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Posts Tagged 'holy trinity indy'

A chapter ends: 22 August 2003-1 August 2014

It’s the Barretts’ last night as residents of Bloomington, at least for the foreseeable future.

I got here 3 weeks shy of 11 years ago, coming here with the specific objectives of finishing an undergrad degree in voice, possibly going on to a Masters, all in the service of the overall goal of setting myself up to be A World Famous Operatic Tenor. Seattle was a place you could be from and do that, but not if you never left Seattle, and IU seemed like just the kind of place where I could get what I needed in terms of final polish and stage time. I figured we’d be here three years tops.

11 years is almost 30% of my life, over 80% of my marriage, 100% of my time as a father, 100% of my time as an Orthodox Christian, 100% of my time as a Byzantinist.

I arrived thinking, based on what I had been told in Seattle, that I had most of what I needed to put together a great operatic career, and I just needed to get the right opportunity onstage in front of the right people. I leave with such musical successes as I have had being elsewhere than the operatic stage, with the vast majority of my success being in the academic arena rather than in the performance arena, and with the platform I have had for that success being largely hard-won.

I arrived hoping I would get to learn French, Italian, and Russian. I leave with some competency in French and Italian, yes, but also having studied Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Arabic (and brushed up on my German).

I arrived thinking I’d be making my name as somebody who sang high notes down center onstage. I leave building a profession of lecturing at the front of a classroom.

I arrived thinking that maybe I’d get a Masters. I leave in the process of finishing a PhD.

I arrived thinking my wife is brilliant; I leave knowing that she is, and that that is only one of her many amazing qualities.

I arrived scared of fatherhood. I leave loving it, and wanting more.

I arrived having wanted the chance to travel really badly since I was a little kid. I leave having been to some pretty cool places like Greece, England, New York, Washington, D.C., and so on.

I want to wrap this up with a simplistic “I arrived a boy; I leave a man” but that’s false. I’m 37, married, with a toddler, and I’m still — as one person phrased it — in the U-Haul stage of life. Whenever it is we do wind up in a position to buy our own home, I expect that we will probably live in that first bought home for less time than the nine years we have spent in our little rental house. I hope and pray that I will have a real job before I’m 40; God knows. I had what would count as a “real job” from the time I was 21 to the time I was 26; I guess I’ve done some things in the wrong order. Oh well. For the last five years I’ve enjoyed the ride at least, which is more than I could say about big chunks of the previous six years, and I can look at the experience in its totality and see that nothing was lost, only that some things were transformed.

Two organizations/communities in particular have meant a great deal to me in my time here and have a special place in my heart — The Archives of Traditional Music, where I worked from April 2008-June 2009, and Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church of Indianapolis, where we have gone to church since January 2013. These were both places where warm welcome and appreciation were expressed at very key moments, and they both allowed the space for me both to do things I was able to do as well as to consider bigger possibilities I hadn’t thought of before. Another thing they have in common is that I got to spend far too little time at both places — just over a year for ATM, and about a year and two-thirds for Holy Apostles. Much gratitude to Alan R. Burdette, Marilyn Graf, and Susie Mudge at ATM, and another generous helping of thanks to Fr. John Koen, Debbie O’Reilley, Panos Niarchos, Angelo Kostarides, Dr. Thomas Kocoshis, Peter Americanos, and so, so many more at Holy Apostles. Special mention to Dean Maniakas and Fr. Bill Bartz of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Indianapolis, who have made us feel incredibly welcome and who have made it clear that we have friends at Holy Trinity.

I have not always enjoyed the experience of the last 11 years, as both of my longtime readers doubtless well know. Still, I am grateful to have had it, even if I still massage some literal and figurative scars that serve as reminders of certain lessons.

Time to go. Tomorrow we’re out of here. See everybody in Boston when we arrive. Glory to God for all things.

 

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A word about where we’ve wound up…

In January, we started attending Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church in Indianapolis. I had been there once before; they had hosted one of the Indianapolis-area Sunday Vespers services that occur during Lent two years ago, and I was invited to help chant by one of the people who helps coordinate those services. Everybody at the parish was very warm and welcoming, as well as seemingly appreciative of the chanting help, and I’ll tell you what, if the drive hadn’t been such a conceptual barrier at that point (and if Flesh of My Flesh hadn’t been in Germany for the year and therefore not able to participate in such decisions), I would have started going there regularly right there and then.

So, when it became clear that a change of air was inevitable and necessary, my first thought was Holy Apostles. It wasn’t the shortest drive (~1:10), but it also wasn’t the longest, and the memory of them being as nice to me as they had been had really stuck with me in the intervening year and a half. We decided to go after the New Year, on a more or less non-committal basis; however, it’s not stretching things too far to say that that first Sunday, they rather insistently adopted us, and we’ve been there ever since, missing only a Sunday in February when all three of us were sick as dogs.

