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!