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.

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