Archive for July, 2012
Tags: archdiocesan school of byzantine music, byzantine chant, chant, ecclesiastical chant, Greek, hazards of church music, liturgical music, random acts of chant, sacred music
The disc is a collection of the festal hymnody sung at Great Vespers for St. Demetrios (chosen to honor Abp. Demetrios), including the Anoixantaria (for those unfamiliar with the practice, Psalm 103 from “Thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good…” to the end is theoretically sung rather than merely read for major feasts in present-day Byzantine practice, although in my experience this is one of those things that a lot of people don’t do with the excuse that “nobody does that”), “O Lord I have cried” with stichera, Doxastikon, and Theotokion, hymns for Litya and Artoklasia, aposticha, apolytikion, and “Many years” for Abp. Demetrios. The ensemble, if I understand correctly from the list of participants, is a group of psaltes largely from the Northeast, including Dr. Grammenos Karanos, the current professor of Byzantine music at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and others from the New York area.
The first thing that must be said is that this is a wonderfully sung program; the wall of sound produced by these gentlemen is never less than first rate, and hymns with slower, more melismatic textures such as the Anoixantaria are particularly beautiful.
One of the things that I try very much to do is to view recordings like this, labors of love by people who are clearly far more knowledgeable and able than I am, as master classes, opportunities to learn finer points that I haven’t had the opportunity to learn otherwise. I have been informed by a particular point of view that makes certain assumptions, and not everybody is necessarily informed by the same perspective and assumptions. (For example, given a number of factors, I tend to assume that even for Byzantine chant, choirs are ideal, with solo cantors needing to be judiciously used. However, I am well aware that for many people, for this repertoire, the solo cantor tends to be the assumption in terms of performing forces, with choirs only happening for special occasions.) To that end, there are questions that I have about aspects of the recording. Some of these questions veer into critical territory from an entirely subjective musical standpoint, but may well be entirely answerable in terms of style.
First off, something that is immediately apparent has to do with repertoire choices. These are, with a couple of exceptions, not selections out of what have been represented to me as “the classical books”. The melody used for the prosomoia at “O Lord I have cried”, for example, “Ὢ τοῦ παραδόξου θαύματος”, is not the melody found in the Irmologion of Ioannis Protopsaltis, and the Kekragarion is not from the Anastasimatarion of Petros Peloponessos, either. They’re not bad, necessarily (although I have to say I definitely prefer Ioannis’ melody for the prosomoia), but I am curious about what informed the selections.
Second, there’s a tendency throughout the disc to cut off of endings of phrases (including isokratema) quite sharply; this is something that makes sense to me to do as a solo cantor, so that the congregation knows that the places where you’re breathing are intentional, but it makes less sense in a choral setting unless there’s a specific stylistic reason to do so. It’s obviously a choice, and one that is executed distinctively, carefully, and consistently, but I’m left wondering if it’s necessary for it to be as prevalent as it is here.
Third, the apichimata are sung chorally, which makes me wonder if there’s a performance tradition for apichimata that divorces them from their function. Soloists sing the verses at the “O Lord I have cried” stichera, so it’s not simply a matter of everything being choral for purposes of this disc.
Fourth, as performed, the ison moves around a lot more than I’m used to. I’m aware that this is a point where it seems everybody and their dog will tell you “the real way” you’re supposed to realize the drone, so I assume this is a stylistic point as well.
Strictly in terms of the physical presentation of the disc, it would be nice to have had more of a booklet; the performance is entirely in Greek, and while many of the texts are reasonably familiar, for those not used to Greek an included translation would help make the product more accessible. Doubtless this is a function of production cost; perhaps an “online booklet” or some such would be a way of accomplishing this in a cost-effective manner next time.
To sum up: this is a gorgeous-sounding recording that is probably best described as a snapshot of the state of Byzantine chant in Greek in the Northeast, which seems to be healthy indeed. I’ll be very interested to hear what the Archdiocesan Choir does next — the Archdiocesan School seems to doing a lot to try to raise the profile of Byzantine chant, and I’m looking forward to future developments.
