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.


Peace be unto All

Ascension Thursday, 17 May 2007

It is possible, barring server troubles or a change in status of the site, for anyone to view the Divine Service at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, including the signing of the Act of Reunification, online. The entire event was shown live online via streaming video and is still archived here. It is nearly five hours long.

The hours were read before the greetings of our Metropolitan and the Patriarch. Though it is not a convention to which I am accustomed, I quite liked this -- it helped to put one into the right, prayerful state of mind before the hierarch even got to church. The fact that the Metropolitan was formally greeted -- with bells and hymns -- is a testament to the unique nature of the day. Normally, no one but the Patriarch is ever "greeted" in that temple, as it is the Patriarch's seat.

Our ROCOR choir began by singing the Megalynarion, or the "Zadostoinik" (a hymn to the Mother of God, with text specific to the feast of the day), as Metropolitan Laurus entered the Cathedral, flanked by his cell-attendant, Deacon Nicholas Olhovsky (one of my brother's best friends and husband to my friend Liza), and Subdeacon George Schatiloff. Yegor is probably ROCOR's senior subdeacon; he and his late brother Dimitry, grandsons of Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), were subdeacons to Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) in the 1970 and 80s. He is one of my family's best friends and is extremely dedicated to Metropolitan Laurus. Entering behind them was one of ROCOR's best up-and-coming young deacons (and we have a few), Father Yevgeny Kallaur. Watching them from above, as we were able to when we weren't singing, my heart squeezed. I remember those guys as seminarians, living alongside my brother, and look at them now, I thought. And George! His mother and grandfather were such vocal opponents of Moscow, but he lived to see this day and to serve the Church we all love with such distinction. I can't help but imagine and hope that, from beyond, Vladyka Grigoriy and Matushka Anastasia see things differently now and are proud of their Yegor.

After the Patriarch entered, Metropolitan Laurus, who had been inside the altar, was escorted westward to meet him. How fitting, I thought: our ancestors fled to the west to escape the Godless regime, and now their descendents are coming full circle, heading ever westward to close this gap. The Godless ones lost, they could not stamp out His Church, and here we all are, in this most glorious of temples, to do His will and glorify Him, together!

They went to the altar together, the text of the AKT was read, there were prayers, speeches, and they sat down to sign it. It was thrilling to witness, but not something I can document better than has been in many other places. I did get a thrill seeing some of our senior deacons -- Archdeacon Yevgeny Burbelo and Protodeacon Victor Lochmatow, up on the ambo with their top guys, Archdeacon Andrei Mazur (white-haired, swinging the censer) and Protodeacon Vladimir Nazarkin.

The exclamation signalling the actual beginning of Divine Liturgy came about 90 minutes after Vladyka Lavr had first entered the Cathedral. We sang the festal antiphons, um, antiphonally, with the male choir from Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra starting off. This proved a challenge, because they sang in a key that was good at making them sound bright and exuberant; that's their hallmark, but the pitch was near-disastrous for our mixed choir, as it was extremely high -- a good third higher than what was printed in the score Father Matfei had provided us. This happened again when we sang the Tchaikovsky setting of "Holy God" -- our first sopranos and tenors had to reach their high Cs for that one -- and they DID.

I have got to note a speculation that some of our born-in-Russia choristers made about the volume levels of our group compared to the male choir. Naturally, of course, being nearly twice our size, Father Matfei's choir is louder. Loudness is part of their style at any rate. But volume is manipulated in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour: everyone who must be audible for the services has to be miked in order to be heard at all in the huge place. A few of our singers suspected that the sound-men deliberately left our levels markedly lower than those of the monastery chorus. I can't prove that, but the RealVideo archive of the service does have a moment where the male choir's levels are jacked up, so perhaps there's some truth to this notion...

No matter. Back to the service: it was time for the Prokimenon, and it sounded to us like our own Father Yevgeny Kallaur was reading! We could not see him, as we had to be in place on the risers to sing the 2nd choral repetition of the prokimenon (my grandfathers' harmonization was sung), but many of us stepped to the front to see that it was indeed one of our own -- and he read beautifully. He, and the text of the Apostle which he read, inspired a sailing Alleluia from us.

