A Charmed Childhood

Posted July 9, 2007

The day that Imperial Russia was given its last Tsarevitch, a pretty girl name Valeria was also born. On August 12, 1904 (July 30 O.S.), in Kiev, Konstantin and Zinaida Gubanov welcomed their first child into the world.

She was a bright and talented little girl -- and was destined to grow up as an only child; her younger sister Ludmilla would die in infancy from scarlet fever, a tragedy that affected the girls' mother for the rest of her life.

Look how much my daughter Magdalena resembles her great grandmother. It seems the resemblance is not just physical, either. My Mimi is very musical -- she has always sung on pitch, and, at age 2, likes to seat herself at the piano and plunk out melodies, accompanying herself as she sings. She's also got a lot of spunk and determination, and, with a phenomenal vocabulary and advanced grasp of syntax, she speaks like a far older child.

Music and language were the great hallmarks of Valeria's talents. Growing up in the upper class lifestyle that the Bolsheviks would soon destroy, she had private tutors and governesses who instructed her in French, German, English, geography, history, art, literature, and music. She had a quick and curious intellect -- and no proclivity whatsoever for the banalities of domestic life. Unlike many girls of her generation, she had no talent or interest in needlework, sewing, or the culinary arts. In old age, she would compare her childhood experiences with those of my paternal great-grandmother, Sophia Dimitrievna Nabokova. Babi "Onia," who was such an excellent cook that many of her recipes have been published, would recollect how she adored sneaking into the kitchen and spending time with the cook. Valeria Konstantinovna's reply was: "I don't think I ever even knew where the kitchen was."

Although the family was from St. Petersburg, Konstantin Gubanov's career with the insurance firm Rossiia took them to the Caucusus, and they lived very comfortably in Tblisi for most of Valeria's childhood. Throughout her life, Valeria would wistfully recall her early years, the beauty of the Black Sea, the abundance and warmth of Georgia and Georgians. She studied piano with renowned musicians L. N. Pyshnov and A.K. Borovskii and was so successful in her training that a musical career was predicted for her, although her abilities in languages and writing were also highly praised.

While the family were believers, they were not very 'churchy,' attending divine services only sporadically. Nonetheless, when she was 14, Valeria began to have private instruction at home in "Zakon Bozhii" -- theology. Among her tutors was one unusually erudite and gifted priest, Father Vladimir Yegorov, who awakened her interest in and love for the Word of God. It would influence the rest of her life.

The 1917 revolution forced the family to flee Russia (today that part of the Russian Empire is its own country -- Georgia) -- they did so from the port of Batumi, sailing to Constantinople, and ultimately settling in Belgrade. Being there afforded Valeria the opportunity to enroll in the Theological Academy ("Faculty of Eastern Orthodox Theology") in Belgrade -- the same institution where St. John Maximovitch (of Shanghai and San Francisco) and many, many eminent pastors of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad would study.

Here is a photo from Serbia. Pictured above, at Mil'kova Monastery, are (l. to r.): Father Theodosius, "Lyova" Bartoshevich: (future Vladyka Leonty), a Greek monk, Konstantin Vladimirovich Gubanov (my great-grandfather), Father Luke (?), General Nagaev (future Vladyka Nikodim), Valeria Konstantinovna (seated), "Dusik" Bartoshevich (future Archbishop Anthony-- barely visible!), and Zinaida Platonovna Gubanova (my great-grandmother).

"Lerechka" was a successful student -- bright, pretty, poetic, and perhaps a bit romantic. Not surprisingly, she was of interest to many of the seminarians and young men at the Academy.

Many years after her repose, and just a year or so before his own, Bishop Mitrophan (Znosko) would recall how, he, too, had been a suitor to young "Lerechka," and confessed to my mother that he had planned to propose to her. But it was another Belgrade student that won her hand.

Paul Hoecke was, in fact, a German, hailing from a Protestant family of Dusseldorf. An intellectual with a strong spiritual bent, he discovered Orthodoxy, converted, and came to Belgrade to study theology at an advanced level.

Ultimately, he would be ordained a priest, but in this photo below, from Belgrade, he is seen serving as a sub-deacon with then-Bishop John (Maximovitch). He's the tallest one, with the wind-blown hair and glasses, at the far right:

This interesting photo also includes the future Father Boris Kritskii (the other sub-deacon) and the future Father Vladimir Schatiloff (the altar boy at the far right, in front of my grandfather). Father Vladimir would marry Anastasia Giorgievna Grabbe, and his youngest son George's face is now famous throughout Russia, as he served as Metropolitan Laurus' sub-deacon at the recent signing of the Act of Canonical Communion in Moscow.

It was in Belgrade that Valeria began her work as a liturgical poet, with the encouragement and blessing of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky).

... to be continued


Farewell Moscow

Sunday, 20 May, 2007

Having sung our impromptu grandstand performance in the heart of the Kremlin's Cathedral Square, we had to fend off a crowd of admirers who cheered us on for encores. Several ladies made requests, and Peter had to politely explain that we hadn't actually planned to sing and did not prepare concert repertoire (note to Peter: next time! They love that kind of stuff over there!!)

