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A visit from His Grace Bishop MARK

In a perfect world, the way I — or any other cantor — would learn the ropes of a hierarchical visit would be to spend ten to fifteen years singing at the analogion with a protopsaltis who knew what he was doing. Excepting that, I would take a priest who understood the rubrics with a thorough knowledge of detail and could explain clearly what was supposed to happen from the cantor’s perspective. Excepting that, liturgical books that were written to address matters from a cantor’s point of view rather than a cleric’s would be acceptable.

None of those possibilities in fact being the case, what I’ve had to do for the last five years is pretty much wing it. For my first episcopal visit, Fr. Athanasius handed me a photocopy of the Liturgikon’s rubrics for the Divine Liturgy and said, “These are wrong, but you’ll get the basic idea.” He gave me notes on what was really supposed to happen, which I followed, and in turn, that wound up being not quite what we did either. Some variation on that has occurred every time since then; each visit has gotten a little better, and each visit has yielded a priest or somebody coming up to me afterward and saying, “Oh yeah, what I forgot to tell you earlier was this…” It wasn’t until after the third visit, I think, that anybody bothered to tell me that the bishop is supposed to vest during Lauds and that there are some changes made to accommodate that action.

There are multiple issues; I don’t know what I don’t know, so if somebody tells me something that’s incorrect or incomplete, I don’t have any way of knowing that until after the mistake is made. Plus, our diocese has its own in-house hierarchical service book that differs from the Liturgikon in a couple of respects, the net result of that being that I don’t trust any rubric I see printed anywhere without somebody in a position of authority telling me, “Yes, that’s actually what we’re doing,” because it’s clear not everybody’s on the same page (literally). What has sometimes happened is that a priest will tell me to do one thing via a note sent from the altar or some such, only to have a subdeacon come scurrying along twenty seconds later instructing me to do exactly the opposite. Our priest has always served with His Grace at the altar, so he himself doesn’t know exactly what should be happening from the perspective of the kliros. This is made more complex by the fact that our diocesan service book, while unquestionably useful, is written by and for a priest, not a cantor. For example, at the reception of the bishop it’s just noted that “the following hymn is sung in tone 4” instead of “the irmos for the ninth ode of the Palm Sunday canon,” which would make it infinitely more useful in terms of actually locating the music for said “hymn in tone 4”. To say nothing of the fact that, every time we’ve ever had a hierarchical visit, the Trisagion has gone haywire; the congregation hears the Trisagion to which they’re accustomed, they automatically start singing along, but but they don’t realize that it’s different with a bishop until they notice that the choir has stopped and that they’re singing over His Grace. Yes, the order of the hierarchical Trisagion is in the bulletin, but it is perhaps unreasonable to assume that everybody has has read or retained it in-depth. At one of his last visits, Bp. MARK stopped in the middle of the Trisagion with a bit of a smile and said, “We’ll get this right someday.”

(Let me emphasize, lest I be misunderstood, that I do not think it reasonable or realistic to expect the congregation to know the order of the hierarchical Trisagion. This is one of those areas, rather, where I think the argument for a model of congregational singing that consists of “everybody sings everything” breaks down.)

But, again, each time has gotten a little better, and for His Grace’s visit a couple of weekends ago for the Feast of All Saints we got it mostly right. The one thing I know I missed was the “Many years, master” that replaces “We have seen the true light…”, but I had Papa Ephraim’s long “O Lord, guard our master and chief priest” prepared for the Kairon, and the solution for the Trisagion problem was to swap out the setting from Cappella Romana’s The Divine Liturgy in English, adapted for hierarchical use. It was not the familiar version, so the autopilot problem was avoided. (Bp. MARK had mentioned to us before that the Greek model, as heard on the Angelopoulos Divine Liturgy recording, was in fact the usual Trisagion for hierarchical visits.) I got one person afterward who asked, “Since when is God ‘strong’ and not ‘mighty’?”, but beyond that, things were pretty smooth.

While he was here he also gave a talk on ministering to a college town (which may show up down the road on Ancient Faith Radio; we’ll see — do note that an iPhone is actually a really fantastic portable voice recorder, and I was very glad to have it when our $2,000 sound system failed), and we also briefed him on where the building conversation stands. When we showed him Andrew’s sketch and told him about his ideas, his response, in short, was “Build it. Just let me know how I can help.”