This community has extended us a lot of hospitality, and has been such a wonderful counterexample to the trope of “unwelcoming cradle parishes”. These people have bent over backwards to make us feel welcome; they have fawned over Theodore, they have taken a lot of time to get to know us, they have opened their homes to us, and really have done more than I would have ever expected based on previous experiences to make us feel like part of the family. Some of the interactions with Theodore have been particularly touching; for example, a yiayia yesterday suddenly came up to him and said in Greek, “Come on, little one, come with me,” and just whisked him off to the front of the nave. “We’re going to see Christ,” she said, taking him up to the icon. “Kiss Christ,” she said, holding him up to it. “He loves you very much!”

As regards chanting, they talked to me about it our first Sunday there, and I was actually planning on just standing in the congregation with my wife and child for a month or so, but when we came back the second Sunday, let’s just say that I found myself unambiguously summoned. At any rate, I have been able to contribute what makes sense to me to contribute, and it has worked well. The other couple of cantors, a couple of Greek gentlemen who belong to the previous couple of generations, have been very generous and just as hospitable as everybody else; they want me to sing what I’ve been trained to sing, be it in Greek or English, and it seems to have been received well thus far. Others in the congregation have been very helpful in terms of helping Megan with Theodore, and that’s also been very much appreciated.

I also have to say, acoustically, it’s a nice little church in which to sing — that is to say, while it’s not a resonant cathedral, I also don’t feel like I have to push at 200% every time I open my mouth to be heard. It’s a favorable enough acoustic that it’s pleasant to sing and I can still talk at the end of the morning. Holy Apostles meets in the freestanding side chapel of a large Disciples of Christ congregation in central Indianapolis; it is a really lovely building, and they have been able to do a lot with it. While it’s not exactly spacious, it’s basically everything they need, and it works just fine for the most part. The cantors wind up standing in the sanctuary, but that’s a practice with ample historical precedent, I suppose, and it works well enough with the space considerations.

Right now, Holy Apostles only meets every other Sunday — as a small community getting established in a rented space, it’s what they feel is the most practical thing for them to do right now, plus they are only serving Divine Liturgy on the Sundays they do meet, not Orthros (another practical necessity, since the host congregation uses the chapel for an early morning service). That has its upsides and downsides for us — it’s meant we haven’t felt like we’ve missed much by commuting, certainly, and we have a relatively easy Sunday morning when we go, but it’s also been hard to feel like a rhythm has gotten established, and it underscores that, as wonderful and embracing as everybody has been, we’re at some distance from the community.

holy trinity frescoing2The lemonade-from-lemons that I’m trying to make from that is chanting at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on Holy Apostles’ off-Sundays; that’s been harder, because while they do Orthros, it starts at 8:15, so I’ve got to leave here around 6:45am. There are a couple of other couples/families in our peer group who are also driving up there semi-regularly, so how we’re trying to work it for now is I go up for Orthros, while Megan and Theodore come up with one of the other families. Holy Trinity has also been very welcoming to us, and their protopsaltis has been extraordinarily gracious in letting me help, given the irregular basis that I’m there. They’ve also just completed the first major stage of frescoing their new building; iconographer Dr. George Kordis and his team were in residence for a few weeks, painting the dome, the cornices, and the sanctuary. When we were there last he had just finished, and he gave a fascinating talk about the work they had done; the talk alone was worth the drive for the morning.

So, that’s how things have shaken out for us for the time being. We’re members at Holy Apostles, while also floating to Holy Trinity semi-regularly on Holy Apostles’ off-Sundays. I may also float to St. George every so often after this summer; I’m doing an intensive first-year Arabic program, and while I have scholarly applications for that, I’m also doing it, at least in part, to gain some facility with it as a liturgical language. So, we’ll see.

If I may — twice-monthly service schedule aside, if you’re looking for an Orthodox parish in the Indianapolis area, Holy Apostles really is a lovely, warm, and welcoming group of people, and their priest, Fr. John Koen, is a very kind and soft-spoken man who’s got a lot to say of substance, but he won’t beat you over the head with it. By all means come visit, and please find me and say hi if you do. (You can find them on the web as well as on Facebook; in both cases the presence is still developing, but the core details are there.)

Sunday of Orthodoxy qua Orthodoxy in America

This last Sunday, being the first Sunday in Great Lent, was the so-called “Sunday of Orthodoxy,” commemorating the victory of iconodules over iconoclasm at the Seventh Ecumenical Council (“Nicea II — The Wrath of Arius”). In years past, there has been a Sunday evening Vespers in Indianapolis, participated in by all the area clergy and their parishes. This year, instead of Vespers, a morning Divine Liturgy was planned at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, who had just started worshiping in their new building in December.