Tags: baby barrett, fr. peter e. gillquist, general theodore harvey barrett, richard barrett, Richard Barrett is King Troublemaker, theodore h. barrett, theodore harvey barrett ii
There’s a page from a church website making the usual rounds right now titled about Orthodox practices with a newborn. As somebody who is going through those steps right now and having to explain various things (what’s the difference between churching and baptism? Why do you have to do the churching? What’s the whole naming thing when you’re going to do a christening? etc.), I think it’s pretty good. We wound up churching Theodore after, well, ten days, I suppose — it was sort of curious how it worked out, since our priest came over to do the naming on a Tuesday, and told us, “Well, there’s no hard and fast reason to do 40 days if it’s not practical to do 40 days, but it’s theoretically supposed to be the first real trip outside of the house for the mother and child.” Megan looked sheepish and said, Um, I went to Target yesterday. The priest gave a dismissive wave and said, not a big deal. Let’s just do the churching on Thursday.
Well, the reason we could do the churching on a Thursday was because it was the same day that Fr. Peter E. Gillquist’s body was lying in the center of the church, and we were serving a Divine Liturgy before he was to be taken up to Holy Trinity in Indianapolis for the funeral services proper. (There were around 32 clergy at the altar for his funeral. There’s no freaking way All Saints could have done that.) So, Fr. Peter Jon Gillquist carried Theodore Harvey Barrett II down the aisle, past the body of his own father, Fr. Peter E. Gillquist, into the altar. There was something weirdly normal-seeming about the whole thing — in the midst of death, we are in life — and there were a number of people who said to me that it wasn’t every day that the whole circle of life seemed to get represented like that.
Anyway. Something that hit me about the Orthodox newborn practices piece was this bit about names:
Orthodox Christian naming practices vary. A child is sometimes named after the saint commemorated on the day of birth, sometimes in honour of some other saint or biblical figure. Sometimes, however, the child receives the name of a virtue, an ancestor, or some other name entirely (see for example, early saints who were named after pagan philosophers like Plato). There are no “hard and fast” rules (as there might have been in ancient Judaism), except that Christian parents should name their child in a thoughtful and prayerful manner, not whimsically, idly, or merely according to some prevailing fashion. Our names embody our identities and point to our vocation. When we name our children, we should do so as ones who are identifying them as God’s heirs and dedicating them to His service.
A philosopher (and by a “philosopher” I mean Bruce Willis speaking Roger Avary’s words) once said, “I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.” Well, that’s not quite right. My name has a meaning; “Richard” means “king” (it’s cognate with rex, Reichert, etc. and it’s the semantic equivalent of the Greek name Βασίλης), “Raymond” means “protector”, and then “Barrett” can mean “strong man”, “hatmaker”, or something like “con man”, depending on what part of Europe your family is from. My family appears to be from the part of Europe where it means “con man” (evidently the only remaining reflex of this meaning in Modern English is the legal term “barratry”, which itself seems to mean something akin to “ambulance chasing”); of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m the strong king of con men (…or does it…?). No, what it means is that my father, Richard Ellis Barrett, wanted me to have his name but didn’t want me to be a junior. My middle name comes from my maternal grandfather, Raymond Myrick, whom I never got to meet.
Theodore is named for his great-great-great-grandfather, about whom I’ve written a decent amount. Theodore means “gift of God” (Theo- “God” doros “gift”, with the appropriate inflected Greek masculine ending), and is apparently semantically equivalent to the Hebrew form of “Matthew”. His namesake was a general (if perhaps not necessarily a great or even a good one, although this much is not entirely clear to me), so it was a no-brainer to us that Theodore the General should be his patron saint. But wait — “Harvey” apparently meant “battle worthy” in Breton. So he’s the battle worthy general who’s a gift from God. Of course, there’s still the whole problem of being a con man — but anyway.
