Posts Tagged 'all saints orthodox church'

“Always start out with a few good jokes” — a choir director’s initial and parting thoughts

I had my last rehearsal with the All Saints choir last night, and I gave a little bit of a farewell speech. I found some prepared notes from my very first rehearsal with the All Saints choir seven and a half years ago, and they still seemed relevant, if clearly pre-dating some things that I’ve learned in the intervening time. I prefaced all of this by mentioning that my favorite quote from my teaching evaluations this fall was, “Needs dumbed down”, which I find wonderful on several levels. Anyway, I didn’t read all of this last night, just some select chunks, but here’s the whole thing:

2 July 2005, All Saints Choir Rehearsal #1

Always start out with a few good jokes:

Music vocabulary—

Bar line: A gathering of people, usually among which may be found a church musician or two (usually Episcopalians).

Tenors: Most choirs have either a) none, or b) too many. When wholly absent they leave an aching void. When too numerous, they fill the void without removing the ache. Tenors rarely sing words and often produce regional sensations rather than actual notes. During the mating season, they draw attention to themselves by sustaining high notes while the rest of the choir has gone on with the phrase.

Seen in a church bulletin: “At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be ‘What is hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice.

The Scriptures on singing in worship

Romans 15:9—And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.

1 Cor 14:15—What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

Ephesians 5:19—Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord

Colossians 3:16—Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

Hebrews 2:12–Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.

James 5:13—Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

The Church Fathers on singing in worship

“Let us consider the entire multitude of angels, how standing by you they minister to his will. For the Scripture says: ‘Ten thousand stood by him and a thousand ministered to him and cried out, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Sabaoth, the whole creation is full of his glory.’ (Isaiah 6:3) Let us, therefore, gathered together in concord by conscience, cry out earnestly to Him as if with one voice, so that we might come to share in his great and glorious promises.” (St. Clement of Rome (c. 96 A.D.), First Epistle to the Corinthians, italics mine)

“…you make up a chorus, so that joined together in harmony, and having received the godly strain in unison, you might sing in one voice through Christ to the Father, so that He might hear you and recognize you through your good deeds as members of His Son…” (St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 100 A.D.), Epistle to the Ephesians, italics mine)

“We want to strive so that we, the many, may be brought together into one love, according to the union of the essential unity. As we do good may be similarly pursue unity….The union of many, which the divine harmony has called forth out of a medley of sounds and division, becomes one symphony, following the one leader of the choir and teacher, the Word, resting in that same truth and crying out, ‘Abba, Father.’” (St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 200 A.D.), Protrepticus)

A modern Christian writer on singing in worship:

All quotes from Why Catholics can’t sing by Thomas Day.

“[T]he sung ritual [is] a symbol of a burning faith [...] The [sung] liturgy in any language [is] the symbol of faith so intense and filled with joy that it [has] to burst forth in almost continuous song.”

The Great Unwritten Law of Church Music: “[M]usic for the church must not clash with the liturgical function; it must take its place in the objective liturgical setting and not seem like an intrusion. [It] must display a degree of quality and craftsmanship which will be agreeable to a prince and peasant, male and female, young and old. Everyone who […] hears the music must sense a group endeavor, a group prayer: maybe something performed by the assembly or by a choir acting in the name of the assembly […] that seems to sum up the highest religious aspirations of a whole people. [T]he icon painters [pray] and [fast] as they [struggle] to put the holy images into the exacting forms prescribed by tradition. You must try to do something similar.”

Music in the Church is best when it “(1) expresses the noblest aspirations of the communal, cultural, tribal consciousness and (2) seems to submit to the higher purposes of the rite itself.”

So, what does this mean for us?

As an Orthodox choir, our job is not to sing one or two “anthems” or “offertories” at specific points in the service as in a Protestant church. Our job is to help the congregation sing the entire service. With a 90% sung liturgy lasting close to an hour and a half, that’s no small feat. We sing liturgical music, which means we sing the music that comes out of the work of the people (the literal meaning of “liturgy”) [NOTE, 21 Dec 2012: this is the main spot where obviously my thinking has changed, and I would find a different way of putting this today]. That means, simply put, our worship is work. Given our leadership role in the work, our job is not to be individuals who just happen to stand in a different place in the nave from everybody else; our job is to lead the rest of the congregation into the ideal of “one voice” in worship. By definition, to do this takes time, effort, and commitment to taking that leadership role seriously.

It also takes the choir functioning as a community within the community. From one perspective, the expectation is quite high: we’ve gotten up early so our voices haven’t completely woken up yet, and if we’re receiving the Eucharist we haven’t been able to do the normal things that help get the throat and vocal cords going the way they need to—drink water, coffee, tea, eat something, and so on—but we still have nearly an hour and a half worth of singing to do, more if we’re singing in the Matins service. The only way we can do that well, not to mention healthfully, is to support each other, personally and vocally, so that no one person in any section is carrying everybody else for the entire Divine Liturgy. What it takes is simply time, effort, and commitment from all who are willing to give it. It’s that difficult and that easy.

To that end: In consultation with Fr. Athanasius, while I am directing the choir, we will take the following steps:

1) Incorporate the choir into Saturday evening Vespers for the four-part portions of the service, and rehearse either before or after Vespers. We will try rehearsing after Vespers for the time being; we might very possibly try it before Vespers if it is found that this works better all around. I have deliberately scheduled the rehearsal around an already existing service, and I will never take up more than an hour of your time at any given rehearsal. Ideally, there will be rehearsals where my agenda for the evening will take up less time than that, and we will only continue through to the end of the hour if there is something that the group wishes to work on. These rehearsals will consist of a combination of vocal warm-ups, sight-singing warm-ups, announcements, polishing music we already know and learning new music. The balance of these various components will vary from week to week, based on the service requirements for that week and coming weeks.

2) Warm up as a group either at 9:35am on Sunday morning or after the Matins Gospel, whichever comes first. Starting Sunday, 17 July 2005 (that’s two weeks from now), this will be the skeletal minimum with respect to my expectation of you if you intend to sing that morning. If you cannot make a Saturday evening rehearsal at this time, then I absolutely need you to warm up with the group Sunday morning. For those of you who sing in the Matins service, we will devise a regular rotation so that one week you may finish out Matins, the next week you will warm up with the choir, and so on.

3) Gradually phase out the use of soloists for verses and replace them with unison chanting. We will talk about this more as we go, but for Psalm verses and whatnot, I would like to see an alternating “left choir/right choir” approach, where perhaps the women sing one verse, the men sing the next verse, etc. We will experiment with this over time to see how it best works with this group. The vocal and acoustic circumstances are simply not ideal for solo voices, and where it is practical to use an ensemble, we will.

I will also do the following:

1) Put out a calendar outlining rehearsals and services coming up a month out (perhaps two months out, if I find that it’s necessary). If you know you won’t be at a rehearsal or a service, please sign out on the calendar. Additionally, if you plan to attend a service or a rehearsal, should something happen at the last minute preventing your attendance please call me or e-mail me as soon as you possibly can so that I know what to expect for that rehearsal or service. I offer you all the same courtesy—if something happens to me, I will let you all know as soon as I possibly can.

2) Make myself available for work outside of regularly scheduled rehearsals and services. For example—if you need help with something musically, want extra sight-singing practice, if the tenor section needs extra help and wants a section rehearsal, if you need to talk to me about something privately, or if you just want to chat, please give me a call or send me an e-mail and we will find time to do so.

3) Make rehearsals as fun as I possibly can. I want you all to want to come to rehearsal, not feel like you have to come, which in my experience will only ensure that you want to come even less. I want our rehearsals to be a friendly, positive working environment, because I think we’ll all get more done that way.

My final point for now is this: a no is as good as a yes, as far as I’m concerned. If, after hearing all of this, you are thinking to yourself, “He’s going to have to count me out,” that’s fine. I’m not mad at you, and neither is anybody else. What I ask, however, is that you not make a snap judgment now. I ask that you give it some time to see how it will work—perhaps you’ll surprise yourself.

I believe this is a group who is capable of a lot. If we can commit to putting in the time and the effort, and remember that this is not about us but about the glorification of God, I believe we will be able to accomplish a lot.

Okay, I’m done talking now. Let’s sing.

I also mentioned some passages from +BASIL’s essay, “The Ministry of Church Singers”. I think parts of this have to be contextualized as a bishop being pastoral and pious, but there are nonetheless some things he says unequivocally:

There are few ministries of the Church that require the devotion and the dedication that church singing does. You who lead the singing as well as you who follow the leader are precious gifts to your parishes. You are as important to the parish as is the holy table itself. As there can be no liturgy without the holy table, there can be no liturgy without you. This is not to compliment you or increase your pride, but rather to put a little fear and awe in you, so you know what your responsibilities are. Church singing is not a hobby. Being a choir director is not something one does for personal fulfillment. It is first and foremost a duty, a duty of those to whom God has given musical talents. It is sinful, in my opinion, for someone not to sing who has been given the gift to sing. Sinful! You join the angels, and do that which the angels do perpetually. That’s not an interest, avocation, or a hobby; it is a duty. Angels were created to serve and to praise, and you have been given voices for that same purpose.

