Friday, November 30, 2012

Whimsurfing (Part II)

The call was from my friend Johnny, at whose house I stayed for last Thanksgiving. He had invited me to come again this year, but I wasn’t sure how I would swing that, since he lived in New Jersey. Thankfully, he goes to school in Massachusetts, so all I had to do was take a commuter rail to his school and then go South with him. The one thing I was worried about was actually being able to go down. Johnny was going to go down with his roommate and his roommate’s mother, so there might not have been enough room for me in the car.

The phone call changed all that. Johnny’s mom herself was going to come pick him up. All I had to do was get to Worcester a day earlier than expected. So, I packed my bags once more, and readied to depart from Fr. Victor’s. He was at work, but Matushka was there to drop me off at the T, where I made my parting gestures.

It was noon. I had four hours in Boston to get on that train. I wandered around Boston with my heavy pack. I walked around the downtown area and Chinatown, where I enjoyed some decent and cheap food. I got on the train and occupied myself with reading War and Peace.

When I looked up from my book, I saw an emptied train. In a panic, I looked and looked for an exit, and finally found one.

I waited in the train station for a bit and Johnny’s mom came by to pick me up. “I had such trouble getting here, everything’s so circuitous,” she said. We went to campus and sat in the Campus Center and had something to drink. Johnny was still in the Robotics Lab and would not be out until seven. He came before too long.

After a delicious dinner, we then got in the car and drove four hours to New Jersey. Johnny and I slept most of the way so it didn’t feel like much.

The days afterwards were relaxing and uneventful. I had a comfortable guest room and spent time reading and going on the Internet catching up on things. Thanksgiving itself was very nice, with a meal with all the fixings and convivial guests from England.

On the weekend, Johnny had to go back to Worcester for a concert, so I stayed with Fr. David Straut and his family. Pete and Kate were also staying there with their baby Lucy. I hadn’t been to Fr. David’s parish since Nic and Victoria’s wedding. I heard both the vigil and liturgy in English for the first time in a long time, a very pleasant experience. I also met a few friends I haven’t seen in a while.

It was my namesday on Monday, so I wanted to go back to Jordanville in time to catch at least a little bit of the Vespers/Matins service. I said my goodbyes and prepared to leave with Pete and Kate. At the last minute, Fr. David offered to do the whole vigil service for St. John Chrysostom for me after lunch. I readily agreed. The vigil went by so smoothly it felt like half an hour. Afterwards I stayed for dinner and then went back to Jordanville with Pete and Kate. It was the end of a long week.

There’s something to be said about traveling at the seat of one’s pants, which a friend of mine referred to as “whimsurfing.” The essentials of life become clearer, and it becomes easier—indeed, necessary—to live each day to the fullest. Travel reminds us that we are ultimately pilgrims in this world, and that we ought to receive even the smallest kindness with immense gratitude. My week in Boston and New Jersey put in touch with many wonderful people, and I am very thankful for all the help and support they gave me.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Whimsurfing (Part I)

“An adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.” —G. K. Chesterton

I was sitting in a Greyhound bus headed to Boston. Night was coming and I didn’t have anywhere to stay for the next week. It was going to be a very lonely Thanksgiving.

As you may know, we get the entire week of Thanksgiving off to make up for not observing secular holidays. This year, unlike the previous two, I had no set plans. No invitations. And I was getting a little stir-crazy. (It happens.) So, at the last minute, I decided to go to Boston. Any further planning than that was beyond my powers.

My vacation began this way:

On Friday morning, I woke up early to go to an English liturgy in the lakeside chapel. Fr. Luke told me to take care of organizing it. I had the music and epistle readings ready and went with a few other seminarians, one of whom read the Third Hour in Chinese. Liturgy went smoothly, and the Kursk-Root Icon was even there. After liturgy, I did some errands and prepared to leave. My teachers canceled class that day, so my departure was more relaxed than usual.

My friend Stefan dropped me off in Albany, where I caught the bus. I was expecting to stay with a certain deacon, Fr. Alexander, but when I called him I found out that he was unable to host me. Undaunted, I called up my friend Chrysostom, whom I know through the Orthodox Inter-Seminary Movement (he’s President, and I’m Secretary). Chrysostom got in touch with a couple of guys he knew from Holy Cross, and I ended up having a place to stay for the night.

Meanwhile, my bus arrived at South Station. Fr. Alex picked me up, and graciously offered to take me where I needed to go. We got dinner—at Trader Joe’s!—and went on a late-night excursion to the Harvard Science Library. “There’s this book I’ve been meaning to get, though there is a possibility that I might have already checked it out and it’s on my shelf.” Of course, as always, we had the most interesting conversations.

Fr. Alex dropped me off at the place I was staying, in Newton. I thought it was going to be a small apartment and was well-prepared to sleep on the couch or even the floor. To my surprise, it turned out to be a very large house with a huge guest room with four beds (!) for me to choose from. The size of the room was about 24 x 24 ft, nearly four times the size of my room at Seminary.

My hosts, John and Nicholai, rented their rooms from a very pleasant nonagenarian who lived on the first floor. As it turned out, both John and Nicholai and I had quite a few mutual friends in common, and I found them to be very hospitable.

I ended up staying the weekend in Newton. I spent my time walking around Cambridge (and Harvard Yard!), reconnecting with an old college friend, and making new friends at Holy Ressurrection Church.

Although I had a great time, I wanted to adhere as much as possible to Franklin’s adage: “Houseguests—like fish—begin to stink after three days.” So, I packed my bags on Monday and arranged for lodging with Fr. Victor Boldewskul, the rector of Holy Epiphany, the Boston ROCOR Church.

I left on Monday and ended up—on my first actual day of vacation—going to another seminary and attending classes there. I had a good experience at Holy Cross, and was glad to make lots of new friends. The classes (Old Testament, Dogmatics, and Byzantine Chant) were interesting, as well. I particularly liked the great Byzantine chanting at the chapel services.

That evening, I went to Holy Epiphany, sang a baptism with Fr. Victor, and went to his house for dinner and conversation. I had a pleasant stay and felt at home. Fr. Victor is a Jordanville graduate, so he knew what it was like to be a seminarian and I had a good talk with him in that category.

Soon after I retired to bed, I got a phone call. And then my plans changed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Многая Лета, Отче!

Today we had the final spevka (choir practice) with Fr. Roman (Krassovsky). Fr. Roman was the choir director of the Monastery Choir since 1981. We did a couple pieces then feasted on pizza and ice cream. We toasted Fr. Roman’s health and sang Mnogaya Leta for him.

Fr. Roman, as you may know, is going to be the next (temporary for now) head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. “I’m going to have my own car and a driver,” he said, “I can’t drive those streets by myself!” Those who had been to the Holy Land nodded sagely.

After dinner, Nicky Kotar randomly came up to us in the computer room, with a pillow in hand. “I got pillows in the mail, PILLOWS! Put that in your blog, John.” And so I have.

We will definitely miss our choir conductor.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Coming Soon…

I apologize for the long delay between posts. As a third-year student I now have nearly twenty hours of class each week. Combined with my other duties (plus the time I need for general lethargy) it leaves little time for writing. However, there is much to talk about!