Now we had a little free time to wander the Kremlin, and then busses would take us back to the hotel so that we could rest a little and prepare for the big farewell banquet.

It was a relief not to have to immediately go to a trapeza right after church, which is the way things usually go on a special-occasion Sunday. After spending so many introspective hours inside the dimly lit Dormition Cathedral, it was refreshing to just meander about the grounds inside the Kremlin walls, to admire the stunning churches as well as the stunning weather.

There I am with the big Tsar Bell...

Anyone reading this blog who wants a tour guide's description of the Kremlin and all its

beautiful sights will have to forgive me -- by this point of the trip, I was so overwhelmed by all that we had seen and done, that I could not process anymore information abut what historic event had occurred on which spot, or whose holy relics were found in what church. It's the Kremlin, for Pete's sake!

As banal as it is, my greatest impression still had to do with the weather. It really seemed that God was pleased; we could not have enjoyed a more beautiful day. As we assembled near the gates, I treated the two Irenes (Gan and Mozyleva) and Peter to ice cream. Eating ice cream is a favourite Muscovy pastime, though, unfortunately, all I could find was the on-a-stick variety. No matter -- it was refreshing. There we are, having just finished our treats. Don't we look fresh?!

At this point, we headed back to the Universitetskaya Hotel to rest up and prepare for our evening. Quite a few people used that time to wander around Moscow, but I really needed to get off my feet for a while -- and I did. Soon enough, though, it was time to get ready for the evening.
I was feeling festive, so I decided to put on a little black dress and break out the bottle of bubbly that I'd bought in duty-free on the way over. I took it downstairs to the lobby, determined to share it with whomever came along. I must say, the staff at the bar was not very happy to loan me glassware (and refused to lend me the champagne flutes that were hanging on a rack above the bar, claiming they were dusty... I would have rinsed them!). But, my mood was too bubbly to let it really bother me. Chicago's Protodeacon Vadim joined me and Father John Whiteford, and I think Serge Shohov was there as well. With perfect timing, Peter came around, too. and I was all too happy to give him the celebratory glass that he deserved. But here I'll confess that I soon thought he was nursing his portion for a little too long -- and I ended up taking back a few sips!

The bus ride to the conference center where local ROCOR faithful were throwing the party for us was marked by an appropriately effervescent mood. We passed by the now-familiar sights: the Kremlin, Christ the Saviour Cathedral... on the way to a bright and modern business center in a remarkably well-kept and cozy neighborhood. This didn't look like the gritty Moscow, with its endless kiosks and broad, noisy avenues, that I had grown accustomed to. It was tree-lined and quiet; I will have to go back to explore neighborhoods like that one.

I suppose I had not realized just how many ROCOR folk were on this trip until I entered the enormous banquet hall. We had been housed in various locations during the week, and this was probably the only time that we were all gathered together for a meal like this. It was quite an event -- with wonderful pirozhki, I remember, and, of course, plenty of wine and vodka. Thankfully, the speeches were kept to a minimum, at least initially, but then, the local organizers, bless them, began to provide home-grown entertainment. This is such a Russian thing to do: all the children were put up to performing something, like a musical number on an instrument, recitation of a poem, etc.! I know it's meant to be charming, but, at that point, all anyone really wanted to do was share impressions about the week and catch up with friends and acquaintances -- so many of us were all in one place!!

I had a wonderful time with wonderful friends -- Egor Schatiloff and the Olhovskys (Deacon Nicholas and his wife Liza), the Papkov girls (that's Ksenia with me and Otets Vadim), the Ivan Larins, Zehnya Hrihoriak and I made many toasts to the events of the week, and to each other. But time and futher itineraries broke the party up all too soon: the Chicago contingent was heading that night by train to Kazan, and Egor and Kolya were accompanying Metropolitan Laurus to Kursk and Ukraine. It was time to start saying goodbye!

The banquet was not over,
but I was not enjoying the speeches and performances by the hosts, unfortunately. Luckily, one bus was heading back early. Most of my crowd took advantage of that; we headed back so that we could do what we really wanted to do: socialize! Time for a quick change of attire, so we could head back to "Durdin" -- the restaurant next door, where one last plate of pel'meni seemed to be called for.

I think just about everybody who had not yet left Moscow came out to Durdin that night. But, again, time went quickly, and some of us weren't ready to part ways when the restaurant started winding things down. My roommate and I had a solution, though: the wine we'd bought in duty free was calling, so we offered a nightcap to anyone who wanted to join us in room 1226.

That was a wonderful little gathering, with folks from both coasts and in-between: my friends Serge Chidlowsky and the Roudenkos (formerly of Boston) represented California; New Jersey offered us the sweethearts of Lakewood, Andrei Burbelo and Vasia Jaroschtuk; Fr.Andre Papkov was all the representation that Chicago/Midwest needed; Irina Andreevna Papkova, lately of D.C., joined in as well; and New York, of course, was well represented, with Nadia Mokhoffa and the Prince Starosta and alto-blaster Anya Pastuchova all joining in the fun.

