It was with solemnity and great spiritual enthusiasm that the joint celebration of the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts was held in St. Seraphim Memorial Church to the Restoration of Unity with the Russian Orthodox Church in Sea Cliff, NY and the Memorial Divine Liturgy in Holy Protection Church in neighboring Glen Gove, sung by a joint male choir under the direction of Peter A. Fekula, conductor of the Synodal Choir in New York.
On Friday evening, March 9, Vespers and the Divine Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts were celebrated by Eastern American Diocesan vicar Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan. His Grace was co-served by parish rector Archpriest Serafim Gan, Archpriest Alexandre Antchoutine (rector of Holy Virgin Intercession Church in Glen Cove); Hieromonk Photius (Oulanov; cleric of Holy Intercession Church), and parish Protodeacons Paul Wolkow and Eugene Kallaur.
Despite it being a workday, along with the abundant traffic that is common for areas around New York City on a Friday evening, parishioners from both churches diligently arrived for Liturgy, which was preceded by the reading of the Ninth Hour and Typica, in order to pray together with their fathers, brothers, and sisters. Some of them, who prayerfully prepared beforehand, received Christ’s Holy Mysteries.
The hymn "Let my prayer arise" (composed by D. Bortniansky) was prayerfully sung by M.D. Schidlovksky, N.M. Miro and A.P. Fekula, while the clergy in the altar sang the refrains. This is however only one of the moving moments of this service, including the singing of the Theotokion in the tone of the week in Znammeny chant, "Now let the Powers of Heaven," and other hymns of this Great Lenten service. Before Holy Communion, the prescribed lesson from Ven. Theodore the Studite was read.
At the end of the service, Bishop Nicholas urged those present not to neglect Great Lent, and to engage in increased work on oneself, intensify one’s prayers, reading useful books and doing good deeds. "Let us turn to communal prayer in the temple, to the Holy Sacraments, in order here to receive consolation, blessings, and help in carrying our own cross, and to support and comfort others carrying their crosses." The rector of St. Seraphim Church greeted those gathered and noted that, "the joint celebration of the Liturgy and the communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ help us understand and feel that we are members of one body, that we are not isolated, not alone. When we gather, for instance, for joint prayer in the church, our thoughts and prayers are focused on one thing, and this unites them. Being Orthodox does not mean leading a life separate from others. In the Church, we become one with all the others. Therefore, in the Church there are struggles that are common to all of us, for example Great Lent: this is our joint effort, this is a time of struggle for all."
Following the service, a lenten meal was served by the parish sisterhood. All of participants expressed their joy at the joint celebration by both parishes, led by Bishop Nicholas, and offered their gratitude to the choristers.
The following morning, Matins for the Departed was served in Holy Intercession Church in Glen Cove. During the hours before Divine Liturgy, with the blessing of Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America & New York, Bishop Nicholas tonsured Adrian P. Fekula a reader. At the end of Divine Liturgy, which was sung by a joint mixed choir of singers from both parishes, Bishop Nicholas expressed his gratitude to all gathered for unified prayer and receiving Christ’s Holy Mysteries, calling the joint Lenten services on Long Island a "good, fruitful, and blessed tradition." Fr. Alexandre greeted all on the occasion of Soul Saturday, thanking Bishop Nicholas for leading the joint celebration and congratulated Adrian Fekula, the parish choir director, on his elevation to the first level of the Holy Orders and presented him with a commemorative gift.
A special impression was made on all the participants in the services was made by Adrian Fekula’s grandfather, Archpriest George Larin, pastor emeritus of Holy Protection Church in Nyack, NY, who spoke at the meal with warm and edifying words addressed to his grandson and youth representatives. During his remarks, Fr. George shared touching memories of the years spent in Shanghai and on the island of Tubabao, when he was in close contact with the Holy Hierarch John (Maximovitch), the great archpastor of the Russian Diaspora.
The prayerful and brotherly interaction between Holy Intercession and St. Seraphim Churches continued on the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent, when services in both parishes were sung by the Synodal Male Choir dedicated to Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II. On Saturday evening, March 24, the choir under the direction of Reader Adrian Fekula sang the All-Night Vigil in Holy Intercession Church in Glen Cove, after which a dinner was served in honor of the choir visiting from various cities on the east coast of the United States. On the following Sunday morning, the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent, the Synodal Male Choir sang the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great in St. Seraphim Memorial Church. Despite the scaffolding set up in the church for the on-going frescoing of the temple, the choristers assembled on the kliros and many faithful gathered in the church. At the end of the joyous Liturgy, Fr. Serafim expressed his thanks to the singers for their singing and presented them with a donation for their needs and commemorative gifts.
The same day, after a fundraising luncheon for the choir in the large hall of Holy Protection Church, a spiritual concert was held where hymns from the services of Great Lent and Passion Week were sung. Before the concert began, parish rector Archpriest Alexandre Antchoutine greeted those present. There was a beautiful, benevolent, inspiring, and fresh atmosphere in the hall. Concert participants not only included parishioners from both local parishes, but from other parishes of the Eastern American Diocese, as well as other Orthodox jurisdictions. With great enthusiasm the singers of the Synodal Male Choir sang all the hymns, which was felt and very warmly received by listeners. Those who came to the concert welcomed the performers with prolonged applause. According to the singers, participants heard some pieces for the first time, which can be evidenced by the interest shown by them: people approached with questions and shared their impressions, and A.N. Ryl, the guardian of the Holy Great-Martyr Panteleimon Chapel in Kittatinny, NJ, invited singers to the divine services and events during the summer celebration of the chapel’s Heavenly patron.
Russian sacred music is an amazing source of wisdom and beauty, combining the enduring values of Orthodoxy and Holy Russia, the edifying texts, musical perfection of classical compositions of Russian masters, and melodies of our monasteries, compiled many centuries ago. Ancient church chants are the best expression of religious sentiments. This is understandable, because their creators were people of high religious spirit, gifted with the mystery of knowing the divine sounds. In these creations, the sounds of our Fatherland, imbued with the spirit of piety, are felt.
May the Lord help the singers of the Synodal male chorus led by Reader Adrian Fekula continue to share these spiritual treasures, comforting believers and enriching our church life with their singing, zeal, love, and sacrificial work!