I’ve observed before that, when I participate in a hierarchical Divine Liturgy, the structure of the service and the way the parts function suggest to me that the presence of a celebrating bishop is actually assumed to be the norm, and that only having a priest as the celebrant is the accommodation. A way this was made manifest this time around was at the Cherubic Hymn. To back up for a second — in February, Fr. Peter had me sing the long Cherubic Hymn from The Divine Liturgy in English for the Divine Liturgy of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. He had liked how it had worked liturgically during John’s visit; we only needed to sing it once (instead of the threefold repetition we have to do with our usual setting), it was unhurried, and then he actually had enough time after the Great Entrance to do what he needed to do. “Sing it again,” he said, “I want to see if it really worked as well as I remember.” Well, afterward, he said, “No, that won’t work. It’s too long. I was waiting behind the iconostasis for three minutes for you to finish the first part.” So there went that idea.

Well, what was clear that weekend, as we repeated the Cherubic Hymn a third time, and then had to repeat “Let us now lay aside all earthly cares” on its own, a second time, then a third time, and still a fourth time before the procession came out from behind the iconostasis, was that the reason the other setting was “too long” is because it assumes the presence of a bishop. What was also clear was the assumption that the Cherubic Hymn will cover the Great Entrance a good chunk of the way around the church, since the priest only has one petition before he reaches the bishop at the solea. “Perhaps it’s better to make the long way the usual way so that you aren’t having to rejigger everything when the bishop comes,” I observed to Fr. Peter afterward. “You might be right,” he said. I think I will probably have the choir review the long Cherubic Hymn for next time.

In any event, it was good to have Bp. MARK with us; I haven’t seen him since January of ’09, a month before the confusion (as it is convenient to refer to it) started. Εἰς πολλὰ ἔτη, Δέσποτα!

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5 Responses to “A visit from His Grace Bishop MARK”


  1. 1 Ole Kern 8 June 2010 at 8:59 pm

    Holy Strong: Hate it. I don’t care if it is more theologically correct. It sounds horrible, loses any sensibility of reverence and awe for God and the poetic characteristic of hymnography. I think this may be a Fr. Ephrem Lash thing that John likes.

    Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral in SF (Geary Ave): while the cassock didn’t hurt, things have there changed a lot. I’ve even seen women in the nave in *gasp* jeans. If you had some type of sweatshirt or jacket to put over your t-shirt, no one would have batted an eye. There are still chances to get chastised by the older grumpy Russians, but that’s about it. The clergy are all pretty mellow and friendly.

    Andrew Gould: my parish in Santa Rosa, CA has gotten him to draw up plans as well. He does good work. If you ever out this way again and have the need to go wine tasting in the wine country, swing by our parish (Fr. Nicholas Speier usually visits once per year). Our’s is possibly the only parish in the country with real frescoes (there maybe a Serbian parish in Montana too). http://www.saintseraphim.com

    • 2 Richard Barrett 8 June 2010 at 9:14 pm

      For my part, I don’t particularly understand the dislike for “Holy Strong”; I find Fr. Ephrem Lash’s argument for it compelling, both in terms of being an accurate translation of ἰσχυρός (as well as “krepkyi”, for that matter) as well reflecting the syllabic structure of the Greek, and also the practice of translating it as “Holy Mighty” being Protestant in origin. I’m not sure what is any more or less “dignified” or “reverent” about the word “strong” as opposed to “mighty”; the question as far as I’m concerned is what the prayer means. Part of the reason I was drawn to Orthodoxy in the first place was a sense that the prayers and liturgy meant what they meant regardless of whatever my feelings about it might be. As my first Greek teacher might have said, “That’s an English problem, not a Greek problem.” What I will say is that it is an interesting case of an adaptation of a hymn taking on its own life separate from the original; a corollary might be the Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester, which “everybody” knows as the “Day by Day” prayer, even though those words don’t actually appear in what he wrote.

      The clearest and most amusing mistranslation of the Trisagion I’ve ever seen is in the booklet for the Divine Harmony release put out by the Russian Patriarchate Choir; they translate it as “Holy God, strong saint, immortal saint.”

      Hopefully I’ll get out that way again sometime soon — if/when I do, I’ll make sure I visit!

