Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Thrice-Festive Day


Today we celebrated the patronal feast of our seminary, indeed of all Orthodox seminaries: the feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. The Three Hierarchs have always been considered patrons of learning, and their feast is a public holiday in Greece.

We had been preparing for weeks for the feast, especially in Greek class. Fr. Cyprian, our resident Greek hieromonk and dean of students, had us practice Byzantine chant (in Western notation) and various readings from the vigil in Greek. This year, I had one of the Old Testament readings. My class also did preparations for the formal reception following the festal liturgy. We went to Utica to get food and other supplies, and helped set up the hall for the reception.

The vigil and liturgy went very smoothly. Metropolitan Hilarion was here for the feast, so it was an appropriate level of dignity. The vigil seamlessly transitioned between Byzantine chant and our familiar Slavonic melodies. Many of the prayers and readings were in Greek. The liturgy had less Greek in it (excepting the Gospel reading and several priestly exclamations) but incorporated a sort of pre-1453 feel to it, with lots of ancient Russian and Bulgarian melodies as well as some Byzantine thrown in. From what I witnessed, things in the altar also went more or less smoothly, even with the presence of our First Hierarch.

Before the liturgy I was tonsured as a Reader, for now attached to the monastery cathedral. The office of Reader, as you well know, is the first degree of the priesthood, and unlike, say, a seminarian, there are certain canonical obligations for readers, as I discovered while reading an issue (v. 62, n. 1) of Orthodox Life. For example, I can’t gamble, raise my hand in violence against anyone, or marry outside the faith. There’s even a stipulation that I have an “immaculate living place,” which gives me another reason to clean my room. Don’t worry, I won’t pretentiously sign my posts as Reader John Martin, especially since many of my fellow seminarians are readers. But I would like your prayers.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at a reader’s tonsure. I arrived in church before nine o’clock, with my formal petition to be made a reader in hand. This petition is mainly for the purpose of monastery records. I waited in the vestry to the right of the altar, where I saw Pete, who was being made a sub-deacon right after my tonsure. We talked a little about when he got made a reader, not too long ago, and about the epistle reading we do during the tonsure which supposedly foretells our future ecclesiastical career: “It’s superstition! But my reading was from 1 Timothy, which says, ‘Let no one despise your youth…’” We were then made to go out on the right kliros and sing for the vesting of the Metropolitan. I had to then go to the left kliros and wait for the moment in the middle of the Sixth Hour. Peter and I were then led down to the center of the church to Metropolitan. I came first, as I was being appointed to a lesser office. During the tonsure it almost felt like it was being someone else’s hair being clipped, someone else having a book placed in one’s hand, someone else reading in Church Slavonic.

My reading, which I had to look up later, was the first few verses of 2 Timothy, which go:
Child Timothy, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier…
I closed the book. “The Servant of God John is made a reader of the Church of the Holy Trinity!” pronounced Vladika.

After the liturgy, there was a long reception, in which we sang several hymns in honor of the martyred Grand Duchess Elizabeth. Vladika Hilarion shared his remembrances with the gathered assembly, and Fr. George Dragas, the visiting protopresbyter and sometime Jordanville professor, gave a discourse on the Three Holy Hierarchs, the luminaries of faith, who derive their teaching from the Holy Trinity. For me, it sort of tied into the reading I did: “…the things thou hast heard of me…the same commit thou to faithful men…” Then Fr. Vladimir, the head of our library and archives, announced the scholarship recipients. Many of us got scholarships, including me, thankfully.

It was a good day.

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