Of course, the point isn’t that our firstborn is going to be a battle-worthy general of an army of con men who all think they’re God’s gift. (Although he might be, I suppose.) The point is that, “Harvey” and “II” and all, he has the best name we could give him, with the best link to his family’s legacy that we could possibly provide, however tenuous of a connection it may be and however forgotten his namesake may have been. The argument could be made that it’s constructed and contrived and trying to revive a memory that had already apparently passed away within two generations, but one doesn’t rebuild bridges by throwing up one’s hands and saying, “I guess we can’t get there from here.”
Perhaps it’s a lot of weight to place on a little boy’s name, but at the same time, there’s no question at the very least that he’s a gift from God. Besides, Theodore has gained 23 ounces and grown an inch since being discharged from the hospital, and he was eight pounds to begin with. I think he’ll manage.
Chapter Five: In which, having arrived in Canterbury, I find myself wondering about the Tiber and hear tell of the BosphorusPublished 13 July 2012 Beginnings , General , The Orthodox Faith 3 Comments
Tags: alexander lingas, cappella romana, john tavener, mark powell, matthew arndt, roman catholic church, st. john episcopal church kirkland wa, st. margaret episcopal church in factoria, st. mark's episcopal cathedral seattle wa, st. patrick's catholic church tacoma, st. paul's episcopal church bellingham wa, taverner/tavener, the episcopal church, the right reverend sanford "sandy" hampton, tudor choir
Much has happened in the last few weeks that I’d like to offer some reflection on, but some of it, it seems to me, needs more context in order to make sense. So, I will try to catch up a bit first with this story, already in progress.
The period being covered here is approximately summer 1997 through summer 2003. In the previous installment of “Richard’s Religious Navel-Gazing”, I found myself at an Episcopal parish for professional reasons and wound up staying for confessional reasons, and it was a transition that I ultimately had to make by myself.
That summer, I was adjusting to a new job — more or less my first “real” job — I was trying, unsuccessfully, to end a relationship, I bought my first car, I was trying to figure out how in the world I was going to undo some vocal damage, and I was also trying to fully embrace life as an Episcopalian. I was also taking on some of my first “real” professional gigs; I joined the tenor section of the Tudor Choir for a good chunk of their 1997-8 season, which was part of what necessitated the car purchase — I needed to be able to drive to Seattle for rehearsals.
A couple of things struck me very early on as an Episcopalian; first, at twenty, I was the youngest person attending independently at St. Paul’s by at least a decade if not more like two. Where were all the Episcopalians our age? I asked rhetorically of my longtime friend who had told me I didn’t belong at Overlake. “Well,” he replied, “what in the world has the Episcopal Church ever done to make people our age the slightest bit interested in what they’re doing?” He had become a firm believer that Christianity could no longer make any assumptions whatsoever that those who walked through their doors had any idea what either Christianity was or what churches were supposed to be like, that previous models had for all intents and purposes failed the current set of generations, and that we had to start over with words and images and practices and so on that today’s people would actually understand. A church organization that theoretically made continuity of their liturgical and musical heritage a priority was incomprehensible from such a perspective.
One of the other things that I noticed was that despite making a big deal over our liturgical and musical heritage and having beautiful buildings and a Book of Common Prayer that had all these other services in it like Evensong, it seemed like a very real minefield to ask questions about why we didn’t do anything except multiple instantiations of Rite II on Saturday evening and Sunday morning, a 6am Eucharist on Tuesday morning and a 10am Eucharist Wednesday morning. Sure, fine, I could (and did) say prayers out of the St. Augustine Prayer Book if I wanted to do more, but why not organize a men’s schola to do Evensong on Sunday evening? Um, well, because we don’t do that here. Well, why not? We just don’t, that’s why. (If one were to see here the seeds of the kind of thinking that brought about the St. John of Damascus Society, one would not be entirely wrong.)
