On Holy Saturday: An excerpt from Pascha at the Singing School

I’ve not yet started shopping this around — I’m waiting for some pencil sketches to submit with the manuscript — but since I’ve alluded to it here and there, here is what I think is an apropos section of Pascha at the Singing School, for your perusal.

It was the morning of Great and Holy Saturday at the Saint Romanos School of Singing, the faithful of the nearby village of Saint Herman were filling the nave in anticipation of Pascha, the Cherubic Hymn was ringing through the Chapel as Father John was censing the icons, sunlight was streaming in through the windows of the great dome in the ceiling and illuminating the clouds of incense, the scent of incense was mingling with that of fresh basil leaves and rose petals strewn throughout the nave, and standing there in the left choir stalls singing with the other black-cassocked children who comprised the Choral Scholars, Matthias was not looking at the choir book open in front of him — as much as the Holy Week music was rehearsed, he had no need for that. No, instead the boy was thinking about cheese.

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and stand with fear and trembling…”

In about sixteen hours, the third-year Choral Scholar told himself, the sausage, the eggs, and of course the roast lamb will be covered with it. Matthias would be filling his basket that afternoon with all manner of festal foodstuffs; blood red eggs, the stick of caribou sausage, the wine, and the various blocks of cheese — English cheddar, along with the brie and Havarti, very difficult to get up in the north, but his parents had managed, as they always did. The package of Paschal food had arrived on the steamship along with a brand new, beautifully made cassock that he intended to wear at the coming night’s Liturgy. It was still a little big for him yet, but his parents must have thought that he was going to grow some more.

Great Lent was hardest for the twelve year old, he had to admit, because of cheese. Meat and butter and so on weren’t easy, but cheese was what Matthias longed for from day to day.

“…pondering nothing earthly-minded,” the hymn continued. The boy’s cheeks reddened as he thought about what he had just sung and how earthly-minded he was being. “For the King of kings and Lord of lords cometh forth to be slain and given as food to the faithful…”

Matthias chastised himself, but, he reasoned, it didn’t help that he was hungry. He had eaten nothing since the night before in order to receive Holy Communion this morning, and Holy Week was always arduous at the School even with classes cancelled, so surely, even in the choir, with the incense, beeswax and fresh basil leaves permeating the air and the richly-frescoed chapel surrounding him, his mind might be prone to wandering a bit?

“Before Him go the ranks of angels, with all the principalities and powers.”

Holy Week, which had been a whirlwind last year with the bishop’s visit and the whole strange business about the Icon Made Without Hands and the retirement of Father Alexey from the headmastership of St. Romanos and passing of his wife shortly thereafter, had been relatively calm this year. Classes were not in session, of course, but instead the Choral Scholars spent their days in the Chapel. It was a lot — but soon everybody will be feasting, Matthias thought to himself. And I can eat cheese again…

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence…”

Matthias realized with a jolt that he had missed the cue to begin the Cherubic Hymn again. He snapped his thoughts back to the present moment and joined his voice to the choir’s, but he did so with just enough of a lack of control that his entrance was quite flat, and loud enough for those around him to hear. Sonia, the tall fifth year standing next to him, glanced down at him with her eyebrow raised. He was able to correct quickly, but not before Father Andrew, who was directing them as the First Cantor that morning, shot him a disapproving look.

And, sure enough, from the right choir stalls, another boy’s glare was also unmistakable and scorching. Isaac, who had come to St. Romanos as a Choral Scholar in Matthias’ second year, had always come across as being a loose cannon of sorts, but for some reason he had been focusing on Matthias with a particular intensity as of late, especially during Holy Week. Their eyes met just long enough for Matthias to know that he needed to look away as quickly as possible, and he fixed his gaze on Father Andrew.

The Great Entrance began shortly thereafter, and Matthias was able to avoid further reproval from either Father Andrew or Isaac all throughout the Thanksgiving, Anamnesis, and Epiclesis. Finally Father John, Father Gregory (who had been Acting Headmaster since Father Alexey’s departure), Deacon Basil, and the other clergy came out to the solea, their white vestments gleaming in the sunlight, holding golden chalices out to the faithful. “In the fear of God with faith and love,” Deacon David intoned, “draw ye near.”

I may post some additional excerpts here and there as the Spirit so moves me.


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