  • Labor Day
  • The new school year (natch)
  • A pilgrimage to Holy Cross Monastery in West Virginia
  • Random Japanese guy at Jordanville
And much more! Well, perhaps you won’t get posts on everything, but I’ll try to think of something by the end of the week. Until then!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Archimandrite Flor

Archimandrite Flor, one of the pillars of Old Jordanville, reposed in the Lord on Tuesday. He was 85. Fr. Flor was the last surviving member of the Brotherhood of St. Job of Pochaev, which came to the monastery after the Second World War. The senior-most archimandrite in the Church Abroad, he was one of the few remaining links to Vladika Vitaly (Maximenko), the founder of the seminary. Fr. Flor attended Holy Trinity Seminary, graduating in 1960. He greatly valued the education he received.

Source: Monastery Website

The slow tolling of the bell woke me up that day. I knew what it meant. After all, I overheard the fathers saying that Fr. Flor’s doctor gave him a week to live. He had been so active in years past, doing electrical and plumbing work along with baking kulich—all learned on the job. But when I first arrived at Jordanville, he was already winding down.

The news spread quickly. Some of the friends whom I alerted had found out hours ago. By noon they had already served two panikhidas and his body was prepared and lying in the cathedral.

Instead of the usual overnight psalter reading, the monastery priests read from the Gospel, excepting one gap in the middle of the night filled by psalter reading by several of us.

Fr. Victor Lochmatow giving the eulogy.

The funeral was the next day. Metropolitan Hilarion, Bishop Peter, and Bishop George presided, along with sixteen priests and four deacons.

Vladika Metropolitan Reading the Prayer of Absolution.

After the funeral, a few of the priests carried the coffin to the back of the cathedral for burial. We sang “Memory Eternal” and threw some dirt into the grave. And life continued the same as ever. Though not quite.

Вечная памятъ!

Monday, August 20, 2012

With the Saints Give Rest…

This morning, I served in the altar for Liturgy. It went well, though I was struggling with sleep by the end of it. By the time I went back to my room, I fell unconscious for a few hours. I woke up in time for lunch.

H.E. Metropolitan Hilarion is here along with the Kursk-Root Icon with its guardian, the newly-ordained Fr. Nicholas Olhovsky. After lunch, Vladika served a panikhida behind the main church for Metropolitan Anastassy, Archbishop Vitaly, Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky and others who have fallen asleep in the Lord. Four of us sang: Fr. Roman, Nicky Kotar, Fr. Ephraim, and me. It was a California/Hawaii quartet.

The cemetery behind the main church is reserved for members of the monastery brotherhood and major hierarchs of our jurisdiction. Though it’s covered in snow for nearly half the year, during the summer it looks almost like a garden.

The grave of Archimandrite Joseph, one of the founders of the monastery.

Memory Eternal!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

When Thou wast Transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God…

Happy Feast of the Transfiguration! Съ Праздникомъ!

I've decided to do a little out-of-sequence blogging. Not to worry; my recollections of my trips to San Francisco and sundry places will be up soon. But since I had a sudden urge to write, I thought to strike while the iron was hot. It's starting to feel as if summer is starting to end. Even the weather feels a bit colder than it was just a week ago. Pretty soon, our "summer birds" i.e. mosquitoes, will call it quits until next year (let's hope). People are starting to come back from break. Nicky Kotar came back yesterday, with more to come in the next week or two. Kliros finally started to feel a little fuller now that we have our first tenor back.

Last night we had the Vigil for Transfiguration. It went well, despite the constant distraction of the mosquitoes. There were more people here than I had expected as well. The church was even fuller at this morning's liturgy. I was well aware of the increased numbers from serving tables today. Yes, I was doing KP yet again! There were only four of us to serve a hundred people, and that included Artemy (from Glen Cove), a new seminarian who had hitherto had never worked in a kitchen before. Despite the limitations, we all did a pretty decent job, and got rave reviews for the lunch. The lunch consisted of a pureed vegetable soup (Fr. Seraphim's specialty), couscous (strangely exotic for Jordanville), and baked/fried fish. Oh yeah, and salad and carrots (I diced carrots for an hour. Carrots are dancing around my head.). The tables were also filled with freshly-blessed fruits. I hardly had time to eat anything, so I stuffed my face with plums while I bussed tables.

Now I'm on my break until 6:30 this evening. Not too many people will come for dinner, so I think it'll be pretty easy. Here's hoping!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Summer Tradition

The secular world thinks of summer in terms of Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day. For Russian Orthodox (at least on the East Coast), summer is related to Pentecost, St. Vladimir’s Day, and St. Job of Pochaev (…well, in this case, also Labor Day).

St. Vladimir’s Memorial Church in Jackson, New Jersey, has been commemorating its patron saint in the summer for over seven decades. Not only does the day commemorate the Russian Church’s great forefather, the Great Prince and Peer of the Apostles, it also by extension celebrates all the Russian saints who have shown forth in the past millennium. Orthodox faithful from all over the East Coast make a pilgrimage to Jackson for the feast.

Jordanville is an integral part of the festivities. Our seminary’s founder, Archbishop Vitaly of blessed memory, made it a point to bring the Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God from the monastery every year. Young seminarians came every year to sell books and icons. Apparently Fr. Serge Ledkovsky liked it so much that he eventually became the rector of the parish.

I just wanted to get out for the weekend. Last weekend I was out and about in Long Island for Misha Perekrestov’s wedding. Now I got to travel some more for a book selling expedition. We packed over $10,000 worth of goods into a big white van, and carefully placed the Pochaev Icon, protected by a large wooden case, in the back seat.

Pete and Kate rode separately in their own car. I went in the white van with Novice Victor, who rarely went out of the monastery and thus found the trip to be a special treat. It was difficult getting to and from Jackson, because the GPS kept taking us places we didn’t want to go. However, once we were there it was very pleasant.

Br. Victor and I went to Vigil and afterwards stayed a little while to help clean the church. Then, we went to dinner at Fr. Serge’s, where none other than Metropolitan Hilarion, our First Hierarch, was at the head of the table with Bishop George and a conference* of clergy. I bashfully set myself at a corner, while Matushka and Boulia (Elizabeth), Fr. Serge’s sister (and organizer of the Rachmaninoff festival), served us. The food was good and the company even better. Towards midnight, a few of us were singing Russian folk songs with the Metropolitan, who held an iPhone in his hand with the lyrics for us to see.

The next morning, I helped Peter set up our booth outside the church. He then let me go inside for the Liturgy in time for the Epistle while he managed the booth. After the service I went back to help him, managing to escape a cross procession.

The atmosphere was certainly festive in more ways than one. Several booths stood in the church parking lot, selling food, drink, icons, and more. Inside the church hall a celebratory banquet was underway. Close to our booth was a tent where the Russian equivalent of Captain & Tennille sang a mixture of Russian, English, and Spanish (!) ballads. Several babushki randomly started to dance to the music, followed in spurts by younger people.

As the afternoon went on, the number of customers began to dwindle, and it was time to pack up. Though not as impressive as in the “good old days,” sales were decent. Plus, I got to see a few old friends like Felipe, Jordanville alum and the man who introduced me to the caipirinha. I also got to see Fr. Deacon Paul Drozdowski and his family. Fr. Paul, a follower of the Fr. Cyprian/Jordanville school of icon painting, is a quite accomplished iconographer and illustrator.

Fr. Paul expressed his wishes to me of having next year’s St. Vladimir’s Day be a much bigger affair. Perhaps the Youth Choir, a.k.a. Cooley and the Gang, and the Seminary Choir could show up. Next summer marks the 75th anniversary of the parish, so I hope that Fr. Paul’s dream will come true.