[...] It’s a holiness. It’s not your ministry. It’s a ministry that belongs to the Church, and you respond to the call as well as recognize that the gift which you specifically fulfill in the church was, traditionally, and in some sense still is, an ordained ministry. The choir was not some club that existed in Church for those with some particular musical talent. To be a church singer was an ordained office within the Church. Canon 15, from the Council of Nicea, the Council of the 4th century, makes its point clear that only canonical singers should be appointed for that kind of ministry in the Church. That means “one set apart” for that particular ministry. Today we might call them Readers. While I’m not saying that every choir member must be a tonsured Reader, I do say that if we fulfill at least the spirit, if not the law of the Canon, that each choir member ought to see his/her participation in the choir as seriously as the ordained clergy take their ministry. I don’t know any priest who thinks that he can say on some Sunday, “I don’t want to serve because I want to sit with my wife,” or, “I don’t feel like serving today,” or, “I’m angry, one of the altar boys offended me, so I don’t want to serve this morning.”

[...] We jump in and we jump out. Some of us jump in on time and some of us jump in a little bit late. In my opinion, being in church for that first “Amen” is a sign, an indication of one’s humility. And where humility is, indeed, a virtue, its opposite is a sin. The sin is not disturbing other people. The other people in the church are not the object of our worship. It is rude, but not necessarily sinful, to disturb other people. But it is sinful to be presumptuous and prideful that one can jump in and sing with thousands of archangels and ten-thousands of angels at one’s own whim. “This Sunday I feel like singing, and next Sunday I won’t sing. I want to sit with my wife.” Leave that Hallmark—card kind of sentimentality for restaurants, concerts, and cinemas. You sing with angels, that’s secondary to sitting with any husband or wife or children. We stand before the throne of God, and when we realize that, every other consideration, all of our own personal likes and dislikes, become secondary. I’m giving my opinion now, and hopefully it humbles all of us. It’s a humiliation, that in its end, should be something that elevates us, that exalts us, something that gives us wing.

[...] You and your choir need be as aesthetically perfect as you are able. God not only expects, but He accepts only our best.

As I said to the choir last night, I’m a convert, not a cradle, and every convert brings with them some baggage from their previous experience. My background is one that places a high value on liturgical beauty and music, and that value is practical, not just theoretical. Church music is a profession. It is not unheard-of for church musicians in my former communion to have terminal degrees and to have half-time, if not full-time, salaries. While I have always known that such a set of circumstances would never even come close to being reality at All Saints, I have always tried to fulfill the musical function at All Saints as though those were the expectations of me — and I should stress the “of me” part, because certainly the point was never to turn the All Saints choir into an opera chorus. Rather, the point was that, if I was excited about what I did and took it seriously in the way +BASIL describes, hopefully everybody else would catch the spark, too, and get excited about it along with me. It was an experiment to see if one could build a fully-functioning music ministry at the only Orthodox parish in a town that was home to a Big Ten university and one of the best schools of music in the country. I’m happy that the experiment has borne fruit, even if it won’t specifically be attached to the parish anymore. All told, this (as well as the ongoing annotation and discussion of it here) represents a pretty good snapshot of my thinking of how the effort worked, and how I would approach such a project if I were to start afresh now.

Δόξα τῷ Θεῷ πάντων ἔνεκεν. As always, we’ll see what happens next. I thank All Saints, Fr. Peter, and those who sang with me for the chance to serve over the years, I hope that I was able to communicate some small element of what I love about our Church’s music despite all of my own faults and foibles, and I wish all of them, as well as whomever my successor will be, many blessings. Again, I crave your prayers for myself and my family as we make this transition.

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A transition

I suppose I should probably announce this, since it was announced in church this last Sunday –

Sunday 23 December will be my last day as All Saints Orthodox Church‘s cantor and choir director, and it will be my family’s last day as regular members of the parish. We will still be living in Bloomington until such time as our paths take us elsewhere, and I’m sure we will find ourselves at All Saints every so often — our godparents are there, we have godchildren there, we have many friends there, including the priest — but the next few months will probably more often than not see us visiting various other Orthodox churches in the surrounding area.

My last weekend, curiously enough, coincides with the first pastoral visit to All Saints of His Grace +ANTHONY. The transition aside, I look forward to meeting him and talking with him, and I very much hope that that weekend is only the beginning of a long and fruitful pastoral relationship between His Grace, Fr. Peter, and the parish.

Lest anybody add two and two together to get five — I and my family are all still Orthodox, and the St. John of Damascus Society will continue to be very much a going concern (with this just being the tip of the iceberg — lots of exciting stuff coming down the pike that I hope to announce very soon). The work I’m trying to do with the music of the Church is still very much on my plate, and I remain committed to helping in whatever I way I can with the Orthodox Church’s mission in Bloomington and at Indiana University.

If anybody has any questions, please feel free to ask them in the combox. My family and I crave your prayers as we make this transition.

The St. John of Damascus Society

I have been making random references to something called “The St. John of Damascus Society” for a few months now, and I can finally say something a bit more concrete.

The really short version is that in the planning for the Orthodox Music Symposium at Indiana University, it became apparent that it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for there to be a group that had administrative and financial independence from the church for purposes of putting together such things. We were piggybacking onto the parish for our tax-exempt status, and that nearly cost us a couple of our major supporters; plus, it would just be cleaner if we were able to have our own checkbook. The initial idea was something like a “Friends of Music at All Saints” or “All Saints Music Boosters”, and I went to Hal Sabbagh, a longtime chanter at and founding member of All Saints, to see what he thought. He was supportive of the idea, and was willing to help out however he could.

We incorporated as a non-profit in the state of Indiana last July; the next step was tax-exempt status, which meant assembling a board. Our Advisory Board consists of all of the presenters for the Symposium — John Michael Boyer, Alexander Khalil, Kurt Sander, Richard Toensing — as well as Matthew Arndt, an old friend of mine, one of the cantors at St. Raphael of Brooklyn Church in Iowa City and music theory professor at University of Iowa (as well as a former student of Richard Toensing’s). Our Executive Board consists of: Hal Sabbagh, president; Vicki Pappas, national chair of the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians, vice-president; Laura Willms and Brian Rogers, two more very supportive cantors at All Saints, are secretary and treasurer, respectively; rounding out the Executive Board are Franklin Hess, coordinator of the Modern Greek program at Indiana University, and Patrick Michelson, the newly-hired (as of the 2011-12 academic year) Russian Orthodoxy specialist in IU’s Religious Studies department.

All of these people gave generously of their time, effort, and advice. By November we had everything we needed to assemble our application for federal tax-exempt status, and that went in the mail on 14 November.

As Hal found out over the phone with the IRS two days ago, our application for federal tax-exempt status was granted on Monday of this week, and we will be receiving a letter within the next couple of weeks with our number. So, time to get serious.

The St. John of Damascus Society, with everybody who is involved, has developed its scope significantly beyond being All Saints’ music boosters. The basic idea is to promote the idea of excellence in traditional forms of Orthodox music as good outreach — that singing well and singing prayerfully not only do not constitute a dichotomy, but it can serve as a powerful witness to those around us. We have a number of ideas about things we want to do locally, regionally, and nationally, and while we’ve waited for tax-exempt status to be sewn up before we went public with anything, I can tell you you’ll be hearing more very soon, including ways you can be involved.

We hope to have a website up shortly; in the meantime, if you’re interested in the St. John of Damascus Society based on this little teaser, would you mind filling out this form? That’ll make it really easy for us to get announcements to you as we make them. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Thanks very much, and I will have more to say very soon!

Not an April Fool’s joke — a sincere invitation

I don’t know who you might be, or what your circumstances are. Regardless, if you’re an Orthodox Christian (or are in the process of converting) and a musician, I’d like to invite you to come to Bloomington, Indiana.

Maybe, it being college decision time of year, you’re a graduating high school senior who has grown up singing in your choir or chanting at your analogion, you’re trying to figure out which of your many college acceptance offers to take, and Indiana University is one of your options. Maybe you’re a grad student who’s considering coming here. Maybe you’re an adult who’s at a transitional point for one reason or another and Bloomington has something else you’re looking for. I really have absolutely no idea to whom this invitation might speak, but I feel like it must be extended.

I will be frank. I have absolutely nothing to offer you. I have no means by which to negotiate a recruitment package. My own stipend is modest at best, and it’s as much as can responsibly fit into the parish’s budget, so I have no way to pay soloists or section leaders. In the long term, I am working on a way that eventually there might be scholarships that we can offer to incoming students who are interested in Orthodox music and are willing to make a commitment to the choir while they’re here, but that’s a few years off yet at least. It’s a building that’s a challenge to sing in, to put it mildly. I will expect you to make music here a priority — at the very least, to come to rehearsals on Thursday evenings, and I will hope that you choose to come to Vespers and Matins as well as Divine Liturgy. You will need to have a car, because the parish isn’t accessible any other way.

However, we are trying to build something at All Saints. We’re trying to develop the music at All Saints into something we’re proud of, to turn All Saints into a home for Orthodox music fitting for the only Orthodox church in the town that hosts one of the best schools of music in the United States. Right now, for a number of reasons, we’re focusing on Byzantine chant, and trying to do that as well as we can with what resources we have available. We’re hoping that very soon we will have concrete developments that we can announce with regard to a new building that will be, if all goes well, the best place to sing in Bloomington. We’re not there yet, but we’re trying as hard as we can to get there as soon as we can. The St. John of Damascus Society — and we’re still waiting for our tax-exempt status to come back, which is why I haven’t made any humongous formal announcement about anything we’re doing quite yet — is part of how we’re trying to get there.