But all good things come to an end -- and so did this memorable trip. I left the floor attendant a generous tip of kopecks and rubles and kleenex and cottonelle toilet paper and Wet Ones wipes, and Irina left her unused cosmetics and toiletries, certain that they would be appreciated. We boarded the bus on time and prepared for the journey back. Back to reality: we had a funeral to go to (Father Roman Lukianov had reposed on May 14th) and responsibilities to face, loved ones to greet...

My babies and their grandma and auntie greeted me at JFK, and I felt blessed. What a joy it had been to be part of history!

Te Deum

Sunday, 20 May, 2007

If Saturday morning was lovely, Sunday morning was perfect. The sky was cloudless! At 8:00 a.m., we boarded busses for the Kremlin, where we all had to pass through a security checkpoint that included metal detectors. We passed a row of amazingly well-kept and discreetly positioned porta-potties (a German brand that I recognized from my Deutschland days, replete with a working sink, soap and toilet paper. In other words, better outfitted than most bathrooms in Russia!)... As we approached the Kremlin's glorious Cathedral Square, I caught sight of the above: the church where my brother serves also has its cupola adorned with a cross in this style, symbolizing Orthodoxy's triumph over Islamic aggression. I love the gleaming gold against God's blue sky!

Rounding a corner, we came to the side entrance of the legendary Dormition Cathedral -- a 15th century church in which so much history had been made. Much of it -- the installations of Patriarchs, the royal weddings, the coronations and the consecrations-- is well documented. To us children of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, however, it was just as significant that this was the place where His Beatitude,Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky) had been consecrated as a bishop, and served often during his Moscow years. Many of the traditions that are upheld to this day at the Synodal Cathedral in Manhattan, where I grew up, were those that Metropolitan Anastassy had "imported" from the Dormition Cathedral.

The photo is a view of the front of the cathedral in the morning sunshine. You might notice that the windows are quite narrow, and that there aren't too many of them, which means that the interior is fairly dark. It is probably due to the minimal invasion of sunlight that the church's beautiful frescoes are in such remarkable condition. The church walls are incredibly thick; despite the warmth of the day and the church being filled to capacity, it would remain comfortably cool inside for the duration of the service.

Having arrived to promptly (how un-Russian of us!), we had time before the greeting of the Patriarch, which we were going to sing for the first time. In fact, this was going to be the only service of the week where we would be the lead choir, singing with the male choir of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra podvorje -- another excellent choir, worth a listen to on this page of their Russian-language-only website!

Peter had ample time to coordinate with their director, Vladimir Gorbik. (there's San Francisco choirmaster Vova Krassovsky, too), and I had my first opportunity to submit names for commemoration at Proskomedia. When I realised this, I was seized with an intense fervor; I wanted to remember everybody I could, and I think I submitted six sheets of names. I am young enough that the living I pray for still outnumber the souls of those reposed, though it did not escape me that some of those departed ancestors had surely prayed in this church themselves, long ago.

Peter chose to honor history by making some unusual selections for the repertoire, particularly for the greeting and vesting of the Patriarch. This was the church where Kastalsky and Chesnokov directed together... I think it was Vova Krassovsky who mused "I wonder which one stood there, and which one stood here," as he looked to the left and right sides of the church. So, the first thing we sang was the Zadostoinik as Chesnokov had set it, instead of the more usually performed Turchaninov version.

How easy it was to sing in this place! Though we all should have been utterly worn out by now, our voices floated up -- I found that no effort at all was required to produce a beautiful sound, and it was, in fact, easy to be too assertive. Once everyone felt the merciful acoustics of this wonderous temple, we really began to sound marvelous. Our voices floated right up to the intricate frescoes above us (shown to the right) and, no doubt, right onwards to heaven.

After the Patriarch's entrance, we sang one of Gardner's versions of "Ton Despotin," Konstantinov's setting of "Na Goru Sion," and then a very rare piece for the vesting, by Kastalsky: "Voshel jesi vo tserkov" had been composed for the installation of St. Tikhon as Patriarch. Thus, we were bringing back a piece which had been debuted in this very place. We finished with Kastalsky's Ton Despotin, and thus had honored both him and his colleague Pavel Chesnokov right at the outset of the service.

The Divine Liturgy was just that -- divine! Despite the choir's members all surely being exhausted by then, we sang sensitively under Peter's sure hand. We had certainly gelled as an ensemble by then, so that producing a quality sound was coming more naturally.

This was the first service where we got to participate in the singing of the "Velikaja Pohvala" -- a feature unique to Patriarchal services, wherein the heads of all the local Orthodox Churches are specially commemorated. This occurs just before the singing of the last kontakion appointed for the day (always sung by clergy in hierarchical services anyway), and the Russian style of doing this is quite dramatic. The Archdeacon intones the names, starting with the Ecumenical Patriarch's, and then the clergy and the choir EACH chant the name and titile, concluding with a resounding "MNOGA LETA!" It's cacophonous, and impressive to hear a large choir and dozens, if not hundreds, of clergy members all lending their voices to this almost rapturous prayer that the Lord preserve and protect the Church's leaders everywhere.

