On Church Life in San Francisco

(From our correspondent)

It is impossible to pass over in silence certain events of recent times in our church life, as they are very didactic and edifying for the Orthodox of America. For example, the rite of forgiveness that was performed on Forgiveness Sunday--how much it tells us and how many things it teaches us! In Russia, it represents a very moving scene, but it produces an even grander impression in America. Usually, the rite of forgiveness takes place in the evening, on the eve of Gr. Lent, and, in the Trinity-St. Sergius' Lavra, after Vespers, while the Paschal "Let God Arise" is being sung. This year, as in previous years, Vespers was served by the Right Reverend Vladyka [Bishop Nicholas Ziorov] in concelebration with Priest D[imitry] Kamnev, Hieromonk Sebastian [Dabovich], and Priest R[aphael] Kedrovsky. After Vespers, Vladyka ascended the soleia and, with the authority of an Archpastor, taught us to conscientiously enter into the proper ascetic way of fasting. The sermons of our Archpastor are always powerful and convincing, but this time it was especially so; all who were gathered, everyone, was the image of attention itself; everyone, seeing Vladyka vested in a black mantle, knew that he was talking about the arrival of the days of weeping and mourning [Deut. 34:8], and therefore listened to every word of the Archpastor very attentively. The sermon had come to its end, and a minute later the church saw her Archpastor kneeling to the ground with a prayer of forgiveness on his lips. In response, the kneeling of all worshippers followed, and one could hear the sad voices: "May God forgive thee, Holy Vladyka, and do thou forgive us."

It is of course impossible to transmit what every one felt at that moment, but, without a doubt, each one experienced that feeling most dear to an Orthodox Christian: the feeling of unity with the Church in the person of her Archpastor. The choir continued singing Paschal stichiri, and the worshippers were approaching the cross once again asking forgiveness from the Archpastor. Without a doubt, the rite of forgiveness has beneficial significance: it supports in the people the sense of humbleness and obedience, it reminds people of these feelings, and even though in Russia it is performed in monasteries only, that does not mean that parish churches can not use it for the spreading among the population of the supreme virtue--the all-forgiving love.

The next day, the sad toll of bells announced to God-fearing Christians that the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian fills the domes of temples, and that the time of preparation for the day of Holy Pascha is upon us. The clergy, the parish (thus we call the parishioners who are especially zealous for the temple of God, although there are many parishioners besides them in San Francisco and outside of it), and the school had their confessions during the first week of Lent.

Next Sunday--the Sunday of Orthodoxy--in cathedral churches of Russia the rite of "anathema" is being performed. We do not have that here, and celebrate the solemn occasion somewhat differently. On this Sunday, after Liturgy, we sing a prayer service to the Lord God, the Mother of God, Saint Nicholas, and All Saints. All clergy and altar servants come to the middle of the temple carrying new icons which are consecrated before the conclusion of the prayer service. After the conclusion, "Many Years" is proclaimed to all living defenders of Orthodoxy: the Lord Emperor of All Russia and other Orthodox monarchs; to the Eastern Patriarchs, to the Holy Synod, and to others; and then "Memory Eternal" is proclaimed for all deceased defenders of Orthodoxy. This is how it has been done here since the time of the Right Reverend Nicholas [In San Francisco, 1891-98].

The multiethnicity of our parish was the reason for last year's visit to San Francisco of the rector of the Syrian-Arab mission in New York, Archimandrite Raphael [Hawaweeny], who satisfied the spiritual needs of the Arabs here. This year we were visited by the rector of Galveston mission, Archimandrite Theoclytos [Triantofilides; Cathedral rector in 1898-90]. In San Francisco, on the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, Archim. Theoclytos, assisted by Priest D. Kamnev and Hieromonk Sebastian, served Divine Liturgy in Greek; then he traveled to Seattle and Wilkinson in order to perform divine services and private rites there. On March 25, Greek Independence Day, Archimandrite Theoclytos served Liturgy in San Francisco together with His Grace; on this day the church was filled almost exclusively with Greeks.

During Gr. Lent, as the readers know, His Grace visited Fort Ross, and, before that, the Federal Prison located 120 miles from San Francisco, in San Quentin. There are, unfortunately, about ten of our compatriots there. Great was the joy of the prisoners when they first saw within the walls of their jail a priest who was sent there earlier. And now, seeing a bishop, they, of course, redoubled their efforts to alleviate their conscience through confessions, hearing a sermon, and reconciling with Christ the Saviour through the communion with His Body and Blood. How can one not rejoice in it! The prison authorities received the Right Reverend very kindly, the room for prayers was prepared and given for his disposal; and the Americans announced that a fish dinner was cooked for him and his entourage. However, Vladyka, after performing confessions, Typica, and giving Communion to the prisoners, to whom he also distributed crosses, icons and books, blessed everyone with the icon of the Theotokos of Kozelschansk, and returned home by railroad, having declined the dinner. A good and high example has been given by the Archpastor for imitation by all pastors of the Aleutian Diocese: to visit prisons from time to time, when possible, and to comfort jailed Orthodox people if there are any there.