I will say that even if my friend didn’t see what the Episcopal Church was doing for people our age, however, and even if our church building had hours of operation predicated upon a “Sunday-only” model, I could nonetheless see how St. Paul’s was active within the greater community. The church made itself available for concerts and organ recitals, and it also hosted a “town meeting” when Bellingham’s first drive-by shooting occurred. They’ve also started their own school.
At the same time I was wondering why St. Paul’s wasn’t doing more than Sunday Eucharistic liturgies, I was learning to sing music with the Tudor Choir that drew heavily from that richer liturgical tradition. The first concert I sang with them was titled “Taverner/Tavener” in September of 1997, which introduced me to a number of liturgical and musical concepts for the first time — antiphons, motets, the Trisagion, and ison. (Ison, as contributed to by David Stutz, generated the sensation, even in the rehearsal room, of being strafed by a formation of fighter jets. Accept no substitutes.) It was also the first time I ever heard of Cappella Romana or met Alexander Lingas, since it was a joint concert with CR and Dr. Lingas had just returned from a postdoc at Oxford. I had met Mark Powell before, since he was the tour consultant for a European tour that WWU’s Concert Choir was taking during the summer of 1997. I didn’t go because I had dropped out, but I certainly remembered Mark.
Commuting between Bellingham and Seattle for Tudor Choir rehearsals (and, eventually, voice lessons back with my first teacher) saw me staying in Seattle during a few weekends. I struggled mightily with where life had led me at this point; I was a college dropout, I lived someplace I didn’t want to live, I was working in a dead-end job, I was in a relationship that I had no business being in, and I had no idea how to get out of it. Some people I knew from church were encouraging me to consider the priesthood, but without finishing a degree, seminary wasn’t going to be an option, and the woman I was involved with was not somebody who would easily fit into the category of “priest’s wife” by any stretch of the imagination. (Incidentally, that’s not intended to be a knock; she was a lovely person in every way. It’s just a statement of fact.) All of this found me despairing as I was driving around the little Eastside town of Kirkland late one Friday evening after a Tudor Choir rehearsal.
I found myself, rather unexpectedly, in front of St. John Episcopal Church. I parked and walked around the darkened church building for awhile; at some point, I tried the doors, expecting them to be locked. They were not. I went in, and there was one flickering candle burning in the nave. I sat down in one of the pews, looked at the candle, and let self-pity wash over me.
What happened next is the kind of thing I don’t write about much because it’s only happened to me perhaps three times total, maybe four. For a certain kind of Christian, I suppose, these kinds of occurrences are presumed to be normative; I must be honest and say I’ve never trusted that, because it’s the kind of thing that’s too easy to manufacture, to either convince yourself that it happened or fabricate it for somebody else so that they think it happened, and who is anybody to argue, since by definition the whole thing is subjective and unverifiable anyway? All of that is to say, I mention this expecting skepticism, and that’s okay. I wouldn’t mention it at all except that it’s an experience I point to as a moment on the other side of which things went in a different direction.
As I was sitting there in the candlelit church and wallowing in my own unhappiness, I became aware that there was another physical presence in the nave. I had the sensation of this presence putting an arm around my shoulders.
I know, this presence said, and I’m sorry. Will you trust me now?
I don’t have any particular memory of giving an answer. Still, I was aware of a sense of peace that was replacing the despair. None of my problems were solved, and I had no idea how any of them would possibly get worked out, but I felt that I could have faith that things would work out for the best one way or the other.
Two days later, I attended St. John’s Sunday morning service. The Rt. Rev. Sandy Hampton, our diocese’s suffragan bishop, was visiting that day; he gave a sermon from which I don’t remember any of the substance, but I felt truly comforted in a way that built upon my experience two evenings before, and when Bp. Hampton invited anybody in the congregation who wished to renew their baptismal vows with those he was confirming, I went up and joined them.
