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.


Meg said...

Beautiful. Beautiful, beautiful... beautiful.

Of course, you do realize that your grandparents and your father had a *much better* view of everything that was going on than anyone who was there physically! :D

Hugs to you!

Fr. John Whiteford said...

After that service, I thought no one had more of a right to be tired and cranky than the clergy... but I had not factored high heels into the equation. :)