So, again, if you’re an Orthodox Christian with an interest in and an aptitude for our liturgical music, and you for some reason or another might be considering a move, I invite you to consider Bloomington, Indiana. There is an Orthodox church here, we’re hoping to be able to carry out some big dreams, and we need your help to do it, if you’re so inclined to take a leap of faith. I’ve got no idea at all who you might be that you are in a station in life where what I have to say might speak to you. There’s nothing to lose by trying at least — but if there might be people out there and I don’t try, then nothing will have been accomplished. So, if you’re out there, give it some thought and some prayer.

If you have questions, you can reach me at rrbarret AT indiana . edu.

Kanon of St. Kosmas for the Nativity of Christ by Jessica Suchy-Pilalis

Happy new year! Christ is baptized! For those of you on the Old Calendar — well, hope Nativity Eve is treating you well and you get all the All-Night Vigil you’re able to handle. Theophany falls on Sunday next year on the New Calendar, and I’ve suggested to the priest here that we do a full All-Night Vigil for it. I’m not sure how seriously he took it, and I’m not sure how seriously I meant it, but we’ll see. I figure if you start at 9pm, you’re done by 5am, and then you just sleep all day. What’s the problem?

It is a bit late, and I have been somewhat otherwise occupied to give this the full attention it deserved before Christmas, but in all fairness it didn’t come to my attention until rather late in the game in the first place. Dr. Jessica Suchy-Pilalis — herself an IU alumna — has published her setting of the first Nativity canon using Archimandrite Ephrem Lash’s translation, having recomposed the melodies by applying the Byzantine compositional principles to the English text. While I’m not enough of an expert in the formulae to be able to evaluate the setting at that level, I can say that it is very singable — certainly much more singable than the Kazan equivalent. Be aware that there is a small handful of typographical errors in the psaltic notation — I believe it will be shipping with an errata sheet in the future — but they are quite minor and if you follow the line where you think it’s going rather than what the notation says in these cases, you’ll wind up in the right spot.

One person made the comment to me that they found it odd that Lash’s translation doesn’t include the Nativity greeting in its customary English form, “Christ is born, glorify him!” and that as a result, strictly from a textual standpoint, they found Dr. Suchy-Pilalis’ setting unusable, even if it may be a more accurate rendering of the Greek. “Christ is born, give glory” is how Lash translates Χριστὸς γεννᾶται, δοξάσατε, and yes, it’s closer to the Greek. Lash’s translations are excellent renderings into modern English, but he does tend to disregard established ways of saying things in English when he thinks they’re wrong. As has been discussed here before, he makes an excellent argument for why the Trisagion is better translated as “Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us”, but it still apparently sounds wrong to a lot of people. He also translates Χριστὸς ἀνέστη as “Christ HAS risen,” which better conveys the past tense of ἀνέστη (more literally, “Christ rose” or “Christ stood up”). “Christ is risen” is an archaic form of the perfect tense in English (think “Joy to the world! The Lord is come” or “Spring is sprung, the grass is ris”), but we don’t use it that way anymore, so there’s some shift of meaning. For me, the more “traditional” English translations can be quite awkward from time to time (Nasser’s Mode III Resurrectional Theotokion, for example — “Thee, who art the Mediatrix for the salvation of our race, we praise, O Virgin Theotokos” etc.), and I tend to find that Lash knows what he’s talking about, so I’m happy enough to use his translations when I have the chance.

Anyway, I got this in time to sing it at our Nativity Matins — the katabasiae, anyway, since we don’t do full canons at All Saints — and it worked well, even if the second canon was in pseudo-Jacobean (or “hieratic”, as my godson Lucas puts it) English. The pronouns didn’t match, but nobody died. Nobody has ever complained about pronouns not matching (at All Saints, we don’t have a uniform English approach in our Sunday morning Divine Liturgy to begin with, let alone the rest of our liturgical practice) but if anybody ever does complain, I want to find a nice way of saying, “This is the current state of Orthodox liturgical translation in English. If you don’t like it, please send a note with your suggested solutions to the bishop along with a check that says ‘Translation Fund’ in the memo. No? Then you can live with the pronouns not matching.”

There are a couple of little things I might criticize — I’ve had English rules of choral diction hammered into my head enough over the years that I really don’t like it when people set diphthongs as two syllables. It might make sense from a standpoint of compositional principles, but to sing it that way sounds terribly strange to my ears. I also wish she had included slow katabasiae. Still, these are quibbles that don’t take away from the excellent work Dr. Suchy-Pilalis has done. It’s too late for this year, but do keep it in mind for next year. It’s the kind of effort that needs to be encouraged and rewarded, and most importantly, actually sung in parishes.

In which the author keeps the Mass in Christmas and shares other various thoughts

Christ is born, glorify him!

I got a phone call from my priest a week after Thanksgiving with a proposed Nativity schedule of Royal Hours with Divine Liturgy Friday morning, with Matins and Divine Liturgy Saturday evening. I gently suggested in return that it would be good to verify that the Divine Liturgy he was suggesting for Friday morning wasn’t the one we weren’t supposed to have Friday morning, since Nativity fell on a Sunday this year. More importantly, however, I asked him, why would we not want to have our festal liturgy the morning of, the one time in six years when our usual reasons for not doing so aren’t applicable?

This reasoning apparently made sense, because when the December calendar for the parish was published, the Nativity weekend included Royal Hours Friday morning, Divine Liturgy Saturday morning, Vespers Saturday evening, and Matins and Liturgy Sunday morning.

Then, the Friday before last, I asked him, hey, if I can guarantee the presence of bread and wine, would you be up for doing Litya/Artoklasia the next couple of Saturdays, given that they are festal observances where it would be appropriate? Yes, he said, and so I baked the five loaves both Saturdays and donated a bottle of Greek ecclesiastical wine I still had in the house.

For the Vespers and the Liturgy for Nativity, I even did something I don’t normally do for purposes of voice saving, the Old Testament and Epistle readings. My cardinal rule with those is — thank you, John Boyer — “If you think you’re going too slow, slow down,” and it’s really tempting in a space with no resonance whatsoever to speed up, but I didn’t. Saturday evening, even with only three of the Old Testament readings, my — shall we say — unhurried ekphonesis plus Litya and Artoklasia and all of the extra stuff for Nativity meant that Vespers clocked in at an hour and forty-five minutes, easily the longest Vespers service that has ever been served at All Saints. It was probably about nine hours of singing all told, from Friday through Sunday morning. Next year, with Christmas falling on a Monday, I may suggest that we just do a real All-Night Vigil (Small Compline, Great Vespers, Matins, Divine Liturgy), but I suspect that will go over like a lead balloon.

Anyway, as soon as we got home after church on Sunday we had to start in on the goose. Cooking plus company meant that it was about 10:45pm before we actually got around to any gift unwrapping.

I’ll note that I find the whole discussion about whether or not churches should close on Christmas when it falls on Sunday a little odd. To the extent that Christmas (or Easter, for that matter) are components of a liturgical year that has been largely abandoned, why should Christmas be given any special treatment one way or the other? 25 December is less “Jesus’ birthday” than it is the first day of the twelve day liturgical celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, which really is something a bit different, coming as it does after a penitential fasting season and coming right before Epiphany/Theophany. I suppose Christmas really does primarily function as a family holiday without that context, so it may as well be one. Jesus may certainly be the reason for the season, but the expression of that season is based in an ecclesiastical setting, and if you don’t have that setting (and/or if your first criterion is whether or not service times are “kid friendly”, which I’ve heard as a reason for why Midnight Mass in Catholic circles is downplayed these days), what’s all the fuss about whether or not the churches are open? Can you keep the Christ in Christmas without also keeping the Mass in it, at least and have it mean the same thing? If we’re taking the liturgical celebration of the Incarnation of Christ with all of its beautiful and glorious imagery and theology and reversals of human wisdom and so on and having to recast it as Jesus’ birthday party in order for it to make any sense in our current world, then is it really Christmas, or is it basically a cultural winter holiday with distant Christian roots where it would be nice if we emphasized them more?

On the “kid-friendly” point — my recollection is that I didn’t sleep much Christmas Eve as a little kid because of the anticipation of Christmas morning. So if your kid is going to be up all night with a lot of nervous energy to begin with, it seems to me an All-Night Vigil starting at 10pm Christmas Eve and going until 5am is perfect. You’ll all be getting home right about the time the kid was going to be up anyway, so what’s the problem?

A commenter recently weighed in on one of my postings on church architecture that Christ chose to be born in a lowly cave, so I’ll use that as the pivot from Christmas to my next set of thoughts.

St. Andrew’s Orthodox Church in Riverside, CA has gotten a fair amount of attention lately over their new church building. It is worth pointing out, however, that not all of the attention has been positive. There’s a good amount here worth thinking about, and I’ve been part of the discussion about building at my own parish for the last six years, so here goes.

A good twelve years or so ago, when I was attending St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Factoria, one of Bellevue’s commercial districts, they were embarking on a capital campaign to tear down the old nave and build a new one. The priest talked about the vision, what it would cost, and what the timeline was.