Finally, the day of Pascha drew near. The Week of Passion began. The services of Passion Week, performed by the Right Reverend, attracted many worshipers, and many had their confessions heard a second time. On Holy Thursday the church was filled with people. The Orthodox bell tolled majestically and melodically, its strokes announcing the number of the Gospel lessons read. This toll intrigued many Americans and they came to the church to find out what it all meant and they were excited and moved at the sight of the interior of our temple: many people standing with lighted candles in hand and, in the middle of the temple, in mournful vestments, Vladyka on the ambo reading the Gospels of the Lord's Passion alternatively, one in Slavonic and the next in Greek.

On the next day, Gr. Friday, His Grace performed the carrying out of the Shroud. In the Cathedral there is a special tomb for the Shroud which is placed in the middle of the temple on a special ambo in front of the Hierarch's ambo. On Great Friday, the shroud was lavishly decorated with freshly cut flowers: lilies, roses, hyacinths, lilacs; the special canopy of flowers was constructed over it by the zealous parishioners and the shroud was encircled with palms and other plants. Towards the evening, the entire church was decorated with greenery and flowers, so that it indeed resembled that garden wherein was the Lord's tomb. The Iconostasis was buried in flowers and the church walls in greenery. Perhaps it was not like this in other temples in America, and in Russia it is almost impossible to have it thus. All who happened to be in the temple were enraptured with this scene, especially in the evening time when the icon lamps flickering by the Lord's tomb and the other places created a mysterious twilight in this luxuriant garden which the church resembled then, and reminded us of that holy night in which Joseph and Nicodemus buried Jesus' corpse. And that very night, the burial and entombment of the Lord was performed. And what service, or what scene, can touch a person more strongly than the burial of the Divine Sufferer!

The next day, on Saturday evening, at 8 o'clock, the reading of the Acts began. Priests, readers, and parishioners all read. The people began to gather very early. The day of Holy Pascha is the only day when everyone who still has a spark of Orthodox Faith tries to come to the holy temple in spite of weather or distance. Therefore, our temple on that day usually can not accommodate the worshippers, and many must remain outside. Two or three days before Holy Pascha, our church was besieged by the correspondents of newspapers who wanted to know the program of the feast, and certain persons sent us letters requesting permission to be present at the Paschal services and to reserve special seats. But since seats are not sold in the Orthodox Church, in the newspaper Call, it was announced that anyone may come to the church, but that chairs were for the aged and infirm only. Among Americans who visited our church, there were many heterodox priests and pastors. At 11:30 P.M. the church was flooded with light and filled with fragrance. By that time, in the church, there was, as they say, no room for an apple to fall, and many had to remain outside of the Church, participating in the festivities only in spirit.

At 11:30, Vladyka entered the church and, having been vested in a mantia, gave the blessing to begin Nocturne. At 12 midnight exactly, Paschal Matins began. Its beginning was announced by the ringing of the bells and gunshots. Every heart began to throb as they started to sing "Thy Resurrection, O Christ our Savior" in the altar. The singers joined in and the procession around the temple began. Ahead of all, the boys were carrying candles, followed by the choir, then boys with fans, and subdeacons with dikiri and trikiri, priests, and Vladyka. The weather was favorable for the cross-procession, and the bells pealed joyouslyŠ

When we re-entered the temple, all in unison replied to the priest's greetings. By 3 o'clock in the morning the Paschal service was over. Then, in the apartment of His Grace, a table for 100 persons was offered for the breaking of the fast. Vladyka himself consecrated and blessed the table and he deigned to eat together with his flock. Some of the Americans present at the service approached the cross and exchanged the Paschal kiss with His Grace and some even venerated the Shroud.

Divine services in our temple were performed daily during Bright Week. On Wednesday of that week, something unusual happened in our temple. After the service, three Greeks came to the church and asked that we give them a gospel so that they might take an oath on it to die for the Motherland and for the Orthodox Faith. It turned out that these Greeks were about to leave for the theatre of war against the Turks. When Vladyka learned of this he came down into the temple and served for them a Molieben in Greek, which they attended on their knees. He gave each of them a cross as a blessing, and sprinkled them with Holy Water for their battle with the infidels in defense of the Cross of the Lord.

Filled with courage and strengthened by Hierarchical blessing, our parishioners that very day departed from San Francisco with firm trust in God, that He would not put His people to shame. This patriotism, which the Greeks manifest, being far from their Motherland, produced a good impression on us. By all ways possible, they collect means for those who go to war for the liberation of ancient Hellas. The Greeks serving with us sobbed violently and their faces became deathly pale when they heard of the defeat of their compatriot forces. Such patriotism as theirs causes sympathy in us towards our brothers in faith, to the nation which gave us the Faith and enlightenment. May God help them.

Th[eodore] Pashkovsky

Translated from Pravoslavnii Amerikanskii Vestnik [American Orthodox Messenger], No. 17, May 1-13, 1897, pp. 351-354. First published in English in the Holy Trinity Cathedral LIFE, Vol. 4, No. 9, May 1997.


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