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Author Topic: My trip to St. Irene Chrysovalantou Monastery  (Read 2913 times) Average Rating: 0
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Anastasios
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« on: August 11, 2003, 11:14:46 AM »

My trip to St. Irene Chrysovalantou Monastery in Astoria, NY

by Dustin Anastasios Hudson

Today, August 10, 2003, I visited St. Irene Chrysovalantou monastery in Astoria, NY with my wife Michaela. July 28 is the feast of St. Irene Chrysovalantou, and since the monastery is on the Old Calendar (although they are under Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople), today was the feast day. I didn’t know what to expect since I have never been to an Old Calendarist Church, so I went with a completely open mind, ready to experience whatever happened.

Michaela and I arrived at 9:30, just as liturgy was beginning. Orthros had begun that morning at approximately 7:00 am, but we were not interested in attending since we knew the liturgy would be approximately three hours long anyway. Upon entering the Church, we were immediately struck by its beauty. It is immaculately decorated with hanging oil lamps, icons were painted directly on the walls, and a marvelous wood-carved iconostasis was the focal point of the Church.   One thing that struck us, however, upon entering was that the church had pews!  Now we are not fanatical anti-pew types even though I don’t like them personally, but I was surprised to see them in an Old Calendar monastery.

The Church was packed full of pilgrims and parishioners. It was so full that after ten minutes Michaela almost fainted. But we found a convenient place against the back wall to lean, and that remained our spot for the next hour and a half, until we were asked to move so that we would not get in the way at the procession at the Cherubic Hymn. The liturgy was chanted all in Greek, which although it is not our native tongue has never been a barrier to my wife and me personally; we have attended enough Greek liturgies that she knows what is going on while I understand most of the words. We were amazed by the Byzantine Chant, which was thankfully done without the accompaniment of an organ as is often done in Greek churches in the United States. In fact, I felt as if I were in heaven listening to the words chanted so beautifully.

The Church hosts a miraculous icon that weeps myrrh. Many people were there to see the icon and to venerate it. Unfortunately, many of them were only there to do that, and not to participate in the liturgy. It made me wonder what they thought they would accomplish by missing liturgy but venerating an icon—it seemed kind of superstitious to me. However, this is their custom and their “peasant piety” and who am I to judge? At least they made it to Church and perhaps their veneration of the icon will lead to their conversion to more pious observance of Church life. One practical disadvantage was the pushing and shoving that went on to get to the icon; it was very distracting and several times I had some very unchristian thoughts when people shoved me!

The liturgy went on for about three hours. Something curious happened which I have never seen before—at the "It is truly proper and just" [Axion Estin] hymn to the Theotokos, the monks started ringing all the bells, they started swininging the hanging oil lamps and a nun processed through the church striking that wooden thing that Greek monks have to call people to prayer (what they began using when the Turks banned ringing bells).  The energy level at the church rose to an extreme high at this point.  It was utterly astounding. I was confused because they administered communion at the end of the liturgy instead of at the customary time.  There were three sermons: one by a monastic priest, one by Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta (GOA), who was the main celebrant, and one by Metropolitan Paisios of the monastery.  Metropolitan Paisios has a program called “Voice of Orthodoxy” that appears on the Greek TV here in New York, and it showed—he was so animated, jumping up and down, screaming and shouting, with a big smile on his face.  At one point he started talking to the icon, then he started talking to the people venerating the icon.  It was interesting to say the least.

At the conclusion of the liturgy, everyone went outside and the icon was carried out.  It was covered with the usual cloth canopy, and people were carrying banners.  Girls were carrying poles with candles on top and pink ribbons hanging from them, and there were both military and police escorts.  Some of the police even venerated the icon!  As the procession began, we walked with it for awhile but then “ducked out” as by this time four hours had passed and my wife was very tired.  We definitely will be returning to the monastery!

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« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2003, 11:36:51 AM »

As anastasios knows I was there from 7am with a guest from out-of-town.  The morning started with Midnight Hour/Mesonyktion then Matins then Liturgy.  We were shown out after receiving Communion (really what else could we have done?  push our way back to our places?).  