All Saints’ participation was determined rather late in the game; being an hour and twenty minutes south, and with some of our parishioners commuting from as much as an hour away even further south, it took some figuring out. Ultimately our deacon stayed behind and served a Typika for those who weren’t going to Indianapolis, allowing Fr. Peter to concelebrate and a group of us from All Saints to attend.

The morning was stunning in several respects. For the occasion, a new icon was commissioned of All Saints of North America, which now includes Indiana-born St. Barnabas. The original was put out for us to venerate, and we were all given prints of it as well. I’ve jokingly called Holy Trinity’s new building the satellite campus of Hagia Sophia, but it really is frickin’ huge. As the pictures make clear, I think we had close to a thousand people in there, and people were still having to gather in the narthex. We had everybody, too (among the clergy as well as the people); Serbians, Greeks, Arabs, Bulgarians, Russians, Ukrainians, Romanians, American converts, and even a handful of Copts, Ethiopians, Eritreans and Indians. (Okay, I’m not sure we had any Finns or Estonians.) The communion of the faithful easily took half an hour, and that was with six chalices, I believe. Add another twenty minutes or so for the communion of the clergy.

Some general observations: Holy Trinity is an example of a church which I think would be too big for me to be comfortable in it as my home parish. It is a beautiful building, and it will only get more beautiful as they fresco it, marble the floors, put up the iconostasis, etc., but I’d rather see the design principles applied to a church maybe a quarter of the size. (This begs the question of why Holy Trinity, which I believe has something like 600 people, doesn’t plant some churches, but never mind that now.) I’ve heard it suggested that past 250 souls or so, you really overtax a priest’s ability to minister; I’ll throw out another possible metric, which is that you don’t want the building to be any larger than that in which the cantor can sing comfortably and be understood and heard without needing a microphone. (This assumes that churches are being built with attention to acoustics, which isn’t even necessarily the case with Holy Trinity, unfortunately — there were one or two odd decisions made on that front.) That said, I think it’s wonderful that a traditional-looking Byzantine temple now exists which is large enough to hold everybody in the metro area. I somewhat wonder if perhaps, with Detroit being, well, Detroit, there might not be talk behind the scenes of moving Metropolitan Nicholas’ throne to Indianapolis, hence the building being a size more appropriate to a cathedral than a parish church.

I wound up joining the choir; Max Murphy, my counterpart at Ss. Constantine and Elena, conducts the choir for these big combined services and I sing for him when I am able. The music was, more or less, OCA music with some simplified Byzantine things reworked for a large ensemble. My trouble is that the Orthodox musical heritage is so much richer than the utility music which tends to dominate services like this, but the reason why it dominates services like this is because it is easily scalable to huge ensembles (as well as makes congregational singing reasonably easy). Mark Bailey once told me that Kievan common chant is great because you can get 50 people singing the front page of the New York Times to it in fifteen minutes; on the other hand, he freely admitted, the downside of Kievan common chant is that you can get 50 people singing the front page of the New York Times to it in fifteen minutes. There wasn’t an overabundance of Kievan common chant at this service, but the principle was still largely the same. At any rate, it was, mostly, the music that virtually everybody in the Indianapolis area sings except Holy Trinity (and All Saints, for that matter), so it was familiar to Max, the majority of the choir, and a good chunk of the congregation.

There were some interesting moments during the procession of the icons; Fr. Taso (the pastor of Holy Trinity) originally asked the congregation to all sing the litany responses in their own languages, in the spirit of our coming together as a symbol of our unity as Orthodox Christians. This didn’t quite work the way he intended, so ultimately he led us in the Tone 4 threefold English “Lord, have mercy” common to Greek parishes (and Antiochian parishes during Holy Week if one is following Kazan). That worked just fine (although it was different from the responses the choir prepared — Max gave up when he realized that Fr. Taso was going off-script).

One always wonders what happens behind the scenes when that many clergy gather on another priest’s turf, particularly when the event functions something of a “coming out party” for said turf, but Fr. Peter made a point of bringing up that very question last night after the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. “It was very peaceful, as surprising as that sounds,” he said. “Fr. Taso called us all together and said, ‘Brothers, what do you want to do?’ To have the protos do something like that, particularly at a Greek church, is unheard of.” (When there were some inevitable uncomfortable chuckles, he said, “That’s not a swipe against the Greeks — they’d tell you the same thing!”)

Given events of the last few weeks, there have been conversations about what Orthodox unity in America means, if it can even happen at all now, if we’re looking a big step backwards, what’s the path from here, etc. etc. etc. I think that to some extent these nervous questions are a bit misguided; it’s not exactly like the AOCNA and OCA were preparing to announce an administrative merger next week and the news out of Damascus derailed it at the last second. However, I think we can look at events like this Sunday of Orthodoxy Divine Liturgy and make some informed guesses about what the practical side of jurisdictional unity might look like.

