to stories of old Jordanville, such as of Archimandrite Panteleimon (“He would always hold out his hand for M&M’s”). Mr. Kasarda was a very kind and affable host, and we talked quite a bit about Hawaii. My time spent at their home was not without some light entertainment, and I had time to relax and watch several movies, including (natch) “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

My stay was all too short, and I promised to come back again. Mr. and Mrs. Kasarda dropped me off in Ipswitch, where I boarded the commuter rail bound for Boston and on the way to Logan International.

In all, this past weekend was probably one of the best I’ve had this month, if not this year. I’m very grateful to my gracious hosts, and hope to return to Boston soon!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Wicked Cool Time

I was in a Greyhound bus headed to Boston, sharing the ride with the type of people you don’t usually see flying. Like Amish people. To my surprise, there was a family of them, rather smartly dressed in dark blue and purple. The father came up to the driver and asked for the A/C to be turned up.

It was an interesting prologue to what would be one of the most memorable nights of the entire year. St. Seraphim‘s Camp has a fundraiser in the form of a ball held in Boston every Summer (or so). It has since become a required entry in many a social calendar. It was my first ball; the last time I actually danced was at a wedding in January 2010.

I am an awful dancer. Despite my singing abilities, I have a bad sense of rhythm, and imagine myself to look like some kind of manic walrus on the dance floor. Plus there was going to be a live band, playing Swing music. I was apprehensive about what would transpire. Would I make a total fool of myself, or only half-a-fool? I ruminated on these and other sundry thoughts as I reclined on my seat, watching the interstate rush by.

The ride was over six hours. Thankfully, I gave my brain some rest from thinking because there was wifi on the bus. In the event of an Internet-less experience, I had also bought from, of all places, a Catholic bookstore in Utica a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. “Well, I’m going to a ball, so I might as well read about them,” went my thought process. Boston was not Netherfield, but I imagine, mutatis mutantdis, that human nature and thus social interaction had not changed terribly since Austen’s day, though times have become much more informal. “I’ve got to be amiable!” thought I.

My bus got to South Station at 5:30pm. After a brief wait, one of my friends picked me up and we drove to Watertown, where the ball was being held at the Greek church. I spent the first hour or so standing awkwardly. Thankfully, I made several cool new friends, including one who, throughout the ball, taught me some basic Swing moves. There was also a deacon, whom I count as one of the most interesting people I met, who gave me some advice on how to dance: “You have to feel the music and just get into it. Don’t think about dancing.”

Later on, he said to me: “Remember Tom Cruise from The Last Samurai? Remember when he was learning how to use the sword? The samurai leader’s son came up to him and said, ‘No mind.’ Remember that, John. No mind.”

Mindless but full of energy, I went back on the dance floor. Even if I did look spastic and vaguely walrus-like, I didn’t care. I was having fun! I It was uncommonly easy to get a dance. I ended up dancing quite a bit, and my only regret is that I didn’t ask more. Whenever the band took a break, they put on some pop classics like ”Twist and Shout,” which I thought was pretty funny since I watched Ferris Bueller not too long ago.

In sum, I met some great people, reconnected with quite a few, and had a blast of a time. The food wasn’t bad either. If you‘re going to seminary, it would be a good idea to wait a couple weeks before you escape in order to enjoy this event. It's a wicked cool time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Summertime, and the living’s easy?

Ascension is the unofficial beginning of Summer here at Jordanville. Last Thursday, I went to a fellow-seminarian’s house for some very tasty burgers, accompanied by the Brazilian national cocktail, the caipirinha.

Summertime at Jordanville is relatively relaxing for the seminarian who choses to stay. The major downside is that it can be quite lonely; most choose to go home or go traveling. This adds to another predicament: the odds of being assigned to a general obedience (altar, kitchen, kliros, etc.) go up astronomically. This week, I was assigned to serve in the altar, sing on kliros, and read for lunch and dinner in the refectory. My trip to Canada saved me from kitchen duty. And there is of course work for the bookstore, which is a relatively light schedule of four hours a day.

On top of all this, we have to prepare for the biggest feast in the Monastery: Pentecost, which in the Orthodox tradition is a three-day event. Many pilgrims will show up, which means that we have to make sure the place looks spic-and-span. Instead of posting on this blog, I should probably be getting some sleep!