Besides the ceremony in which Metropolitan Laurus and Patriarch Alexei came together to sign the Act of Canonical Communion, the most moving part of the service, for me, was during the singing of the Cherubic Hymn, some two-and-a-half hours into the service. We sang a composition by Viktor Kalinnikov, a gorgeous arrangement in which the treble voices sing in unison, above an ever-changing harmonic structure carried by the bass, baritone and second tenor parts. We had to repeat the third phrase, the text of which is translated as "Now lay aside all earthly cares." When we did, something beautiful happened.

In my spiritually impoverished experience, there are but a few moments in life when one truly feels the contentment of having the Lord's blessing upon you. As we recapitulated this profound admonition to lay aside our worldly troubles, it seemed that the entire choir was blanketed by a truly holy feeling of p e a c e. We sang at true pianissimo (so rare in this age!), not out of artistic artifice, I believe, but because we were so deeply moved by the moment, and because we had truly unified as a choir, in the spirit that defined the day.

The Patriarch commemorated the leaders of Orthodoxy for a full five minutes, adding to his long list of names and titles for the first time that of our Metropolitan Laurus, with great emotion in his voice. Thereafter, Archdeacon Yevgeny Burbelo read his first litany there, in his unique style -- the style I had known all my life.

Throughout the service, ROCOR and Church of Russia deacons took turns intoning litanies; our Bishops and theirs made the exclamations; our choir and theirs took turns singing. It really was a meshing of the two parts of the Russian Church.

During the Anaphora, which was sung by Archimandrite Matfei's choir, we had a chance to pray and to reflect, and I could not but help thinking again about my family -- my ancestors, but even moreso, my children, and what this day meant for us all. Jordanville and the Lavras, Manhattan and Moscow and Munich, San Francisco and Sankt Peterburg -- they were all under one omophorion now, and my children would never -- I hope and pray -- know the sorrows that we knew in being divided, in having to explain "I am 'zarubezhnaya' and not like you after all" to people who believed as we believed and prayed as we prayed.

And so I prayed, for an end to division, for an end to sorrows, and for Oneness and Love to prevail.


Warming Up

Ascension Thursday, 17 May, 2007

It was a damp morning in Moscow, but I was little aware of my surroundings. I think it is Father John Whiteford's blog that mentions our busses having had a police escort as we made our way through Moscow traffic (about the worst I've ever seen, and I grew up in Metro NY, and have experienced L.A., SF-Bay Area, Chicago, D.C., and Boston!). I did not notice them. My attentions were focussed inward.

The road to this day was long and bumpy. For years, I participated in debates -- some of them rather nasty -- about ROCOR's purpose, its path, and its promise to Russia. I am not sure why I allowed myself to get caught up in the debates. My family had always positioned itself apolitically: in the contentious 60s and 70s, when it was "Metropolia" vs. "Zarubezhnaya Tserkov," my grandfather worked for both, teaching music at St. Sergius High School in the Synodal building and at St. Vladimir's Seminary in Crestwood. The former was headed by Archimandrite Anthony Grabbe, and the latter by Protopresbyer Alexander Schmemann. The former's father, then Protopresbyter George Grabbe (later Bishop Gregory) baptized me, and the latter's son, Serge, is my godfather. My own father spent more than a quarter century as the choirmaster at the Synodal Cathedral, watching laypeople, priests, bishops, and even metropolitans come and go. He never took a stand on any church politics. His mission was to go to church, do a good job in contributing to the divine services, and go home without engaging in any debates about what he viewed to be side issues.

But I began to engage in online discussions. This is probably largely because I wound up living in Berlin, Germany, far away from all that I knew and everyone I loved. I began to monitor the world I'd left behind as best I could via the Internet, and what I saw was not pretty: people saying the nastiest, most scurrilous things about Vladyka Lavr, whom I'd known since infancy (my grandfather conducted the choir when he was consecrated a bishop, and when he was transferred from Synod to the Holy Trinity Monastery, my family would visit him in Jordanville every summer). It was shocking, and the accounts that were published about events in Synod did not match those of my family and trusted acquaintances, nor my own experiences when I was there. My conscience did not allow me to remain silent.