  • Somebody’s going to have to be the protos, as it were, and it’s probably going to be whoever has the resources to be so effectively, including the space to be a meeting ground for everybody. This was true in 1975 when Met. PHILIP and Met. MICHAEL unified the Antiochian churches in this country, and Met. MICHAEL stepped down; it will still be true going forward.
  • Along similar lines, there will be a group who is numerically dominant. There were ten or so parishes represented at Holy Trinity this last Sunday, and at least half of the congregation was Holy Trinity’s own people.
  • It will be up to the group who is numerically dominant and who functions as the “protos” to be a loving and welcoming brother in Christ. It will be up to the others to be receptive to that, and to return it in-kind.
  • It might be a bit of a cacophony for awhile until people figure things out. The job of the dominant group will be to help guide everybody into unity, and to do so in love.

Looking at these points, I’d argue this wouldn’t be a bad model for how things should be now, even, with or without unity on paper.

One other thought for the moment. That icon of All Saints of North America? A couple of them are American born; some of them were active in America. However, with the exception of St. Peter the Aleut (who was martyred young), none of those saints were both born here and active here. Let me suggest that before we have an indigenous church, we’re going to need indigenous saints. Some might argue that we should start with Fr. Seraphim Rose (which reminds me — I’m reading The Soul After Death right now); while recognizing he’s a controversial figure, I don’t really think that it’s in question that he is a native-born model of sanctity. I personally think he is a saint, and I believe he interceded to heal my mother from a heart issue a few years back, but I also think it will take time for the amen of American faithful to be uttered. I know a priest, and perhaps a bishop or two, who I believe might be glorified after their respective reposes. I have heard some suggest Lynette Hoppe; certainly this book seems designed to make that case. There are others I can think of, too.

My point is, until there are models of holiness who have been raised up out of “our people,” as it were, I’m not sure it makes any sense to be so neurotic and anxious about our earthly organization. Once we start producing saints, administrative questions will take care of themselves. The importance of saints who are local and recent, I have come to realize, is that they shine forth the light of Christ in a way that is immediate. What is more powerful, reading a story about somebody who supposedly did something fifteen hundred years ago, or hearing first-hand accounts of people who did those very things within the last few years? We run a great risk by holding ourselves at a distance from saints — they are less convicting that way, I suppose, meaning they’re more comfortable to be around, but they are also less compelling and convincing.

In other words — if we want a solution to the jurisdictional problem in this country, maybe what we need to do is, before we write a letter or join a lay activist organization or start a blog (all potentially worthy things to do, don’t get me wrong), we need to go out and be saints.

We will see.

A comment on “The vision of Fr. John Peck, in which the author sighs, ‘It’s all Greek to me'”

I just checked my spam comments, and there was one from a few days ago which was clearly not spam. It commented on “The vision of Fr. John Peck, in which the author sighs, ‘It’s all Greek to me’“, and was of enough substance that it seemed too bad that the post to which it referred had scrolled off the main page, so I repost it here (please read the post on which it comments for proper context):

John9 October 2008 at 8:02 pm

Fr. Peck little diatribe has no basis in fact, but instead is based on prejudice, ignorance and not a little anti-ethnic wishful thinking. He deserves to be sacked for his ingratitude and for his delusional pseudo-prophetic screed.

Here’s are the facts:

Excerpted from:

‘More Orthodox’ than the Orthodox
Christian Century, Dec 28, 2004 by John Dart

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_26_121/ai_n8702767/pg_1?tag=artBody;col1

IT’S COMMONLY observed that converts to a faith are the most ardent defenders of it. That seems to be the case with American converts to Orthodoxy. The large number of converts attending Orthodox seminaries prompted Alexey D. Krindatch, a sociologist of religion, to wonder whether an “Americanization” of Eastern Orthodoxy might lie ahead. His conclusion: “Probably not.”

Responses from students at three seminaries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA)–the two largest Orthodox bodies in the U.S.–confirmed, he said, “the widespread notion that Protestant and Catholic converts tend to be ‘more Orthodox’ than persons who were born and raised” as Orthodox.

======
The “Americanization” of the the Orthodox Church in America is just a racist pipedream.

And here is the article to which he refers in full:

‘More Orthodox’ than the Orthodox

IT’S COMMONLY observed that converts to a faith are the most ardent defenders of it. That seems to be the case with American converts to Orthodoxy. The large number of converts attending Orthodox seminaries prompted Alexey D. Krindatch, a sociologist of religion, to wonder whether an “Americanization” of Eastern Orthodoxy might lie ahead. His conclusion: “Probably not.”

