“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.