*I believe this is the appropriate name for a group of clergy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rules of the Roost

The following list of very strict rules, issued by Archbishop Averky of blessed memory, is still posted in our seminary dormitory. I have posted my very rough dictionary- and Google-assisted translation of the above for general edification, with comments in square brackets. Of course, these rules are superseded when applicable by the current Student Handbook [here’s a link to a somewhat outdated edition] and are for educational use only.

Holy Trinity Orthodox Theological Seminary


1. The time for getting up and the daily routine are according to the schedule.
2. Attendance at classes, services, and daily meals are all required. If a seminarian is unable for some reason to be present in class or in church, he must report this to the Dean of Students.
3. The presence of seminarians is required without exception at Saturday liturgies and the vigils and liturgies for Sundays and Feast Days. All seminarians should be on kliros [or in the altar] in order to better study the divine services.
4. The behavior of a seminarian in class, in church, in the refectory, and on the street should correspond to his rank [i.e. as clergy].
5. Seminarians are required to come to the general meals in the refectory at 7 a.m., at 12 noon, and 7 p.m. A daily refreshment is permitted at 4 p.m. [Currently we’re only required to attend lunch.] Outside these hours, coming to the kitchen and eating food without permission is STRICTLY PROHIBITED. Exceptions are only granted to those who are performing their obediences.
6. Seminarians are required to show respect to the [monastic] brothers, seniors, and each other; to their seniors they must be polite, deferential, and helpful.
7. The clothing of seminarians must always be clean and orderly.
8. Rooms [lit. Келлии, “Cells”] must be kept clean and tidy. Each Saturday the Dean of Students and the senior monitor will carry out an inspection of all rooms. [This is not currently done.]
9. Trash and other refuse should be brought out to the rubbish pit.
10. Conversations must always be with restraint.
11. Noisy walking in the corridors is not tolerated.
12. After 10 p.m. all students must be in their own rooms. Entering someone else’s room after 10 p.m. is PROHIBITED. From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. there must be ABSOLUTE QUIET in the rooms and in the corridors.
13. A student may not be absent from seminary without the agreement of the Dean and Dean of Students and the blessing of his spiritual father.
14. Smoking and the use of alcoholic beverages is absolutely PROHIBITED.
15. Failure to follow the above-mentioned rules will result in punishment according to the discretion of the Dean of Students.

Rector of Holy Trinity Seminary


Thursday, August 9, 2012

M&M's Quality Wedding

It was approaching midnight, and we were escaping from the Yonkers ghetto.

It was all my fault. If only I had taken the commuter rail to Crestwood (home of St. Vladimir's Seminary) instead of Yonkers (home of the aforementioned ghetto) we would not have gotten into this mess.

An hour ago, Stefan, summer kid and future seminarian, rolled up to the station in John's 89-year-old great-grandmother's Mercedes Benz. John Kasarda came out. "Quick, John! Let's go!!!" Yonkers was no Ipswitch, clearly. We hustled into the car and drove off. The streets were hard to navigate, and soon we heard the siren. We pulled over.

"Did you know that you were going up a one-way street?" Said the policeman at our window.

"No, officer, I'm not from here, I'm from Denver. I'm not familiar with the streets around here," Stefan said.

"Don't they have one-way street signs in Denver?" The officer went back to his vehicle.

"Don't they have one-way street signs in Yonkers?" Stefan muttered.

Thankfully, the police officer let us go with a warning, and after many twists and (wrong) turns we were at great-grandma's house. Prababushka Kasarda welcomed us with three huge steaks which took us a while to take care of. We couldn't understand two-thirds of what she said, and the misunderstanding was mutual, but she welcomed us warmly. After the midnight dinner, we were put up in the attic, which had a kind of 70s Brady Bunch feel. Old family pictures and, inexplicably, Richard Nixon, were on the walls.

It was the end of a very long day. I began the day singing in the final conducting exams for the Summer Music School. After it all ended, one of the students kindly gave me a lift to New Jersey, the first leg of my journey to the wedding of Michael Perekrestov and Maria Wolkow. From there, I had to take trains to Grand Central in Manhattan, whence I got on the wrong train.

As an aside, Misha invited me to the wedding several weeks beforehand, but for John and Stefan, their invitation came later. Apparently it involved wooing the bride (and her babushka) with flowers and chocolate. A a "legit" invitee, I got to go to his bachelor party, which involved going to a brewery, swimming at the Glimmerglass, and inventing Bastille Ball (2012 Official Rulebook forthcoming), which replaces a regular soccer ball with an empty water jug.

Back to Yonkers. The next day, we got up too late. It was Sunday morning, but the distance from any church and the tight schedule made it impossible to go to liturgy. So, we took it easy and had some breakfast. Great-grandma and her Slovakian cousin then dropped us off at Crestwood, where we made our goodbyes.

From Crestwood we arrived at Grand Central and a brief walk to Penn. At Penn, we had to take a train to Sea Cliff on Long Island, where the wedding was. For a moment we were upset, because the direct train to Sea Cliff wasn't leaving until much later. But after consulting with some people, we took a train to another station which was a short 15-minute drive away from the church.

I got there just in time for the middle of choir rehearsal. Nicky was conducting, natch. Thankfully we had some other strong First Basses, so it was easy to follow along.

The actual wedding was beautiful, although I actually didn't see a thing from kliros. Along with a bishop leading a platoon of clergy, the church was packed with wellwishers. It took quite a while to greet the bride and groom at the very end.

The reception was held at a nearby country club. Cocktail hour was so fancy that it was almost better than our main courses (duck or filet mignon). And of course there was dancing!!! I stayed on the dance floor most of the night, and took heed from one of my favorite deacons, who reminded me of his earlier advice. "Remember John, no mind!" John and Stefan ended up having a good time, too. I reconnected with lots of old friends and had fun with new ones. The wedding toasts were also pretty hilarious. My favorite was that of Mitya, the best man, who related how he and Misha took a cross-country journey. Needless to say, Misha expressed an interest in more than neo-classical architecture, and the trip proved a pivotal one in Misha and Masha's relationship.

Afterwards, John's date Liza called her dad to take us home, or rather to our motel. John, Stefan and I spent the night at the hotel, and the next day checked out and had a decent sushi lunch at the attached restaurant. We then took a train to New York and parted ways.

All in all, it was an awesome wedding. Misha and Masha, like Nic and Victoria, seem to be two people who are simply made for each other, something nice to see in this crazy mixed-up world. May God grant them many, many years!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer Music School

Last Saturday, I finished a grueling fortnight in the Summer School of Liturgical Music. Every summer, students take classes at the SSLM in order to become better readers, singers, and choir conductors. There are a variety of classes in liturgics, music, and choir conducting. The entire program is a three-year process, at the end of which a passing student gets a certificate in choir conducting.

I wasn’t interested in a certificate, having no expectation or desire to become a choir conductor any time soon. But, since I didn’t have much else to do besides work at the bookstore, I spontaneously decided to jump into the program. I had already taken the first year of the music program in 2009 (my first time at Jordanville!), so I signed up for second-year classes.

This year’s class size was smaller than I remembered it had been in 2009, but it was filled with some very smart and interesting people. On the night of Ss. Peter and Paul, some of us got together at a local seminarian’s house, where we shared our life stories and enjoyed some pizza. We also had a barbecue the following Sunday which turned out to be quite convivial.