At the height of the service, we sang two pieces that are very dear to me -- the Cherubic Hymn from M.S. Konstantinov's full liturgy, and my grandfather's "Milost Mira" # 2. In my opinion, both of these compositions reveal musical motifs that convey hope and spiritual joy. They were composed by men bred in the two spiritual capitals of Russia -- Kiev and Moscow, respectively. Both men were torn from their homelands, and lived their lives labouring for the preservation of the sacred music traditions they had known and studied since boyhood. Here, their fruits were borne in full, in that their efforts were brought back to the seat of the Russian Church. And we had the honour of serving as their purveyors.

Singing these pieces as part of the divine services in that divine temple was an experience so moving, that it is hard to describe. My heart and mind focused on what I felt was the theme of the week: HOPE. That is, hope that springs from faith; knowing that, if Love can overcome all that the Church endured through the dark decades of persecution in Russia, then Love can overcome all the petty individual trials that each of us face as well.

At the end of the liturgy, we repeatedly sang a Velichanje (hymn of praise) to all the saints of Moscow, whilst the Patriarch, our Metropolitan Laurus, and then the clergy and laity venerated the many relics that are kept in the church. Even we women choristers were permitted in the vestry ("panomarka") to venerate the relics of St. Philip of Moscow.

Afterwards, we choristers were instructed to gather on the steps of the cathedral for a photo. Being Russian, we dallied, but, after a time, a fair amount of us had collected at the appointed spot. Those of us who had been there awhile began to get a little impatient, and a few people began shouting to the rest of the singers, and to Peter. But I had an idea for a better way to get attention: "we have to start singing something!" I exclaimed, half-joking. Before I knew it, someone (Irina Mozyleva, I think) had given a pitch and, as if by divine inspiration, we began to sing together...

"Te-BEEEEEH.... Boga hvalim Tebe Boga ispovedujem..." -- the 'Te Deum' as set by Bortniansky, with which we had ended the service at Christ the Saviour Cathedral. Only, now, we had no music, and, at first, no director! Not to worry -- Jordanville choirmaster Hieromonk Roman (Krassovsky) jumped at the chance to conduct us, and we just kept singing. We all knew this long and complex piece by heart. Our colleagues hastened to join us, and soon we had a huge crowd watching us as well.

Could there have been a better way for us to end our official duties on this pilgrimage than by singing God's praises in so exalted a manner, on so perfect a day?


Not quite All-night Vigil

Saturday, 19 May, 2007

It was a pleasant, if not downright jovial, ride from Butovo to the Danilov Monastery,
perhaps owing to all those toasts at the banquet. It didn't hurt that the day was as fine as one could imagine: blue skies and bright sun brightened everything.

We arrived just shortly before All-Night Vigil was to begin, so there was little time for more than a quick stop at the restrooms -- nothing to write home about!

We had to hurry to get up to the choir loft of the Holy Trinity Church -- the monastery's main church, but neither its oldest nor, alas, the usual resting place of St. Daniel's relics. Venerating those relics, along with visiting the rest of the monastery grounds, is still on the list of things to do. I don't think the bells we heard were those ancient ones that Harvard University has been housing for 80 years, either. I know that, last fall, Harvard had finally agreed to return them to the monastery, thanks to some greasing of the wheels by a wealthy Russian. But I don't think the bells have actually gotten to Russia, yet.

We were set to sing the unchanging portions of Vespers, while the rest would be sung antiphonally by two male choirs, one of them under the direction of Georgy Safonov, known to many church musicians in the emigration because of his participation in ROCM conferences. It was Safonov who had, in fact, invited us.

The first piece we sang was Kastalsky's "Blessed is the Man," which many of us had sung both at the Synodal Choir's commemoration of Kastalsky in November, 2006, and at the ROCM Conference in Toronto last October. It may not have been our most polished performance -- I think we were all excited to be singing a more-or-less "regular" service, at which we could be a little less formal -- but it was exuberant and moving.

A few of the singers had made plans for the evening, but most of us had volunteered to participate in this Vigil. Given our already rigorous schedule, I would characterize the participants of that evening as the true die-hards! We relaxed a bit, compared to the other services, and really reveled in the beauty of the service as we listened to the back-and-forth of the two choirs, led by a canonarch who intoned the verses from the ambo. To me, his style of leading the singing was a bit reminiscent of the old fashioned kontakarion singing which St. Roman the Melodist is typically depicted as performing.

We sang my grandfather's "O Gladsome Light" again, as we had on the Even of Ascension, and were able to enjoy the reading and the singing of the service -- that evening dedicated to the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. Come to think of it, since the original church of the monastery is dedicated to the Holy Fathers, I wonder why we didn't sing there?

No matter -- the service was beautiful, though not as long and, er, uncut as the monastic services I'm used to at Jordanville.