Responses from students at three seminaries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA)–the two largest Orthodox bodies in the U.S.–confirmed, he said, “the widespread notion that Protestant and Catholic converts tend to be ‘more Orthodox’ than persons who were born and raised” as Orthodox.

The converts expressed more conservative attitudes than Orthodox-born seminarians did on, for instance, accepting the authority of bishops and discouraging ecumenical worship and religiously mixed marriages. Krindatch reported his findings at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Asked why the tradition-bound, liturgically intricate Orthodox churches are attracting converts, Krindatch suggested in an interview that many of the former evangelical Protestants studying for the Orthodox priesthood see a “discrepancy” between their strong personal faith “and the fact that their churches have no historical roots in original Christianity, no apostolic succession and no liturgical atmosphere.”

In the case of former Catholics and Episcopalians, however, converts are attempting to “return to their churches’ religious experiences of 20 to 30 years ago, when their churches were more ‘traditional.'”

While both Orthodox-born seminarians and the converts were relatively similar in religious upbringing, education and family income level, the former evangelicals “come from much wealthier families” that were very active churchgoers. The ex-evangelicals were more likely to have a higher level of secular education as well as businessmen fathers, and they “were more definite in their plans to be ordained and serve as priests” than were their classmates.

Krindatch surveyed seminarians at Holy Cross (Greek Orthodox) Seminary in the Boston suburb of Brookline, where 25 percent of the students are converts, and at two OCA seminaries, St. Vladimir’s in Crestwood, New York, and St. Tikhon’s in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. The majority of the students at the latter two are converts, he said.

Krindatch recently was named director for campus ministry and church growth at the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute, which is part of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Krindatch, a faculty member at the Institute of Geography in Moscow, had been doing his research as a visiting scholar at the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, California.

The institute in Berkeley previously has dealt mainly with theological and historical issues, said Krindatch, but it “hopes to concentrate its future studies more on the contemporary situation and social changes within various American Orthodox churches.”

Change has been slow by Western standards. In his survey, Krindatch found that 57 to 64 percent of convert seminarians agree that while most Orthodox Christians “are socially integrated into American society, the Orthodox churches as institutions are still perceived by the vast majority of Americans as “immigrant communities,” compared to 46 percent of Orthodox-born who say that. At the same time, the proportion of the most pessimistic seminarians–those who say “the Orthodox churches still are and will remain ‘strangers’ to American society”–is higher among “cradle Orthodox” than among convert seminarians.

Cradle Orthodox students are also more pessimistic than the converts that the ethnically oriented Orthodox churches eventually will gain autonomy from mother churches abroad, or that a unified American Eastern Orthodox Church will emerge in decades to come.

Ex-Protestant seminarians may hope for ecumenical progress within Orthodoxy, but they tend to reject joint ecumenical prayers or services with non-Orthodox. Also, a significant proportion of both ex-Catholic (34 percent) and ex-Protestant (.36 percent of ex-mainliners and 52 percent of ex-evangelicals) seminarians say that Orthodox priests should try hard to discourage mixed marriages. Seminarians raised in Orthodox churches are somewhat more lenient on the issue, though not as accommodating as current priests in Orthodox parishes.

A separate survey of priests in Greek and OCA parishes found that two-thirds take a more liberal position on mixed marriages–but stay within church guidelines. In other words, priests would conduct such weddings when they are held in the Orthodox Church, and would encourage the non-Orthodox partner to join the church. “Only a minority of all seminarians (31 percent of OCA seminarians, 48 percent of Greek Orthodox seminarians) share the same view,” Krindatch said.

Krindatch acknowledged that the seminarians’ conservative stances, even if reflective of a generational trend, may evolve during “actual work in the parishes.”

John Dart is the CENTURY’S news editor.

COPYRIGHT 2004 The Christian Century Foundation

I will comment in the combox.

Coming soon: The Divine Liturgy of St. James

On 22 October 2008, at 6pm, All Saints Orthodox Church will celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. James for the Feast of St. James, the Brother of Our Lord.

It was mentioned to me about a year ago that this might be a desirable thing to pursue. It isn’t exactly happening the way originally envisioned; the hope at the time was that we would be in a new building with more forgiving acoustics than our current nave, but that hope remains unrealized for the time being. Nonetheless, we are pushing forward — hey, since local Catholic parishes have started celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass semi-regularly, leave it to us to break out our oldest rite, right?