Because of my work schedule, I only took two classes: Music History and Solfège. In music history, I studied the continuing development of church singing after the changes wrought by Peter the Great in the early 18th century, which introduced foreign-style singing into churches and nearly shunted off the ancient forms of singing into the dustbin (at least in parishes). Thankfully, due to the efforts of some composers resistant to these developments, church music began to sound more chant-like, even if it was still harmonized. I remembered the earlier history of Russian church music, so it was easy to follow along.

Solfège was a little trickier, because my sight-reading skills are not so great and I have scant knowledge of music theory. However, my ear isn’t so bad, which helped me do the intoning of the initial chords of various sample pieces that our instructor, Dr. Kurt Sander, had given us. “Katya [the sole third-year student] got one of these in about 2.2 seconds.” We also got to do some dictation, which involves writing down on music staff paper the notes to melodies that Dr. Sander would play. The trickiest parts were when we had to name the top intervals to various chords he played on the keyboard. “I would go to my class at my university [Northern Kentucky University] with a windchime and tell them to name the notes while I shook it for a twenty minutes. Drove them nuts.”

Besides that, I also had private voice lessons with Irina Mozyleva, a pro singer who gave me some good tips. She also partnered me up with another student, a deep bass named Peter. She had us do a duet—a song called “Горные вершины,” based off a poem by Lermontov:

Like this, but with guys.

We made our debut on Wednesday night, at an informal get-together. I would have sounded better if it weren’t for the fact that I felt like a scared rabbit while singing in front of an audience.

The real deal, however, was on Saturday (July 21st), which was the final conducting exam for the second- and third-year students. We had practiced for two weeks the several pieces they were conducting. There were many bumps and difficulties on the long path to the end, but it went pretty well, all things considered. I had to sing tenor (for lack of tenors), which was, to put it lightly, quite a challenge. In the end, however, I thought we sounded pretty good for a choir who had never worked together before the beginning of the program.

After we sang the pieces, there was a general feeling of relief. All that was left was a thanksgiving moleben service in the monastery church and then an ice cream social! However, I couldn’t stay long, because I had to leave for a very big wedding somewhere in Long Island!

…to be continued.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pilgrimage Week (Part III)

Finally an update!

Since most of you haven’t been here in over a month, here’s a quick recap:

  • We did some singing.
  • We traveled around a bit.
  • There were many people in black.
That’s Pilgrimage Week for you. The tail end of it, after St. Tikhon’s, Holy Protection, and St. Nektarios, was of course Jordanville. I taxed my brain making sure that everyone got to the monastery in time and was had food and shelter for the weekend. Thus, I was on the phone quite a bit.

“Sign of an organizer,” one of the “neighbors” of the monastery said to me. “Always on the phone.”

People came at random times. I connected them with Fr. Cyprian, who put them to work. By the evening, most of the pilgrims arrived. We all went to Ephraim’s house, where we had grilled salmon burgers and enjoyable conversation.

The next day we had liturgy and some work around the monastery. After lunch, Fr. Cyprian had a discussion with us. He talked about various spiritual/life issues, including (natch) relationships. After that, we had some free time. A few of us, led by Nicky, went up to the cross. Then, we went down to the lakeside chapel. There, we did the pre-communion rule. After that was a long vigil and rest.

The next morning was very busy, since it was Pentecost. I was assigned to do the service in the early morning (6 am) liturgy. I sang the liturgy with Nicholas Chapman, Orthodox historian and my boss. I then went to a diner called the Tally-Ho with Nicholas and his wife for a hearty breakfast.

The rest of the morning was spent in the bookstore. I unfortunately missed the later service, including the Kneeling Vespers. I got leave from my shift in time to get everyone organized for a group photo, however!

Dimitry, one of my good friends, organizer of this whole Pilgrimage Week, and avid reader of this blog, went up to me and asked: “So, what are we going to do now? A final discussion about spiritual matters? How this trip affected us?”

“We’re going to Mr. Shake,” I said.

Mr. Shake, located about ten minutes from the monastery, is a local hangout for many of us hankering for an X-Large X-Thick Monster Shake. I gave the group some rudimentary directions, and they managed to find their way to the place.

It was a great end to the pilgrimage! We laughed and talked about our experiences. One of us (Anastasia) had her birthday that day, so we had a communal sundae served in her honor.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Pilgrimage Week (Part II)

A Thorough Baptism

I last left you, dear readers, in the car with Juliana, Nicky, and me, keeping the sun on our left as we went back to Jordanville. I forgot the Google Maps directions in Harry's car, but that wasn't too much of a problem as long as we kept going north. The journey back actually ended up shorter! We tried to find a pirate ship in the fields (no joke) that we passed before, but I guess we missed it since we took a different route.

We got back in time to have some burgers on the grill at Pete and Kate's. Yes! It's Memorial Day! And summer's here! The only thing possibly lacking was a nice caipirinha.

On Tuesday, baby Lucy was thoroughly baptised by Kate's dad, Fr David. Quite a few of us crowded in the bell tower baptistery, including Pete's mom and brother and Kate's family. The Jordanville baptistery is brightly frescoed in appropriately symbolic icons such as the Baptism of Christ, the Transfiguration, and the Annunciation, as well as the icons of holy new-martyrs of the Russian Church. Lucy won't remember what happened, but being baptised here is quite a treat for her, in my opinion. After the baptism Pete and Kate gave a reception outside using the same awnings from Commencement, featuring giant sandwiches.

St. Nektarios

Our motley crew.

On Wednesday, I went down with Nicky and Joanna (wife of our Dean's Assistant Fr. Ephraim) to St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. St. Nektarios, like St. Tikhon's is south of Jordanville, but a little more to the east. There we met with the small group of pilgrims that was making the whole trip from St. Tikhon's to Holy Trinity. It was a very diverse group of people. There were familiar faces, like Dima, whom I met at St. Herman's, and Harry, but I also made some new friends, including Noemi, a quiet horse-lover, and Alison, an erudite young student and new blogging buddy. Both of whom made an impromptu race to one of the trees on the monastic property.

"First one to the tree is Matushka Material!" cried Harry.
"Um, isn't one of them [Alison] already married?" said Nicky.
"Well, her husband could become a priest," said I.

Alison won, by the way.

We enjoyed the well-maintained grounds of the monastery, as well as the more rougher parts, filled with overgrown brush and turtles. The small and diverse group also facilitated interesting discussions on many topics.

Turtles, as you can see, are natural hermits.

We immersed ourselves in the liturgical cycle of the monastery, going to Vespers and Compline on Wednesday evening, as well as Matins and Liturgy during the night. Unfortunately, I missed the night services because I forgot to set an alarm, as well as having some trouble falling asleep. Oh well, I guess that means I'll have to go again some other time!

On Thursday morning, after a hearty breakfast, we sat down in the monastery bookstore for a spiritual discussion with Fr. Epiphanios, one of the hieromonks at the monastery. Fr. Epiphanios was a very down to earth and prayerful man who shared with us stories about St. Nektarios of Aegina, the patron saint of the monastery. One story he shared was about how St. Nektarios, as dean of the theological academy in Athens, helped save a sick janitor's job by doing all his work during his period of illness, and giving him the paychecks earned during this time. Fr. Epiphanios also discussed spiritual life with us. I'm not very good at writing about spiritual topics, but suffice it to say that we all came from that discussion with something profitable.

