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!