These All-revered Days

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“O Almighty Lord, who hast made all created things in wisdom, and by thine inexpressible Providence and great goodness has brought us to these all-revered days, for the purification of soul and body, for the controlling of carnal passions, and for the hope of the Resurrection; who, during the forty days didst give into the hand of thy servant Moses the Tablets of the Law, in characters divinely traced by thee: Enable us also, O Good One, to fight the good fight; to accomplish the course of the Fast; to preserve inviolate the faith; to crush under foot the heads on invisible serpents; to be accounted victors over sin; and uncondemned to attain unto and adore the holy Resurrection.  For blessed and glorified is thine all-honorable and majestic name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages.  Amen.”  -The Prayer before the Ambon at the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

Now THAT is a Pre-Sanctified Divine Liturgy

 

Amidst the glories of the Russian Church on YouTube I ran across this simply stunning video of His Beatitude, Kyrill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia serving a hierarchical Presanctified Divine Liturgy.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, is celebrated in Eastern Orthodox Churches on weekdays during Lent.  Instead of consecrating the Eucharist at this liturgy, an extra Host (also known as a “Lamb” in the Eastern Church) upon which the Precious Blood is also poured and it is reserved in a special tabernacle on the altar.  This is because a “regular” liturgy is not allowed on weekdays as it is festal in character.  So, the Presanctified Liturgy is held on weekdays with a pre-consecrated Eucharist.  You can read more here on OrthodoxWiki: Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

In the video you will se the beginning of the Liturgy, which is identical to Vespers (the evening daily service), the Great Censing by deacons during the singing of Lord I Call to Thee as well as the little entrance with the Gospel book and singing of Gladsome Light.  The video moves on through the singing of Lord I Cry to Thee with the patriarch censing around the altar, ending with the patriarch giving Communion.

Aside from the obvious visual beauty, there is a deep sense of calm in the music and attitude of those serving this Liturgy.  Even with the Patriarch, bishops, many priests and lots of deacons there is a pervading sense of calm and peace which pervades this service.  Presanctified Liturgy is one of my favorite services of the Church year, so it’s always nice to see them done well and on a grand scale.

“Endure to the End and be Saved”

The bell tower of the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls in Rome.

The bell tower of the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls in Rome.

This is a sermon I delivered in Three Hierarchs Chapel at St. Vladimir’s Seminary on the morning of February 28th.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Every day, at 9 o’clock, 12 o’clock, and 6 o’clock…
a bell rings in the tower of Annunciation Church, just down the road.
3 strikes and a pause, 3 strikes, another pause, and 3 more.
It’s an ancient call to prayer – the Angelus.
Those who hear it recite prayers as well as the the words of the Theotokos to Gabriel,
“Behold the handmaiden of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.” By uttering those simple words she said “yes” to God’s plan.
With the ringing of that bell every day, we’re given a reminder of this event, an event of faith, obedience, and perseverance.

I know need a lot of reminders because…
Life is hard.
Seminary is hard, and I tend to forget God’s presence in my life.
There are all sorts of difficulties that each of us are going through right now… Sometimes the problems we face are external: a bill needing to be paid, a paper that’s late, a fight with a friend or a spouse.
Sometimes these problems are more subtle,
I find myself saying more and more that “I’m so tired, I’m just going to go to bed…”
Without spending time with Christ in prayer before I turn off the light. Maybe it’s nursing a wrong that someone has done to me, and reveling in that feeling of spitefulness.

Confronting our problems and enduring, whatever they might be, is the stuff of Lifetime movies.
Those who come through hardship are patted on the back and given a cookie.
We all want to persevere. We all want to struggle through it, to come out on the other side victorious!
We sit down and think about our problems, we have our own private focus groups about possible solutions, we agonize over what we can do to fix it, to make it all better.
Endurance is definitely a virtue, but endurance doesn’t mean doing it alone.

You see, my solutions almost never work.
The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry…
The best laid schemes go awry simply because we have forgotten Christ in those schemes.
In our planning, our scheming, when freaking out… we don’t allow Christ to be with us and guide us.
Yet even then, when we reject him, he is still there, waiting for us to ask him to enter our lives and help us, and heal us.

It’s very easy to forget to let Christ into our lives, it’s very easy to become so wrapped up in our troubles that we forget Christ altogether.
Or maybe we’re scared to let him in,
we don’t know the words to say and we’re frustrated, and tired, and it all has just become so stressful!

Christ endured to the end and by doing so saved us. By doing so healed us. Christ lived his whole life saying to his Father, “not my will, but thy will be done”
But… Christ is so humble, he so respects our free will, that in his humility he will not impose himself on us and on our lives unless we let him.
Unless we say yes…
The Almighty God, intervenes when we ask.