I was not always enthusiastic about the Moscow Patriarchate. Being in Europe, I had many opportunities to interact with "MP" clergy, some of whom I admired, and some of whom I found difficult to respect. I shared all of my thoughts, online, and with several of our bishops. In this way, I somehow participated in this process of reunification, which, in restrospect, I view as an evolution. I think it is true that mutual respect and understanding grew slowly -- sometimes very slowly. I know that my own heart and mind were challenged and that I ultimately found myself more open, and more in awe of what it meant for the Church Outside of Russia to be at peace with the Church of Russia.

And now, there we were, arriving at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It was 7:30 a.m., cool and damp, the kind of morning one might prefer to spend snuggled in bed. But, to our amazement, the entrance to the cathedral's grounds had a line of people, hoping to get into church for the service. This line extended down the block, as far as one could see, and it was not just a bunch of babushki! Men, women, teens, old people, middle-aged people, students, children. An entire cross-section of society, some of whom must have begun lining up at 6:00 a.m. or earlier to be at the front of such a throng. I cannot imagine such a line for anything other than a sale of some trendy electronic toy or a pop concert in the U.S.A.

We were brought inside and upstairs, and almost immediately happened upon the choir from Trinity-St.Sergius Lavra. There was Archimandrite Matfei, the legendary choirmaster.

I had long admired him, and here he was! My grandmother had given me a letter to deliver to him, and I took the immediate opportunity to do so, suspecting that, after the long service, I would not have another chance. He remembered her -- or pretended do, though I have heard that his memory is amazing, and bowed as he asked me to convey his warm regards to her.

The greeting of Metropolitan Laurus -- a unique occurrence when the Patriarch is serving -- was scheduled for 9:15 a.m., so we had 90 minutes to wait. We all wandered around a bit, watched the masses of people assemble, observed the camera crews and reporters setting up... It became apparent that we would not be warming up as a choir or rehearsing at all before we had to sing the Megalynaria, or "Zadostoink" of the feast. Any singer familiar with the Turchaninov setting of this hymn knows that it is a vocal challenge -- pitched highly and not a good tune to attempt with cold vocal chords. I decided to descend to the depths of the cathedral and search for a semi-private spot where I could warm up.

The time arrived at last for us to gather on the risers and get ready to sing. We were surrounded by microphones, TV cameras, reporters and crewmembers. It was unlike any church service I'd ever been at -- and I have had the fortune of being at many historic church events, including the ROCOR Glorifications of Blessed Xenia, the New Martyrs, and St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco.

From our vantage point, we could hear the thunder of the large bell, but I could not really make out the trezvon.
Still, we all knew that Metropolitan Laurus would be there any moment. My heart squeezed as I took my place, next to Ludmilla Pitaleff, a soprano with the most beautiful, silvery-lilting voice (standing next to her makes it so easy to sing and inspired me to produce my best efforts!). We could hear the deacons (everybody had to be miked in that vast place) and it was time to begin...


Eve of Unity

Wednesday, 16 May (part 2)

The Vigil for Ascension was beautiful and inspiring. Our choir sang well in its Moscow debut, and all of us were anointed by the Patriarch himself. He must have anointed hundreds of people before finally, toward the end of the festal canon, stepping down and going into the altar. But a lower-ranking bishop continued anointing the faithful, almost to the very end of the service.

After the service, we all walked a few blocks to a restaurant, where we were generously hosted by Father George Larin's son, Ivan, for dinner. A few expatriate Russian Americans, including Pete Kizenko and Nick Mokhoff junior, joined the fun. It really felt like a reunion.

(The photo is of Pete with me and another Liza, nee Shohova).

But the really big reunion was slated for the next day and, fun as it was to eat the tasty food, drink the wine and shoot the vodka, most of us were keenly aware that it was not yet time to totally relax and let loose. We were to leave for Christ the Saviour Cathedral at 7:00 a.m., and our voices needed their beauty sleep!


Eve of the Ascension

Wednesday, May 16:

The day began with complimentary breakfast, served at the cantina -- too small to hold us all at once, and understaffed at any rate, but not disastrously so. I will not go into detail about the hotel's food -- it was neither very good nor impossibly terrible. I did have to come up with a way to service my caffeine addiction. I am a two-to-three-cup-a-morning coffee drinker, and jet lag excacerbates my need for the stuff. But, this being Russia, only tea was included with our meals. They did, however, have a German-style coffee machine that brewed strong stuff. Unfortunately, they also only offered German Kaffee-sahne, dreadful nondairy creamer that I grew to loathe during my years living in Deutschland. I would have to live without my beloved cafe au lait, and would have to add a sugar cube or two instead to make it palatable.