From there, many things in my life changed rapidly. By February of 1998 I was back in the Seattle area, having been afforded an opportunity to pretend to work for the software industry, and I was all too eager to take advantage of it. Initially, when I relocated, it seemed to make sense to me to attend St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral; I had a number of singer friends who were there, and they appeared to have a rich liturgical life and community presence. There were a number of things about St. Mark’s that I found off-putting, however, such as a penchant for apologizing for the things expressed in the liturgy while they were being expressed. “Let us affirm our faith in the fourth century words and images of the Nicene Creed,” was something the canon said in the liturgy at St. Mark’s, for example, which left me scratching my head. If you’re going to qualify it in that way, why bother at all? The moment when I realized that I didn’t belong there was Easter 1998, when they had a brass band, a string quartet, lots of majestic music and pomp and circumstance, but Dean Fred Northup’s homily didn’t once mention the Resurrection — in fact, he seemed to be going out of his way to avoid mentioning it. Well, okay, if the Resurrection isn’t worth mentioning on, oh, I don’t know, Easter, then what’s the freaking point, Father? I could recognize some of the good that St. Mark’s was trying to do by being the way they were, but I didn’t see for a moment how they were actually being a Christian church if they weren’t willing to affirm Christian teaching. “Unitarians with prayerbooks” was a phrase that escaped my lips, and not for the last time.
(I went back once more for Pentecost Sunday, where there was a remote control mylar balloon floating through the church that was supposed to represent the Holy Spirit.)
I wasn’t quite sure what to do; I wanted to see this whole being an Episcopalian thing out, but the only other church community in the area that I knew I would feel comfortable at was Northlake Lutheran. I paid them a visit, but it had been four years by this point and nobody really remembered somebody who had only been there for a few months to begin with.
I lived five minutes away from an Episcopal church, St. Margaret’s, but I hadn’t been there — somebody had mentioned to me that they were a bit “weird”, so it hadn’t occurred to me to go. Finally, one Sunday, I just decided to go ahead and go since it was close. It was a lovely little church, they had a more or less decent choir and organist, they served the liturgy in a reasonably straightforward manner without any apologizing for it, and they had a really nice group of clergy in Steve Gehrig, Wally Bristol, and Rachel Endicott… but yes, it seemed a bit “weird”, in that nobody except Fr. Steve seemed to take the slightest notice that there was a visitor, and for somebody who was all of 21, had no family around, and who was going to church on his own, that really wasn’t a great feeling. I went again, and had a similar experience; that day, however, Fr. Steve encouraged people to fill out feedback forms, and I figured, what the heck. I said, in essence, lovely place, but for somebody who’s looking to fit in with a community, you guys seem like an awfully closed group.
A few days later, I got a voicemail from Fr. Steve that said, I’m so sorry, please forgive us, if you come back and give us another chance I promise you we’ll do a better job. I later found out that I was hardly the first person to offer this critique of St. Margaret’s, and that Fr. Steve often had harsh words for the congregation when things like this happened (as I heard for myself once or twice in the following 5 years).
So, I went back, and yes, it was a much different experience. Most importantly, it started a friendship with Fr. Steve that I really valued; he was a spiritual father to me in many ways, even in a tradition that didn’t necessarily know those words, and I am thankful for his presence in my life to this day. He was one who strongly encouraged me to consider the priesthood, and he also assured me — after I had inquired — that if I wanted to give a confession, he was willing to hear it (rare in my experience amongst Episcopal clergy). Neither of these ultimately went anywhere, but the things we talked about in the context of those encouragements got me thinking along lines that led me to start reading Catholic apologetics. Not because, at that point, I thought I would leave the Episcopal Church, but rather because I was starting to think of myself as an Anglo-Catholic, and I wanted to develop a better understanding of what the “Catholic” side of that meant.
