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.

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