The Divine Liturgy of St. James — can we call this the Iakovian Liturgy? I’d hate to call it the Jacobite Liturgy — is said to have been the rite taught to St. James by Our Lord and was subsequently the principal rite of the ancient Church of Jerusalem, edited and embellished as the St. Basil Liturgy and further pared down to become the St. John Chrysostom Liturgy. I will let liturgical scholars with PhDs argue whether or not the traditional first century dating of the Iakovian rite is accurate or if it’s more reasonable to assume that it came about somewhat later. Clearly the use of the Trisagion and the “Only-begotten Son…” are later accretions, but in terms of the overall structure and character — well, let’s just say that there are ideological reasons to want to support any of the various arguments, and leave it at that. One way or the other, we can say that we know it as the oldest complete form of the Divine Liturgy still in continuous use, and it is still in use by various Syrian and Indian communities.

Putting together an English text was not a small consideration; Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash)’s translation served as the base, but it is insufficient for use in an Antiochian parish, given the official preference for Elizabethan English. Where necessary, the Antiochian text was substituted (for components such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and so on); where possible, Fr. Ephrem’s text was kept, converting to Elizabethan English as needed. Particularities such as “Let our hearts be on high”/”We have them with the Lord” were also retained.

Once we had a text, then it fell to me to create a book for choir/congregational use. Thankfully, Sibelius 5 and Microsoft Word made that relatively easy. I adapted the St. Anthony’s Monastery settings of hymnody specific to St. James to our text, used the version of “Only-begotten Son…” from the Mt. Lebanon Choir Divine Hymnal, used the Trisagion we sing every Sunday (had to keep something the same) and then added all of the other parts — litany responses, anaphora responses, etc. The choir/congregation book ultimately contains every word and every note which concerns those worshiping from the nave — it is as complete as it needs to be without including the priest’s personal prayers and so on. (At 43 pages already, it would be significantly longer were I to include those.)

I will say that, in many respects, it’s a simpler liturgy; there are no antiphons, no troparia (although we will sing the Troparion to St. James as a recessional), there is no Megalynarion, and since it begins with the clergy processing into the church with the Gifts (from the skevophylakion, no less — such things make me happy, although we don’t actually have a skevophylakion), no Great Entrance in the middle of the service, either. From the choir’s perspective, there are significantly fewer major portions to sing, and the Alleluia and Prokeimenon are the only propers. The rubrics call for the Body of Christ to be received in the hand and for the Blood to be drunk from the chalice by the communicant, but we will be communed from a spoon regardless — no one’s particularly comfortable with what could go wrong the other way, given that we’re all used to the spoon by now.

Anyway, it will be an interesting liturgical adventure, to say the least. We’ve tried to visibly open it up to as much of Bloomington’s greater Christian community as wish to attend; given the provenance of the rite, it is clearly the common heritage of all Christians, and to be able to serve it in English is a gift we would like to be able to share with as many as possible, even if it’s our humble little church that’s doing it and not the Midwestern Regional Campus of the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom. (That place is going to be gorgeous, I have to say — and they might even have built a skevophylakion, I’m not sure.) To that end, we’ve put out a press release to the local papers (let’s not hold our breath that they’ll care, but who knows) and sent flyers to every area church and campus ministry we could find. We’ll see.

On a different matter — my friend Gavin used to have a favorite Microsoft joke (at least before he started working there): “Microsoft — solving tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s technology, today.” So, maybe that could be tweaked and made appropriate to Orthodox Christianity — “Addressing tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s Christianity, today.”

Or maybe not.

The vision of Fr. John Peck, in which the author sighs, “It’s all Greek to me”

Read my re-post of Fr. John Peck’s “The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow” first, and possibly Anna Pougas’ post on American Orthodoxy as background if you haven’t already.

When I was in New York for the Fellowship of Ss. Alban and Sergius conference, my friends Peter and Soula called me, saying they just wanted to let me know I was hanging out with them before I headed home. The way this was going to be best effected was for me to spend Sunday morning with them, and they were good enough to pick me up at St. Vlad’s and take me out to Ss. Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church, a Greek parish in West Nyack, New York. Oh, by the way, they told me as we walked in, you’re helping with Orthros.

The priest, Fr. Nicholas Samaras, arrived. He gave me a blessing and asked where I was from. “Bloomington, Indiana,” I replied. He sized me up a bit and said, “Ah. Sounds like a good place to be from.”

Orthros/Matins wasn’t a problem; Mr. Michaels, their psaltis, would sing a verse of something in Greek, I’d sing a verse of something in English (occasionally in Greek if I knew it well enough), then Peter would alternate between Greek and English, and Soula read the psalms and prayers. It was a wonderful church in which to sing; it’s a big building with a high ceiling, and you don’t feel like you have to push at all to be heard (unlike what I’m used to, alas).