    • 3 John Michael Boyer 8 June 2010 at 10:47 pm

      Re: Holy Strong:

      I have to admit that the first time I heard “Holy Strong,” I balked. I thought it was ugly. After a while, it grew on me. And then, I asked myself, “what’s so special about the word ‘mighty’?” After doing a little bit of research, I realized that the translation “Holy Mighty” is what so many people are used to because it is what Hapgood wrote, and many translations of the Liturgy are based on hers. However important a document it was, her translation is not flawless, much less infallible.

      Fr. Ephrem uses “might” for the word “κράτος,” as in “ὁ Πάντοκρατωρ,” the Almighty; “strong” for Ἰσχυρός, and “power” for Δύναμις.

      Our English liturgical texts are translations. There’s just no getting around it. When we translate for accuracy and clarity, the true power of the texts comes through. When we translate for “poetry” or “churchiness,” we invariably separate ourselves from the texts in some way, focusing on how they sound instead of what they mean. When we are already worshipping in translation, any further separation between us and the meaning of the texts is unacceptable.

      Is “mighty” so horrible a translation? Of course not. But it is important to be systematic and consistent in translations. Fr. Ephrem found an ingenious way to do this, using different English words for the different Greek words for strength, each closest to their Greek originals. The only sacrifice we must make, then, is “what we are used to,” “what we’ve always done,” for A Good, Accurate Translation.

      Not caring if it is more theologically correct is a problem, and, frankly, a slippery slope.

      My glib response to the question “since when is God strong and not mighty?” is “since when is God mighty, and not Ἰσχυρός?”

      in Christ,
      JMB

  2. 4 John Michael Boyer 8 June 2010 at 10:07 pm

    An interesting account. I have some comments about the Cherubic Hymn:

    I have sung Byz Cherubic Hymns of what we can possibly call “a traditional length” (meaning the length of the *shortest*, *weekday* Cherubic Hymns in classical books), and with some clergy they are too long, with some they work great, with some they are too short. It takes a while to work out timing, and much can be done on both the part of the cantor/choir and of the clergy to come to a well-timed arrangement. It is my hypothesis that if the hymn is too long, then perhaps the priest has rushed through his prayers and censing. Within reason, of course.

    The knee-jerk reaction “that won’t work, it was too long” is perhaps understandable, but inappropriate considering what is actually going on in the liturgy at that point. Apart from censing, the liturgical moment is not strictly what the priest is doing (the prayer “no one bound by the desires of the flesh,” the rapid-fire recitation of the Cherubic Hymn x3, “Having seen the resurrection,” the 50th Psalm), but what the cantor/choir does: the singing of the Cherubic Hymn itself.

    The Cherubic hymn is Papadic, in that the way it is set is meant to cover the actions of the Priest, but this does not make the hymn itself incidental. It is not background music. So, kudos to your priest for waiting until the end to come out for the entrance, instead of just coming out and cutting you off, as many priests would. He did exactly what he should have done.

    The way the repertoire is structured is that not all Cherubic Hymns are the same length. This necessarily means that the timing will be different. It is actually the responsibility of the Priest (traditionally) to time his liturgical action with each section of the Cherubic Hymn. An experienced priest, then, will take his cues from the choir, not vice-versa, beginning his censing at Τριάδι, etc. (See Phoundoulis for these guidelines).

    I suppose the main points are these:

    1) A piece of music has a specific duration. This can be adjusted one way or the other through a faster or slower tempo, but too far in one direction or the other and the piece will sound ridiculous, detracting from its liturgical function and import.

    2) Cherubic Hymns are composed for their liturgical function, their lengths being a part of that function.

    3) The shortest Cherubic Hymn in the classical tradition seems to be on the long side of just right for contemporary clergy. Anything longer becomes “too long.”

    My conclusion is that contemporary clergy have a tendency to rush. More than that, however, I believe that the problem lies in an hierocentric approach to liturgy, a lack of understanding that sometimes what the priest is doing in a particular moment is not the most important thing in the liturgy.

    My 2¢.
    JMB

    • 5 Richard Barrett 8 June 2010 at 10:28 pm

      A very instructive set of points. So the solution is your dad’s rule — “If you think you’re going too slow, slow down.” Works for me.


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