While the clergy and other pilgrims were able to spend the day visiting holy places, such as Donskoy Monastery, where Patriarch Tikhon's relics are kept, we choristers had to rehearse, not long after breakfast. We were there with a job to do, and everyone was keen to do it well. Trouble was, the hotel did not have any sort of space large enough for us to use, except for the lobby and the cantina, both of which were not private enough. So we gathered at the landing, just outside the elevator, of the 11th or 13th floor, I've already forgotten which. A few times, bewildered guests happened upon us, which was amusing, since we sat on the floor or stood around, singing. We went through the repertoire we would be singing that evening, at the Vigil for the Ascension.

For me, this rehearsal was rather stressful. My vocal range was short about a sixth of its usual height! This, I knew, was completely due to physical exhaustion. But, a soprano who can't hit the C above middle C comfortably is pretty useless, so I was a bit beside myself. Fortunately, after rehearsal, we had several hours during which to eat and do whatever we wanted. Many people chose to use this time to sightsee or shop a little, but I was too concerned about singing well that night and, more significantly, the next day. I went to my room and had an incredibly restorative nap.

That afternoon, we took a bus to Christ the Saviour Cathedral so that we could have a 'dress rehearsal' for the main event. What a place! It was impossible to get oriented easily -- it is just too huge and, indeed, magnificent, with huge icons and frescoes in rich colours throughout. Not everyone appreciates the romantic-era iconography that was the mode in 19th century Russia, when this place was originally built, but one has the be in awe of the enormous undertaking it was to restore what had been utterly destroyed by the Bolsheviks. The history of the original cathedral, its destruction, and its reconstruction by Patriarch Alexei II is recounted in English on the cathedral's website and worth a read if you're unfamiliar with it.

I was moved by one enormous wall, in a hallway approaching the choir lofts, which depicted a dozen or so of Russia's miraculous icons of the Mother of God. Among them is the ROCOR Hodigitria, the Kursk-Root Icon, which I mentioned in an earlier post.

Alena, a soprano from Washington, snapped this photo me and a number of others in this hallway. You get a sense of the scale of the place... quite sumptuous!

We rehearsed for a while -- amazed by the incredible echo. This would be dampened by the multitudes of clergy and faithful the next day, but it was incredible to hear ourselves in this way. Peter asked Vova Krassovsky to go downstairs and provide feedback as to how the sound travelled to different parts of the church. He had to communicate his impressions to Irene Gan via cell phone.

When he rejoined us upstairs, Vova recounted that he had been approached by an elderly Muscovite lady, who inquired about the choir. He explained that it was representing the Church Abroad, and her comments in response were thus:

"Choirs don't sing like that here. You are singing in the style of the Tsar's choirs!"

We did sound good, and I, personally, was singing much better than I had that morning, having had that restorative sleep! Soon enough, it was time to get downstairs and, ultimately, leave. The elevators are small, and the place is huge, so, having had to descend in small groups and then wait, there was plenty of opportunity for the singers to scatter and wander off. Irene and Peter had to count heads like kindergarten teachers, and it did take some time for us all to assemble. But we did make it on time to our first "gig" -- Vigil for the Great Feast of our Lord's Ascension.

We were singing at the "Big Ascension" (Большое Вознесение) church, depicted above with Irina Mozyleva in the foreground, and about which you can learn more, in Russian only, here . The Patriarch was serving Vigil -- these were my first glimpses of and blessings from him! We sang antiphonally with the church's regular choir, and the very first thing we sang, to greet the Patriarch, was that setting of the Ascension troparion with my Grandfather's harmonization. We also sang Dedushka's "Gladsome Light" (Свете тихий) and M.S. Konstantinov's setting of the Exapostilarian. In all, we sang very well. In fact, some little old lady came up to Peter during Matins and stage-whispered to him:

"In my opinion, you sing better than they do,"pointing to the house choir across the church.

