Review: Cappella Romana: Rakhmaninov Vigil

Review: Cappella Romana: Rachmaninov All Night Vigil. 

Of the times I have heard Cappella Romana do the Vigil, this was clearly the best balanced. The extra bass personnel made for a very enjoyable concert experience. Benedict Sheehan did a masterful job of piloting the choir through not just the Rachmaninov, but also several other pieces that provided a  context that gave the audience a taste of what was covered in a typical vigil. The intonation was wonderful. On Nynye Otpushchayesi the tenor solo was good if a bit nervous. The descending bass line at the end was helped by the services of Glenn Miller, the basso profundo who has become well associated with this work throughout the USA through his participation with many choirs. There was even a nice F1 at the end of Bogoroditse Dyevo. 

There was a tendency to not accent the strong syllable through much of the concert. This became most problematic with the singing of the small glorification (6 Psalms). If the choir accented SLA of “Slava” as much as Rachmaninov wrote for them to, it was lost in the acoustics of St. James Cathedral. The Bell effect that Rachmaninov composed was mostly limited to the sound of the various voices together creating the proper tones and overtones. 

On the Velichaniye (Magnificat) the sound of the men was very satisfyingly solid. The women had balance issues with the altos and 2nd sopranos overpowering the 1st sopranos. 

The Cappella Romana added many of the parts that would change from service to service to round out the concert and give a sense of context. They performed these hymns quite well.

It was overall a glorious concert with the voices accomplishing a feat of stamina and not sounding tired at the end. 

As an encore the Choir proformed Chesnokov’s Nye Otverzhi Menye with Glenn Miller singing the solo that he first premiered with the Illumni Men’s Chorale, singing the original ending the Chesnokov wrote.   Later, he won a Grammy with Conspirare with this piece. We were spoiled richly. 

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The Cost of defiling God’s Image in others

Last year in Charlottesville

 

It is the anniversary of a difficult weekend in our nation. When we see the events of this weekend last year, the natural thing is for us to get angry (not that our anger is natural, but that it is what we are thrown to feel), and then to feel helpless and frustrated. We see violence against the unarmed. We see the images of actions taken by hate-filled men, and know that where we can’t see, that someone died as a result of their action.
 
We see people saying that one race is better and that other races are less. Yet this is a denial of Creation; it is a denial of all of mankind being in God’s Image. Saints Peter and Paul both denounce this. Indeed the Council of Constantinople in 1872 condemns phyletism — any superiority based on race, nationality, or ethnicity. It is heresy. And the very word “superiority” is an abrogation of humility. Humility is the fundamental virtue; without it, no one will be saved. We must reject this appeal to lack of humility. It is not hyperbole to say that what is happening in our nation is demonic. And this kind only comes out by prayer and fasting.
 
If we quiet ourselves enough, we can notice that underneath the anger and frustration, is fear: Our own fear that our country is falling apart, The fear that drives others to commit such acts of hate against their fellow humans. If we were to read the portion from Galatians before the appointed epistle reading we would see the fullness of it: enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, rivalry, dissension, partisanship. . . . these are the works of the flesh — and we have seen much of that recently. It is hard to look at what has happened and respond with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Yet this is the fruit of the Spirit.
 
Violence against any wounds all of us. The Spirit can heal our wounds — but we must be open to that healing. Jesus took our passions on Himself and nailed them with Himself to the cross. He bids us to come to Him with our passions and burdens and accept His burden instead of our own; for He is gentle and lowly in heart. (indeed gentleness is a pun for Christ in Greek) There we will find rest.
 
And He invites us to learn from Him. As He is humble and lowly, so He invites us to be humble and lowly . . . to lay our burden down — to take up His burden. Our burden is usually what our passions excite in us. For a time we enjoy that excitement; after a while what was exciting becomes tiresome, a drain, a burden.
 
Humility is very much lacking in our society. Yet this is exactly what Jesus is calling us to. Humility takes the sword and beats it to a plowshare, and then uses that plow to dig in to see what passions make our decisions for us. And thus exposed, our passions can be healed by our heavenly Physician. For from His fullness we receive grace upon grace.
 
God gives us the grace to bear the burden. Yet in a real sense, it is the grace bears us.

How we treat our Children: an American Abomination

How we treat our Children: an American Abomination

Jeremiah 6:13

For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.

14 They have healed also the wound of the daughter of my people lightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.

15 Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the Lord.

16 Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.

In our country today abominations are happening daily: Abominations of abortion, abominations of forcibly removing children from their parents. Both are abominations. One group seeks to justify the first abomination; another group seeks to justify the second abomination. Some are pointing to the other abomination and insisting that it somehow justifies commiting the other abomination, as if we are ourselves children going to our parents who ask “DID YOU?” and responding with “BUT HE”.

