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:

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