On Sunday, January 15, His Grace, Bishop Jerome, celebrated Divine Liturgy in Holy Virgin Protection church in Nyack, NY. He was co-served by parish clergy: pastor emeritus Archpriest George Larin, rector Archpriest Ilya Gorsky, Priest Ignatius Green, and Deacon Andrew Podymow. In his sermon, Bishop Jerome recounted the Christian tradition of giving gifts on the feast of the Nativity in memory of the gifts brought to the Infant Christ by the three Wise Men, as well as the symbolism of the Feast of Theophany.
After the service, students of the parish’s Russian School began to gather with their families in the parish hall for the Christmas "Yolka." Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan also arrived for the children’s play. At 3 o’clock, after a prayer, the lights in the hall were dimmed, music was heard, and the curtain opened: on the stage stood a green oak, a golden chain upon that oak, and a learned cat walking back and forth about the chain. In front of bright pastoral scenery, a little Pushkin began his tale of "Lukomorye," and the smallest students began to come onto the stage: the "leshy" forest spirit, a mermaid, a cottage on chicken legs, invisible animals, heroes from out of the sea, Koschey with his golden coins, Baba Yaga, a mage carrying a knight, a lamenting princess and the wolf who serves her.
The learned cat seamlessly moved on to recount "The Story of the Dead Princess & the Seven Heroes," by A.S. Pushkin. The queen came onto the stage with young ladies-in-waiting in beautiful Russian costumes, and began to sing. Then the girls placed a newborn baby in her arms… The queen-stepmother argued with her magical mirror; Chernavka the servant girl took pity on the young princess and set her free in the deep forest; the seven knights took her into their home like a sister; Prince Elisey (Elisha) searched everywhere for his bride, asking the grand Sun, the thoughtful Moon and the graceful Wind for help. The audience applauded joyfully as the crystal tomb was shattered and the young couple emerged from the cave together!
The musical play was staged exclusively through the efforts of parents and teachers of the school. More than 70 children participated. The active involvement of upperclassmen and recent graduates of the school in the play and its staging was particularly gratifying. Work on the script began over the summer. In October, all students who were interested and able to participate in the Christmas play were signed up by their parents, and began to learn their roles with their help. Rehearsals were held mostly on Saturdays during school hours between classes. Part of the costumes and stage decorations was taken from the school’s collection, and the rest were newly made, sewn, built, and drawn. The joint efforts brought everyone closer together and left both children and adults with many wonderful memories.
After the play, everyone was invited to a festal buffet dinner. Soon the younger children gathered around the green Christmas tree, decorated with lights and freshly baked cookies, and the traditional Russian roundelay began with Christmas carols and songs around the tree. To everyone’s joy, Grandfather Frost (Santa Claus) and Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden) then arrived in a painted sled with presents!
Nyack’s Russian School is the oldest parish school on the East Coast, founded 60 years ago by Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy, the parish’s longtime rector and author of The Law of God, a textbook renowned not only around America, but now in Russia, as well. The parish school’s students use the book to this very day. There are currently over 100 students enrolled in the school, ages 4-18. Classes are held on Saturdays from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM. All subjects are taught in Russian: the Law of God, Russian Language, Reading, Russian Literature, Russian History, Singing, and Geography. This year, 27 teachers teach at the school, all volunteers. The school’s director, or principal, is parish rector Archpriest Ilya Gorsky, and director of studies is Protodeacon Serge Arlievsky. The main purpose of the parish school at the Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, NY is to raise children and youth in Orthodoxy and to develop in them a love for Russian culture.