At Polyeleos, we did something unique: we sang it 'antiphonally' with Safonov's choir, singing the setting by A.A. Arkhangelsky by heart (we did not have music for this -- but this piece is such a standard that it would have been embarassing not to be able to do it successfully).

And then, we were finished... the bus was going to take us back to the hotel! Though most of us are generally not the type to leave before the last note of the service is sung, most of us agreed to on this occasion, given the potential for sheer exhaustion if we made it a long night.

What a beautiful evening it was!

Unfortunately, this photo just doesn't capture the full glory of the scene, taken on the grounds of the monastery: here and all over Moscow, the lilacs were at their peak, outrageous in their lush profusion of blooms and their heady fragrance. As evening faded into twilight, the nightbirds began to sing their melodious and resounding melodies, wistfully meandering tunes that are so hopeful in their brightness. I'll never forget the sheer gorgeousness of that evening -- "Wondrous are Thy works, O Lord!"

And the best was yet to come...

The next day, we were to sing Divine Liturgy at the Kremlin's fabled Dormition Cathedral, church of the Tsars and Tsarinas and Patriarchs through the ages.


Russia's Golgotha

Saturday, 19 May, 2007
Another 7:30 a.m. departure had us on busses heading out of the City of Moscow to a place on the outskirts called Butovo.

God had all His creation shine at maximum ebullience that day. The sun was brilliant, the sky clear and bright blue, the air fresh and dry. Birds were in full voice, flowering bushes and trees at peak bloom.

At left is a photo I snapped as we singers made our way from the bus toward the newly built church which was about to be consecrated by Patriarch Alexei II, with ROCOR clergy.

Honestly, I have struggled with this post, because Butovo is the keystone to the bridge that has been built between the portions of the Church inside and outside of Russia. I don't feel worthy to write about the place, and fear I cannot do it justice. Yet, write about it I must!

By googling the word "Butovo," you will find masses of pages, but very little explains what is so significant about this place. At least a quarter of the stories are about some local land dispute, and a goodly number have to do with a place of the same name in Bulgaria. There are many links to a single, oft-republished article about the new church, but most of the rare and relevant references to Butovo as a place of mass-killing and martyrdom are on sites published by various Church organs.

So, few are aware that upwards of 21,000 people were killed here, many for their faith, in the space of about a year (1937-38) alone! Were it not for the efforts of Patriarch Alexei himself, I believe that this brutal fact would be even less known.
The Patriarch has made it something of a crusade, to uncover as much as possible about the Orthodox faithful who perished under Stalin's terror on the "Butovsky poligon" (literally -- shooting range of Butovo). Under his
watch, many of those killed here have been canonized as new martyrs, with an insistence that as much information about each victim be gathered (from archives, from family members, etc.) as possible. "Never forget" is a mantra of the victims of another holocaust, and it seems that the Patriarch is taking up a similar devotion to ensure that the world recognize, at last, the atrocities that were committed by the Soviet regime.

It makes sense to me that the ecclesiastical leaders of we "Russians abroad" recognized a shared commitment to prayer and service, a mutual horror of and sorrow over the crimes of the 20th century. I believe that the Patriarch's commitment to glorifying the new martyrs -- even those of whom we didn't know! -- is the burning flame that finally melted the ice that had sustained the cold war between "us" and "them." Those who witnessed it first-hand were able to finally overcome the fears, the prejudices, and the doubts with which we all were bred.

So a beautiful new temple was built on this now-peaceful spot -- a place where, I heard, there was so much blood flowing from the mass graves into which victims (including children!) were thrown, that the well water turned red. Now we were there to take part in its consecration -- together as the faithful of one Church. What a totally fitting exclamation point to the headline of the week.
We were singing in tandem with the wonderful male choir from Sretensky Monastery -- in my opinion the best choir with which we had the honor of singing (and they were all excellent). They did all the singing during the great consecration, from up in the choir loft. Our choir was positioned on the right side of the church, on the main floor, in front of the right altar (there are three altars in the main church). The photo above is of the Patriarch exiting the right altar, having just censed it ... I wasn't the only one taking a picture of his Holiness!

If you have never witnessed the consecration of an Orthodox church -- it is a sight to see and a joyful noise to hear! The bishops don white aprons and take up rocks which they use as hammers to literally build the altar tables.

As the choir above sang hymn after hymn, the temple resounded with the bang Bang BANG BANGing of those rocks! There is plenty of censing, and the walls of the church are rather dramatically anointed with myrrh, using a pole that must be 10 feet long.

In all, it took a good long while before Divine Liturgy proper got underway.

Here I have to confess that, again, my weakness nearly got the better of me. In a patriarchal liturgy, there is a special commemoration made of each Orthodox leader, and it is done in a manner that is absolutely cacophonic! The Archdeacon intones each leader's name and title, and what he says is quickly sung by the clergy and then by the choir in rapid-fire style. Our choir was not singing this "great laudation," but, as I stood there, in the midst of all this swirling sound, I began to notice all the little floaters that inhabit my eyeballs. They seemed to be swimming to the beat, in circles, and my head began to spin. The air was pretty thick with incense and somebody's bad breath; I thought I would fall down! I stepped out of a side door and sat down on the steps, with the help of some acquaintances from amongst the ROCOR pilgrims. Someone brought me something to drink, and I felt better soon enough.