The Divine Liturgy was sung by a choir rather than the psaltai (ευχαριστώ πολυ Στέφανε αλλά τώρα είμαι συγκεχυμένος — είναι οι ψάλτες ή οι ψάλται;), but Peter and I alternated on verses for the antiphons with the choir singing the refrains. It was also mentioned to me, “Usually somebody chants the Epistle in Greek and somebody else reads it in English, but the guy who chants it isn’t here — do you want to chant it in English?” And so I did. (I purposefully don’t travel with my reader’s cassock, but this was a morning where I wished I’d had it.)

After the Liturgy, I went through the line to venerate the priest’s cross and get a blessing. Fr. Samaras blessed me and said, “Um… don’t move. Just… just don’t go anywhere for a moment.” Uh oh, I thought. I stepped on some toes and I’m going to hear about manners when one is a guest. When all had been blessed, he turned to me and said, “What time do you have?”

I looked at my watch. “Quarter after twelve.”

“Ah, okay. And how long will it take to move you and your wife out here?”

Following that, there were a couple of very kind older gentlemen who thumped me on the chest and told me, “Young man, you’ve got a gift from God.” Peter’s parents (who I had just met for the first time a week and a half earlier when they had visited Bloomingon) referred to me as “family”. Fr. Samaras was very serious about wanting to keep in touch, and we’ve kept up a correspondence since. Don’t tell me that Greeks (to say nothing of New Yorkers!) aren’t welcoming; I don’t want to hear it. I’ve also found Holy Assumption Church in Scottsdale, AZ to be very welcoming with a terrific priest, as well as Holy Apostles in Shoreline, WA (where I attended my very first Divine Liturgy). The blanket assumption that “Greeks would prefer non-Greeks to stay away” is categorically false; let’s make that clear.

I also think that the convert or the inquirer who finds himself/herself in a community with a strong ethnic contingent needs to see such a situation as a gift from God, and to approach such a parish community with a dollop of humility roughly the same size as the dollop of sour cream which I put on my nachos. The “ethnic enclave” temptation faces the convert every bit as much as anybody else — you get a community of converts who read some Lossky, Schmemann, Hopko, etc. when they were still Episcopalians a couple of years ago, and there’s a danger of an exclusivist mindset developing, very similar to what the Greeks (or the Russians, or the Romanians, or whomever) get accused of having. Reading everything in a book doesn’t make you Orthodox; you can’t teach yourself to be Orthodox, period (thank you, Seraphim Danckaert, for sharing those words of wisdom oh so long ago; they’ve stuck with me). Whenever a convert/inquirer complains about the icons looking too weird or the music sounding too strange or the language being wrong (I know of one guy for whom liturgical English isn’t close enough to “the language of the people”, let alone Greek, Slavonic, or what have you), my first thought is simply, “You’re not ready yet.” There are some things you don’t like which you have to accept with humility, however good your reasons for not liking them seem to you at the time. Icons, incense, chant, vestments… and, yes, depending on where you wind up, pews, organs, people talking during Holy Communion, and liturgical schedules that are Sunday-only. Regardless, the aforementioned gift from God is the chance to learn the faith from people who have lived it for generations, however imperfectly, rather than building up a Platonic ideal in your head from books up to which no actual parish in the world can ever hope to measure. Learning the Orthodox Christian faith from somebody’s grandmother, believe it or not, is going to actually teach a person a lot more about what it means to live the life than reading Schmemann, even if it means having to move out to aisles to prostrate during the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian because pews get in the way otherwise. (And I say that as somebody who thinks you can never read enough Schmemann.) To the people who claim that we need an idiomatically and uniquely “American” cultural expression of Orthodox Christianity and we need it yesterday, I say: chill, guys. Receive the Tradition. Let it change you and yours for a couple of generations (at least) before deciding it needs updating.

All that said, I recognize that not everybody can go to your typical Greek parish and just help sing Matins or chant the Epistle as nothing more than a visitor passing through, and not everybody has a chance (or the interest, or overall inclination or ability) to take a Greek class (ancient or modern), and not everybody knows people where they’re traveling who can be a conduit to other people in the parish. So, I don’t pretend my experience, which in general has been unique, is necessarily the general case. Let’s also not pretend that every experience in every parish in every jurisdiction I’ve ever visited has been positive; they have not. I also don’t wish to pretend that I’ve never visited a parish and turned my nose up at it because it didn’t meet my expectations or cater to me; I most certainly have, and five years later — to demonstrate God’s sense of humor — I’m still there, my wife and I were chrismated there, we’ve seen four godchildren received into the faith, I’m the choir director/psaltis, and I’m on the parish council. Those people are my family in every sense of the word. First impressions really can be meaningless.

Coming on the heels of the situation regarding Fr. John Peck’s article is wind I caught yesterday of how Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers might work this coming winter. Holy Trinity, the big Greek parish in Indianapolis, wants to host; they’re just about to finish building the Indy regional campus of Hagia Sophia, and it will be, from a standpoint of both capacity and providing an exemplar of traditional Byzantine architecture, the ideal place to hold it.