There was an anouncement by PAISIOS during communion and he was saying something (all in Greek) about the "apolysis" the dismissal so in my mind they did not distribute Communion at the end of the service but rather did one of two things:  finished liturgy while I like many others were outside (there is little to finish at that point) or, more likely the rest of the service with the dismissal would take places after the procession returns to the church.  Since there did not seem to be a big lag time from Communion to the start the procession I presume the latter.

What was very curious is that during/right after the priests' Communion they had a blessing of loaves, I don't know if that was a memorial service or what but that seemed to be inserted there (not after the amvon prayer as IIRC would be normal).  It honestly looked like a Serbian Slava but of course it could not be that.

Also, IIRC the lamp of the Theotokos (on the screen) alone was swung at the Magnification of Matins yet all were swung (on the screen) at the Axion Estin.  On the Holy Mount it is my understanding that they swing the main candelier at the Polieleos (I saw that once but not on the Holy Mount!).  

" a nun processed through the church striking that wooden thing that Greek monks have to call people to prayer (what they began using when the Turks banned ringing bells)" = Semandron

I was at the OCA cathedral on 2nd street for Vigil the night before for the first time (for Vigil that is) and curiously they did the same thing at the Magnificat.  That is, they swung the lamps in front of the icon of the Theotokos, rang the bells and clapped what sounded like the semandron>  It's worth the trip down to see it.  Very peaceful, gentle.
« Last Edit: August 11, 2003, 11:43:02 AM by TonyS » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2003, 01:41:51 PM »

Just a few more random observations.  I was at the Monastery Church twice on Saturday.  Once before the evening service as I was not sure where it was and did not want to look for it early the next day and once in the late evening after supper as we had dinner just a couple of blocks from the monastery.  

The first time around people were just milling in and out lighting candles and venerating the icons, etc.  There were also some stands out front selling differnt things, one selling religious articles and another non-religious ones.  When we entered little paper icon "tags" were pinned on us.  We did our thing in the church and looked around and left.  We noticed there were some carnival type rides tucked away and wondered about that.  

As the small complex of the monastery was only 2 or 3 blocks from the restaurant where my friend and I had dinner we walked down to see what was happening (I was hoping some service was going on or something blessed was left over - like an apple).  There was no service but there were people there and there was Artos left over from the blessing of Loaves, apparently no apples though.  There were people who looked like they were gonna stay in the church and sure enough the next morning there were people who apparently had spent the night in the church.  I was pretty impressed by that, not so much perhaps by the show of piety (although that too) but by the similarities in practices I know from other places.  

On Saturday night the carnival was in full swing outside and it looked like the people there were having a good time...I did not see any particularly ethnic appearing food but I did not look carefully.  

I think that for anyone in this area St Irene's is a worthwhile place to visit any time but especially for this event.  

I am just more full of typoes today than usual...
« Last Edit: August 11, 2003, 01:43:38 PM by TonyS » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2003, 03:59:52 PM »

I am definitely going next year!
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« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2003, 07:52:56 PM »

Tony has asked that I recount my experience, since I too went down to Astoria for the feast.  I went on Saturday evening by taking the train from White Plains to GC, the shuttle from GC to Times Square, and the W from there to the last stop.  Pretty straightforward.  Because my train from White Plains was delayed by about 15-20 minutes for some reason, I was that much late, and so I got to the church twenty minutes after Vespers, which was supposed to start at 7.00pm.  

When I got there, the roads were blocked off near the monastery to accomodate the rides, game booths, and food and other vendors.  The sound of alarm bells going off during those games where you shoot the duck and win a teddy bear (or whatever, I didn't look too carefully) were pretty loud, and I wondered how a liturgical service could be conducted with all this noise outside.

As I walked up the stairs into the monastery church, a lady pinned a small icon of Saint Irene to my shirt.  I am not sure why they did this, but it was OK.  I've got the small icon in my wallet now.  I looked around in the vestibule, where people were hanging around, lighting candles.  It was hot.  