Unfortunately, I had to go back again to Jordanville, this time to prepare for the final leg of the pilgrimage. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pilgrimage Week (Part 1)

From May 27 to June 3, some intrepid young people joined in a week-long pilgrimage to monasteries in Pennsylvania and New York State. I was one of them, although I didn't do the whole pilgrimage but went back and forth between Jordanville and various pilgrimage sites. For me, it all started with Commencement.

Akt-ing Up

The official end of the school year at Jordanville is Commencement, know in Russian as Akt. The format of Commencement hasn’t changed much over the decades. The students and faculty have a procession to the church, where we have a moleben service for the end of the year. Then we process to the seminary hall, where we have the official ceremony, with the singing of the national anthems and the distribution of diplomas and awards. Finally, we have a reception in the monastery courtyard, with—get this—meat! and other delicious things.

The day is usually very hot. I was baking in my black cassock as we processed to the church in double-file, chanting the troparion for Pentecost. We don’t have air conditioning in the seminary hall either, but the ceremony is mercifully short, clocking in at about an hour. First, we started with the national anthems. I sang the Russian and American anthems with the Quartet. The Russian anthem was, of course, “God Save the Tsar.”

Then came speakers. Fr Luke gave an address which was translated into English on our programs. Addressing the graduates, he called upon them to remember their time here at seminary and to continue their study. Then, he introduced the Commencement Speaker, Fr Meletios Webber. He gave a long and enlightening talk on asceticism. He joked in the beginning that it was odd “for a fat man to be talking about asceticism,” but he clearly knew what he was talking about. The graduates got their diplomas and some of the other students got awards. Finally, Sergei, one of the graduating students, gave a valedictory speech in which he talked about how he loved his experiences at Jordanville. It was in Russian and I hardly understood any of it, but it felt like it was from the heart.

And then it was time for chicken and ice cream. Awnings set up in the courtyard protected platters of cheese, slices of meat, and other goodies. Fried chicken and fish were side-by-side and they looked rather alike, making for some consternation among the monks. I ran into a nice lady whom I didn’t know from Eve but who somehow recognized me. Apparently she was the mother of a friend of mine who had told her to say hi to someone who, well, looked like me.

Keeping the Sun on One’s Right

I hated to eat and run, but I had to go down to St. Tikhon’s, the first stop on the pilgrimage journey. Nicky Kotar and I went down with our friend Harry, who was driving. I somehow (with a few hiccups) navigated us through back roads through the countryside, a straight line south from Jordanville to South Canaan. Basically, I made sure that the sun was on our right.

We got to St. Tikhon’s around dusk and joined in on the choir rehearsal already going on. The Eastern Diocese Youth Choir was singing at St. Tikhon’s for their annual Memorial Day Pilgrimage, an unprecedented level of ROCOR/OCA cooperation. I was happy to see quite a few familiar faces. After having some pizza, I got down to business. Benedict Sheehan, a music instructor at St. Tikhon’s Seminary (and writer of an article which I really liked), was directing the choir this weekend, and we had a long rehearsal with him and Nicky which lasted until after ten at night. Harry and I then went to the nearest Comfort Inn, where we were generously put up for the night. We had to make sure to get up in the early morning for rehearsal, so I set up a wake-up call for 6:30.

We got up at eight. Apparently wake-up calls malfunction. Thankfully, by the time Harry and I got to St. Tikhon’s there was about an hour left of rehearsal and we didn’t miss too much. After going over a few pieces (some of which I already knew) it was time for Liturgy.

The chapel we sang in looked like a converted barn. It probably was a converted barn. Not exactly best for aesthetics, but appropriate for the hundreds of people coming. We sang on steel risers on the left side of the altar. The sweat was pouring from me, and the cassock made for a personal greenhouse effect. Jeff, a very kind Tikhonian seminarian, got us some water.

Liturgy was impressive. Metropolitan Jonah, four other OCA bishops, and a score of priests, including some of our own ROCOR clergy, celebrated the liturgy. Met. Jonah gave a good sermon about living the Christian life. Fr Serge Lukianov, one of our own, gave a message from Met. Hilarion giving his congratulations to St. Tikhon’s and recommending that everyone go to Jordanville for Labor Day.

Afterwards we were free to enjoy the rest of the festivities. It was an interesting ambiance. There were food stands selling hot dogs and pierogies, sausage and stuffed cabbage. To cool off in the heat, I had a frozen lemonade. I hung out with a few of my syezd friends, and got to see the Hawaiian Myrrh-streaming icon which was visiting for the weekend.

Nicky and I had to get back to Jville for the next day for the baptism of Kate and Pete’s baby,  so we had to get back on the road. First, however, a few of us went to Benedict’s house for some late afternoon hospitality. Benedict was a very good host, and his four or so little girls were charming and well-behaved. Cool beer, fresh popcorn, and homemade lemonade made for a pleasant afternoon and pleasant company.

And then, we were back on the road. This time Nicky and I were going back with Juliana, Kate’s sister and the godmother-to-be. And this time we kept the sun on our left. What a wonderful weekend!

But you don’t have to take my word for it! Here’s a nifty documentary that the EA Diocese made for the event:

Monday, June 18, 2012

Orthodox Arts Journal!

I’m happy to tell you about a new blog I came across today. It’s published by Scott Patrick O'Rourke, the student of Andrew Gould, one of the best church architects in the Orthodox world today. The blog, entitled the Orthodox Arts Journal, seeks to cover all aspects of Orthodox liturgical arts such as sacred music, architecture and iconography. This new blog is a collaboration between Mr Gould and other fellow-craftsmen in the Orthodox arts today, including my friend, classmate and benevolent choir dictator director, Nicholas Kotar.

After a quick reading of the articles posted so far, I was quite impressed by their thoughtful depth. The first post by Jonathan Pageau outlines the fallen, human origins of art, and how Christ’s Incarnation can transform art into a revelation of the Kingdom of God. The next post by Andrew Gould draws out this topic. He writes on how all the arts, both minor and major, can reveal the Kingdom: “Even the smallest arts - a blend of incense, the embroidery on a sacred towel - directly represent an aspect of God’s Kingdom.” This is a good corrective for our unbalanced, rationalist age that puts so much attention on texts and our intellectual understanding of them. Mr Gould also wrote an interesting piece on a beautiful choros—a church chandelier—that he designed, an example of one of the “minor” arts.

One of my favorite posts so far is the one by Benedict Sheehan of St. Tikhon’s Seminary. Benedict, with whom I have the pleasure of being acquainted, wrote a very nice and succinct article—the first in a series—on the principles of sacred music. Since true sacred music is nothing other than a participation in the chorus of the angels, he writes, it needs to have certain qualities, which include a devoted and watchful disposition.

Finally, rounding out the posts are several by Fr Stéphane Bigham in which he demonstrates that most Christians today actually do share the same presuppositions as the Fathers of the Second Nicene Council, and that thus nobody should have qualms about venerating icons.

In all, I was very impressed by these posts and am looking forward to more in the future!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Three Concerts: Addenda (mostly involving food)

Several things I forgot to mention about our Rachmaninoff Festival gig in my previous post:

I always enjoy visiting Cambridge. The old-world charm of the buildings plus all the different little shops form a perfect combination. Before our concert at the First Church of Cambridge, we stopped at a popular pub called Grendel’s Den. I had been to Grendel’s Den once before, and ever since have been hankering for a revisit.

We arrived during Happy Hour, which meant that all food was half-off as long as we bought a drink. I got a Dark and Stormy (rum and ginger beer) which was tasty, although I probably could have used more rum!

