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.

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