Friday, June 27, 2008

2008 Orthodox Conference, Erie, Pennsylvania, Part 2

The Iconostasis of the Church of the Nativity, during a Vigil

Before I move on to talk about other aspects of the conference, I should make a few additional comments about the practices of the parish in Erie which are different from the more common Russian practice.

In the Old Rite, prostrations are made at very specific points in the service, and are unfailingly done by everyone at those points, and are not done at other points. Everyone makes them together. They have a small prayer mat that is about the size of a large pot holder, and is called a podruchnik. When they make a prostration, they toss this mat to the floor, with the decorated side up, plant their hands on it, and make the prostration with their forehead touching the mat. This keeps their hand, with which they make the sign of the cross, from touching the floor. As they rise, they pick up the mat, fold it, and set it aside, or tuck it into their belt. They do all this with such a smooth flowing motion, that I was hesitant to even try it at first, but parishioners would offer me a podruchnik, and so eventually I did use it, though not with the grace of those more use to it.

Also, while standing during the services, the Old Rite practice is to cross your arms across your chest, with your hands tucked under your arms. This is another one of those things you have to see, but you can see a picture of it here.

A lestovka, which is an Old Rite form of the prayer rope

Another very positive thing you see in the services is the participation of the youth. You see small boys tending to the lamps, or serving in the altar. Young ladies reading the Psalter, or singing in the choir. There seems to be a very intentional plan of getting as many young people involved as possible. In fact the number of people in general you see actively involved in making the services happen in one way or another is very impressive. This is the way you keep a parish alive. Many bells went off for me during this conference, such as this one.

Click here to see the Pantocrator icon, with the surrounding icons on the ceiling.

Aside from Saturday evening, and Sunday morning, there was a daily cycle of services throughout the conference. At 5:45 a.m., they did Matins. At 8:15 a.m., the Hours and Divine Liturgy, and then at 4:30 p.m., they did Vespers. These services had a way of drawing the conference attendees into the life of the parish, unlike any conference I have previously attended.

To be continued

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

2008 Orthodox Conference, Erie, Pennsylvania, Part 1

I spent the better part of last week at the 2008 Orthodox Conference in Erie, Pennsylvania. Because of my secular job, I was unfortunately unable to catch the first day and a half of the conference, and as a result I missed some really good lectures... though they were recorded, and I hope to at least be able to hear them when that is made available.

I have driven through Erie before... once during a blizzard, but had not had the chance to see the parish there before, though I have wanted to for some time. Not long after I came into the Orthodox Church, I was given a copy of the first edition of the Old Rite Prayer Book published by that parish, and so have developed an interest in the Old Rite... though outside of books, I had never seen a proper Old Rite service.

(You can read more about the parish, and its history, by clicking here)

Erie is not a big city. When I flew into the Erie airport, there was no trouble finding the right baggage claim carousel... there was only one. On the wall of baggage claim was the skyline of the city, and off to the right, very prominently was the Church of the Nativity... one of the most beautiful Churches I have seen in the United States. Aside from the services, most conference activities, as well as the lodging, were at Mercyhurst College. After checking in, I went straight to the Church, because I had just gotten in in time for Wednesday evening Vespers. The Iconography in the Church is of the finest quality, but is inscribed almost completely in English.

The Church of the Nativity, Erie PA

The services there are normally done almost completely in English. This may seem a bit ironic, given that the Old Believers separated from the rest of the Russian Church because they refused to accept changes to the translations of the services, as well as changes in some of the rubrics. However, this parish, which began as a Bezpopovtsy (Priestless) Old Believer community came to a realization that their community would eventually die, if they did not introduce English, because subsequent generations had an increasingly hard time with the Slavonic, and their work on translating the services actually led them to reconciliation with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and their community becoming a Priested Old Rite community. In fact, this conference was held in Erie to mark the 25th anniversary of their reconciliation with ROCOR.