There is no justification. Jesus offers His harshest condemnation to those who offend the children: “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he be cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”

Both of them are abominations. We are wounding our children and ourselves; a wound that affects them, and us for life. For that we are OK with allowing the children to be wounded shows our own wound. With Jeremiah the prophet we must condemn both, for both treat the Image of God as something to be thrown away. In Jeremiah’s day, he condemned the offering of children to Ba-al Molech. Today we are offering our children to be thrown away.
Let us bring our wounds to the Physician that they may be healed. We must stop doing this, or we must face the judgement of God through His prophet.

First half of Holy Week

First Three days of Holy Week

   The King of the Universe enters Jerusalem in humility — He even had to borrow a donkey to ride. And the Pharisees are upset. This One Whom they had counted as an enemy is now proclaimed King of Israel.

Thus begins Holy Week. Jesus comes as a humble King. And Time as we know it begins to pass away. In the Eucharist, the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection, the Kingdom of God breaks into our time. That which is without Time comes to dwell in time. The fathers of the Church underline this by having no assigned Tone to this week. The Octoechi have ceased. Time, as we usually measure it, in the Church, is going away.

Our services in the parishes underscore this. Morning services begin to be served in the evening, and evening services are served in the morning.  Time is beginning to wobble.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening we celebrate the Bridegroom Matins. The theme of these services is the same as the parables of the Heavenly Banquet. Jesus had said: “The Kingdom of God is like unto a banquet.” The Kingdom of God is that Time-outside-of-time. This banquet we prepare for on these days. And we prepare ourselves, for “Behold the Bridegroom cometh at midnight…” And the great Banquet we prepare for is the Eucharist that we shall see inaugurated on the coming Thursday, and the Passion that we will encounter later in the week. And the Passion flavours everything we do this week, “for Christ, in His love, hastens to His sufferings.” These first three days are seen as a first-fruit of the Passion.

The daily themes of the Bridegroom Matins focus on the movement towards the end of time as we know it.

The first day of the Bridegroom Matins we focus on the Patriarch Joseph, who fled the temptation of Potiphar’s wife, and who was placed by God, in a time of famine to preserve his people. He also set in motion the events that would require the Passover. The Gospel focuses on the Fig tree.  The Fig tree was not ready to encounter Jesus, and so it was cursed. This is a rebuke and a warning to us. We go to Church services and do our best to appear religious, but we lack the fruits of religion: we do not feed the hungry, give to the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned. Instead we are self-willed, greedy, arrogant, and prideful. Part of our preparation to receive the Kingdom of God is to be watchful over these things in our selves and to be merciful to others.

On Tuesday, we focus on the Ten virgins, half of whom were prepared for the coming of the Bridegroom, and half of which were not. The service asks of us “Are we prepared? Are we ready?” much in the same way that our weekly preparation for communion asks us. The Kingdom of God is coming to us; that day beyond all days will soon be upon us. And what about the oil? Oil is a pun for mercy. Five had plenty of mercy, five did not. So we must be merciful to all, for behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight.

On Wednesday, we are given a contrast between the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet, and Judas who betrays Jesus.

Jesus comes to be anointed before His death. It  is both for His death and to indicate Him as the anointed One, the Christ, that He is anointed. He is anointed not by His host, but by a sinful woman, a harlot. What Simon the Pharisee withheld from Jesus this woman gives freely. The Lord of the Universe is recognized by the humble, while the self-righteous miss Him even when He comes to them. All Simon can offer Jesus is his offense at the offering of this woman.

And Judas also takes offense. Jesus rebukes him. He paraphrases Deuteronomy: “The Poor you shall always have with you.” This has been used by some as a justification for doing nothing for the poor. But the rest of that verse in Deuteronomy says: “Therefore, I command thee saying: thou shalt open thy hand wide unto thy brother and to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” Jesus makes reference to our duty to the poor, but indicates that His time with them in the flesh is limited — that it must be savoured.

Jesus is telling them that there will be plenty of opportunities to minister to Him indirectly by ministering to the poor — but this is a unique opportunity to minister to Him directly.

And lest we exalt ourselves above Judas, let us remember that at the betrayal, in Matthew’s Gospel he kisses Jesus with affection. How do we kiss Jesus? Mostly we kiss him mindlessly, without thought or attention. Judas intentionally betrayed Jesus — we betray Him without intention, but we still betray Him. In the Kontakion we acknowledge that we have transgressed more than the harlot. We also transgress more than Judas. Yet we are assured, in the hymn of Kassiani, that Christ has mercy without measure.

Each night the Exapostilarion of the feast sings: Thy Bridal Chamber, I see adorned, O Saviour; and I have no wedding garment that I may enter.