A woman raised her hand. “I have a question,” she said. “What if we waited? There are so many needs, in terms of supporting missions and giving to the poor. Why can’t we say, ‘We’re going to do that first,’ and put off building until we’ve done more in those areas?”

The priest was clearly expecting the question. “Well,” he said, “a couple of years ago we went through the exercise of asking, where do we think God is calling us to be as a parish in ten years? We looked at the ministries we support, how we’re going to continue supporting them, how we expect them to grow, and the other ministries we want to be able to support, and it was clear to us that in order to do these things, our current facilities were inadequate. So, that’s why the plan is to build.” The woman who asked the question clearly wasn’t buying the answer, but at least there was an answer.

Now, in my time in Episcopal circles, one thing you could never fault them on was process. Results — well, there they could be a little shakier. St. Margaret’s built a new church, most certainly — but they fell noticeably short of the ten year goal, from everything I’ve seen since I moved away in 2003. They lost people while they were building, the priest who married us left under some very unpleasant circumstances which caused more people to leave, and the series of interim leaders who followed meant that more people left because of uncertainty about where the parish was going. Bottom line is, the priest gave a good answer to a good question, that there was a plan and they were following it, and this plan will allow a both/and approach, but it still turned out to be the wrong thing to do, and right now the parish is drowning in debt (at least, that’s the picture I get from the website devoted to their debt reduction initiative).

I’ve written about this before, but one thing I experienced in Greece was that the poor congregate around churches. They hang out by the entrance of the narthex, some will sit quietly with hands up, some will hustle you, some will have something to try to sell, but the simple fact of the matter is that you can’t go into an urban church without having to interact with those whom Christ told you to feed and clothe on your way in. This is a good thing; their presence convicts you and hopefully prompts you to do something about it. We’re isolated from that experience in suburban churches, and to our own detriment.

At All Saints, we’re not a suburban church, we’re more of an exurban church. We’re in the middle of nowhere — no nice way to put it. There’s no way to get there if you don’t have a car — we’re in unincorporated county, so the closest bus stop is two and a half miles away, and trying to ride a bicycle or walk on these roads would be insane. We’re at the intersection of rural roads that are such that, even if I lived across the street, I’d still drive. We had a visiting priest tell us once, “Your remote location is a gift — it means you aren’t bothered by the concerns of being in a city like drug dealers and gangs and things like that.” This was some time after my return from Greece, and the first thing that went through my head was that this priest had sorely missed the point. The Church and the church building are not supposed to isolate us from the people we’re serving; they are supposed to help us serve them better. Right?

In Orthodox Christianity, as I understand it, the building is supposed to serve a number of functions — iconographic, practical, liturgical, and so on. Unfortunately, it seems like the conversations we have to have about building are required to assume that those functions have little to no bearing on what you’re actually going to be able to build, because we’re not actually building Orthodox churches in an Orthodox context — we’re building Orthodox shells in a Protestant context. What do I mean by that? Well, St. Irene Church in Athens does not have a fellowship hall, it does not have a set of Sunday school classrooms, it does not have a gym. It has offices for the priest; beyond that, it’s a church. By contrast, in the setting we have in this country, we’re supposed to have all of these other auxiliary services, and the fact is that they’re often the tail that wags the dog. At All Saints, we built a shoebox that looks like an office building first. It was envisioned as being the classroom wing of a three-wing facility that included a church; we built that first because the conventional wisdom was — so I’m told — “People come to church for church, but they stay for everything else a church does. This building allows us to do some of those other things while getting by as a church.” I had a conversation a week ago or so about another Orthodox building project where they’re building the hall first — the priest has evidently said that there’s simply no advantage in starting out by building the church, precisely because it’s the part everybody wants. Without that carrot to dangle, there will be no incentive to finish the project. So, we’re marginalizing our primary liturgical function because it’s just not practical when everybody is conditioned by the Protestant landscape to expect a buffet of secondary functions.

But, nonetheless, we’ve got a theology of how the church building functions iconographically and liturgically beyond merely the practical concern of needing a room in which to gather. Theoretically, we’re supposed to give the best of what we have to support those functions. We don’t do that to the exclusion of our duty to feed and clothe the poor — that is, to show mercy on our brothers and sisters — rather, it is part and parcel of it. Part of the function of the church building, as I am given to understand it (and as Lotar alludes to), is to be the property of the poor — something they have that is beautiful and divine in the midst of a life of hardship. (Which is why I’m a little less than impressed when I hear about churches that build facilities that they then go out of their way, with things like cardkey lock systems and whatnot, to make sure poor people can’t ever enter.)

Okay, so, fine, that’s the theological theory. All Saints has a complex relationship with those in need. First of all, we’re mostly a lower-middle to lower-class parish, so many of the needy whom the parish serves are its own parishioners. Second, we’re the first church listed in the Yellow Pages, so we tend to be the first called when people are calling churches looking for assistance of some kind. Our priest does what he can; our previous priest had a secular retirement plus the stipend the parish gave him, so he was in something of a position to give out of his own pocket to such people, but such are not the current priest’s circumstances. He tries to have a stock of prepaid debit cards and food on hand to be able to do something when people call; we used to have a relationship with a local homeless mission, and I’m not certain why we don’t anymore. A few years ago there was a discussion about trying to form some kind of an ecumenical effort in Bloomington to do more for the homeless, but the response the priest got from other pastors was, “Sorry, that’s just not going to work in this town.” Something the priest has started doing with catechumens is instructing them to have a bag of food in their cars that they can give to people who approach them on the street, and I think that’s a great step to be taking. Could we do more? Doubtless — who couldn’t? — but the structures aren’t really in place, and All Saints is not in a position to bear the administrative weight. We could hold a soup kitchen at All Saints, but who would come, and how would they get there? You need to do such things in the places where the people are, and that’s something we can’t do under current conditions.

The relationship with building is even more complex. Anything we build will take a capital campaign, and those are scary words for a lot of our people. The hard reality is that even more than St. Margaret’s in 1999, we have very little we’re able to do in our current facility. It doesn’t serve our needs liturgically, iconographically, or practically, beyond simply being four walls and a roof that’s sort of able to house services. At the very least, we can’t really grow without building, but there are parishioners who are adamant that we must grow before we can build. In a smallish community like ours, the big killer of any effort is apathy rather than opposition — opposition is at least engaging in the conversation. Apathy is not even acknowledging that there’s a conversation. Despite efforts over the years to get a conversation going about moving towards the permanent church building, there’s really no popular impetus to do anything. Some people have suggested that it might be better to talk about how we can expand the current space, but it just wasn’t designed in a way that would make that possible and cost-effective. 11 years ago, when they built it, they figured that it would allow them to grow to a point where they would be able to build the rest of it within five years, but neither the location nor the facilities are conducive to growth, and the realities of a college town with no real economic diversity to speak of have left the All Saints demographic in a position where many of them have had to leave Bloomington rather than stay and help grow the community they were part of establishing. Somebody told me a few days ago that the parcel of land in the middle of nowhere was partially justified as being someplace where maybe an archdiocesan retreat center could eventually be built, thus being a source of some income for the parish, but… well, it all takes money, money that people have not been thrilled about parting with for the last 11 years. So, six years ago, our priest said, “Now’s the time, we’re going to do it,” and six years later, we haven’t pounded a single nail. Will we ever? Hard to say. All Saints is an experiment, some say, in seeing if you can successfully plant an Orthodox church someplace in America where there have never been the usual reasons to have one. This is something of a strange way to put it to me; it’s clear that there has been a large community of Greeks in Bloomington since the early 20th century, they just apparently never felt terribly compelled to build a church. In any event, it seems to remain an open question as to whether or not the experiment was truly successful.

So, back to St. Andrew’s. It sounds to me like Lotar is probably a lot like the woman who asked the St. Margaret’s people, back in 1999, do we really have to do this now? Is building our dream church in the suburbs really so pressing a need that we’ve got to spend millions of dollars on it that could be spent on the things Christ actually told us to do? I’m torn, because I understand his point, but I also understand the point of building. Now, that said, he makes some swipes that strike me — as someone admittedly unfamiliar with the situation, particularly in contrast to Lotar — as uncalled for; it’s simply not true that “the whole of world Orthodoxy” does Italianate-style iconography while it’s only crazy American converts that want “Byzantine anachronisms”. What is true is that there are different styles that have been employed over the centuries, it’s somewhat cyclical, and right now there is a revival of the “Byzantine style” going on, not only among American “pseudo-pious” crazies, but certainly in Greece and in Russia as well. In Athens, yes, any church that was built in the nineteenth century is going to have western-looking icons, but anything painted in the last few decades isn’t going to look like that. If his story about the Georgian family is accurate, then that hardly makes it excusable, but I’m left wondering if there might not be more to the story because of how he has otherwise oversimplified some things.

My gut instinct is that there’s no way the Riverside project would have ever been justifiable in Lotar’s eyes; perhaps I’m wrong on that point, but I’m pretty sure that the answer the priest gave the woman at St. Margaret’s in 1999 didn’t turn her into a believer in the project, and from what I’ve encountered in various instances of these kinds of conversations, there are some disagreements that can only end in an angry standoff, with one side or the other bitterly claiming to having not been heard.

That said, reading the piece Lotar links to, I wish the priest had given an answer that was more like the one the Episcopal priest gave twelve years ago — that there’s a plan that is getting us to where we think we need to be in order to do the things we’re supposed to do as a parish, and this building is part of that plan. It’s not that what he says is wrong, exactly — and I can’t speak one way or the other to Lotar’s rebuttal on St. Andrew’s involvement with ministries for the poor — but it does seem easily read as unnecessarily self-justifying. It doesn’t seem to me to have been intended that way, but publicly dismissing those with questions as “small-souled” comes across as awkwardly off-message to say the least. There is a way to answer the concerns that people have in the context of a building project, but marginalizing them isn’t the way to do it. As I say, I get the impression that Lotar’s contempt for the project was probably a given from the get-go (and was probably a function of contempt for the community itself, or at least some segment of it), so maybe there’s no way that the outcome would have been different.

And maybe the thing that is unavoidable is that building projects are divisive. You’re not going to make everybody happy, you’re not going to be able to convince everybody that it needs to be done, you’re even not going to be able to convince everything that it isn’t a huge mistake. Yes, sometimes the naysayers are right; maybe they’re even right more often than we’d like to admit. I don’t know what the answer is; I don’t know if the Riverside church is a huge waste of money by a bunch of anachronistic and silly white people who are willfully skirting their obligations to the poor by building themselves a pretty toybox. I don’t know if All Saints needs to just get used to the idea that Orthodox Christianity in south central Indiana is a solution looking for a problem.

I believe the concerns of somebody like Lotar need to be heard and taken seriously. I also believe that Fr. Josiah is right in that the answer to those concerns is “both/and” — but the question is, how do you articulate the “both/and” such that the the person who believes they need to ask, “What if we waited?” actually believes that they’ve been heard and taken seriously, and so that the “both/and” actually gets realized? That’s a lot harder.

I feel compelled, for reasons I’m not entirely sure I can explain, to close with this passage from the ninth ode of the first canon for the Nativity:

A strange and wonderful mystery I see, the Cave is heaven, the Virgin the Cherubic throne, the Manger the Place in which Christ, the God whom nothing can contain, is laid. Him we praise and magnify.

Christ is born, glorify him! Merry Christmas!

St. Cornelius Orthodox Church, Amersfoort, Netherlands

When Andrew Gould was here back in January, he talked about having just gotten back from the Netherlands, where he had been hired to design a church for St. Cornelius Orthodox Church, a Moscow Patriarchate parish in Amersfoort. Hearing him talk about the experience was fascinating, and it made me very curious about what he was going to come up with for them.

Curiosity is no longer required; Andrew has posted his designs on his website, and I link to them for your perusal.

My hope is that in the very near future we are able to move forward with engaging Andrew to do the full design. The concept sketch is excellent to have and has been wonderfully useful, but we’re running out of steps we can take where it will be sufficient. If you might be interested in helping in some way, I refer you over this way.

On the difference between καιρός and χρόνος and building a church that makes the difference clear (Part II)

Organizing an event is a heck of a lot of work.

I had originally contacted John Boyer in late fall of 2008; I was looking around for Western notation transcriptions of Byzantine chant in Greek, and my friend Mark Powell said he was the guy with whom to inquire, and that I might also be interested in the curriculum he was developing for Byzantine notation. John was more than generous in providing very useful materials, and I figured, while I was corresponding with him and he was seeming friendly, I may as well ask what it would take to get him out to Bloomington for a workshop. This had been an idea I’d been trying to develop for a couple of years, since we were encouraged at PSALM in 2006 to try to put together local and regional events, but I’d never gotten more than a lukewarm response — “Who?” “Isn’t he too far away and too expensive?” etc. I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask him while I had his attention, however, so I did.

He quoted me a much more reasonable number than I was anticipating. I told him, right, let me check on a couple of things; I was able to convince a private donor to pay John’s fee and travel, Fr. Peter had no problem with it (particularly since it wasn’t being paid for by the parish), and I wrote back and said, let’s do it.

Well, then it took a year to make it work with everybody’s schedules. We decided on this last weekend back in August, and what I will say is that given a host of factors (not the least of which was the decision, made a month later, to bring out Andrew Gould the weekend before John’s visit) I would not have wanted any less time to get everything together. Even with five months’ advance planning, a significant chunk of my choir still couldn’t make the weekend work (although, in all fairness, one of them, Megan’s goddaughter Erin, was busy winning the Met auditions, so I guess that’s an acceptable excuse).

In October, the money from West European Studies happened; this really expanded the scope of what I had originally considered from maybe my choir and a couple of other interested parties to something that could be (well, had to be, given WEST’s terms) open to the public and conceived of as an educational outreach event. John and I finalized the schedule and the repertoire on 23 December; the Friday evening session would be the “lecture” of the series, intended to function as the academic side of the weekend, and then Saturday would be the all-day practical part. I set up a Facebook event and sent out press kits to 30 different churches, chairs, institute directors, community choral ensembles, and local news organs the first week of January, and was astounded at the responses that started rolling in. I heard from School of Music faculty; both an Early Music Institute and a Choral Conducting professor registered, and it came back to me that the Choral faculty member was even telling her entire doctoral seminar to come. I heard from a faculty member at University of Louisville presently teaching a seminar on early notation (although she ultimately decided she couldn’t make it); I heard from choir directors and priests in Indianapolis, Evansville, and Louisville; I heard from a Medieval Studies professor at Wabash College; I heard from local people in the community. By the time the registration deadline passed the week before, 45 people were registered; another ten confirmed over the course of the following week, and then still more showed up unannounced.

The last week before the workshop, the event planning was approaching a fulltime job; I had to make sure food got ordered and picked up, I had to track down CD shipments so we could have things to sell over the course of the weekend, I had to bug overworked Cappella Romana executive directors for scores (sorry to have been a nag, Mark, truly), I had to get registration materials printed and assembled, and I had to field phone calls from people who wanted to come but lived a couple of hours away and wanted to make sure it would really be worth their time. The last couple of days I wasn’t quite a one-man army; Megan, God bless her, helped with a lot of the last-minute errands and the putting together of the registration binders. I put together a couple of displays of Andrew’s concept sketch (pictured) so that workshop attendees could see it, at least trying to give a nod to the non-singer-friendliness of our space and indicating that we intend to do something about it.

On the other hand, once John actually got here, my job was significantly easier — I pretty much just got to sit back and enjoy the proceedings.

I must say it was worth it; all in all, throughout the course of the weekend, about 65 different people came. Not bad for an event centered around this obscure, gaudy Eastern repertoire that supposedly we Westerners can’t stand without the edges sanded down.

I picked John up at the airport last Thursday evening; his flight arrived at 10:30, and then between his checked luggage taking forever and my very smooth wrong turn leaving the airport, we didn’t get back to Bloomington until about midnight. Luckily, Megan had a wonderful meal and a good bottle of wine waiting for us when we got home (a Saveur recipe that turns lentils and sausages into a bowl of gold), and we three were up talking until around 2 in the morning.

In what would prove to be a pattern for the weekend, four hours later, it was necessary to be up and about. It was, as I told John, the “showpony” day; he was doing a radio interview for Harmonia in the morning (watch this space for details), a mini-lecture for WEST in the afternoon (no thanks to me; I had both the time and the place wrong, forcing us to rearrange our afternoon a bit), a coaching with Lucas, Megan and me on epistle cantillation, and then the first formal session of the workshop in the evening.

One thing that putting on such an event at All Saints did was push us to the absolute limits of what we’re able to do in our current space. John had a PowerPoint slide deck as part of his lecture; well, we’re a pretty low-tech parish on the whole, so I had to go out and hunt down a projector and a screen. WEST loaned us the projector by way of the Russian and East European Studies Institute; my old employers, the Archives of Traditional Music, were good enough to loan us the screen. Even so, it was difficult to figure out how to set up the presentation in our nave to maximize the size of the slides, minimize keystoning, and be within reach of our power outlets (even with extension cords). We managed, but I’d want to figure out how to do better next time.

We had made the decision to install a comprehensive sound system in the nave as the only real cost-effective solution to our acoustic woes for the time being; we gave the thumbs up to the order on 11 January, and the guys at Stansifer Radio turned it around as quickly as the possibly could, knowing that we hoped to be using it by 22 January, and they got it installed by Vespers on Wednesday, 20 January. John had also wanted to be able to plug his laptop into the sound system; I told Greg at Stansifer what I needed to do, and he told me, “Give me an hour to make you a cable.” An hour and twenty dollars later, I had exactly what I needed, and it worked beautifully.

In the end, where we needed to set up John’s presentation was nowhere near the condenser microphone installed for the homilist, so we still had to give him a handheld mic hooked up to Fr. Peter’s old amplifier so he wouldn’t kill his voice. (Why, you might ask, did we not plug the handheld into the nice sound system? Well, the mixer is back in a closet in the sanctuary, roughly 30 feet away from where John was standing. We had a long enough cable, but plugging it into the mixer produced no result. “Oh, right,” Fr. Peter said, stroking his chin. “I forgot — the long cable is dead.” Like I said — we’re kind of a low-tech community. Note to self: replace long cable before next such event.)

Nonetheless, John was a hit, a big one, and something that I heard from more than one person at the end of the session was, “You know, I was only going to come for tonight, but I need to rearrange my day tomorrow so I can come here.”

