Link of the Day

So it’s been a while since I posted, lots going on at the seminary, but I thought I would share something I found extremely amusing.

This is from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s fantastic blog, What Does The Prayer Really Say, which I highly recommend everyone read daily.  Fr. Z, as he is known, had an internet attack on his blog yesterday and composed a Litany for the Conversion of Internet Thugs.  I have reproduced it below, but I highly recommend you visit Fr. Z’s site.

Litany for the conversion of internet thugs.
(private use only, and when truly irritated, and when the alternative is foul language)

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God, the Son, Redeemer of the World, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.

Lest internet thugs be eternally tormented by all the fiends of hell, convert them, O Lord.
Lest they pass eternity in utter despair, convert them, O Lord.
Lest they come to be damned for the harm they cause, convert them, O Lord.
Lest they roast forever in the deepest cinders of hell, convert them, O Lord.
Lest they suffer the unceasing pain of loss, convert them, O Lord.

Lest devils endlessly increase their physical agony, convert them, O Lord.
Lest devils twist their bowels and boil their blood in hell, convert them, O Lord.
Lest devils use them as their toys and tools, convert them, O Lord.
Lest devils gnaw on their skulls, convert them, O Lord.

Lest the innocent be harmed by their sins, convert them, O Lord.
Lest the innocent yield to them in weakness, convert them, O Lord.
Lest the innocent be drawn into their traps, convert them, O Lord.

From faceless Facebook admin drones, spare us O Lord.
From tweeting Twitter idiots, spare us O Lord.
From from heart-hardened spammers, spare us O Lord.
From rss feed problems, spare us O Lord.
From server memory resource difficulties, spare us O Lord.

From viruses, trojan horses, and all manner of snares, Lord save us.
From wasting our time, Lord save us.
From our own stupidity, Lord save us.

St. Isidore, defend us.
St. Francis de Sales, defend us.
St. Gabriel, defend us.
St. Michael, defend us.
Guardian angels, defend us.
All the angels and saints….. GRRRRR.

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord,
Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

V. Christ, Jesus who died for our sins.
R. Return, and return swiftly.

Let us pray.
Almighty and eternal God,
who according to an ineffable plan
called us into existence to do your will
amid the vicissitudes and contagion of this world
grant, we beseech you,
through your mercy and grace
both to protect the innocent who use the tools of this digital age
and to convert from their evil ways all those who abuse them.
Through Christ our Lord.   Amen.

Our New Choirs

So I apologize for being to quiet the last few days but, as you might imagine, things have been rather busy with the start of the new semester and getting settled back at the seminary.  But now things have started to calm down (a bit) so I can hopefully continue writing on a regular basis about the exciting topics you know and love!  And by exciting topics I mean the usual stuff I write about which, to be honest, probably only really interests me.

Being Sunday, today saw me driving out to my parish assignment, St. Stephen’s in Springfield, for Mass.  It was the second Sunday of our new regime and it went quite well, even though attendance was a little down (probably due to the weather, attendance is weird like that) but we still had  lovely service.  One of the best parts about being the choir director and organist at a parish is that I pick the hymns so we sang one of my favorite hymns today, Be Still My Soul (Tune: Finlandia).  After Mass we had our monthly parish council meeting which went smoothly and was rather enjoyable.

The really exciting part about today was that it was the parish’s first Sunday with our newly formed choir.  While it is small (four people) it is going to be grand, I’m sure.  Unfortunately, due to time constraints we weren’t able to go through everything I wanted but next week we’ll be singing our first motet during communion so I’m happy.  I’m going to figure out a way to get a regular choir rehearsal of a decent length every week, but at the moment I’m just thankful that we have people interested in singing!

After the drive home I had a little time to kill so I sat around in the lounge with one of the new Holy Cross guys and chatted before walking over to the chapel for the Byzantine Chant choir rehearsal for the Feast of the Holy Cross.  It’s the patronal feast of the seminary so it’s always a big deal, the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese comes for it (as well as other bishops, usually) and we have Great Vespers on Monday night with the awarding of the school cross to those seminarians (both in the college and the graduate school) who have completed one year of studies as a “probationary seminarian” and have been accepted into the seminarian program.  The Archbishop also blesses seniors in Holy Cross to wear the exorasson, which is a flowing black robe with wide sleeves.  The exorasson signifies that they have the right to preach, as well as other things, but the preaching is the main one.