Of course, despite the sometime difficulty of being assigned to do some task, it’s all part of life at the Monastery, which adds to the overall experience of being a seminarian. And there‘s still opportunity to relax and enjoy the Summer. One is free to come at go at will during vacation time, which leaves ample opportunity for ambling. Orthodox youth events such as the Boston Ball (this coming Friday) and St. Seraphim‘s Camp (July/August) also give the seminarian a chance to meet many other Orthodox young people.

There’s all that. And then there‘s just lying on the hammock…

Monday, June 6, 2011

Oh, Canada!

One of the perks of being a seminarian is that you get the opportunity to meet many interesting and wonderful people. Jordanville is located in upstate New York, making most of Orthodoxy on the eastern seaboard very accessible by motor vehicle. I took one such road trip last weekend to Ottawa, Ontario, the Canadian capital.

I got invited up to Ottawa for the weekend by two friends I met at the St. Herman's Conference, which last December was held here at Jordanville. On Friday, my traveling buddy drove all the way from Buffalo to pick me up at the Monastery; we then drove up into the upper reaches of the mysterious North.

Canada, contrary to popular belief, is not just “America's Hat,” but has a distinct culture and history, of which I and my Buffaloan (Buffaloite? Buffalovian?) friend have no clue. But we clearly could tell it was a foreign country by being stopped at the border checkpoint and mercilessly interrogated.

Guard: “So, what is your purpose for coming into Canada?”
My Friend: “We're here to see two girls, our friends.”
Guard: “And how did you meet these girls?”
Friend: “At a church event.”
Guard: “How would you Americans meet two Canadian girls at a church event?”
Friend: “We're in the same church!”
Guard: “I'm in a big denomination myself, and I don't go around meeting Americans!”

Things did not bode well. The border guard ordered us into the customs office. After careful questioning, we were determined not to be crazy American terrorists bent on destroying beaver dams. Our passports recovered, we arrived without further incident in Ottawa, receiving a warm welcome. Later that night, we got a short tour of downtown Ottawa, including the ByWard Market and a ludicrous number of stairs (and bear puns).

The next morning, we set out on a magical mystery tour of various architecturally significant buildings in the city, thanks to the Doors Open weekend. Our first stop was a mosque down the street from the parish. I have never been in a mosque before, so I had no idea what to expect. Upon entering (and taking off my shoes), I was struck by the bare interior of the mosque. Underneath the white dome, the walls of the mosque were whitewashed. There were no chairs or pews, but a simple carpet, and a seat in the front for the imam to give his sermons. It was as if someone had taken an Orthodox church, stripped it of all decoration and the iconostasis, and painted the walls white. (This is not without precedent.) The complete lack of decoration is in order for the worshipping Muslim to completely submit himself to an absolutely transcendent (and un-incarnate) Allah.

The next stop was the Christ the Savior Bukowinian Orthodox Church, under the Patriarch of Constantinople. We spent our time in the car wondering what a Bukowinian was; the kind priest explained that Bukovina was a part of the former Austro-Hungarian empire now split between Romania and Ukraine. We of course felt much more home at this church than at the mosque. (“I can feel the blagodat coming back to me!”) Our last stop was Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor-General, who acts as the Queen's representative. It was as expected: beautiful, and quite regal. I was very excited to see one of Glenn Gould's pianos (not the famous CD 318, but another of his Steinways) in one of the great halls of the mansion.

After coming back to our friends’ house, we were treated to some delicious souvlaki barbecued by the paterfamilias (who also happens to be pater of the church). We played some games with the sisters and their little brother, and then prepared for the Vigil. Coming from Jordanville, I am always surprised (or is it relieved?) by the shortness of parish vigils.

After the Sunday liturgy, we wrapped up the weekend in the early afternoon. We reluctantly said good-bye to our Canadian friends, but look forward to our next visit. In the meantime, I will be praying for the fate of the Ottawa parish of the Protection of the Mother of God, which is going through some legal trouble. I am very thankful to our Canadian friends up north and their family for hosting us Americans this weekend! The experience was anything but unbearable.