Going outside gave me a chance to witness the people milling around. Here, for the first time, I saw something I really did not like: nationalists standing around, wearing black cossack outfits, bearing enormous flags. These men looked menacing and merciless. I regretted their presence, and wondered about it. I do not like when political groups exploit faith!

We sang the Cherubic Hymn again: this time, a setting by my grandfather in which the treble voices begin without the men, splitting four ways. I so wanted us to do this beautiful piece justice! I'm told by one of my Mom's friends -- Anna Mitrofanovna Znosko Shohova, who sang with my grandfather back in the day -- that we did. We probably didn't sing it badly, but I wished that we could have practiced a little bit, and that we'd worked on blending the exposed treble voices a little more. Of course, it was impossible for Peter to predict the acoustic factors we faced there: all standing on one level, surrounded by faithful milling about, so it probably would have been impossible to rehearse for this situation anyway. Given the circumstances, we did well indeed.
In his sermon, the Patriarch called Butovo "Russia's Golgotha" -- Golgotha being the place of Jesus Christ's crucifixion. He also emphasized that the main altar of the church was dedicated to Christ's Resurrection, "because those people who suffered here believed in that." What a beautiful reminder that, in spite of all the concentrated efforts of the Bolsheviks to stamp out faith, they failed.
"O death, where is thy sting? O death, where is thy victory?"

After Liturgy, there was another Patriarchal banquet. This time, the choir and the clergy were invited; it seemed to me a fairly intimate affair, under a large tent, all of us seated in one big rectangle. We were served lots of fish, which was decorated with ... pink and baby blue cake icing?!

That's Father Roman (Krassovsky) checking it out with Irina Mozyleva. Maybe it was left over from a baby shower?
Everyone was in a pretty upbeat mood, feeling that something good had been done, that Good had triumphed over Evil that day. There were many toasts to the Patriarch, and for each one, we were obliged to stand up and sing "Many Years". This made it easy to drink, but not too easy to complete a meal. The Patriarch, in his turn, spoke. The second time he did so, he got quite emotional and actually choked up; we all witnessed how much this day meant to him personally.
Each of us received a bag of gifts at that banquet, including icons and a book about Butovo. This book has been on my nightstand, but I can stand to look at it only a little bit at a time. It is not easy to read of a 13-year old boy being shot for some sort of trumped up crime, nor to see the photograph of his face -- still more a little boy than a man.
During the Liturgy, Peter had asked the singers if they would be willing to sing an extra service. We had been invited by a conductor at Danilov Monastery to sing at Vigil, if we felt up to it. Peter agreed that we would, if enough volunteers from each voice part could be rallied. After some polling of the singers, it was decided: of course we could do it! So, directly from Butovo, it was off to Danilov Monastery for more church...


On being overwhelmed

Ascension Thursday, 17 May - Friday, 18 May 2007

Once the Exhibit on the History of the Church Abroad had been opened and I'd been through it (physically and emotionally!), it was, at last, time to rejuvenate one's strength. Eventually, I found my way to the large halls where most of the choir was to go. All the banquets required tickets, and people hovered near the doors asking if anyone had extras (maybe I could have scored some rubles!).

I did not have the coveted green ticket to the Patriarchal banquet -- a sit-down affair about which I can describe nothing. Even though some of my close friends were there, they have not been able to describe to me where it was in relation to where we had our reception, which was more of a cocktail-party with no seating (O, my poor feet! Luckily, I had brought along a pair of sensible shoes into which I changed!). Even if someone would try to explain it to me, it would not make any sense: that place is so huge that I would need a GPS system to find my way around. To wit: there was an entire ampitheater immediately adjacent to our reception hall!

The reception was nice -- tasty pirozhki and meat on sticks, lots of crudites, and plenty of alcohol. There was even an attempt made to provide COFFEE (and not just tea), but it was only of the instant variety, so I refused it and stuck to wine and vodka until it was time to leave. We enjoyed a little ice cream while we waited to board our bus back to the hotel, too.

I was tired and perhaps a little unnerved by the emotional wringer through which I'd just been, but I was on a steady keel. That changed, though, when one of my fellow singers grumbled: "We were treated like crap!"

I started to think about it. She had some good points: we had sung our hearts out, we had really worked hard to prepare. Most of us were careful to limit our activities in order to stay fit for our job; few non-singers understand how physically demanding singing can be! I started to stew about it. Why weren't we given a place to sit down and have a hot meal after all that?! By the time people had gathered in the hotel, I was buzzing around like a hornet.

Fortunately, Peter announced that the rehearsal scheduled for that afternoon was cancelled. Wise move! We were free to do as we wished until Saturday morning.

