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.

1 comment:

CarolS said...

Thanks so much Elizabeth for this account! Know that all of us who couldn't be there were there in spirit praying along with you. It really touched me that all the ROCOR clergy and layfolk were not just just treated as guests, but as full participants. For those of us here, the role of a "doubting Thomas" is important in Christianity, but I wish those with doubts about this auspicious event would go see for themselves.
Carol Surgant