As one of the assistant chant group leaders I’m part of the Byzantine chant choir that chants the services for the feast, so the Byz. chant professor, Prof. Karanos, wanted us to go over everything before hand (very wise).  So now we should be good to go.  Let me tell you, it was a great experience.  Over the last number of years I’ve only provided ison (a drone note to the chant, which is more difficult to do well than it sounds) but this year I’m chanting “mellos” or “melody” and I’m really having a lot of fun doing it.  It’s a lot of work but very worth it, especially since a number of my friends are seniors in the grad school this year and thus will be getting their exorasso.  *tears up*  Should be grand.

So that’s kind of it in the way of news, I think I’ll close here by saying that there will probably lots of pictures and even recordings coming this way on the blog in the next few days from the feast.  What’s really fun is that I’ll be chanting at Monday night Great Vespers, Tuesday morning’s Divine Liturgy, and then driving out to Springfield for Mass for the Feast of The Cross at my parish assignment.  I’m definitely going to need to take a PLN (Post-liturgical nap) after liturgy Tuesday morning…

Snowy Evening

The time has come for the daily post and I cannot, for the life of me, think of something to write.  Shocking, I know.  There’s so much I could write about but it somehow doesn’t seem all that important.  I could tell you about my day, and about the GRE I took or how I drove to Springfield to clean our church building and serve at liturgy, but I’ve been doing that a lot and I think you might be tired of it.  I could pontificate on some topic either sacred or profane, but I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, too.  What does a blogger do in such a situation?  I really don’t know.

Ah, perhaps I have it.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
-Robert Frost

I first discovered this poem in a class I was taking a few years ago and it has always remained one of my favorites by Frost, indeed, by any poet.  Those of you who have taken the standard undergraduate English Lit course have probably come across this one as well, and have heard the many interpretations.  The most usual interpretation is that the man is contemplating his own death, the woods being a metaphor for the afterlife.  If this was what Frost had in mind that’s all right by me, but personally it has a different meaning for me.  This is the wonderful thing about poetry, it means different things to different people.

I cannot tell you how much I love the woods in winter.  It’s one of the things I miss most about our old house, the woods behind in winter were spectacular.  Just to walk in, to think, to feel the sting of the cold night air, hear the crunch of the snow, everything glowing with moonlight.  This is what Frost’s poem is for me.  The lovely dark woods, snow swirly gently, a recognition that the night will end and I must go home, even though I’d like nothing better than to stay and walk on.

Hm, all of this talk has gotten me writing on a pad of paper next to the computer, always a dangerous thing.  So now I’ll close with a little self-promotion, two short poems newly composed and equally bad.

Pine forests, river waters, mountains, and secluded valleys. The ocean calls to me, the plains swallow me up. The glades in winter, the glades in fall.  All of nature speaks peace.

Spiritual Joy

“Even if you could not understand one word of what was said tonight, you could tell this is a joyous feast!”  Those were the words of our chaplain, Fr. Peter Chamberis, after he blessed us at the close of Vespers tonight for the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos.  I could not agree with him more.

Tonight was the first night that we divided into our normal two choirs, one choir of Byzantine chanters on either side of the church, and chanted the services antiphonally in Greek and English.  As we normally do at the start of the semester, the choirs were made up of the chant group leaders and assistant leaders and therefore yours truly was on the left side with the English side.  The chant groups are normally headed by “proto” who is assisted by his “domestiko” and the body of seminarians is divided equally amongst the groups.  The schedule is such that two groups are paired up for one week of services, one doing English the other doing Greek and they flip-flop to either side of the church so that each group gets to do both languages a number of times over the semester and each group gets to lead (right side leads, left side is second).