At first, all I wanted to do was lie down, so that's what I went and did. It was good to have a little quiet time -- my roommate went out to dinner with other church musicians, and I washed up and remained in solitude. But it didn't last long. As evening fell, friends came knocking on my door, summoning me to the restaurant located next to the hotel. It seems a crowd had gathered to unwind, and the pleasure of my company was requested.

I obliged, and was very glad I did. Wonderful old friends from my San Francisco days were there -- even older friends from metro NY were too, as were people that I was first getting to know on this trip. We ate shashlyk and drank locally brewed beer and shared each others' stories and photos from the day. The atmosphere was congenial and warm. But I was still not up to a long night out with the crowd, and eventually decided to leave.

It all spilled over into the next day, when busses were heading to Sergiev Posad to Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. This was the one holy site that I had decided was a MUST, given how limited the choir's opportunities for pilgrimaging would be.
So I was pretty vexed when I awoke at 7:45 a.m., 15 minutes past departure time! AAAAARGH! But, what was the point of stressing out about it? I was an experienced traveller! I decided to get myself there on my own.
I ate breakfast downstairs at a leisurely pace, had a nice chat with Father Nicholas (Perekrestov) of our Jerusalem mission, and then set out.

Getting to Sergiev Posad from our hotel required me to take a bus to the Metro, and take the Metro to Yaroslavskaja train station, where I had to catch a local "elektrichka" (slow electric train) to Sergiev Posad. I was pretty game and quite proud of myself for figuring all of this out and having the aplomb to attempt it alone, but the ride out was tiresome.

It was also a classic taste of Russia, and not just because I bought a greasy pirozhok at the train station! On the train, I soon got a beer-swilling young man as my neighbor. He began to chat me up, and he was clearly bombed! I really wanted to enjoy my book and my own thoughts about the trip, but he pestered me relentlessly!

"Little girl, little girl, please come home with me! I've taken such a fancy to you!"
Ignoring him didn't work, and being nice really didn't work, so I finally spoke to him in a rude, harsh manner and turned away. But, somehow, doing so made me cry, and I was upset for much of the rest of the journey.

I saw our busses parked outside the gates to Sofrino, the famed producer of so many religious items. This told me that our group had already left the Lavra, as a shopping trip was the second part of the day's itinerary. No matter. My mission was to venerate the relics of St. Sergius. I got to Sergiev Posad and walked from the train station to the monastery.

As I approached its famed white walls, gypsy children began to run at me. I recalled a terrible experience my cousin had had with such children in Russia, and I did not want to be victimized myself. Without breaking my resolute stride, I shouted at them in a loud, sharp voice, and they scattered away. This made me feel absolutely desolate, and I began crying again as I walked onto the monsatery grounds. How uncharitable it was to be so nasty to those undoubtedly abused children!

With directions from a priest, I went straight away to St. Sergius and prayed and wept as I had not done in a very long time.

Then, something of a miracle occurred. In the grand scheme of miracles, it's not a major one, but, at the time, it seemed to me a blessing. As I stood in that dark church, praying and listening to the Moleben, someone came to my side and touched my arm. It was one of O. Andre Papkov's daughters -- the Papkovs and the Ledkovskys have been fast friends for many, many years!

Ksenia seemed like an angel to me at that moment, and I rejoiced at seeing her, and wondered: why was she not in Sofrino? It turns out, she had stayed behind with the Toronto pilgrims, in order to spend more time at the Lavra. She invited me to ride back to the hotel on the bus with her. Considering my elektrichka experience on the way there, I immediately agreed, even though it meant my visit to Lavra would be much too brief.

No matter -- I will, Godwilling, go back someday. In the meantime, seeing Ksenia totally adjusted my perspective, and again made me realize how short life is, and how grateful we have to be for all of our blessings.

As for my anger about the treatment of the choir the day before -- that, too, was an overreaction, fueled by circuit overload. It turns out that there were very few seats at the Patriarchal banquet, because of the vast number of clergy that had to be accommodated. The non-clergy who got invitations were, by and large, among those who had participated in supporting the reconstruction of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. That was something the Bishop Mitrophan (Znosko) of blessed memory had spearheaded, long before it was fashionable for ROCORites to be charitably disposed toward Moscow. In retrospect, it was correct for those people to be thanked for their support, in my opinion.

Thank you again, Ksenia, for being my guardian angel that day, and for helping me adjust my mindset, not only for a fun and relaxed evening (celebrating, among other things, her sister Irina's nameday) but also for another eye-opening experience the next day, at Butovo...



Ascension Thursday, 17 May, 2007

The service was long, and it was as tiring as it was inspiring. The communion of the clergy took a long time, so the choirs had ample time to sing His praises and keep the masses occupied. We began by singing a setting of the festal communion hymn by Rimsky-Korsakov, and were followed by the choir of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra singing a well-known piece by Grechaninov. We then attempted to sing a setting of the 8th Psalm composed by Krasnostovsky, but had to stop after the first phrase, when Peter Fekula noticed that someone was preparing to speak from the ambo. Oops!

The clergy needed more than half an hour to commune, even though (I imagine) there were scores of bishops attending to the lower-ranking clergy. The speech was thankfully moderate in length, so we managed to sing our long "concert" anyway.

