Tag Archives: video

Story of a Transfiguration icon.

Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ

This mosaic dating from the 6th century is in the apse of the great basilica at St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai, built by Emperor Justinian before 565. I found it when I was looking at icons on the internet of Christ’s Transfiguration, which we commemorate today.

I also watched a fascinating video, the Conservation of the Transfiguration Mosaic, featuring an informal and entertaining lecture by an eminent Italian archeologist, conservationist and expert on mosaics, Roberto Nardi. It is informal in that he does not read a paper, but gives the best kind of commentary on the extensive video footage shown. The video is from 2012, so maybe I am one of the last to see it.

He starts with the history of the monastery, which he admits goes back to Moses and the burning bush, on through St. Helen and St. Justinian; the mosaic was installed soon after the church was built. In 1847 a Russian monk named Samuel did a huge amount of restoration work on the mosaic, and in 1957 archeologists sounded an alarm about its deteriorating condition, but it lasted 50 more years to the point where this 5-year project began. By then, 20,000 tiles were missing (though of course monks had saved them in boxfuls), which equaled 4% of the total, and a great number of the remainder were no longer actually attached to the base layer.

I could watch this video over and over, all the tedious detail work so well documented. What they did about the missing tiles (shown as white spots in the picture just above) was the outworking of a series of complex deliberations.  I hope you will check out at least a bit of the video, because I don’t know where to stop, telling you all the things about this long project that impress me. How the conservators came to learn to appreciate the experience and perspective of the monks — the ones who live with the icon and pray with it every day — was a touching part of the story. The pictures I show you are just teasers, blurry because I took them of the video on my desktop computer monitor.

Back in the U.S.A., our parish celebrated the feast with all the important elements intact. If you want to read more content on the feast itself you can find a lot from past years here. I don’t always get to be part of the procession through the church vineyard, and sometimes I have forgotten to bring a basket of fruit, but today I managed both!

The monks celebrating the Divine Liturgy under the icon of the Transfiguration at Mt. Sinai, and the Orthodox parishioners in California — we are all singing this hymn of the feast:

O Lord, we will walk in the light of Thy countenance,
and will exult in Thy Name forever.
(Ps. 88:15)

Icon of the Transfiguration, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai

Struggling and singing and floating to Pascha.

CHRIST IS RISEN!

It is the theme of the week, “Bright Week” for us Orthodox Christians who struggled and floated through Holy Week while practically living at church. In the ten days starting with Lazarus Saturday and rolling us along through Bright Monday, we had 19 unique services at my parish, including several that were 2-3 hours long. No one participates in all of them, but some people come very close.

Because of frequent changes in the last year as to who can and may sing and chant at which of our services, it fell out that during this Lent and especially Holy Week I had more chanting duties than ever, and all of that reading of Psalms and other prayers contributed to my joy — and fatigue! What time I wasn’t in church in the last twelve days, I gravitated to my bed, or accomplished minimal garden duties.

The service of Matins of Holy Friday, on Thursday evening, is a highlight of the week. Twelve separate Gospel passages are read, seemingly everything written about Christ’s passion. We stand holding candles, and most people sit down after each of the twelve readings for the prayers and hymns that set apart the Gospel passages. The first reading is more than four chapters long: John 13:31 – 18:1. Every year is a little different for me — I’m sure it’s like that for everyone — but whether you are distracted a lot or hardly at all, there is a blessing in just being there in body, and in hearing so many words of Good News, Christ’s willing self-sacrifice for us.

By Friday afternoon we have had three Holy Friday services by which to enter in to the Crucifixion. On Friday evening the services of Holy Saturday begin; Saturday afternoon is the radiant commemoration of Christ’s descent into Hades to free the faithful of the Old Covenant, and His victory over death. The choir leads us in singing “Arise O God; Judge the earth, for Thou shalt have an inheritance among all the nations,” while all over the church people switch out the purple cloths for white.  The Old Testament story of Jonah three days in the belly of the whale is read at this service, because Jonah is seen in the Church as a type of Christ Who was three days in the tomb. It’s just one of fifteen Old Testament readings that are interspersed with two long and exultant hymns.

Afterward we go home to rest and eat a little, before returning a few hours later for the culmination of Great Lent and Holy Week, the celebration of the Holy and Glorious Resurrection of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Parishioners have been taking turns reading the Acts of the Apostles continuously since the end of the afternoon service, and do so right up until the beginning of the Pascha services just before midnight. Then all the lights in the church are turned off, and at midnight:

The Light of Christ’s Resurrection “breaks through” when the priest takes the vigil light from the altar and gives it to the faithful, while singing: “Come receive the light, that is never overtaken by night, and glorify Christ, Who is risen from the dead.”