That’s enough technical information…  Anyway, I was on the left side (English) with a few of the leaders and domestikoi.  It was an experience, let me tell you.  Over the summer I chanted using Byzantine notation once, and only once, so you can imagine what it has been like chanting at most of the services over the last few days using only Byz. notation.  But it was wonderful, and has been wonderful.

My personal preference is to use English if only because my Greek isn’t very good yet, but I still love hearing Greek in services.  I don’t really think it matters if you use Greek or English, or Arabic, or Swahili, as long as it is done prayerfully and that it corresponds to those in the parish.

Anyway, tonight’s Vespers was truly one of the most spiritually uplifting services I have attended in my four years here.  The chant was prayer, it was joyous, it was solemn, it was infectious.  I believe it was this that Fr. Peter felt, and what others that I talked to felt.  It was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all of us who were gathered together in the worship of our good and loving God.  Our community was gathered together, to worship God and honor the Most Holy Mother of God, Mary the Ever-Virgin.  I pray that this attitude will continue, that we will continue to sing the praises of God without guile or pridefulness.

That is my prayer for this semester.  That we can truly make that chapel on the hill become the center of our lives here.  That every morning and every evening (and all the time in between) we may feel that spiritual joy, the joy of God’s presence in our hearts, that God will grant us that great blessing again and again so that we might never be apart from him, never be separated from him again.

Quote of the Day

24. When we suffer something unpleasant from our best friend, we know that he did not do it intentionally and that he loves us. We must think likewise of God, Who created us, for our sake incarnated, and died for our sake having endured enormous suffering. We must remind ourselves that He does everything from His goodness and from His love for us. We may think that while our friend loves us, in not having sufficient good sense in order to do everything correctly, he therefore involuntarily hurt us. This cannot be said of God because He is the highest wisdom. He knows what is good for us and accordingly, directs everything for our benefit, even in the smallest things. It can also be said that although our friend loves us and is sufficiently sensible, he is powerless to help us. But this certainly cannot be said of God, because to Him everything is possible and nothing is difficult for Him. Consequently, we know that God loves us and shows clemency toward us, that He is eternally wise and omnipotent. Everything that He does, He does for our benefit, and we should accept it with gratitude as from a Benefactor, even though it may appear to be grievous.

-St. Dorotheus of Gaza

Orientation, Facing the East

Today was a good day.  God is good.  (OK, I promise I won’t start with that again…)  Mass was one of the best ever at St. Stephen’s, in my humble opinion, and our newly instituted reforms really helped with Mass being more reverent and all that comes with that.  The potluck afterward was also a winner, especially this pasta salad with kielbasa in it.  If the maker of that dish reads this blog, I commend you for making such a fine dish.  And I humbly suggest you do it again at the next potluck!

Anyway, that took up most of my morning but this afternoon I got back in time to go to Vespers in the chapel here at the seminary.  As some of you know, I am a “continuing student” which means that I wear my cassock around campus and my school cross that is given out to each seminarian when he completes a year of studies and fulfills certain obligations.  There are a few of us in the new incoming Holy Cross class who went to college here as well so luckily I’m not the only one.  So I went up to the chapel early and talked to the ecclesiarch (essentially the guy in charge of running the chapel), Jon, and we discovered that we didn’t have a priest to serve!  I know, you go to a seminary and there’s no priest to serve Vespers, but there you go.  So we had Readers Vespers which is just normal Vespers with all the priest’s parts cut out and it was lovely.  I was one of the four chanters that chanted and it was a sort of trial by fire for myself since all the music books are written using Byzantine notation and I haven’t sung from Byz. notation since early May.  It also didn’t help that I was sight-reading everything, which really got the blood pumping in my ears.  Luckily, by the grace of God, I was able to produce sounds which probably sounded vaguely Byzantine, so I count myself blessed.