This is the church where Russia's Shakespeare, Alexander S. Pushkin, was wed. I pondered that as we waited for the Patriarch to arrive, as we waited for this ecclesiastical history to being occurring in earnest. I looked around me: so many familiar, so many beloved faces! There was Vova, husband of my son's godmother, there was Father Andre, one of my late Papa's best friends, and his daughters, whom I've known since childhood. There was Misha Gill, whose mother was one of my grandfather's star singers and whom I've known all my life. Old friends and newer ones were all around me, and I felt that the souls of my ancestors were there as well. So many of us, all connected, all there together for this historic event. I remarked on this to Liza Olhovskaya, whose thoughts were along the same lines. She had old friends and much family with her on this trip as well. So did most of us in fact. Thus, it hit me. This pilgrimage was all about looking back at history and rectifying its mistakes.

How poetic it was. How lucky we were!


Moscow -- First Impressions

Tuesday, 15th May:

The choir and pilgrims were housed at the "Hotel Universitetskaya." It's not to be found in guide books such as Lonely Planet! Yet, it's considered worthy of three stars in Russia, for the guest rooms have (1) color televisions, (2) private bathrooms, and (3) hot running water! The hotel also houses a chapel -- a far cry from Intourist, I'd like to point out.

What it did not have is computers! Check-in was completely manual, and involved slow, hand-written registration of each guest, passport by passport. This made for a chaotic scene when five busloads of people arrived at once. The staff was overwhelmed and the travelers were weary, but some of us had to wait quite a long time. A few very savvy young people sized up the situation quickly and rushed to the check-in desk as soon as we arrived, but others decided to help some of the senior members of the group. I noticed Archdeacon Evgenii Burbelo looking a bit shell-shocked, and asked Irene Gan to help him get a room as quickly as possible. She and Peter Fekula must have spent four hours standing at that lobby desk, helping coordinate the check-ins.

Irina Mozyleva and I resigned ourselves to a very long wait for our room, and settled in at the hotel cantina with some beers -- what else to do? Soon, we were joined by lively company and it was as pleasant as waiting for a shower after 10 hours in a plane and two hours on a bus could be. We got into our room after 6:30 that evening (note that we'd left Synod headquarters at 4:00 pm local time the day before!). The bedroom was not large, but serviceable -- a simple wood floor and full-sized beds with pine frames, with a large pine armoire, a desk, a chair, a nightstand, and a view of the broad, noisy avenue on which the hotel is situated. As for the bathroom... well, let's just say it looked better than it smelled!

I must have been exhausted, but rest was not yet on the agenda. Quick unpacking, a shower (in a 2'-wide, 4'- long and 3'-deep tub), a light bite at the cantina, and a venture out into the city was in order. Too early to bed would not help the adjustment to an 8-hour difference in time zones, after all.

A group of us got together -- first to get ourselves some rubles at the nearest money-changing office -- and then to get ourselves to Red Square. Among us were my dear friends, the Krassovsky brothers (Vova and Otets Roman), Liza Olhovskaya and her brother Sergei Shohov. Poor Serge was a bit shaken by the Muscovy idea of customer service -- he's an urbane guy, and was already feeling homesick!

At the bus stop, we happened upon more old friends -- Serge Chidlowsky and Vladimir "Mickey" Galitzine. With the assistance of our well-traveled Prince, we figured out how to pay for the bus and rode it a few stops to the nearest Metro station. There, we bought tickets and headed deep down into the famous Moscow subway.

I love those steep escalators and the heady sensation you get when riding down them!

We managed to navigate our way to Red Square, though I began dozing as the train hurtled, shuddering, through the tunnels. I was so sleepy!

That feeling passed as we emerged and found ourselves in Moscow's buzzing center. The weather was lovely, balmy and pleasant, and hordes of tourists and Muscovites were out for a stroll in Aleksandrovsky Sad (Alexander Garden).

I barely remember our walk. We bumped into Protodeacon Pavel Wolkow and his Matushka, and, eventually, plenty of other familiar faces. We had hot dogs right near the Kremlin Wall and walked past the Eternal Flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We came onto Red Square, and there was what is perhaps Russia's best-known landmark...

