Friday, January 13, 2012

A Jordanville Christmas

Happy Old New Civil Year!

I’m writing from a surprisingly sunny San Francisco. My internet connectivity is limited to visits at the library. I haven’t been online much, but before I sign off I figured that I might as well give an update on what happened during Yuletide at the monastery.

The days approaching Christmas were intense. In the Orthodox world, the week before Christmas is described as a second Holy Week. Indeed, fasting becomes a little stricter, and the hymnography takes on a more anticipatory tone. It is time to prepare both body and soul for the Advent of the Lord.

My week started with cleaning on Monday and Tuesday. This year’s assignment was to clean the corridors and walls of the new section of the monastic building, including the interior of the bookstore. I was paired up with Pete and a fifth-year. Our superior, one of the hieromonks, was known for his meticulousness. Over two days, we had to thoroughly scrub, sweep, mop and dust every inch of the new section. We also had to take out the stains of the tile floor, which involved scraping them out with knives. At first I complained to myself as I scrubbed the walls that this level of attention was excessive; after all, the walls looked perfectly fine. But then, as I glanced at my bucket between scrubs, I noticed it become gradually murkier.

After going over the floors with a knife, we took a little break. I talked with Pete about the clean-up, saying: “We’ve only scratched the surface!”

He answered with something between a chuckle and a groan.

Finally, late in the night of the second day of cleaning, we mopped the floor and waxed with with floor polish. The first half of our preparation period was over.

Sometime around (or perhaps before) this period, two distinguished gentlemen from Ipswich, the Brothers Kasarda (Nick and John) came over and stayed at the monastery, along with a few others. It was a fun time and a good break from all the cleaning. I remember a few of them sitting in the lounge room. John called out to me: “Hey John Martin! Bring out everything FUN from your room.”

I obliged, and brought out, among other things, my ukulele and purple cassock. A good time was had by all.

Our dorm’s Christmas tree.

We attended evening services (Vespers, Compline and Matins) on Thursday night, and went to the Christmas Eve vesperal liturgy on Friday morning.

On Christmas Eve, we didn’t have any food until the evening, in accordance with the ancient tradition of not fasting until nightfall. With hunger as our sauce, the evening meal was very delicious. There were mashed potatoes (decadently topped with loads of dill), mushroom gravy (one of the best gravies I’ve ever had, vegetarian or otherwise), peas, soup, and a warming compote. I ate my fill, but after a whole day of fasting, my stomach took a while to decide whether it was full or not.

Then it was time for the Christmas vigil. Although the tension between Advent and Christmas is not nearly as sharp as between Great Lent and Easter, I still felt a sense of festivity, the feeling that everything was new and young again. The snow, which kept teasing us, finally stuck around a bit.

Christmas day was as it always is: joyous and crowded. After the liturgy, we had a festive trapeza featuring kholodets (aspic) made with swordfish.

It tastes better each time I have it.

Right afterwards, we had a reception in Father Luke’s office. A friend of mine gave me Hawaiian coffee (natch), and there was cake. Soon, however, I had to high-tail it out of Jordanville with Nicky Kotar, because we both had a plane to catch to San Francisco!

Non Sequitur UPDATE: I’m very happy to report the return to the blogging world of Aaron Taylor (Logismoi). I hope that Mr Taylor will update his excellent blog on a regular basis.

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