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?

1 comment:

Meg said...

Thanks for posting this -- thank you for pulling me back to my true self.