There’s a catch, however — the choir made up of Orthodox singers from around the entire Indianapolis metro area (including Bloomington)? Gone. Part of the deal is, if you do it at Holy Trinity, you do everything in-house — their psaltai/psaltes (whichever it is — I’m confused now), their music, their organ (probably), end of story. That this runs entirely counter to the spirit of how the Indianapolis clergy have always tried to celebrate Sunday of Orthodoxy seems to be not an entirely relevant point. Okay, fine, that’s their right — but why suddenly take a hard line when it comes to playing with others?

To come back to Fr. John Peck, why come down so hard on a priest who, basically, is saying that those who identify with Orthodox Christianity on a basis of ethnicity and heritage are going to have to learn how to get along with those who identify on a basis of faith if they want the Church to survive in the United States? I don’t agree with everything Fr. John said; I think his view of the future is a little too rosy, but I think he’s got the point hands-down that the makeup of the clergy coming out of the next several class years of our seminaries is going to change some things, big time. What some want to hear or not, I nonetheless fail to see how what he says is hostile or out of line. It may not necessarily be what some people want to hear, but is it really that threatening for a priest to point out what is painfully obvious — that, as Fr. Seraphim Rose said thirty years ago, “ethnic Orthodoxy” is a dead end? The current generation, by and large, either isn’t learning the faith or aren’t learning to care about the faith — I know of priest’s kids at IU who, so far as I know, have never darkened the door of All Saints since maybe the first Sunday of classes their freshman year. My Greek class right now is three-quarters full of Greek American kids, some of whom, I’ve found, didn’t even know there was a church in Bloomington until I told them about it, and at whom I’ll be surprised (but pleasantly so) if they decide to come to a service. Now, let’s clarify — that’s not an “Orthodox problem,” but rather an “everybody problem”. Convincing kids they need church while they’re in college doesn’t work until they, well, realize they need church while they’re in college. But Greek/Russian/Serbian/Romanian/Albanian/whateverian families also need to realize that their kids aren’t necessarily picking up the faith of their forebears any better than their Anglo counterparts at Tenth United Methodist Church down the street — just because they have a language and a festival to associate with it doesn’t mean it sticks better. (Hats off to some very exceptional kids I know for whom it has stuck, and stuck very well. You know who you are and why I know you. You’re doing it right, guys.)

I wonder sometimes if part of the problem is money. By and large — that is, excluding Tom Hanks and maybe Chris Hillman (late of The Byrds and The Desert Rose Band), the converts coming into Orthodox Christianity are not wealthy people, at least based on what I’ve seen; we all do what we can, to be sure, but for example, my parish right now wouldn’t be able to build the janitor’s closet of Holy Trinity’s new building. We’re a community of mostly middle-to-lower class working folks as well as people from the university community, and we’re able to keep the lights on in our humble “temporary” space and pay our priest’s salary and benefits without much left over. That seems to be fairly representative of what I’ve seen in the parishes I’ve visited — converts keep the candle fund replenished, and the Greek and Lebanese doctors and lawyers, if there are any in the community to begin with, are the ones paying for the frescoing of the walls and the maintenance of the dome. Enough converts for a critical mass and the small, cradle-less community can at least be self-sustaining, but building even a simple, small traditional Byzantine church is going to be beyond the means of that kind of group. Could it be that for some “ethnic” Orthodox who actually do write substantial checks and whose grandfather may have helped to carve the iconostasis, they just don’t want to be told what to do and held in contempt by somebody who was a Baptist perhaps as recently as a year ago and whose offering might buy the incense for Holy Week? That’s perhaps ignoring the lesson of the widow’s mite, but I know from my own experience that the convert who’s given their two pennies can probably still pick up a broom or wash a dish, and not to put too fine a point on it, but that might even be what’s needed from them more than a discussion of how Byzantine chant is driving non-Greek inquirers away or the icons aren’t Byzantine- (or Russian-) looking enough.

One more thought, and then I think my bag of prolix dust is empty for the evening. There is a certain irony to me that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, who in the early/mid-’80s suddenly wouldn’t give the Evangelical Orthodox the time of day (perhaps not for terrible reasons, depending on whose version of the story you’re hearing), has become a haven for certain former EOC communities who broke off from Antioch.

My hope is that Fr. John Peck comes out of this okay. What he had to say would ideally generate a conversation which needs to happen, and that isn’t anything over which he should be penalized. If he doesn’t, I hope he sticks to his guns — Antioch would probably take him with open arms (assuming a canonical release — Antioch is kinda touchy about such things). Pray for him, pray for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and pray that all Orthodox in America see something in Fr. John’s article, and the response it has received, from which they can learn.


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