I walked into the church on the right side and was first struck by the pews, honestly.  I did not expect those in an Old Calendar monastery.  I figured that when they went under the EP (I think they used to belong to a schismatic group or old calendar Orthodox group like the TOC), the EP must've made pews a part of the reunion.  Tongue  Anyway, after I got over the pews, and found a place to stand (the church was packed!), I got to admire the beauty of the church.  Dustin writes:

Upon entering the Church, we were immediately struck by its beauty. It is immaculately decorated with hanging oil lamps, icons were painted directly on the walls, and a marvelous wood-carved iconostasis was the focal point of the Church.

That is a pretty succinct description.  I will not attempt to give another, since I'd just keep talking about this and that and not finish the story.  Let me just say that, from their website, I was under the impression that the church was in actuality bigger than it was in reality.  But I was VERY impressed with the church, and its dimensions reminded me of some Indian churches back home.  

Because the church was so packed, and because people were constantly lighting these HUGE candles before the miraculous icon, it was even hotter inside, and although I stuck it through to the end, there were times I thought about ditching it for the cooler outside.  

I was in the church at 7.20pm, and Vespers was already in progress.  The Great Litany was done about ten minutes later, if I recall correctly.  Since I was under the impression that the only things before this Litany in Byzantine Vespers were the priest's initial blessing and Psalm 103, I figured that they might've just been singing slower than I thought.  As the service went on, I remember thinking that I might not be that far off in thinking that they were singing slower or more colourfully (and thus taking up more time).  But it was Byzantine chant, sung very beautifully, with no organ.  And not a word of English.  I didn't understand much, although I could feel my way through the service because I know its basic structure, and know a few of the common (ordinary) parts of the service in Greek if I hear it.  

The people in the congregation didn't really sing much during the service, leaving this up to the clergy and the monks (and one older nun who would grab the mic and belt out the music), and my experience in most Eastern Orthodox churches has been along the same lines, so I thought it was relatively normal for them.  Because the clergy and monks had microphones (devices I have never seen in EO churches of the Russian tradition), it was loud enough to sorta drown out all the old ladies and others chatting away during the service like there was no tomorrow.  I could still hear them, though, and it was somewhat annoying.  Also annoying was the sound of the alarm bells going on at those game booths where you shoot the duck and win the teddy bear or whatever they were going off during parts of the service.  Singing Kyrie eleison followed by one of those bells going off is an interesting experience, let me tell you...

But there were parts of the service during which the people did sing in unison.  Notably, when the hymn Phos hilaron (Gladsome Light) was intoned, all the people stopped their chatting, stood up, and sang very enthusiastically.  It was awesome.  I could feel something stirring in my heart as that hymn was sung by all.  In my parish, everyone sings, but it doesn't always sound good...when they do sing well, however, I get this same feeling.  It was great.  During the singing of this hymn, all the bells of the church were rung, a very young-looking nun (she looked like a teenager) was banging the simandron, and monks started swinging all of the oil lamps in the church.  I was aware that this was done during the Polyeleos on the Holy Mountain as noted above, and didn't expect it during Vespers, but it was impressive and very moving.  

The service basically proceeded as Vespers usually does until the end.  When it was over (and it took a while to finish, since there was this one litany where they commemorated all who asked for prayers, and the list of names went on for about twenty minutes--I know, I kept looking at my watch), they had the blessing of apples.  Three altar boys (actually men) carried three huge baskets of apples on their heads, with priests and hieromonks following them, and a deacon with a censer, altar boys with the cross and ripidia, and the nun with the simandron preceding them.  A hymn was sung during the procession (her troparion?), which went around the church three times.  They went through the side aisles, where I happened to be standing, and these were filled to capacity, so I had the nun, the altar boys, the apple-bearers, and the priests all bump into me, sometimes, in the case of the bigger priests, very forcefully.  When the procession was over, the apples were laid before the miraculous icon of Saint Irene, where they were blessed by Metropolitan Evangelos (he substituted for Archbishop Iakovos, who I think was supposed to lead this service, but couldn't make it for whatever reason).  