As for food, I ordered the Beggar’s Banquet, which included a rice pilaf, pita bread, spinach pie, and a ten-ounce steak, all at an economical price. “This should be called the Seminarian’s Banquet!” wagged one of us at the table.

After the concert, we went out with some of the festival organizers for second dinner at a local eatery which boasted both authentic Mexican and Cajun cuisine. Still full from the Beggar’s Banquet, I opted for a bowl of Louisiana Gumbo, my first taste of the flavorful stew.

With the close of an enjoyable evening filled with food and company, we finally called it quits and headed over to Concord to receive lodging at the house of a certain deacon. Said deacon welcomed us with open arms and put us up for the night, but before I retired the two of us stayed up a little discussing the mysteries of space and time. You know, the usual.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Three Concerts

In April and May, we went to three concerts:

In late April, we sang at the Russian Consulate in New York City for the 50th anniversary celebration of the emigre literary journal Novy Zhurnal (New Review). On the way to NYC we passed through East Durham, the most Irish place I’ve ever passed through, where we stopped and had lunch at a Western Steakhouse with a shamrock on the sign. The concert was all right (I survived), we had a nice reception at the consulate with a nightcap later on with one of the deacons at Synod. We stayed (like last time) in the Synodal conference room.

About a week later, we sang at the Russian Icon Museum in Clinton, Massachusetts. The museum was built to house the vast icon collection (he largest in North America) of one man, the chairman of a billion-dollar plastic molding corporation. The venue was nice and had decent acoustics. I liked the audience, who were mostly American, since they responded well to each of our pieces. Several of them were even members of the Church. Two of them, a man and wife, came up to a couple of us after a concert and expressed their disappointment that we didn’t sing “Христосъ Воскресе” at the end of the concert. So the three of us obliged, singing the Paschal Hymn in the café, Jordanville style.

The latest concert we sang was on Ascension Day, in Cambridge. It was a somewhat rushed feeling, as that morning we had just been at liturgy and all. However, it was still pretty fun since we were singing as part of the Rachmaninoff Music Festival going on that week. We went to the First Church in Cambridge (as opposed to the First Parish in Cambridge), a congregationalist church with very nice and traditional architecture. We rehearsed in the hallway of the church hall, where I looked at some of the proclamations of their church against dogma and rules as well as the pastor’s sermons, which seemed to reduce the gospel to left-wing politics. At least the acoustics were nice. We had a nice set. After we finished a choir from Moscow called Elegia sang a nice mix of sacred and folk music. I liked the choir, but I was somewhat amused by their dress and performance. The women wore aquamarine shawls and the men wore aquamarine ties. And when they sang, they didn’t stand still, but swayed from side to side enraptured in emotion. It had the effect of a giant sea anemone on the stage. No offense.

And thus our performing season has ended for the year. We will, however, unite again in August in San Francisco for a special performance. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

All in a day’s work.

Yesterday, Fr. Cyprian quietly left me in charge of the dormitory in his absence. For the next two and a half weeks, I will have to get rooms ready for visitors and summer boys, make sure things get cleaned, make sure nothing gets blown up, etc. The job does have its perks, including the unlimited power I have. Not that it’s going to go to my head or anything.

Alongside my temporary superpowers is my secret identity as a mild-mannered bookstore clerk. Today was a pretty quiet day in the story. I mostly spent it tidying up and restocking. I had to wash pots and pans after lunch, so I asked one of my co-workers (also named John) to fill in for me for an hour. After I came back I tackled a difficulty we had with our software: for some reason, we couldn’t access our customer orders. That meant that we couldn’t ship anything out.

Pete (who is in New York City at the moment) suggested that I do a reindex for both the store computer and the laptop, which was also used. However, the laptop remained mysteriously powerless. A search on youtube yielded successful results: the laptop had a power overload and had to be discharged. I was very happy to learn the method since I had an old computer that had the same problem. First, I unplugged the laptop and took out the battery. Second, I held down the power button for thirty seconds. This discharged any remaining power in the computer. Third, I plugged in the laptop WITHOUT putting the battery back in and turned it on. Presto!

Unfortunately, doing the reindexing didn’t work. So I called tech support, who guided me through a reboot and reinstall of the software (after backing everything up, of course). The reinstall worked, and I was successfully able to open up the customer orders screen.

I came back to the dorm, tired but relieved that things were settled. After resting for a couple hours, I heard a knock on my door. It was a former classmate of mine, holding a bloody paper towel against his thumb. “You’re in charge while Fr. Cyprian is away, right?” I took him to the office, helped dress his wound (which he got while cutting bread) and sent him off.

And the day’s not even over yet!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


It looks like my record for posting on this blog has dropped to near-record levels. Worry not, patient reader: I will be writing a steady stream of posts. Much has happened. Over the past month or so I’ve sang in concerts, gone on pilgrimage, and helped organize pilgrims visiting Jordanville.

I’m staying most of the summer working at the monastery. To earn my keep I will be manning the bookstore. Most of the time. The rest will be spent on getting ready for the summer kids to show up in mid-June. Not that I’ll be stuck here forever: in August I’ll be traveling to San Francisco to sing at a concert and Canada to sing at a wedding. There will be wine, women, and song. At least the first and the third things.

Many visitors have seen my post on Russian church architecture. It is sort of the Reader’s Version of the first part of a paper I wrote for my Russian Church History class. I have happy news: that paper and a subsequent one I wrote (on Muscovite church architecture) will be published in the periodical Orthodox Life, published by our monastery. Although my post was pretty different from the final paper, it was similar enough to cause me to delete it.

Anyway, I’m glad that you’re still reading this blog despite my recent lack of posts. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Home Stretch

Christ is Risen!

I seem to have a tough time keeping up with the blog around this time of year. Last year my posts petered out some time in the middle of Great Lent, only to pick up just before the school year ended. The craziness involved with the paschal celebrations combined with travel and (of course) approaching exams leaves little time for new posts, or the creativity/energy to write them. I apologize, dear readers. Thanks to some prodding and threatened rioting by some of my readers, I am now posting this brief update.

The past few weeks have been, indeed, quite busy. If you want to become a seminarian, I recommend that you start getting really good at planning out his day. Time management skills are important if you want to live a balanced life and avoid going crazy.

The weeks before Pascha seemed to go by much faster than last year. My uborka was a mere hour and a half of cleaning and painting the stove. I wore my purple cassock (natch) for the paschal service, and joined in celebrating the Resurrection.

For Bright Week I was in Hawaii again to be with my family. I came back to a mere three weeks remaining in the school year, fifteen days of waiting until the wonderful period of finals. When I’m not worried about exams I’m somehow relaxing. A weekend or so ago, I actually got to wield a lacrosse stick for the first time, thanks to John Kasarda! (shout out!)

I also went out with the Seminary Choir (conducted by Nicky Kotar) to the Russian Consulate in New York City and the Museum of Russian Icons to sing concerts. A wonderful, meat-filled time was had by all. We’re going to be singing at the Rachmaninoff Music Festival in Boston on May 24. I hope that people will come to support us!

Another event I’m very excited to be a part of is the Young Adult Monastery Pilgrimage, which will start at St. Tikhon’s Monastery on Memorial Day weekend (May 26) and end at Jordanville for Pentecost (June 3). I’m the local guy in charge of things at the Jordanville end. Young people can join at any leg of the pilgrimage. If you’re interested, please contact me!