Now we come to the heart of the evening, our first of the Holy Cross School of Theology retreat sessions.  I’m in an interesting position as I’m both on the orientation staff and one of the people being oriented.  The word, orientation, literally means “facing the east” which is particularly appropriate given we are an Eastern Orthodox school.  It also is a reference to the ancient practice of turning towards the east to pray, a tradition that began with the Apostles themselves and has continued through this day in the Eastern Church, although, sadly, most in the Western Church have given up this most ancient of practices.  Facing the east for prayer is rich in symbolism.  It is the direction that the Apostles believed that Christ would return at the Second Coming and thus they faced that way to pray.  The sun rises in the east, so how appropriate to face that way to worship the “Sun of Righteousness”, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Even in the old Roman basilicas in which the altar faced west, the people would actually turn around to face east during the Mass.

The dean of the school, Fr. Thomas, talked for about an hour on a few topics using a really handy packet he gave us that had a number of biblical and patristic quotes (that’s where today’s “quote of the day” came from) and had us answer questions and make comments.  The quotes were on the topic of vocation and were related to our coming to seminary to study for the priesthood.  We also had three “upperclassmen” speak briefly at the end about their experiences here, which was somewhat amusing for me since I’ve been at this school for four years already, but they were all great.

I’ve been meeting and talking with a number of guys in my Holy Cross class, the ones that are starting this year with me, and I’ve started to get to know some of them.  The ones I have met are great, and I really look forward to getting to know them better.  Unfortunately, these will not be the guys I’ll be graduating with.  You see, if you go to Hellenic College for your undergraduate degree and then go immediately to Holy Cross, your MDiv only takes 3 years.  If, however, you go to some other college and then go to Holy Cross, your MDiv takes 4 years.  This is because there are required classes that we take, as seminarians, in Hellenic that we then don’t have to take in Holy Cross, thus shortening the time.  Of course, the 4 year thing is only for seminarians of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, whose extra 4th year is almost entirely made up of Greek language courses.  Seminarians of the Antiochian Archdiocese (me), the Russians, Serbians, Ukrainians, etc. only have to do 3 years because we’re not required to take so much Greek, we have our own special MDiv programs.  Go us!

The end result is that I’ll be graduating in 2013 (God-willing) while these guys will be graduating in 2014.  So that means I’ll be graduating with the G.O.A. guys who entered Holy Cross last year, but there are a few of us who are coming from Hellenic and from other non-Greek jurisdictions, so we have a few more who are in a similar position.

I’ve noticed that this post has gone on much too long and you’re probably very bored with what I’ve had to say since it was neither interesting nor particularly wise.  But the jokes on you ’cause you’ve read thus far!  Hahahahah!  *wipes away tears of laughter*

Well, the time has come for me to go and get some sleep, must be up bright and early for Matins and then I have a full day.  Hopefully I’ll be inspired to write something a bit better tomorrow.  No promises though, you might just have to suffer through another one of these.

Quote of the Day

So if I have convinced you of anything, O servants of Christ, who are my friends and fellow heirs, let us while there is still time visit Christ in his time of need, let us care for Christ in his sickness, let us give to Christ to eat, let us clothe Christ in his nakedness, let us do honor to Christ, and not only at table as some did, not only with precious oil as Mary did, not only at his tomb as Joseph of Arimathea did, he who has a half follower of Christ, not only showing him honor with gold, frankincense, and myrrh, as the Magi did…but let us honor him because the Lord of All will have mercy and not sacrifice, and goodness of heart above thousands of fat lambs.  Let us give him this honor in his poor, in those who lie on the ground before us this day, so that when we leave this world they may receive us into the eternal dwelling place, in Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory now and unto ages of ages.  Amen.

-St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily on the Love of the Poor, 16

God is good.

God is good.  This is a phrase I hear a lot, as you might imagine, but it’s a phrase that hit home today in particular.  A lot of things were happening today.  The new students were moving in at the seminary, I had to drive to Cape Cod to chant and play the organ at a wedding, and I had a number of errands I needed to do.  It was hectic, I was grumpy, I didn’t sleep well, funds were low and throughout it all I wasn’t feeling that well.  Naturally, I started complaining to myself saying things like, “The mattress was too soft and I couldn’t sleep well” or “I can’t believe I’m still sick, poor me” and just general things like that.  I was being insufferable, thank God no one else was around or they’d have to suffer through my “boo-hooing” for hours on end.  But, God is good.