After this, the Metropolitan (I think) spoke in Greek for a while.  Then, Metropolitan Paisios, who I think is Abbot of the monastery, spoke at length in Greek.  He was very animated as Dustin was saying.  After him, a hieromonk spoke in Greek for an even longer time about monasticism, I think.  During this, I was on line to venerate the icon and relics of Saint Irene, and then my plan was to go out to buy some religious articles and dinner and other things, and finally grab the subways and train to go home.  But so many people were pushing against each other to venerate the icon that ushers had to govern the line to make sure it didn't get too rowdy.  After about ninety minutes of listening to two Metropolitans and a hieromonk go on and on in a language I didn't know while I was ten feet away from the icon and relics but not at all moving forward even though people were shoving me from behind, I decided I'd have to visit some other day and venerate them, because otherwise I'd be there all night waiting, and I wouldn't catch the trains, and would have to find a way home while starving--so I left, bought some dinner, some religious articles, and left for home.  

The feast is definitely something to attend (it's quite the experience), but I can't wait till I go again for a hopefully much less crowded service.  Then maybe I can venerate the icon.  All in all, everything was great, even if chaotic (I don't think it would've been too Orthodox without a good helping of drama Wink ), and like I said, I hope to visit there soon.
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« Reply #5 on: August 11, 2003, 07:57:10 PM »

One interesting thing re: the people's vocal participation during Vespers was that I saw some old ladies singing the priest's parts with him during the service.  For instance, when a priest concludes some litany with something like "For holy art Thou, O God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory...", these old ladies were singing that with the priest in Greek.  I wasn't sure if that was allowed (I suspect not), but it was interesting to see.
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« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2003, 10:13:53 AM »

What is the Kyrie eleison?  That sounds awfully familiar.  Wasn't there a song on the radio about 20 years ago by that name (or something similar)?

Anyway, your experience sounds interesting.  I guess I'm still having a little trouble with the whole icon thing, especially when you describe folks pushing and shoving each other in trying to see one.
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« Reply #7 on: August 12, 2003, 10:32:30 AM »

DT:

They are Greeks.  Italians are the same, as are Russians.  I know what you mean, coming from a Protestant background myself.  It wasn't like they were trying to punch each other though.

Kyrie eleison means "Lord Have Mercy"

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« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2003, 11:20:54 AM »

DT:

They are Greeks.  Italians are the same, as are Russians.  I know what you mean, coming from a Protestant background myself.  It wasn't like they were trying to punch each other though.

Kyrie eleison means "Lord Have Mercy"

anastasios

Thanks for the info.  Also, I recall several years ago seeing some special on TV regarding the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (sp?) in which several different groups--Copts, Armenians, Romans, and Orthodox, I believe--"jockeying" for position inside the church.  It was quite interesting  Smiley.
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« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2003, 11:34:59 AM »

People are still people.

I was walking up the aisle of the church a couple of Sundays ago and this old woman who attends every Sunday, elbowed (body blocked me) trying to get to a friend of hers. No "Excuse me" or nothing.

But then again - she is Greek !
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« Reply #10 on: November 09, 2010, 12:48:23 PM »

We must not just rely on what the Media writes... Let us wait and see
the True facts.  Someone is not disclosing all the facts! God will
reveal the Truth in due time. Be patient and fearful! Let's try not
to judge.
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« Reply #11 on: November 09, 2010, 04:19:54 PM »

Yes, MBP, we should be patient and pray. There is a thread in the prayer forum for this purpose, for the bishops.

This thread here is seven years old, and was started by me before I was even Orthodox, when I had a pleasant experience during the 2003 Feast Day at St. Irene's. I don't want to resurrect this thread to talk about the current events, so I will lock it now.

In Christ,

Fr. Anastasios
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