Still, there was a very real way in which I continued to feel like neither fish nor fowl. I was, again, the youngest person attending independently, and I was again left wondering why we didn’t at least do Choral Evensong one night a week or something like that. The answer in this case seemed to be because The Other Episcopal Church in Bellevue (The One That Was Big, Rich, and Liberal) was renowned for a beautiful Sunday evening Choral Evensong service, and St. Margaret’s didn’t want to be anything like them. St. Margaret’s had some vibrant community outreach going, including a thrift shop located in a park and ride, and they had a ten-year vision for how to keep it up that included building a new church building that would accommodate all of their intended ministries, but I continued to wonder, where are all the Episcopalians my age? They weren’t at the Cathedral, they weren’t at St. John’s, they weren’t at St. Paul’s, and now they weren’t at St. Margaret’s, either. I tried inviting my friends; even Rite II was just too foreign to the suburban Evangelical experience to be anything remotely identifiable to them as Christian.
Well, by the following spring, I wasn’t attending St. Margaret’s by myself anymore. I was now attending with the previously-mentioned Megan McKamey, who, despite having been functionally agnostic when I met her, had returned to Christianity, and who fell in love with St. Margaret’s after going with me once shortly after we started dating again. So, there was at least one more person my age there.
The story of our relationship is to be told another time; suffice it to say that having known each other for four years by this point and having taken some knocks, both of us had a pretty good idea of what it was we were looking for, and within a couple of months we were talking about marriage. Religion was something both of us took very seriously in the context of marriage; for my part, seeing what my parents went through, I wanted us to be on the same page, and I was willing to be the one to make changes if necessary to make that happen. Megan had been raised Catholic; once we were engaged, and it was clear that there were a couple of members of her family who would have something of an issue with her marrying outside of the faith, I asked, after some consideration, “Do you want me to convert?” I explained that being an Anglican had gotten me thinking about various doctrinal points, and that I found myself closer to the Catholic position on a lot of things than I had ever thought possible, so if it was what she wanted, I would be willing to go the rest of the way. She thought about it, but ultimately the answer was no — she said, simply, “I don’t think I need you to do that right now.”
To expand on what I just said — the best way for me to put the shift I was going through is that in the context of the liturgy, I would find myself confronted by certain theological issues as expressed in the service (yes, even in Rite II). In thinking about it, I concluded for myself that I either believed it as it was affirmed in the liturgy, or there was no meaning to the liturgy. The Real Presence in the Eucharist was perhaps the most obvious issue, but there were others. This was a slow process for me; it was maybe three years after my confirmation before I even felt entirely comfortable making the Sign of the Cross. Anyway, it was clear to me that many of my more liberal friends (inclusive of — and perhaps especially — former clergy) knew and and understood the significance of affirming something in the liturgy too, because they were very up front about telling me, “Well, that’s why I don’t say the Creed.” The more I went the other way, however, the more Anglo-Catholic I found myself trying to be — or, maybe more accurately, the more I found myself thinking in ways that I imagined Anglo-Catholics to think (remember we’re talking about the Pacific Northwest here).
Megan was confirmed two months before our wedding, and our ceremony included a full Eucharist (and yes, there were family members of Megan’s who chose not to attend). Fr. Steve explained Communion to the congregation in the following way: “All can, some should, none must.” Megan’s dad received Communion; I didn’t know this at the time, but this was evidently the first time he had received since the divorce. As I understand it, this led to him taking steps to be reconciled to Rome so that he could commune again in his own church, and Holy Week of 2002, we found ourselves down at St. Patrick’s in Tacoma for his reconciliation and Megan’s stepmother’s baptism and confirmation.