There were two main errands I had to run: go to Walmart and pick up things for my room, find a handbell for St. Stephen’s.  The first is pretty self explanatory, the second isn’t.  My parish assignment is a Western Rite parish, as I’ve written about before, and as such we use Sanctus bells during the consecration as you do in the traditional Roman Rite.  What we lack at the moment, though, is a sacristy bell.  The sacristy bell is rung at the beginning of the Mass (and other services) to signal that everyone should stand up as the organ is about the start up the first hymn and the clergy and servers are about to process in.  You used to see it a lot more in Roman Catholic churches back before the new liturgy was popped out in 1970, but some parishes still retain their use, for God is good.

Anyway, Fr. Chris and I have been talking about getting one for a while now and starting to use it at the beginning of services but nothing really came of it as there were more important things to do at the time.  Now the time has come to introduce this old practice into the parish.  Along with the introduction of the bell we’re introducing a slight change in the order of things to try and help better prepare everyone present for the Mass.  We’re going to have announcements, as usual, but now done by one of the parishioners instead of the priest, and we’re introducing a short period of silence between the announcements and the start of Mass to allow everyone to focus and pray a bit (just a bit).  The new sacristy bell will signal this time is over and that everyone should rise and get ready to sing heartily, because God is good.

I thought I had the perfect thing at home in one of the many boxes full of my things but I realized, to my horror, that the bell was nowhere to be found.  Now I was stuck with not having a bell and needing one desperately.  Horrible visions started filling my head of the things that would happen at St. Stephen’s if I didn’t have a bell.  So I found myself frantically driving around Cape Cod trying to find a bell that I could A) afford and B) wouldn’t sound like the opening bell of a boxing match (or a telephone).  I stopped at 5 stores in a row and came up empty at each.  I figured that they’d have one at one of the many nautical themed shops or somewhere that sold home decor stuff but, alas, I was mistaken.  But don’t worry, God is good.

I finally made up my mind to go to Walmart and just get the stuff for my room as time was running out till I had to be at the church for the wedding and explain that I didn’t have the bell to a very disappointed Fr. Chris.  At this point, I said out loud, “Lord, give me a hand bell for the parish.”  I pulled into the Walmart parking lot and noticed a HomeGoods store next to it.  I decided to walk in and see if anything would work for my room.  I walked in, turned right, looked left and sitting on the top shelf was a single, large, lovely hand bell.  It was sitting there in between Halloween knick-knacks, obviously out of place, and it was only $10.  God is good.

Now, some of you will be saying that that really isn’t that special, that it’s just a coincidence, and you could be right.  But at that moment, in that instant of desperation, right after I’d thrown my hands up in defeat, I knew that God does indeed work in our lives.  And I knew that the reason that bell appeared there was because I finally put everything in God’s hands and asked him to take care of it for me.  Yes, it’s just a bell, but it was like I’d been woken from a deep sleep.  I ceased my grumbling, I thanked God for being good, and I checked out.

Now, there is one more thing you should know.  The cashier at the store asked me if I was going to use it to call my family to dinner.  I responded by saying it was for my parish, to call people to Mass.  The woman in line behind me asked what parish, I told her, and then the cashier said she had lived in Springfield and knew where the church was, and the lady in line told me she worked at St. John’s R.C. Seminary in Brighton and knew a number of my friends there.  It’s amazing how small the world really is, and how God uses everything in our lives, even the most insignificant errands, to help us and remind us that he loves us and will take care of us, if we but let him, because God is good.

So that was my day.  The wedding was lovely, I got everything I needed at Walmart, I was able to spend some time with my uncle, and some more with another friend who lives out on the Cape.  After all that driving and all the worrying and idiocy on my part, I have been given a bell.  And then, tomorrow morning, actually, later this morning, I will drive out to St. Stephen’s with bell in hand, or at least on seat, secure in the knowledge that God is good.