What is our wedding garment? It is love: Love of God and neighbour. This we must not only feel, we must also do, that the Giver of Light may illumine our soul and save us.

Passions

Sometimes we indulge our passions as a substitute for sitting with uncomfortable feelings. It is helpful to note those feelings and inquire in oneself what their origin might be. Sometimes our passions are formed by being around abuse. We may not see it or notice it, but it affects us. Next time passion comes knocking, don’t fast – fasting may feed it; don’t indulge either. Sit quietly with the knocking and ask questions of it. — Fr. Steven Clark

Nativity Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

THE NATIVITY SERMON OF ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

“I behold a new and wondrous mystery!…

“

My ears resound to the shepherd’s song,

piping no soft melody,

but loudly
chanting a heavenly hymn!

 

The angels sing!

The archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The cherubim resound their joyful praise!

The seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein…on earth and man in heaven. He Who IS above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Righteousness!

Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned. For He willed. He had the powers. He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today, He Who IS, is born. And He Who IS becomes what He was not! For though He is God, He becomes man – while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His…

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the Heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominions, nor powers, nor principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God. Behold, kings have come, that they might serve the leader of the hosts of heaven; women come, that they might adore Him who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy; virgins come, to the son of the virgin…infants come, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise; children come, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; men come, to Him who became Man that He might heal the miseries of His servants; shepherds come, to the good shepherd who has laid down His life for His sheep; priests come, to Him Who has become a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek; servants come, to Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom; fishermen come, to the Fisher of humanity; publicans come, to Him who from among them named a chosen evangelist; sinful women come, to Him who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant woman.

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice!, I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! but I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope! This is my life! This is my salvation. This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too with the angels and shepherds sing:

Glory to God in the highest! and on earth peace good will to men!”

Sermon 7th Week after Pentecost

Sermon 7th Week after Pentecost

 

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!!

Bear one another’s burdens . . . We who are strong must bear the infirmities of the weak; just as Christ has bore our infirmities. This is a beautiful turn of phrase in Greek. Paul deliberately alludes to Isaiah.

Brothers and Sisters: Most of us are strong in some areas, not so strong in other areas. This is what comes from our experience, our toil, our facing adversity. We each face, and are strengthened in one area and become mature, and yet we are still children in other areas. We should not reproach ourselves for this. We see this in Peter who in one moment confesses Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and then at the very next moment tells Jesus that He cannot go and suffer death, and must be rebuked for this. We can be strong for others, but we also need others to be strong for us. Paul lays this upon us as an obligation we have to each other. Just as Christ bore our reproach, so we also must bear each other, pray for each other, be present and listen to each other, love each other. In Galatians, Paul tells us to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

So we must bear with the weakness of others and build them up and strengthen them rather than blame them for their weakness, for in other areas they are the strong and we are the weak. For we are one body; the weakness of others is our weakness — the strength of others is our strength.

For God has received us and listens and loves and is present to us even in our weaknesses, failings, and prejudices, and has born our infirmity upon Himself, and seeks our healing.

In the Gospel, Jesus heals. He has just raised the daughter of the Synagogue leader. Now He privately heals the blind, and the dumb/deaf. There are three levels of this that cause the pharisees anguish: He heals; the people follow Him; His healing fulfills prophesy. The blind men cannot see, but find out enough to know that Jesus is coming by. It is interesting how they address Jesus. Usually only the demonic address Jesus as “Son of David”. Of them, Jesus asks if they have faith. Note, that they did not see and then believe; they had faith and then saw. And Jesus does not heal them when they first cry out to Him. He waits until He has come to His own home after the crowds are gone to heal them.

The dumb one cannot hold this sort of conversation. Jesus casts out the demon who has imprisoned this one’s tongue. The word for “dumb” in Greek is interchangeable with “deaf”. And the one formerly possessed by the demon now gives glory to God.

And the people exclaim: There has never been seen this way in Israel. In putting Jesus before all, the prophets, even before Moses. The pharisees bristled.

This fulfills the prophesy of Isaiah (35). “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like an hart and the tongue of the stutterer shall speak plainly.”

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees . . .Comfort one another . . . Behold our God will come . . . and save us.

This is what Jesus points to when He gives His one sentence sermon in the synagogue. This is what Jesus points to when the disciples of John the Baptist question Him.

And what of us? Where are we strong that we need to give aid to others? Where are we weak that we need to ask for help? Where are we like the people to whom Isaiah was charged to speak: See; and in seeing perceive not: Hear, and in hearing understand not.? Where are we spiritually blind and deaf?

The Kingdom of God is come upon us. We just spent the last hour in the banquet feast of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is here for our healing and the healing of our stronger and weaker brethren.

To the King be glory honour and worship, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen