And I’m back! After much searching and going to three separate shops I was finally able to find a US to UK converter with a ground wire so I will be able to write amazing and fantastic posts! Or at least I’ll try to.
So here we are, on our second day in Ely, and while the weather is a bit grey it is still lovely outside, especially when compared to what Boston must be like right now. But enough about the weather, let me tell you about the day.
Because of a slight error in arrangements I was put in a single room yesterday and last night and have since moved into the double, as originally intended. My roommate is a fellow tenor in the Trinity Choir, Michael, and it happens that he worked at the University of Chicago until recently and his wife also teaches there. The “small world” bit is that a good friend of mine had Michael’s wife as one of his professors at UofC. Crazy.
I begrudgingly awoke this morning at 7:30, got ready, and popped downstairs around 8 to let our choir director know I was heading out and started walking to the train station. The walk was quite enjoyable, about 0.6 miles, and was especially nice because I was going out on my own. The train station is located at the edge of Ely and I was quite surprised to find out that a round trip ticket to Cambridge was only £4 pounds.
Upon arriving in Cambridge I realized how utterly confusing the bus map was and, after a few tortured minutes, I opted to take a cab as I wasn’t even sure precisely where Westcott House was in relation to the bus stop and was again surprised at the ride only costing me £4 pounds again. Naturally, I was pleased.
Westcott House is one of the Anglican divinity schools at the University of Cambridge and plays host to St. Ephraim the Syrian Russian Orthodox Church. I’m still wondering why they chose St. Ephraim, as they are a Russian church, but I forgot to ask Fr. Raphael about it after Liturgy. Westcott House is laid out as one long series of buildings around a central courtyard with cloisters and a garden. The chapel itself looks as if Oliver Cromwell himself had just come through, however the Orthodox had once again restored what was lost and I was surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses”, icons of the saints. Because they are doing “church in a box” there is nothing permanent, however they have cloth and wood icon stands with hand painted icons for an iconostasis (icon screen). It worked quite well.
One of the things that struck me about the parish is how diverse it is, and England as whole. There were young and old, Russians and non, with a healthy dose of converts to Orthodoxy. In fact, at the start of liturgy Fr. Raphael received a catechumen, Adrian, into the Holy Orthodox Church. So that was a very happy thing to see and lent itself to a liturgy of a festive nature.
Fr. Raphael is a very kind man who reminds me of my own parish priest in some respects. In fact, all three of us have something in common, we’re all organists! So that was a pleasant surprise. The choir was good, despite its small size, and they sang my favorite setting of the Cherubic Hymn, although if you ask me to name the composer I can never remember… Anyway, Fr. Raphael and the parishioners I met made me feel right at home. It turns out that he went to St. Vladimir Orthodox Seminary in New York, and knows many of the same people I do. Subdeacon Maxim, who is the chief subdeacon of the Russian Archbishop of London, was also there so he and I “lurked” (as Fr. Raphael said) in the corner of the sanctuary for most of the service. I also had the singular experience of being called, “Father Subdeacon” a first that was quite odd. I do hope that I get to visit them again very soon, unfortunately not this Sunday as we’ll be singing the morning service at Ely Cathedral.
Speaking of the Cathedral, the parish has a beautiful icon of St. Etheldreda who is also the patroness of the Cathedral.
After liturgy I finally bucked up the courage to take the bus, walked to the bus station and headed back to Ely by train. I walked back to the hotel, changed, relaxed with a book in the pub, and sat around until the organ concert in the cathedral at 5. I must confess that I was a bit disappointed with the organ as it doesn’t really work well in the space. The octagon swallows the sound so that the power of the organ drops off dramatically as soon as it reaches the nave. I don’t know how it can possibly support congregational singing (I later learned it can’t, at least for larger numbers) and while there were a few lovely stops, the overall effect was rather unimpressive. The strings were especially thin, although the tuba was louder than the entire instrument and was very satisfactory. The concert (Jonathan Lilley, organist) itself consisted of Bach’s Sinfonia from Cantata 29, Mulet’s Rosace from his Byzantine Sketches, Percy Whitlock’s Four Extemporisations, and closed with Durufle’s wonderful Suite Op. 5.
So now, dear reader, we have come to the end of the day. Well, except for the delicious dinner that the Lamb Hotel provided. They have been very consistent in providing excellent meals. I wonder if they realized that a happy choir is a well fed choir…
Tomorrow includes our first rehearsal, a tour of the cathedral, and our first evensong! Prayers are most welcome. Updates to follow.
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