Anyway, for the students still wracking their brains over school, hang in there!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Recommended Reading (3/10–3/17)

Pictures taken a year after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

St. Vladimir’s seminarians take post-Abortion counseling training – Very admirable. I agree with Joseph: “What a wonderful opportunity and one I hope to have repeated at my seminary.”

A (qualified) Lament for the Britannica – On the end of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s print run. I will miss the Britannica’s professional style and expert opinions. Then again, I hardly read it.

Architectural Gems of Old Russia – Ties in well with my studies in Russian church architecture.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stinky Tofu Sauce (with postscript)

Kostya, one of the Chinese seminarians, came to lunch with a mysterious jar. As the rest of us stared at him spooning out some dark reddish stuff onto his food, he invited us to try some. I’ve been pretty adventurous in terms of trying new foods, so I gave it a shot.

The brand was called Wangzhihe (王致和), which, literally translated (using my knowledge of Japanese kanji) means “King Highest Harmony.” I opened the jar and took a sniff. It was somewhat pungent. I put some on my food. The dark sauce was mixed in with chunks of what I guessed was tofu. Looking at the label, my suspicions were confirmed. This was Chinese fermented tofu sauce! I took a taste of my seasoned potatoes. It was like a flavor explosion—an interesting mix of tastes. It was like a mix between miso and aged cheese, very heavy on the salty and umami side of things. There was also a strong wine taste.

At dinner, Kostya wanted us to finish up the sauce. I asked him if I could have the rest. He agreed with a wave of his hand, as if shooing the stinky tofu from his sight. I gladly took it, and was quite happy to have it. Misha, a regular visitor to Jordanville, remarked, “Gee John, you’re enamored. You’re looking at it like it’s a picture of your Matushka-to-be.”

King Highest Harmony.

After I took it back, I looked up the brand. Apparently Wangzhihe is named after someone named Wang Zhihe, a student in 18th century China. Apparently Wang took the grueling Imperial examinations in order to get into the civil service. He failed, so he had to go back to work with his family in the tofu business. He applied his intelligence to tofu preservation, and tried preserving the tofu in a mixture of salt and spices. The resulting concoction proved to be extremely popular, and it was even a daily snack in the Forbidden City. Which goes to show that if life stinks one should make stinky tofu.

Three centuries later, Wangzhihe is still a popular food brand, making an array of fermented tofu products, including the above rose wine tofu sauce. If you go to an Asian market, search out this brand. It will give a nice kick of savoriness to your meal, whether in a stir-fry, mixed in with spaghetti sauce, or even straight up. Just make sure to brush your teeth afterwards.

Postscript: Yesterday, I tried some actual stinky tofu after dinner. “How does it taste?” I asked Kostya. “I don’t know,” he answered. “Chinese tastes are different. You might not like it.” I tried some. It tasted like how it smelled, which was about 5x as stinky as the above-mentioned stinky tofu sauce. So, before you head to the Asian supermarket, make sure to get the sauce, and not the actual stinky tofu itself. Caveat emptor!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fr. Cyprian’s Kitchen

I stood in a dimly-lit basement wrestling with a sack of potatoes. It’s a quarter to seven, though my body tells me it’s an hour earlier due to the time change. I hoist the fifty-pound sack over the automatic potato peeler, hearing the dull thuds of lumpy tubers. I set the timer, turn on the water, and flip the switch. Whirr! goes the machine, and whizz! go the potatoes as they fly out the side. Whoops! I forgot to make sure the side hatch was secure. I start all over again, salvaging most of the potatoes.

This was my first kitchen assignment in a month. I wasn’t thrilled to see my name on the assignment sheet, since I had just come back from Hawaii and all the clocks were going to spring forward. Plus, the head cook was Fr Cyprian, who was known both for his good food and goodly number of hours to prepare it. Nevertheless, I steeled myself, set my alarm to six o’clock, and got some rest. The next morning, my body sprung up into action. It’s funny how my usual tardiness is interrupted by fits of punctuality. It was still dark when I got to the trapeza, where I found my workmate Dima already up getting the dishes ready. There was no sign of Father. Dima asked me to call him. So I did.

“Father, bless. We’re in the kitchen.”
“Wait, isn’t it 5:45?” Apparently his phone forgot to spring forward.

Fr Cyprian promptly arrived, and we were well under way. We were short a man so the work was steady. A pilgrim came before liturgy to help us out, though. After the aforementioned potato peeling came slicing and chopping. Our Greek hieromonk decided to make vegan moussaka, which involved cooking each ingredient separately and then combining them in one delicious casserole. Plus there was soup, cooked zucchini, and dolma—stuffed grape leaves. I busied myself with slicing potatoes and preparing the dolmata, then started some pre-emptive dishwashing. Dima handed me a scoop to wash which had the remnants of what looked like mashed potatoes attached to it. I surreptitiously tasted it before putting it in the sink.

“Was that mashed potatoes?” I asked.
Fr Cyprian answered. “No, it was soy milk plus margarine and flour and cornstarch.”
I blanched at the thought of having eaten raw flour, but said to myself in consolation: “Well, it’s no different from eating cookie dough…”

We continued preparing while listening to the liturgy over the intercom. The kitchen table was filled with freshly baked moussaka, so I had to use the old iron stove as a counter. As I filled plate after plate with uncanned dolmata, the stove’s door playfully teased my shins by falling on them from time to time. By the time we were finished plating the food, the liturgy was well past the anaphora; we had to hustle.

People came in. Fr Luke rang the bell, and we stopped our work to sing the Our Father. As Dima served the rest of the food to the incoming crowd, I fumbled with pots and tea bags. Thankfully, everything (for the most part) got served, and everyone happily ate the moussaka.

After lunch, Fr Luke asked everyone to help us, since we were shorthanded. Some generous pilgrims helped us bring in the food and clean the tables, and one of them, named Nicholas, washed the dishes and told stories. We were all done by two in the afternoon.

I dragged myself back to the dorm, my clothes reeking of kitchen—that strange mixture of food and sweat and old grease. Some of my friends were in the dorm lounge. I plopped down next to one of my classmates, who commented on the good food and my exhausted visage. After some computer time, I took a well deserved nap.

Round two began that evening, which meant that I missed the Sunday vespers. Dinnertime was easy because it mainly involved serving leftovers. I also started washing the crusty trays I left to soak from lunch, in the process spilling some greasy water on the kitchen floor. Following Murphy’s Law, Fr Cyprian came in with some Greek sweets for us and slipped and nearly fell! Thankfully, he caught himself in time, though powdered sugar flew everywhere. I spoke apologetically after he mopped the floor. “No, the whole floor’s like that—it’s like an ice rink,” he said. “We need to get a replacement floor.”

We continued. Nicholas came by in the evening as well and helped out. He entertained us with stories from his air force days, including the time he crashed his F-8: “For a second, the only thing I was aware of was that I was alive. Then I asked myself, ‘Where am I?’ and I answered, ‘In a plane, dummy.’” I finished washing my part and then Dima and I took out the trash.

We finished by eight, having in total worked nearly nine hours. Though the hours were long, they were productive and rewarding. One of the benefits of kitchen work is that the results are immediate. It also helps to work with good people. Thanks to Fr Cyprian and my workmates, I heartily enjoyed the product of my labors.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Philadelphia Story (Part 2)

The next morning we all sang liturgy in the parish. Since I was staying in the parish house, all I had to do was go downstairs. We sung in the back of the church, which acoustically made better sense; hardly any sound escaped from our original spot last night. Elias D. of Ottawa directed the choir.