From there the people process out of the church building, where the Gospel account of the empty tomb is read; verses from Psalm 68 are sung — “Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee from before his face!”; and the famous Paschal hymn is joyously chanted by all: “Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs He has granted life.” In this way the Church announces to the entire world the glorious news of the Resurrection. The Festal Midnight Liturgy of Easter is celebrated and the faithful partake of the Eucharist in the “Light of the Resurrection.”

The spiritual striving of the Lenten season and the blessed travel through Holy Week has been accomplished, and thus the Joy of the Resurrection is inexplicably palpable for all who have participated in this grace-filled journey.

We missed so much of this experience last year! It doesn’t break neatly into parts, a couple of which can be torn out of the whole and doled out over the Internet on a screen. But our deprivations made us all the more jubilant and grateful this year for our traditional over-the-top way of celebrating. The Death of Death is surely a reality we want to know in our hearts and lives. Somehow all of these Lenten and Holy Week labors empty us and humble us in mysterious ways to make us able to receive the grace of divine Life that is poured out at Pascha.

I stayed to break the fast with a few others afterward, with cheeses and meat, wine and chocolate, and didn’t get home until 4:00 a.m. Then we were back for Paschal Vespers at 1:00 — such a bright service! We couldn’t have our usual big barbecue this year but a few families stayed to picnic and visit all afternoon, and their children had an egg hunt.

Our bishop was with us on Bright Monday for Divine Liturgy, plus friends and deacons from a “sister parish” nearby. It was interesting how I began that hour of worship with so much verve, but about fifteen minutes in felt the weight of the residual exhaustion pulling me into a chair, where I tried to keep my mind awake, please God, for just a few more minutes!

At the end of Bright Monday’s service several of our men singers treated us, in English, to this Georgian Paschal hymn that has become one of my favorites. It must be getting more popular among the Orthodox worldwide, if the number of YouTube videos compared to last year is any indication. I found so many good versions, from cathedral to country folk to quarantine virtual choir, I am going to share several with you, in English and in Georgian.

Georgian Hymn in English – Virtual Choir

Kriste Aghdga – family in country

Kriste Aghdga – in English and Georgian

Kriste Aghdga – in a cathedral in Georgia

IN TRUTH HE IS RISEN!

Easter around the world.

This weekend many of my friends all over the world are celebrating Easter. To help convey my own warmest greetings on the blessed Resurrection Day I’m passing on a message from fellow believers in Belarus, some of whom I met a few years ago when they visited our parish. (Like them, I will be celebrating May 2 this year.) The video they send, through a link in the last sentence, is so short and joyful, I wish it were longer. Happy Easter, Dear Friends!

Dear Friend,

If you are celebrating the Feast of all Feasts on the 4th of April, I and the Sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent would like to wish you a happy and joyful Easter!

Here in the Belarussian Orthodox Church, we won’t celebrate Pascha until May 2nd, but our hearts are full of joy for all of our western friends who do celebrate in April! Even though there are still lockdowns and other types of covid restrictions in many countries of the world, nothing can take away the greatest joy that is Easter! Nothing can take away the Good News: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life! (Paschal Troparion)

The Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day after being crucified. This event proves all the prophets and fulfills God’s promises to mankind. What does this mean for us? It means that we too can have victory over death. It means that we have a chance to live in the Kingdom of God for eternity! We as Christians believe what Christ said Himself: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

If you do celebrate on the 4th of April, then once again, have the happiest Easter this year, and may God fill your heart with joy, especially during this season! With joy and love, 

Sr Anastasia and the Sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent

PS – Click on this link to watch a video from a few years ago which shows beautiful shots of springtime and Easter at our Convent!

Set every peak and valley humming.

This Christmas carol with words by Eleanor Farejon came into my life only a few years ago. I can see why it’s not as favored as some that have a fuller theology of the Incarnation, but there is so much that could be said about the significance of God taking on human flesh, I want to make use of all that has been written about this event.

This one is lovely in the way it captures some of the anticipation I feel as I also try to “make my house as fair as I am able.” It’s comforting to have the wisdom of a woman combined with the upbeat melody, a different tone altogether from “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” — but it is in sync with that joy of preparation of the material aspects of our Christmas feast. And after all, we are celebrating the mystery of God becoming material.

As St. John of Damascus said, “I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter.” God entered His creation of seed, stars, birds, and dirt, and because He did, they are made glorious. Now, we give them back to him in celebration.

PEOPLE, LOOK EAST

People, look east. The time is near 
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

-Eleanor Farjeon

If I from California look east across the globe, I might come eventually to Ukraine, where these monks are singing carols. I don’t understand the words, but I know well what they are singing about. We are singing all over the earth about the pivotal event of history.

(Get ready to) REJOICE!