Most of the time, though, I wish that God would ignore my free will and intervene, he certainly knows more about EVERYTHING than I do.
It’s like in that delightfully bad country song, Jesus take the wheel!
Well, yes, Jesus take the wheel! He’s always ready to take the wheel, we just need to ask.

Today we join our voices to the Theotokos’ and say, “Let it be unto me according to thy word.”
We hear that bell every day chiming, morning, noon, and night, and in that chiming we hear a reminder of God’s love and care for us so that we will not forget that…
No matter where we are or what we’re going through,
God is there waiting for us to let him into our lives.
How different are my interactions with others when I pray first, as I invite God into that relationship with my friend.
How different are my classes when I pray first, as I invite God into that room. How different are my troubles, when I ask God to be with me, and know that he is there.

Endurance doesn’t mean slogging on by ourselves.
Endurance isn’t encapsulated by the Nike slogan, “Just do it!”
Endurance means falling into the hands of God and knowing he will catch us. Endurance means trusting in God that he will give us the words to say, and the strength to go on.

We can endure, here and now.
Let Christ into our lives in prayer.
Knock, and it will be opened to us.
Ask, and we shall find.
Endure to the end, and be saved.

Amen.

Go Big, Or Go Home

I stumbled across this delightful video on the Patriarchate of Moscow YouTube channel.  The service in question is The Great Blessing of Water on the Feast of the Theophany.  And I believe it sums up the idea, “go big, or go home.”  I wonder how you say that in Church Slavonic…

Arvo Pärt & Hip Hop

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So, last night I had what was definitely in the top five classes of my academic career thus far.  I might even go so far as to say it’s in the top three.  I’ve been taking a class entitled The Faith and Music of Arvo Pärt this semester here at St. Vlad’s with Dr. Peter Bouteneff.  Dr. B, as he’s known around SVS, is helping head up the Arvo Pärt Project at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, which is a very exciting collaboration between Pärt and St. Vlad’s.  The purpose of the Project is to highlight and explore the relationship between Pärt’s Orthodox Christian faith and his music.  It is seriously cool stuff.

Anyway, this class with Dr. B has been consistently fantastic and tonight we had a guest lecturer, Dr. Jeffers Engelhardt from Amherst College who gave a presentation on Arvo Pärt and social media, amongst other things.  What made the class so cool for me, was that there was a good amount of time spent on looking at what other people have done with Pärt’s music; whether by bands doing covers, DJs making mixed-tapes, or rappers sampling riffs in their music.

One group, Joe Acheson/Hidden Orchestra, made a mixed-tape with some of Pärt’s works interwoven with ambient tracks from Radiohead (another one of my favorites) and others to produce a really solid experience.  This genre of sampling and mixed-tapes is something I’ve really started to get into in the last year or so, and this only further confirms my interest in it.  There’s something about a DJ taking the works of composers, other artists, and even ambient noises and electronic insanity, and seamlessly putting them together to form something new, and wonderful.  It’s a new type of art.  Well, actually, not entirely new.  Bach did it, too.  He took the best of what was happening in music in Europe and combined it into something new and marvelous.  And today, Pärt samples Bach.

Of course, one of the major issues right now is the awkward and legally problematic aspects of creating these new forms of music from sampled pieces from other compositions and recordings.  With the current copyright laws the creative process can get bogged down.  I understand the need for artists being able to support themselves from their music, and I also feel that other artists need to be free to create new and beautiful things.  I’m undecided on how to best do that, it just makes my brain hurt to think about it.

So, to sum up: awesome class.

***UPDATE***

I had originally meant to mention a few of the pieces that Dr. Engelhardt had played in our class (hence the name of the post), so here they are:

  • Cover of Spiegel im Spiegel by post-rock band My Education.
  • A “lonesome prairie version” of Spiegel im Spiegel by Soundcloud user The Wicks, played on banjo and harmonica.
  • Joe Acheson / Hidden Orchestra, Footsteps promo mix:- Acheson remix (www.ParisDJs.com) 2010-08-09.
  • CD of remixes of famous ECM recordings called Re: ECM by Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer.
  • Little Weapons ( by Lupe Fiasco, a Chicago based hip hop artist and rapper, which samples Pärt’s De Profundis.  Definitely NSFW language and imagery.

Newsflash! Shroud of Turin Dates From 1st Century

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It is being reported today in Italy’s La Stampa’s “Vatican Insider” that we’re in for a wild ride this week.  As we all know, the time before the celebration of Easter in the Western Churches is always a time of fantastical claims by “scientists” and journalists.  A few years ago someone claimed they found the tomb of Jesus, and before that there was the Gospel of Judas or whatever it was.  

But now, scientists and journalists from the University of Padua are publishing a book this week that presents scientific findings that the Shroud of Turin does in fact date from the 1st century A.D. and not from medieval times.  While the debate about the authenticity of the Shroud often goes back and forth, this is big news.  