I surprised him during a lull in the singing.

All that singing during the past couple of days (plus a sleep deficit) made me a little tired. I plopped down on a bench in the back of the church, next to Tina, one of the narrators in the concert (and a soloist). We talked about the great volume of singing involved this weekend.

“After the singing, there will be more singing,” she said.
“And in between the singing there will be singing,” I answered.
“And after all this singing, there will be much rejoicing.”
“In song!”

I’m the one in black.

We then took a group picture and had a lunch appropriate to Meatfare Sunday: blini. Well, at least one kind was filled with meat.

In between the singing and the singing, a few of us went on a walk through the city. We admired the charming brick architecture of the neighborhood, and we went up to that museum most famous for being in the movie “Rocky.”

Once we got back it was time for the concert. We went to St. Michael’s, the site of the concert, and practiced a little. Then it was time for the concert. The men and women processed into the nave, clad in black. Finally, Nicholas came in and introduced the concert. After the introductory reading, we began singing an arrangement of “Blessed is the Man,” by Trubachev. But words cannot adequately express how the concert went. You’ll have to see it for yourself:

The full recording of the concert, minus some of the readings.

We sang to a full house, who gave us some strong applause in the end. It felt really nice to be a part of such a group of talented people, and I’m not just saying that because most of them will be reading these words.

In the end, there was much rejoicing (in song), and we had something to eat. However, us seminarians had to go to class the next day* so we had to get going. I made my long Russian goodbyes to as many people as I could, and we hit the road, stopping at a Roy Rogers along the way to have our last chance at meat.

It was probably the worst burger I ever had.

I’m very grateful to our hosts at the parish house as well as Fr. Valeriy of the Joy of All Who Sorrow parish. Major thanks go to all my fellow singers in the Youth Choir, especially Alex Cooley and (long-time supporter of this blog) Dimitry Doohovskoy. Also props go to the St. Tikhon’s choir and the Princeton Byzantine chanters for joining us, Suzie for choreographing the choir, and of course Nicky Kotar for pulling it all together.

*I slept in, anyway.

Recommended Reading (3/3–3/9)

I decided to post weekly a selection of the blog posts and web articles I found most interesting over the past few days. The links are mostly from Orthodox sources; I’m striving for a “best-of” selection.

The Desert Struggle Fr. Stephen on the warfare of the human heart.

Fire Consumes Rectory, Priest Continues Liturgy This is a model to follow. Please pray for Fr. Adam.

Seven Sins of Cain according to St. John Chrysostom.

Capella Romana:  Ancient Light Their newest CD. I really liked their Byzantine Divine Liturgy album.

Real Break in Constantinople Some members of OCF (the Orthodox Christian Fellowship) from colleges across the country take some time out to travel to Constantinople, where they took care of long-forgotten graves. “We’re keeping their memory eternal.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The First Week of Lent in Jordanville

I was unfortunately unable to attend the services at the monastery during the first week of Great Lent, but I am posting the following news report and videos for the sake of my readers.

(Eastern American Diocese) On the first week of Great Lent, the full cycle of services was served at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts was served on Wednesday and Friday, celebrated by the abbot, Archimandrite Luke, co-served by the monastery clergy. Please see photos from the first week of Great Lent at Holy Trinity Monastery courtesy of the monastery website.


Monday, March 5, 2012

The Philadelphia Story (Part 1)

Lost in the LeHigh Valley

We were inching our way along a Pennsylvania country road, the way mostly illumined by the headlights and tail lights of hundreds of cars in front of us. Nicholas Chapman, publications head at Holy Trinity Monastery—my boss—sat in the driver’s seat. “Lost in the LeHigh Valley,” he said.

Nicholas Kotar, sitting in the passenger’s seat, turned to me. “John! Take notes!” And thus was born this post.

We were on our way to Philadelphia for a concert of epic proportions, combining the strengths of four different singing groups: The EA Diocese Youth Choir, the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Mission Choir, Byzantine chanters from Princeton, and the Holy Trinity Seminary Choir (our first concert since Boston). In all, there were going to be over forty singers from all around the Eastern seaboard. Nicky was going to be the conductor (natch).

We had left just after lunch on Friday, February 17th. Our way was for the most part free and easy, with nothing unexpected except for a flaming car on the side of the road. The GPS predicted our ETA to be 5:30pm. What the GPS didn’t anticipate was the massive roadwork which diverted all the traffic off the interstate. It added at least two hours to our travel time.

We finally got to Philadelphia a little after 7:30, and dropped off Mr. Chapman at the train station (he was going to stay in Princeton, then come to Philadelphia for the concert). Nicky also got off, because he wanted to hang out with some college friends. That left just Anthony and I to fend for ourselves and find the parish house where we were staying. We finally found it thanks to Dimitry Doohovskoy, local organizer of the event, fan of this blog, and all-around good guy. Mitya stayed up very late making sure that the people arriving to stay at the house were taken care of.

Most of the men were staying at the ROCOR parish of Our Lady, the Joy of All Who Sorrow. Anthony and I got to the parish house and we made sure to choose decent spots to sleep. The people in charge of the house explained to us various things. “Are we the first guys to arrive here?” I said. “No,” said Ivan, one of the residents, “there are two guys from Boston, John and Nick.”

John and Nick…Kasarda? Surely enough, the two Distinguished Gentlemen from Ipswitch were already there. I was happy to see them again, the first time since before Christmas.

“Nick looks like old and grizzled Tintin.” —John K.

The house was relatively empty (most of the other guys didn’t show up until late at night) so we were mostly by ourselves. We made friends with a cat, which I failed to attract by wiggling my fingers. “What are you doing, John? Are those spirit fingers?” said John Kasarda.

Later that night, more guys came to join us, including three from the Bulgarian parish in Boston, some folks from Albany, and a musical prodigy from Miami.

The next morning, we had a quick breakfast. I met and reunited with more people, and then we all assembled in the parish hall, where we were shunted off to St. Michael’s, another Orthodox church where the actual concert was supposed to take place. This wasn’t an actual rehearsal but more like stage blocking for the concert.

Nicky: “Move IN!”

Suzie, who was in charge of the blocking, worked with the readers for the concert, or rather she sort of held auditions.

“Give me your best Baptist preacher.”

Soon, we got back to the ROCOR parish. I had happy reunions with many people; it was like a who’s-who of ROCOR youth. After lunch came the rehearsal. Nicky took the conductor’s stand and explained the raison d’être behind the concert. Unlike many concerts of sacred music, this one was tied to a unified theme: a depiction of the hypothetical life of the Good Thief, told through readings and song. “We want to show the audience something beautiful, something Other…which is why the next four hours are going to be excruciating,” said Nicky.

Sure enough, rehearsal was very long, but nobody seemed to mind, and it felt pretty productive. Something was starting to gel. We had a break and split up for separate rehearsals. We got back together again just in time for Vigil. The Vigil service was split up between the youth choir and us Jordanvillians, who sang most of the Church Slavonic stuff. It went pretty well.

After vigil, we had a dinner of pizza and lasagna. The people at my table told me not to eat too much as we were going to Outback afterwards. Outback! I readily agreed, and despite a little confusion about who was riding with whom, a sizable number of us managed to get to Outback (which was in New Jersey, no less) before the kitchen closed. I had a ribeye steak, my last steak before Great Lent!

Censored by the Postnyi Police for being too tempting.

We got back late at night. I stayed up a little, anticipating an exciting Sunday.