Following the lecture session, in lieu of a formal reception (which I’ll have to remember to set up for next time), a number of us tried to go to Finch’s for dinner, it being one of the nicer places in Bloomington. Alas, we got there just as the kitchen was closing, and so we relocated to Nick’s. It was a bit louder than we we might have liked otherwise, and they didn’t quite know how to make a Manhattan properly, but perhaps not an inappropriate venue, given that it was founded by a certain Νικόλαος Χρυσόμαλλος (Nick Hrisomalos).

It was a full house at Chez Barrett; besides John, our friend Max Murphy, my counterpart at Ss. Constantine and Elena in Indianapolis, was staying on our other futon for the night so that he wouldn’t have to commute. Once again, we found ourselves up until about two in the morning chatting, and needing to be up by about 6:30 to make sure our houseguests would be sufficiently plied with coffee and eggs, pick up the food for Saturday’s lunch (shout out to Eastland Plaza Jimmy John’s; three 30-piece party platters was a perfect amount of food for a very reasonable price, and they were gracious enough to have somebody there at 8:30am so I could pick it up, since All Saints is waaaaay far out of their delivery area), and get everything at the church set so that the 9am session could start on time.

Well, it didn’t quite. We might say that everybody was inspired enough by the previous evening to recalibrate their clocks to “Greek time,” and we didn’t get started until about 9:30am. Έτσι είναι η ζωή (that’s Greek for c’est la vie, which is itself French for “Life sucks, get a helmet”).

Without giving a blow-by-blow of the whole day, I’ll say that much of the day was dedicated to rehearsing the Divine Liturgy music, but there were a couple of theoretical points made that I’ll note. First, there was the issue of time, which John got at a few different ways. He has a principle, stated many times over the course of the weekend, that “If you think you’re not going fast enough, slow down.” Too often, he says, we just zip through the text like it doesn’t mean anything, which makes it not mean anything. This can be in chanting a hymn, reading the epistle, whatever. We treat hymns and readings like they’re just the next thing to get through so we can be that much closer to getting out the door, rather than adorning them with the beauty that a) they deserve and b) will make us want to be there and take part in the services as though they are gifts from God rather than as burdens to bear. So, again — if you think you’re not going fast enough, slow down.

Another way he stated this was to discuss the difference between χρόνος (chronos) and καιρός (kairos). The former is the world’s time; the latter is the Church’s time. This came up when he was talking about why some hymns are slow and melismatic, and even sometimes will revert to nonsense syllables — in the case of the latter, when this happens, the text has been stated thoroughly in a slow and melismatic fashion, and the hymn is now using “terirem” or some such to provide the opportunity to meditate on the text. Not only that, however; the whole point of the slow, melismatic style has a practical component — to cover a liturgical action, for example — but it also emphasizes the reality that in the liturgy, we are no longer in the world’s time (chronos) but on God’s time (kairos). I was reminded of what Met. Kallistos Ware says about the first time he was in an Orthodox church:

…I had no idea how long I had been inside. It might have been only twenty minutes, it might have been two hours; I could not say. I had been existing on a level at which clock-time was unimportant” (“Strange Yet Familiar: My Journey to the Orthodox Church” in The Inner Kingdom, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000, p. 2).

As he acknowledges in the same essay, this itself was a trope (albeit realized after the fact) of what the Kievan emissaries are reported to have said after their visit to Hagia Sophia: “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth…”

Another thought came to mind during this discussion — what do we sing in the Cherubic Hymn? “Let us now lay aside all earthly cares.” What do most of us do with the Cherubic Hymn in our parishes? Sing a setting short and fast enough so that we repeat it three times, because we worry that people will get bored otherwise. Isn’t that rather missing the point?

The other theoretical point John made was that there are three textures of singing in our liturgical practice: soloist (priest or deacon or cantor, depending on what’s happening), choir, and congregation. “We need all three,” he said repeatedly. “It’s very much a dance of who sings what when, and if you limit yourself to only one of those textures, you lose something important and beautiful.” As you may recall, the week before, somebody told Andrew Gould that they didn’t come to church for the beauty but for the participation; one wonders how such a perspective would understand what John had to say on this point. My thought is that he’s right, but dances have to be both taught and learned or they become mass confusion.

The services themselves were an adventure, but a good one; at the kliros, the weekend suddenly turned into Byz Chant Boot Camp (or Parents’ Weekend of same, as our friend Laura Willms suggested), and John was the drill sergeant. This Was A Good Thing; he was able to do get away with making certain points in a way I simply can’t, partially because a) he won’t have to see these people next weekend b) we paid him to be here specifically to do that c) he’s Greek. He was not shy about being emphatic in terms of instructing people during services; if you were on the isokratima, for example, and were sleeping on the job and missed his cue for the move, you got an elbow in the ribs. (As John said later, and I absolutely agree with him, “Please tell me a better way to communicate with people who aren’t watching me while I am singing.”) The thing is, coming from him, people ate it up; after the service, a lot of the folks who got the business end of his drill sergeant-ness said only, “Wow — what an amazing teacher.” For me, how this manifested was him pointing to the Byzantine scores he was following and saying, “You’re reading with me, got it?” Up to that point, I hadn’t dared putting enough confidence into what I had learned over the summer to actually use it during services, but much to my own surprise, I managed to keep up. I wasn’t perfect (and when it was just me on my own I fell down and went boom a couple of times), but I kept up.

After Vespers, we were all tired and hungry enough that it seemed best to simply call off the 7-9 session — we had reached enough of a logical stopping point that anything further that evening would be a matter of diminishing returns. It was early enough that Megan, Laura and I were able to take John to Finch’s for dinner after all, and once again we all found ourselves up until 1am or so talking.

Matins and Divine Liturgy the next morning were not without their speed bumps — everybody was just enough out of their element to make sure of that — but everything went quite well regardless. (We even made it successfully through the Cherubic Hymn, which had been a cause of some lack of sleep on my part.) A lot of non-Orthodox workshop attendees came, so we had a very full church. That said, I’m not entirely certain that everybody in the parish knew what was going on or why we were doing what we were doing (despite my plugs for the weekend along the way), and some of the reactions I got from parishioners were worded accordingly (“That was beautiful, Richard, but I will be very happy when we go back to normal” was one example). On the other hand, there was the chorister who told me, “I felt like my musical soul had been fed for the first time in a long time.”

Here’s a comment made by a workshop attendee to which I keep returning — the commenter in question is part of the local UUC congregation and retired English faculty here at IU:

Excellent workshop on Byzantine chant this weekend at All Saints Orthodox church in Bloomington, with John Michael Boyer, cantor and teacher… The whole attitude of the Orthodox faith tradition is very flexible, welcoming, inclusive, and constantly changing–such a welcome change from most of the Western Christian churches… As it happens, I’m not a theist of any variety, but if I were monotheistically inclined, I’d give this church a serious thought. Good people all around… This was my third visit to your church and in every case, I was much welcomed.

Seems to me that’s successful outreach right there.

John’s flight out was scheduled for 4pm on Sunday. However, as we left All Saints around 12:30pm, he looked at me with deeply exhausted eyes and said, “Would you mind horribly if I changed my ticket and stayed an extra day?”

Well, I told him, I didn’t know for certain where he’d stay, but I’d see what I could do.

Megan and Laura made biscuits and gravy, which I think may have cemented John’s friendship with Bloomington (to say nothing of his arteries). He got a nap, and made a wonderful dinner for us that night — a recipe of his own devising, incorporating pasta, kielbasa, kalamata olives, mushrooms, and green peppers.

(Tellin’ ya — how do we rate all of these friends who ask, “Hey, can I cook in your kitchen while I’m here?”)

And, once again, we looked at the clock while talking, found that the hours had slipped away and it was three in the morning.

On the way out of town the next morning, we had lunch with Vicki Pappas, the chair of the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians — also a Bloomington resident and founding member of All Saints (alas, in absentia for years, since she commutes to Holy Trinity in Indy). It was a very interesting conversation for which to be a fly on the wall; the musical situation in GOArch has its own intricacies, complications, and vicissitudes, to say the least.

The drive to the airport (no wrong turns this time, thank God) mostly consisted of us discussing how to get John back here, and soon. Watch this space.

Just to make sure I’ve said it: as with Andrew, I wholeheartedly recommend John if you’re looking for somebody to bring out as a speaker or as a guest instructor with respect to Byzantine chant. He’s knows his stuff inside and out, both in terms of chant and in terms of liturgics in general, he’s a great teacher, and of course he’s a wonderful cantor. He is a very effective speaker and teacher for an academic audience, an Orthodox audience, and a general audience — not something everybody can claim.

All in all, the weekend was a huge success in terms of being outreach, being educational, being of musical interest, and, more personally, building friendships. It’s very true that there’s very little in the way of specifics you can cover in a weekend; notation wasn’t discussed beyond some theoretical ideas, and there was only so much he had time to do with respect to the tuning systems, but I think what it did was threefold: it established that there is in fact interest in this material here in Bloomington, for the School of Music, the greater community, and the parish, it proved that you could talk about this subject from an explicitly confessional standpoint and have it be more informative for non-Orthodox participants than it would have been otherwise, and it stimulated interest in doing more. The School of Music faculty who came were very clear about wanting to participate more directly the next time John is here; people from the parishes of surrounding areas said, “Hey, how can we help with the next one?” and it’s also been expressed to me that there is a desire to figure out what portions of what we did last weekend we can keep as our normal practice. That will likely be a complicated conversation with a complicated outcome, but it’s a better response from the people in question than “That was nice, now let’s never do it again”.

What I will say is this: by virtue of the fact that we were open to the public and not charging admission, our own success made it quite a bit more expensive than we had originally planned. If you participated and would like to help, or would like to help regardless, please contact me (rrbarret [AT] indiana.edu). Our original donor has been very generous, but we had hoped to come away from this event with perhaps some seed money for the next one as well. Looking ahead, I am contemplating starting something which we might call “Friends of Music at All Saints” or some such, specifically to exist as some kind of a booster organization for such things; again, I am pretty much a one-man army here, so if you’re interested in participating, please let me know.

So, we had two visitors two weekends in a row. One told us about beautiful churches, another told us about what we do in those beautiful churches. Now what?

I think, if we want a useful synthesis of Andrew’s and John’s respective messages, it boils down to John’s point about kairos and chronos, and how that relates to the church building being an icon of the Kingdom. As Lucas pointed out to me, the word kairos kicks off the whole Divine Liturgy: Καιρός τοῦ ποιῆσαι τῷ Κυρίῳ — it is the time/moment/opportunity of acting for the Lord. Even better, if we want to read τῷ Κυρίῳ as a dative of the possessor, it is the Lord’s time of action. And what is the priest’s first blessing? Blessed is the Kingdom… The Liturgy is the Lord’s action in His own house on His own time. (I will note that this does not go well with the populist misunderstanding of “liturgy” as “the work of the people”, but it goes much better with the more accurate rendering of it as “public service”. It is the Lord’s public service being offered to His people, in other words.)

So, you have to liturgize in a way that emphasizes the fact that it’s God’s time, and you have to have a worship environment that emphasize’s that it’s God’s house. As Lucas also put it, you have to get across the idea that, no, actually, you don’t have anyplace better to be.

Schmemann, of course, talked about the idea that we should liturgize in a way that takes the Liturgy back out into the world. What I wonder is if we have a problem with the valve running the wrong way — that we bring our busy lives, our distractions, that is to say the world into the Liturgy with us and then expect the Liturgy to be run in a way that accommodates us. As I said with the Cherubic Hymn — we say that we are now laying aside all earthly cares, but do we really approach that text in a way that indicates we believe that that’s what we’re doing?

And when you’ve got a building that, no matter how you cut it, looks like an office building with icons and which traps our psalmody rather than lifting it up to heaven, is it any wonder that that’s our approach? Andrew was absolutely right — we’ve got the saints and the angels, but no City.

We’ve got our work cut out for us. On the other hand, here’s the good news — Fr. Peter told me a couple of days ago, “You know, a comment I got from a few people was that things seemed too slow. But you know what? In a lot of places, by having the choir sing it so slowly, I found that it matched better with the liturgical action, and it made a heck of a lot more sense.” We talked about a lot of this stuff, and it seemed to click with him that we need to figure out, and make a concerted effort reinforcing, the difference between kairos and chronos. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re at a point where it’s what we have to do.

The project that All Saints has ahead of it is not a building project or a musical project. Those are components, yes, but what it really is is a spiritual project. We’ve got to be the City on the Hill, the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem, the Light that is not hid under a bushel. It is desperately needed in this town, in this area, in this world, and we’ve got to convince ourselves that we want to be that, that we want to be an icon of the Kingdom, more than we want to be what we’ve been pretty good at being up until now, which is a little, struggling church in a little, struggling Midwestern town.

If we can do that, then we will have the hard part out of the way. If we can convince ourselves that we believe that and that we can walk in faith, then the temple will just about build itself, $2.5 million or no, and people will stop worrying about whether or not the music is too Byzantine or too slow or not congregational enough or not “American” enough or whatever. (By the way, I found over the course of the weekend that just joining a good English translation with a melody written for the English made things pretty well more “American” on their own. Others may disagree with me, but that was my perception.) If there’s a point that both Andrew and John made, it is that the ethos of the received tradition is not a buffet, not a “meat and three”, not a list of things from which you pick and choose. There are things that we can adapt for local circumstances, but you do that after you’ve received the tradition, and then only in a way that doesn’t obscure what you’ve received. You don’t filter out the parts of the received tradition you don’t like pre-emptively. You may well come to church for participation rather than beauty, but that doesn’t mean that beauty isn’t part of the organic whole.

The church building and the liturgy have to reflect the fact that we worship a God who is bigger than we are. God already “met us where we’re at” in the Incarnation; it is up to us to respond to that in faith.

Now, having said all of that, I’m at the head of the line of people who need to figure out chronos and kairos. With these two weekends out of the way, I have a ton of reading to do on Ancient Greek democracy and a couple of weeks’ worth of working out on which I need to catch up. I’m going to be juggling things for a bit yet before I’m really into the rhythm of the semester. Along similar lines, last Wednesday, John texted me at about 8pm my time: “I’ve turned nocturnal. Just woke up. I’m not sure, but I think it’s Bloomington’s fault. :-)” I guess the gap between chronos and kairos gets us all in the end. Pray for us.

More importantly, however, pray for All Saints. We’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us. With God’s help and by your prayers, we can do it. If you want to be involved more substantially, I’ve suggested a couple of ways you might be able to do so; contact me if you want more information.

Okay — back to being a student.

On the difference between καιρός and χρόνος and building a church that makes the difference clear (Part I)

It’s really hard for me to believe that January of 2010 has just about gotten away from me entirely. Classes started on 11 January, then there were two Somethings Big at All Saints the next two weekends that pretty much ate my life, and now this last week, the third of the semester, has felt like the real first week of classes.

Oh yeah, and Great Lent starts up in two weeks.

My class schedule feels a bit more focused on my interests this semester than it did last semester; this is good, but it also feels like I’ve got more work to do. I’m sitting in on a class looking at the medieval city as well as an ethnomusicology seminar on music and sacred experience, I’m taking a seminar on Ancient Greek democracy (easily the class where I feel most outside of my area), a colloquium titled “Essential Readings in Early Medieval History,” third year Modern Greek, and then I’m supposed to do some Latin reading with one of my professors. I’m also reading St. Athanasius’ Greek life of St. Anthony.

It’s not really any more work than last semester was, to be truthful, but I’m just getting into the rhythm of it this week, so I’m feeling a little more behind than I’d like. I’ll live, and not every eye will weep for me.

So, Andrew Gould visited All Saints the weekend of 15-17 January. All Saints’ building effort has effectively been dead in the water for ten years; the “temporary” building in which we presently worship is a shoebox (the left wing of the pictured concept painting), and it was deemed reasonable to build an ultra-utilitarian, multipurpose space first based on the logic that “people come for church but stay for the other things a church does” — plus, at the time (2001) they figured they’d be in there for less than five years. Well, when I arrived in 2003, Fr. Athanasius pointed at that painting and said, “That’s ten years away.” In 2005, it was still ten years away, and the parish council started toying with the idea of hiring a different designer, since it just seemed like there was no motivation on anybody’s part to build the original idea. We talked to Christ Kamages in 2006, but Fr. Athanasius announced his retirement shortly thereafter, and a number of people felt it would be unwise to jump into a capital campaign and building project under such circumstances. Ironically, Fr. Athanasius explicitly warned us against delaying, telling us at his last parish council meeting, “We walk by faith and not by sight, and I want you to go ahead with this,” but any conviction he intended to leave us with vanished as soon we had to start paying a fulltime priest with a family for whom this was how they put food on their table, as opposed to a retiree who didn’t need the money.

In 2007, Fr. Peter tried to figure out what we might be able to do to expand our facilities in small steps, and in returning to the original concept, he tried to push the idea of building the narthex and southernmost wing of the complex. The extension could be built to be an intentional worship space with provision for acoustics and so on, and would allow us more room to grow — we’d be facing south rather than east, but we would make do. The estimate came in at a half million dollars, which seemed to constitute a reasonable step in the right direction.

We raised, I think, all of $35,000. Maybe. “Pretty good for a church full of working people,” our treasurer told us, but it was clear that nobody in the community felt inspired to try to make sure it happened. Certain people who had originally said, “Let us know when you’re ready for us to write checks,” now were making excuses as to why they couldn’t — excuses like “Well, Dad’s old Episcopal church is building a new wing and we had to give to that…” I wish I were kidding. Worse, at least two large parishes outside of Bloomington were running capital campaigns and got to some of these people before we were ready. We were back to square one.

The situation didn’t improve any; we got to a point where the choir had to be relocated so that we took up half of the space we used to have, and eventually we were trying to figure out how we could configure the building so that the partition wall separating the virtual nave from the virtual fellowship hall could just be left open. We were (and are, make no mistake) in that horrible catch-22 where you need to build in order to grow, but you have to grow in order to build (and it is not an economic option to relieve the pressure by planting a mission). You will either figure out a way to build, or the problem will be self-correcting because you will die.

Enter Andrew.