The singing is done in Znamenny chant, which sounds very much like Byzantine Chant because that is where it has its roots. It is the oldest form of Russian chant. They have two choirs -- a women's choir on the left, and a male choir on the right. I was told that this was not always the case, but that the singing used to be done by the men only -- however, during World War II, when most of the men were away, the women had to do the singing, and then after the war, the women didn't want to stop... and apparently the men either didn't try to make them stop, or were unsuccessful if they did. The singing is exceptionally well done, and the acoustics in the Church combined with the quality of the singing made for a very powerful experience.

A visitor is also struck by the fact that the women (including young girls) in the parish are consistently attired in head-scarfs (most often, white), long sleeve shirts or sweaters, and long dresses. As for the men, those who are not clergy (in major or minor orders), were wearing a traditional Russian Kosovorotka, and a belt.

As I said, I had never seen the Old Rite in actual practice, and was struck by the way the people were censed. When the deacon would cense them, they would face the deacon with both arms raised in an orans, and then would bow towards the deacon, and then turn, and make the sign of the Cross towards the altar. The scriptural basis for this practice is "Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice" (Psalm 141:2, in the KJV). This was particularly striking when the choir was censed. I was generally standing behind the male choir, and so could not see their faces when they were censed, but when the women's choir was sensed I could... and it is something you would have to see. They would be standing in a semi-circle around the music stand singing, all nearly uniformly attired, and then as a group, they would all turn at the same time to face the deacon with their hands raised, then do the bows as I described, all the while never missing a beat with what they were singing... despite the fact that they all had their eyes off the music book while doing so. You can see a picture of the women's choir, by clicking here.

It was worth going to the conference, just for the services.

To be continued.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Monkey King

This is the beginning clip of a full length animated film about the Monkey King, that was done in China just before the cultural revolution shut that sort of thing down. Though it is all in Chinese, I think it is a fun movie to watch. This was my oldest daughter's favorite cartoon when she was a toddler. At the beginning, when the Monkey king burst of the rock, she use to jump up and down saying "Malo! Malo!" ("Monkey!").

You can read more about it here.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Serbian Pascha Folk Song

A Paschal song performed by the musical orchestra ''Stupovi'' and various Serbian singers and celebrities, which is part of a campagin to raise funds for reconstruction of a medieval Serbian Orthodox monastery named ''Pillars of Saint George.'' 

The lyrics are from a poem by St. Nikolai Velimirovich, one of the great Serbian saints of the modern era. Here is an English translation of the lyrics: 

People rejoice, all nations listen: Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! 
Dance all ye stars and sing all ye mountains: Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! 
Whisper ye woods and blow all ye winds: Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! 
O seas proclaim and roar all ye beasts: Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! 
Buzz all ye bees and sing all ye birds: Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! 
O little lambs rejoice and be merry: Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! 
 Nightengales joyous, lending your song: Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! 
Ring, O ye bells, let everyone hear: Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! 
 All angels join us, singing this song: Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! 
Come down ye heavens, draw near the earth: Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! 
 Glory to Thee, God Almighty! Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! 
Glory to Thee, God Almighty! Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! 

Serbian Text: 

Ljudi likujte, narodi čujte: Hristos voskrse, radost donese! 
Zvezde igrajte, gore pevajte, Hristos voskrese, radost donese! 
Šume šumite, vetri brujite, Hristos voskrse, radost donese! 
Mora gudite, zveri ričite, Hristos voskrse, radost donese! 
Pčele se rojte, a ptice pojte Hristos voskrse, radost donese! 
 Anđeli stojte, pesmu utrojte, Hristos voskrse, radost donese! 
Nebo se snizi, zemlju uzvisi, Hristos voskrse, radost donese! 
Zvona zvonite, svima javite, Hristos voskrse, radost donese! 
Slava ti Bože, sve ti se može, Hristos voskrse, radost donese! 
Anđeli stojte, pesmu utrojte, Hristos voskrse, radost donese! 
Nebo se snizi, zemlju uzvisi, Hristos voskrse, radost donese! 
Zvona zvonite, svima javite, Hristos voskrse, radost donese! 
Slava ti Bože, sve ti se može, Hristos voskrse, radost donese!