Over time, I found my interest in liturgy and sacred music continuing to develop, and I continued to wonder why, for a communion that supposedly prized itself on its liturgical heritage, it seemed like people were reticent to embrace much of it beyond an 11:15am organ and choir service for the blue-hairs (and the Barretts). In another somewhat proto-St. John of Damascus Society move, I started to explore the possibility of commissioning a program of Christian art songs (and this in fact yielded a lovely result in “Blessed are those who mourn”, composed for me by current SJDS advisory board member Matthew Arndt). In trying to generate interest at St. Margaret’s in supporting a fuller musical and liturgical program, I put together an adult education program about sacred music that was given over a few Sundays (and, alas, I can’t say it was terribly successful). Fr. Steve seemed to be sympathetic to my interests, but ultimately he seemed to feel that the future for St. Margaret’s lay with “contemporary” music and worship and the raft of young families that attended the 9am service. He had designed St. Margaret’s new church building to be basically a smaller version of a seeker-friendly megachurch that just happened to still have the Book of Common Prayer in the pews.
Other adult ed opportunities at St. Margaret’s included a daylong workshop on rosary making, which Megan took to like a fish to water, and she started making a lot of them as gifts for family and friends. Another one was titled “Discover Your Prayer Style”, which on the whole I’m not sure was entirely productive (enneagrams? Seriously?), except that it was my introduction to icons (which, I have to say, I found to be incredibly gaudy and pretentious in 2002).
I continued to read Catholic apologetics, and Megan and I had some conversations about hypothetically converting (or perhaps “reverting” in her case) down the road. What would it mean? What would it look like? What would the circumstances have to be? We never came up with any definitive answers, but it had been very definitively on our minds since Holy Week of 2002.
There was a Tudor Choir concert in the spring of 2002 that found my friend Mark Powell and I having a conversation right before we went on that somehow led into he and I saying the Creed together. I knew Mark was Greek Orthodox, but I had no real idea what that meant except that he wore his wedding ring on his right hand, he usually celebrated Easter on a different day from the rest of us, and his services were notoriously long. I cannot for the life of me remember what the topic was that got us there, but I do know that as soon as we got to the section on the Holy Spirit, I said “…who proceeds from the Father and the Son…” and Mark stopped me cold. “No, no, no,” he said. “That’s not how it goes. ‘…who proceeds from the Father.'”
I gave him a blank look. “What are you talking about? I don’t know anything about this.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Mark asked incredulously. “That’s the whole reason East and West split in the first place.”
I apologized for my ignorance, and after the concert, Mark sat me down for sake at a Japanese restaurant and gave me “Orthodoxy 101”. This is who we are, these are our distinctives, this is why the filioque matters, this is what we believe about Christ, the Church, the Virgin Mary, and so on. It was all fascinating, particularly in comparison with the Catholic apologetics I had been reading, and I listened eagerly.
After dinner, I went home and forgot about it entirely.
In the fall of 2002, Megan and I were asked to serve as delegates to the convention for the Diocese of Olympia. This was, to say the least, a seriously eye-opening experience, and it disabused us of any notion that our experience at St. Margaret’s (to say nothing of my experience at St. Paul’s in Bellingham) was at all representative of what the Episcopal Church looked like in our Diocese. It opened up with our bishop announcing that he was getting a divorce, and the weekend also included St. Mark’s Cathedral trying to revise its governing structure so that it was a secular community center that happened to host church services, replacing “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” with “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier” lest masculine imagery be distastefully employed, and in general there were problematic sides of things I had never had a problem with before that were rearing their heads all over the place. On the whole, the face that the Diocese of Olympia presented to us that weekend was one of an organization interested in being a secular social services organ first, and a Christian church… ninth? Tenth? Twentieth?
Up to that point, I had assumed that I would have an Episcopal funeral, that my children would be raised as Episcopalians, and that my wife and I would grow old complaining every Easter about how cheesy and freaking long “Hail thee, festival day” is. But after that weekend, such an outcome seemed terribly unlikely.
We stayed put for the time being. But it became clear shortly thereafter that a geographical move was going to be in our immediate future, and it seemed like an opportune time for a confessional move. If you had asked us about it right then, we would have said that we assumed that meant Rome.