Back @ HC/HC

I’d first like to apologize for not continuing to blog this week but, as regular readers know, I was rather ill over the last weekend and have only now really started feeling my self again.  Still on some antibiotics but I should be done those soon and ready to start a new semester.

Ah yes, the new semester.  I moved back into my room in the beautiful and luxurious Polemanakos Dormitory on campus and have finally gotten it the way I want it.  I managed to fit everything I needed into the car in one trip so I was rather proud of myself as those of you who know me know what a pack rat I can be.  So with two large and one small box, an overnight bag, a laundry hamper piled high with clothes, and my cassocks and vestments, I managed to get everything here and sorted.  I have to go and pick up a few things left for me at my home parish in Lawrence but other than that I should be good for the rest of the semester.  Although I have been contemplating getting an armchair for my room.  One of the eternal struggles is that I don’t have anywhere suited for long bouts of reading in my room.  I have two options: bed or desk.  Neither works well and I am loath to have to go to, oh, I don’t know, say, the Reading Room of the library.  There could be other people there, which would never do.

Hmmm, what else is new…  I’m on orientation staff for this week, as I was last year, and we’ve been charged with welcoming and orientating the newbies.  I can’t be there tomorrow for the actual move-in of the new students, as I was asked to be the organist at a wedding so I’ll be driving out to Cape Cod instead.  But, there’s always next year.  And the year after that.  And probably the year after that.  And the year after that…

It’s been odd the last few weeks, getting ready for the new year.  I’m at the same campus, with the same people, with many of the same professors, and am even in the same room.  There’s not really so much disconnect and I’m not sure if I really like that.  It might be that I’m just looking for something “new and exciting” but as we all know, “new and exciting” often leads to “familiar and mildly interesting” and then to “disillusioned and cynical” before ending up at “meh and whatever.”  But, I am content.  I know this school, I know the people, and they are good.  It is exciting to be starting a new degree, though.  The downside of college is that you don’t necessarily get to study things you’re really interested in, what with all of the required courses, so it will be really nice to be able to study theology almost exclusively.  Granted, we’ll be covering a lot of stuff that I’ve gone over before in other classes, but I’m still cautiously optimistic.

The one thing that I am most looking forward to is heading back to my parish assignment, St. Stephen’s in Springfield, that I haven’t been to since I left for England.  It will be good to get back into that routine, with those wonderful people, and our outstanding priest.  I really can’t believe I’ve been there a year already, and the progress that we’ve made in that year is hard to imagine.  I mean, when I started we were having services at 3 p.m. in an Adventist church with the altar up on this bizarre brick platform and the organ tucked away in the corner behind a bookcase.  Now, we’re in a liturgical space and, while I despise the organ there and feel it should be cast out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, I’m able to sort of do what I need to with it.  It’s just such a great little parish to be in.  We’re growing, slowly but surely, and doing the best we can (which is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself). We have all of the liturgical items we need, minus a few things, we have very active ministries, lots of services for feast days, etc.  So even though we don’t have our own building we’re doing pretty good, thanks to the church we rent from who have just been great to us.

September is going to be busy at St. Stephen’s, though.  There is a feast day liturgy every week in addition to Sundays, plus Bible study, the various groups that meet as well, and a few events that are in the works.  I’ll be forming the first parish choir starting this Sunday.  As you might imagine, I am excited and can’t wait to get started.  I was also recently appointed as the sacristan of the parish so now I’m responsible for ordering all of the communion wine, candles, supplies and things as well as taking care of the vestments and sacred vessels.  I will rule the sacristy with an iron fist, should be fun.

Speaking of sacristies, I plan on making a few signs to put up to help keep things reverent and orderly there.  I was inspired by some of the old sacristies of Rome and throughout the older Roman Catholic church buildings throughout Europe.  The sacristy is not really a place for the altar servers to chat, nor is it a place to hang out, nor a place for people to pop in to “say hi to Father.”  It is a place of spiritual preparation for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and as such, should be quiet and those in it should remain mindful of what they are about to do and the importance of it.  So here is one of the signs that I plan on making, and with this I will close today’s post.

Be Thou Silent.