This view brought on the first of many tears I was to shed on this trip. I had so many emotional thoughts about my ancestors, about my own life, and about how lucky I was to be there. We walked toward the famous cathedral (really, dedicated to the Feast of Pokrov, or the Protection of the Mother of God, with one chapel being in honor of St. Basil, the Fool-for-Christ, the better-known namesake!), and I simply could not look to my right as we passed the ghastly building that houses Lenin's corpse. I literally shielded my eyes, I was so disturbed by that edifice!

We wandered on a bit and enjoyed pleasant conversation, but it wasn't too long before decided to head back to the hotel, grabbing some hot and tasty piroshki at a bus stop on the way. We had a busy schedule and many more emotional moments ahead of us.


Journey to Moscow

Monday, 14th May
As the busses left Manhattan (circuitously!), we burst into prayer, singing Христос Воскресе as it was, of course, still Pascha. It certainly felt like it! We sang other troparia as well, as is customary for the beginning of a journey, ending, of course, with the troparion to the Kursk-Root Icon of Our Lady of the Sign -- the Hodigitria ("she who shows the way") of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

Of course, all the faithful children of the "Church Abroad" feel a special connection to this miracle-working icon, and I'm no different, except that I'm able to say that the Church Slavonic service for this specific icon was written by my own Grandmother, Valeria Konstantinovna Hoecke (nee Gubanova). But more about that later...

The mood on the bus was, well, Paschal: bright and joyous and full of hope and expectation. Even traffic on the BQE didn't dampen anyone's spirits.

I did have one little mishap at the airport, over which I nearly had a heart attack. After plenty of goofing off and bantering with friends on the check-in line, I arrived at the Aeroflot desk and slapped my documents on the counter. The woman attending to me took the tickets, sliding them across the counter. Then she asked me for my passport.

"But I gave it to you!"

"No, it is not here," she told me flatly.

"It must be, it was with the tickets," I replied, my voice already pitched up half an octave as I rummaged through my huge red bag.

"I do not have it," she remarked again, unfazed by the implications of a lost passport.

I searched all my usual stashing spots, and looked to my friends and scanned the floor with wild eyes. "Did you see my passport?!"

"Go after your friend," suggested the Aeroflot staffer, uselessly, pointing at Pavlik Roudenko, who had been gallantly helping me with my luggage but had just gone to check his own bags. I ran after him like a maniac, despite knowing that he most certainly did not have my passport.

I returned, quite distraught by now, watching everyone head towards the security checkpoint and imagining myself stranded, alone, at Terminal 1. At last, Ms. Aeroflot moved from her post and blithely remarked that "sometimes things fall behind the computer. Maybe we should look."

There was my passport. She had caused it to drop behind the counter when she took my tickets. She didn't even give me a voucher for free drinks, much less apologize for elevating my heart rate to near-lethal levels.

Once I passed through security, I headed right to the duty-free shops with my roommate and dear friend, Irina Mozyleva and Galina Schatiloff, a longtime and beloved friend of the family. I bought some Absolut vodka minis for the flight (verboten, but that incident with my passport was justification enough as far as I'm concerned!) and some nice champagne for later. Irina bought some lovely California wines, and we were ready to fly.

We boarded and -- groan -- I discovered that my seat assignment was in the very last row, right near the toilets! This could have been terrible, but it landed me alongside Hieromonk Roman (Krassovsky), whom I adore, and his admirable mother, and right across the aisle from one of my dearest friends, Ksenia Papkova. Hooray!
There were about seven bewildered people on board who were not affiliated with us, so it was quite a scene. Everyone was feeling festive, and Metropolitan Laurus and his personal delegation made rounds all the way to the back of the plane (the photo shows me with the "ArchSubDeacon" George Schatiloff, one of my family's oldest and best friends, and one of Vladyka's most trusted people as well).
Though some people managed to pass out, I got no sleep on that flight. Whether it was the bathrooms or my vodka stash, my neighborhood was a popular in-flight destination, so I got to catch up with many friends and acquaintances from across the U.S. and Canada. It was wonderful, if a bit surreal. Who cared about sleep at that point ? ( I did care, of course, about catching up with sleep enough to be in good voice for all the upcoming services!)
We landed safely, Слава Богу! The Church Outside Russia had gotten in!