Then, on Saturday, 26 April 2003, we got a phone call from Tatiana, a Ukrainian woman who was Megan’s boss. “Hey,” she said. “This weekend is Orthodox Easter, and the woman I usually go with got deported. I don’t know who else to ask, but I know you guys go to church. Do you want to come with me?”
Tags: fr. peter e. gillquist, theodore harvey barrett ii
A little over nine years ago I read Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith by Fr. Peter E. Gillquist. It was one of a flurry of books I read around this time, starting with the Ware The Orthodox Church and Pelikan’s The Vindication of Tradition, and including Schmemann’s For the Life of the World and Clark Carlton’s The Faith, The Way, The Truth, and The Life. I wouldn’t say the book had an overabundance of things to say to me, since I didn’t really have the conceptual problems of an evangelical per se, but given where I was at the time (the full story of which will have to wait), and given how I generally approach things, I remember thinking, Well, if this guy’s job is supposed to be missions and evangelism, then maybe he’ll know what to tell me. I wrote him a fairly lengthy letter explaining to him a lot about where I was at, and sent it off not really expecting a response, figuring that he had to get letters from perplexed Catholic-wannabe Protestants all the time.
A couple of weeks later, I got a large envelope in reply from Fr. Peter, containing a copy of Matthew Gallatin’s Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells, and a handwritten note that advised me to get in touch with a local priest named Fr. James Bernstein. “He will understand you!” the note said.
That turned out to be a fruitful pairing indeed, and I would say that Fr. Peter’s willingness to take me seriously enough to pass along some kind of useful response was a big factor in becoming Orthodox two years later.
I finally met Fr. Peter a few months after his son was assigned to All Saints, the parish in our adopted home of Bloomington, Indiana. He gave a wonderful presentation for IU’s OCF that was also attended by a good 80 people from the greater community. He continued to make appearances at All Saints every so often over the next couple of years, until finally he moved here in 2009.
Fr. Peter and I worked together on a number of projects, related to All Saints’ building project as well as Orthodox Hoosiers, the Orthodox IU alumni association that never quite achieved critical mass. It was Fr. Peter’s brainchild, he and I poured a lot of time and effort into it, and it really was (and is!) a wonderful idea. Alas, it just was the wrong time, and neither of us really had it in us to try to get it going past the first big push. We both hoped that the initial response would be sufficient to get some momentum going and to convince somebody else to take it on, and even with a mailing list of 500 people, that just didn’t turn out to be reality. I think that perhaps we had a shared vision that was nonetheless harder to realize than it could have been given a rather marked difference in methodologies — he was always very up front about trying to approach things from what he understood to be the science of marketing, and I was less trying to get people to “buy”, as such, than I was trying to get them to see the particulars of the vision for themselves. We were further hampered by some broader chicken-and-egg problems at All Saints that Orthodox Hoosiers was at once intended to help solve but also severely limited by itself. In the end, we both tried our hardest, but it was perhaps the right idea at the wrong moment.
Fr. Peter passed away earlier this evening after an old struggle with cancer had reared its ugly head again in the last several weeks. It was a blessing and honor to have known him, and I can truthfully say that he made a difference in my life and the lives of those around me. May his memory be eternal, and my heart goes out to his family, particularly Fr. Peter Jon.
Theodore Harvey Barrett II was born at 6:49pm on 25 June 2012; he was born in the same hospital where Fr. Peter was also undergoing some last-minute surgery. Fr. Peter Jon was able to come down to post-partum from his father’s recovery room to give the first blessing to the child after he was born. That is very much its own story, one that I do not have time to detail here in full, except to say that he and his mother are healthy and thriving. I wish that there had been more overlap of time on this earth between Theodore and Fr. Peter than simply the last week. I would have loved for Theodore to have known Fr. Peter, with his gravelly voice, his ability to grab a crowd with either a joke, a prayer, or a Bible quotation, and his insistence on treating you like he’d known you for years even if he just met you.
In the midst of death we are in life. I have more to say about both transitions, but this will have to do for now.