Andrew’s work on Holy Ascension first came to my attention around Pascha of 2008, and I talked about him a bit here. I contacted him last spring in order to find out what it would take to get him out here when we started talking about how to get rid of the partition wall, and a number of us then made a concerted effort to convince the parish council that we should bring him to Bloomington to see what he would have to say. Long story short (too late!), we finally went ahead and booked Andrew in September, and the weekend of 15-17 January was the first time we could get the church’s calendar to sync with his.

When Andrew arrived a couple of Fridays ago, the first thing we did when we got him to the church was walk him around the property. He got to see a very representative sample of our 24 acres, and when we finally finished the tour, he asked a question which changed the game as we had known it up to this point.

“Why don’t we build on the hill by the corner?”

Keep in mind this is a question that has been asked before. The hill in question is the highest and most visible spot on our property from the road, and it’s a no-brainer to wonder why that wasn’t the plan from the get-go.

The answer has always been, and thus was dutifully trotted out on this occasion, “Because that’s where the septic field is.” This has effectively always ended that line of inquiry.

Except that Andrew didn’t go down without a fight. “Show me,” he said. “Where is your septic field exactly?”

We showed him. We showed him exactly where it was marked off as being. And his answer was, “This is a non-issue. We can build right up to this point, and this is exactly where and how the church you want can fit here.” He paced it out for us. “You’ve already got a boxy utilitarian building over there,” he told us. “On the 24 beautiful acres you have, why do you want to surround your temple with cars and asphalt when you can put it someplace where people can really use it to transition into a different world and engage your land?”

We spent the next couple of days talking about it. Miraculously, we didn’t spent two days arguing about it. The conversation wasn’t, “Well, why don’t we see what might be less expensive?” Rather, the conversation was, “How do we make this happen?”

Andrew talked about a lot of things. He talked, for example, about how you have to build for the liturgy. I had asked John Boyer if there was anything I should be prepared to talk about from the choir’s perspective in the design process; acoustics, of course, were the concern at the top of John’s list. Besides that, however, he also a big narthex, an apse that functioned as a resonating chamber, and the choirs placed in transepts. Andrew, as it happened, brought up virtually all of those things unprompted as practical “must-haves” that aren’t negotiable. (And the one thing he didn’t present as such, transepts, once I told him what we’re trying to do, he said, “Yes, of course, you’ll want transepts.”) Acoustics, in fact, were the very first thing that he mentioned to me as one of the design features he won’t not do.

Andrew talked about money. To build what he would design for the number of people we’re talking about (200 on Sundays, 300 on feast days), we’re looking at ~$2 million. His fees will be 6-8% of that, including construction documents. Plus, we have ~$220,000 on our existing mortgage that we have to retire. So, at the end of the day, $2.5 million is what we’re looking at, soup to nuts. (This prompted the question — what was the estimate on the original concept? $2 million for the temple and the south wing, was the answer, and that was in 1999 dollars. So, we’re not out of our original range by any stretch of the imagination.)

One of the ideas that came up while talking about money was trying to establish an alumni network for Orthodox Christians who have come through Indiana University. Surely there have to be hundreds out there who were in Bloomington when there was no church at all — hence Orthodox Hoosiers; I am slowly but surely getting this running, but I’m a one-man army on this front. If you’d like to help in any way, administratively or financially, please get in touch with me (rrbarret [AT] indiana.edu); there is no support from All Saints behind this effort except for the moral kind, and if perhaps there were 20-30 interested parties willing to pool ~$1,000 of startup costs for charter membership benefits to be determined later, that’d be immensely helpful.

Most importantly, however, Andrew told us why we need to build a beautiful church. This alone was a game-changer, and how. To have somebody who knew what he was talking about, and who is clearly a faithful Orthodox Christian, tell us with humility yet authority that in our current building we appear to be God’s people in exile — well, the terms of the conversation are permanently different now, because everybody who heard Andrew’s answer understands that the point is not to build four walls and a roof, but rather to write an icon of the heavenly city. A gentleman who had just been through a $1.7 million building campaign at his own parish to build something, well, not quite as nice, shook his head and said, “If only we’d heard that before.”

Andrew was kind enough to leave us with a concept sketch:

What you see is the view of the building from the southwest, somewhat in the air. The corner of building on the right is our existing building, surrounded by the parking lot. The church has a basement level which would function as the parish hall once finished; the temple itself would be level with the existing parking lot, and the covered bridge (a clever nod to famous Indiana landmarks) would extend from the parking lot to the narthex, over the valley that runs between the parking lot and the hill (plus you can also see the stairs leading up to the entryway on the north side of the narthex,). There would, of course, be whatever handicapped parking spaces are necessary, plus an elevator from the basement level to the narthex, but Andrew’s idea is that for the 99% of the parish that is able-bodied, the 200 feet from the parking lot to the church, however you choose to walk it, will function as a transition from the busy world into the Kingdom. “The temple will be 100 feet long to begin with,” he said, “so you’re walking 200 feet to and from Communion anyway. We walk that in the Target parking lot without even thinking about it. The church building shouldn’t be the place where we emphasize suburban ideas of convenience.”

Andrew’s other idea was to use a slab of limestone from our property (it used to be a working quarry) as our permanent altar. As I’ve told a couple of people, then we could tell C. S. Lewis fans that we have the real Stone Table.

Will we build it? It sure seems possible. Nothing has been decided formally (and I should emphasize that, lest I come across like I’m speaking out of school), and it will still be another week or so before the parish council can meet about how to move forward, but Andrew definitely got a lot of people excited. I think we should challenge ourselves to break ground within two years. I think we can build the city on the hill if we make it a priority to do so as a community.

The thing is, Fr. Peter is reasonably certain that we’re not going to be able to get a mortgage for more than half a million dollars. This means we’re going to have to come up with $2 million in cash, somehow. In the short term, we’re going to have to raise around $250k — ~$220,000 to retire the existing mortage, and somewhere around $21,000 to engage Andrew to formally get the design to the level of detail where he can produce the pretty watercolors that get people to write checks. That’s nothing when you’re talking about building a permanent church, but when you’re telling that to a lot of working-class Hoosiers, you realize just how much of an asset the imperial treasury actually was back in the day.

(Did I mention that I’m working on an Orthodox IU Alumni Network?)

By the way, I would absolutely, unhesitatingly, and without qualification recommend Andrew Gould to any church going through this process. He has a terrific eye, a wonderful sense of how architecture interacts with the landscape, and a frightening amount of knowledge when it comes to talking about the tradition of Orthodox Christian church buildings. Andrew is also very affable and easygoing, there isn’t a hint of arrogance about him, and he’s a great guy with whom to have a beer as well. All of us had a great time getting to know him, and we really hope to see him again soon.

What Andrew is not, just so we’re clear, is cheap and obedient — and I rank these negatives in the “plus” column, no question about it. Now, he doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, but neither does he say, “You’re a church, so I’ll charge you next to nothing.” He’s very up front about saying that he charges market price for what he does, and that this is his living, not how he fulfills charitable obligations. It cost $2,000 plus his travel to bring him out for the weekend to do this kind of consultation; as noted, the next stage will be $18-21k. The construction documents will be another chunk of change. This is not unreasonable; it’s just that that’s actually what these things cost. Our old design was done for “the discount” — and, well, as my father likes to say, the most cost effective way of doing anything is to do it right the first time, and sometimes free is too expensive. So, as far as I’m concerned, This is a Good Thing.

(By the way, because I’m clumsy, I accidentally spilled coffee all over the original watercolor of the old design during the course of this weekend, utterly ruining it. I swear to God it was absolutely an accident, but I was asked by somebody later, “Was that a Freudian spill?”)

As far as “obedience” goes — what I mean by that is, Andrew is not going to design whatever you want no matter what. He wants to design things that look like they belong where they are, but what he puts his name on has to be rooted somehow in Orthodox architectural tradition; if that isn’t what you want, call somebody else. Somebody challenged him on some points related to that over the course of the weekend; “I don’t come to church for the beauty, I come for the participation,” this person told him, more or less telling him that they felt like certain structural insistences on his part seemed unnecessary and foreign (at best) to what they were used to in churches. Andrew didn’t back down, and simply continued to explain with patience, humility, and his encyclopedic knowledge. This person was eventually won over — but the point is, don’t expect him to chuck centuries of tradition because you don’t like it. His churches are bigger than you, and bigger than him. Again, as I see it, This is a Good Thing.

This is already over 2,700 words, so I think I’m going to split this post in two. Thus endeth part the first; part the second, in which All Saints goes to Parents’ Weekend of Byz Chant Boot Camp, will be coming soon.

John Michael Boyer: “Why do we need beautiful music in church?” “So that it gives us joy in church”

We had Andrew Gould’s answer a bit ago as to why we need beautiful churches; last weekend, we got John Michael Boyer’s answer to the question, “Why do we need beautiful music in those churches?” What John said is of a somewhat different tone than what Andrew told us; it is less theoretical and more practical, but to that extent I think the answers complement each other. John provides an excellent patristic reference for his practicality, and I think he says a number of things worth thinking about. I’ll have more to say shortly.

(I will note that, thanks to how the acoustics at All Saints work, or rather don’t work, I had to be a bit creative in figuring out how to edit this so that it could be heard. There are still a couple of spots that are wonkier than I’d like, but I think it’s all audible. It looks like every second of decay in the proposed new temple will cost us approximately $1 million, so please pray for our building project!)


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