The Orthodox have, as far as I know, generally supported the authenticity of the Shroud.  I know of Orthodox hierarchs going and holding services before it in Turin when it was on display a couple years ago.  I’m sure there will much rejoicing from those who believe that the Shroud is the burial cloths of our Lord.  A very nice piece of news for Holy Week for our Western Christian brethren, and the second week of Lent for us Orthodox.

Make sure to read the rest of the article via the link above.

The Pope Strikes Again

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It seems that Pope Francis has, once again, decided to modify the usual papal living arrangements to suite his own, more scaled down and simple way of life.  Being pope must be a lonely job, so I can certainly understand wanting to live in more of a community setting than high up in the Apostolic Apartments.  

Rocco Palmo is author of the fantastic blog Whispers in the Loggia which many of us here at St. Vladimir’s read on a regular basis.  Mr. Palmo’s coverage is insightful, and he’s often been the first one to break a major story on all things pope related.  I know of a certain hieromonk who was checking it hourly on the second day of the conclave.  It is kind of funny how excited people were getting on campus about the election, myself chief among them.  Having grown up surrounded by Roman Catholic family members and friends, and having spent the last number of years serving in the Western Rite of the Antiochian Archdiocese, reunion between our two Sister Churches has been a constant prayer.

We were actually having a discussion about Pope Francis after lunch here at SVS and he’s made quite a good impression on many of us.  I had told one of my friends that Pope Francis apparently pulls an old seminarian trick of not tucking his shirt tails in under his cassock.  I totally haven’t been doing that for years…  I mean, people tell me it’s much more comfortable…  Anyway, my friend told me not to tell that story to his young son who despises tucking in his shirt, and this would give him quite a bit of ammo when saying, “you know, dad, the pope doesn’t tuck in his shirt.” 

In terms of some of the things we’ve found encouraging about this pope’s reign thus far is his seeming intent to reorient things towards a more collegial mode of governance which is, naturally, welcome by Orthodox Christians.  Then again, there are the concerns brought up about his views and actions on liturgy and tradition, two hot topics for Orthodox seminarians, certainly.  I personally have been rather enjoying his asides in sermons and his jokes.  But his manner of celebrating services and choices of vestments, while not earth-shattering in impact, do reflect a much different style than his predecessor.  We do hope that he will continue showing the Roman Church an excellent example in improving the beauty of liturgical celebrations.  And encouraging beautiful Sacred Music.

We were, and are, also fans of Pope Benedict XVI and his liturgical reforms; bringing the papal liturgy back to a more beautiful and reverential expression.  We do miss the red winter mozetta…  But, Pope Francis has been Bishop of Rome for a week and a half, and I do believe he’s only just started on his surprises.

The Phantom Sausages

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So, yeah, the title to this post is rather odd, but then so was the experience I had earlier today.  After my Post-Liturgical Nap/Pre-Liturgical Nap this afternoon, I was sitting at my desk when I had a strange thought: “Something smells really, really good.”  Nothing in North Dorm ever smells really, really good.  It is a dorm.  It was built in 1976 and, while better than my previous lodgings in Boston, is still a dorm, filled with men (and a few ladies, and they don’t figure into this area of the dorms), some of whom have better habits than others.  That is why I was a bit surprised.  Usually when some smell brings itself to my attention it is in a, “*sigh* someone needs to clean out the fridge in the common area again…” sort of way.  But this… this was different.

It smelled of frying sausages.  Sausages, I tell you!  Breakfast links!  I got up from my desk thinking it was a fluke, perhaps I was having some sort of “meat hallucination” that can happen in these Lenten periods.  However, upon opening my door I was greeted with more smells of deliciousness.  It was bizarre.  There was no one in the common room, nor any evidence of a fry up.  Nor anywhere else.  And yes, I did go on a hunt for the phantom sausages.  Alas, my search was in vain.  There was no link to be found.

In the end, we decided that someone (perhaps one of the monks…) was doing it as a form of ascetic discipline, a podvig, if you will.  However the truth will never be known.  It is a mystery lost to us, the mystery of the phantom sausages.

It is sad that I devoted time and energy to discovering the source of these olfactory temptations, certainly.  It only made me realize how much work I have yet to do this Lent, or rather, let God do.  If I can be distracted by the smell of something frying, I can’t imagine how distracted I’ll be by the gyro stand near Titan foods in Astoria or the smoke pouring out of the local Burger King.  There are certainly times when fasting doesn’t make sense, and there’s nothing I want to do more than order the ribs.  And there are plenty of times I have, and probably plenty of times I will in the future.  But that’s not the point, the point is to get back up and try again.  Instead of chasing after the phantom sausages, we now try chasing after the hem of His garment.  And that is a much sweeter and more satisfying search.  A search that, in the end, is fruitful and brings a more lasting satisfaction.  “Bread of heaven, on thee we feed” is much better than, “sausage inna bun, on thee we feed and then immediately regret.”

Happy Lent!