Communion of the faithful was nearly as time-consuming, despite the fact that the Mysteries were divided among well over a dozen chalices (I counted 16, some said 18, but it may have been as many as 25!).

It was during this important and historic point of the service -- when people from inside Russia and from Abroad were receiving the Holy Mysteries together, for the first time, from a common chalice -- that our ROCOR Choir unexpectedly brought one of our traditions back to Moscow. I'd long ago noticed that, in many places in Russia, the choir sings the Communion hymn but once. Sometimes the faithful continue to sing it as they approach the chalice, and sometimes communion continues on in relative silence. It seemed this was to be the plan in Christ the Saviour Cathedral as well, but... we're not used to that! So, even though we had not brought music with us, we sang several settings of "Telo Khristovo:" ("The Body of Christ..."), over and over, until every last person had received the Holy Mysteries.

We ended the service -- already quite exhausted -- with the singing of the festal Troparion and Kontakion, a prayer of thanks, and the singing of the Te Deum. When we were all done, we were greeted by Archimandrite Matfei, who warmly congratulated us, and accepted a gift -- an engraved tuning fork commemorating the event.

At this point, we were herded to the cathedral's lower level, but no one seemed really sure where to go. A huge crowd of us were literally pointed one way, so we walked like sheep that way, until being sent the opposite way. This went on for at least 30 minutes! To understand the state of mind I was in, you must realize that I'd been standing in four-inch heels for six hours, having ingested nothing more than a bit of water and a few cough drops all day. I was feeling quite woozy.
Being in this sea of people, with so many familiar faces, was almost like experiencing a disturbing dream, where personages from all points of your life come flying at you in random order: here comes the priest I'd confessed to in San Francisco, there goes my friend's ex-boyfriend, here are folks from Berlin, there's my mother's old college buddy, here comes the guy with whom I'm a godparent... At one point, I thought I would faint! But some television reporter stopped me and asked for my thoughts. My Russian gets pretty error-prone when I am tired, so I'm certain I wasn't very eloquent; I said something very heartfelt, though, about how much my ancestors had given to the Church in emigration, and that, while they had not lived to see this day, I was deeply grateful to be a witness.

Finally, we were admitted, but not to a trapeza: we had been brought to the opening of an exhibit on the history of the Russian Church Abroad. I must confess that, by then, I had quite forgotten about this exhibit, and was actually annoyed to find myself there, and not somewhere where I could sit down and have some coffee. I began to walk through quickly, giving everything but a cursory look, even though I normally could spend hours in a museum, poring over every detail. I got especially cranky when I came upon a chamber choir of fresh-faced singers performing the very same Te Deum composition of Bortniansky's that we had just squeezed out of ourselves in church.

"I just sang that, why do I need to hear it again?!" I announced to no one in particular, and began marching past them double-time, to get out of there all the quicker.

I turned a bend and found my breath taken away.

Here, quite unexpectedly, were huge, larger-than-life portraits of two of those very ancestors whom I had just invoked, moments earlier. The exhibit included a section on the Liturgical Arts in Emigration, and featured my well-known composer grandfather, Boris Ledkovsky, and my less-well-known but, to me, quite beloved maternal grandmother, Valeria Hoecke. I was stunned to see them -- especially her, the only woman mentioned in the entire exhibit -- and I began to shake like a leaf and weep.

My grandmother was an extraordinary woman, and deserves a blog dedicated just to her (one of these days...). That's me with her portrait, which was exhibited between those of the famed iconographer, Archimandrite Kiprian, and composer/conductor Mikhail S. Konstantinov. She was brilliant, and counted bishops and metropolitans as some of her closest friends and, in a few cases, former suitors! She was the first woman to complete studies at the Belgrade Theological Academy that had educated so many ROCOR luminaries, and one of the few persons of either gender to contribute significantly to the Church as a liturgical hymnographer in the 20th century; her best known service is that for the feast of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, though the service to Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg is a runner-up. She was also exceptionally musical: a gifted pianist and a dabbling composer. She spoke five languages flawlessly and could communicate in at least another three, besides being the acknowledged expert of her day in Church Slavonic, to whom bishops would turn with questions of grammar or style. Yet, she was also my Oma -- the little old lady who couldn't cook but loved to help us with French homework or music, who taught us the meaning of all the Church feasts and how to play card games like Solitaire and "Durak."

My grandfather, whose portrait is at the far right (next to his friend and colleague Johann von Gardner) is much better known, of course. His music is sung with increasing regularity in Russia, and we sang quite a bit of it ourselves while there! Both he and my father had done so much in the past century, and into this one, to keep the old liturgical music traditions alive. I realized at last how fitting it was for me to be there, carrying that legacy on and bringing it back to where it had all begun, in the city where Dedushka had studied with Chesnokov and Kastalsky.

I no longer regretted being forced to attend the exhibition, for it was, if nothing else, a reminder that, even though my grandparents, and my father, for that matter, had not "lived to see this day," their legacies were very much alive, and very much there in Moscow.