Happy New Year!
I intended to post much earlier, but the end of the year is of course full of activity, including final exams and the youth conference. Plus, at the tail end of the conference I caught a nasty bug which left me in bad shape last weekend and is still inflicting me was an annoying cough. But, time to soldier on.
Today I took my last final for the year, in Biblical Greek. Because I was going to the St. Herman’s Conference this year (and it was smack-dab in the middle of finals), I had to take a couple exams before and a couple after. After an hour and three-quarters of parsing and translating, I am glad to have a well-earned break.
Syezd was a fun experience as it was in previous years. This year we had it in Hartford, Connecticut. The hotel was pretty standard, though it’s hard to top last year’s accommodations. I was rooming with a few of the older crowd, a quiet, intellectual bunch. One of us called it the “brain trust,” but I think of it as the “geriatric ward.” (Of course, I was the oldest guy in the room!) Archbishop Gabriel was with us as he was in previous years. Yes, he said: “There are 100 of you, I hope there will be 50 marriages.”
This year we only had one lecturer, as opposed to the endless lineup of speakers at previous conferences. The organizers thought that it would be better to have instead smaller workshops centered around different topics. The main lecturer spoke on the depiction of the afterlife in the Bible, which I found to be quite informative and challenging, as the Scriptures show that whatever the afterlife is, is ultimately shrouded in mystery.
The workshops were a lot of fun. The first one I attended was on confession by Fr. Yaroslav Belikow. I knew Fr. Yaroslav from San Francisco, and he had spoken before at Jordanville on confession. The workshop was very informative. The second workshop was by my friend Dimitry, and it covered leadership. Dimitry gave the principles from How to Win Friends and Influence People a Christian twist, and broke us up into groups to work out some proposed parish-building scenarios.
The third workshop I attended was my favorite; it was by a priest from the South, Fr. Anastassy. Fr. Anastassy, in his gentle Southern accent, went through the actions of the proskomedia service. Even as a seminarian, I had very little idea of what proskomedia is like. As a choir person, I hardly get to spend time in the altar. When I do serve, I’m usually half asleep trying to quickly read names and thus have no time to pay attention to what the priest is actually saying.
Besides the lecture and workshops there were a ton of discussions and other activities, though I wish we had a little free time to relax in between things. Most of our free time came at the end of the day. People jumped in the pool, played card games, lounged around watching Disney movies, and wandered the labyrinthine corridors of the hotel.
We also went out a couple times. For St. Herman’s Day (December 25) we had vigil and liturgy at St. Panteleimon’s Church. Vladika Gabriel and quite a few priests served. We got to form two choirs, at least for the vigil. Also that day, we went into Hartford. Nearly everything was closed Downtown for the Western Christmas, but there was a public ice rink open. It had been seven years since I stepped foot on the ice, but soon I was slowly but surely gliding on the rink. I didn’t even fall down! We also had some caroling afterward for the assembled Hartfordians at the ice rink.
Quite a few exciting things happened at the syezd, and I was involved in none of it. Once, a lot of people got stuck in the elevator, and the fire department had to come to get them out. In the meantime, they, being the good Orthodox they are, started singing church hymns. “This is real elevator music,” someone said to me as we heard them sing a Cherubic Hymn. The acoustics must have been great. The most exciting thing actually happened to me on the way back, as I went with a couple other people back to Jordanville in the middle of a snowstorm. Our vehicle lost control on a country road, and we skidded into a snowbank, where we had to wait an hour before help arrived.
It certainly was a memorable syezd, and I had a good time with my friends, but perhaps I’m getting a little too long in the tooth for it. Perhaps I have to organize a conference for grown-ups!