On Saturday the 24th and Sunday the 25th of March, the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, the students, teachers, and parents of the parish school of Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, NY performed a pilgrimage trip to Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY.
Twenty-five pilgrims (more than half of whom were children aged 5-17), led by the parish school’s director of studies, Protodeacon Serge Arlievsky, left Nyack after a full day at school on Saturday, March 24, and arrived in Jordanville by 5:00 PM. Amid snow-covered fields and woods, the monastery greeted the guests with the resplendent glean of its golden domes standing out against the blue sky, undistracted quietness, and the twinkling of the lampadas in the incense-scented church.
Background: Holy Trinity Stavropegial Monastery was founded in 1930 by Archimandrite Panteleimon (Nizhnik). A new era in the life of the monastery began in 1948, when monks from the monastery of Ven. Job of Pochaev, under the leadership of Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko), arrived in Jordanville. The main church was consecrated in honor of the Holy Trinity; the lower church, in honor of St. Job; the cemetery church, in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos; and the chapel at the lake, in honor of the Holy New Martyrs & Confessors of Russia and Ven, John of Ryla. Organized at the monastery were the Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, an icon studio, Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary, a library, a Russian cemetery, and an historical museum. The monastery’s main holy icon is a revered copy of the wonderworking Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God. The journal "Orthodox Russia" resumed publication. Buried in the monastic cemetery are Metropolitans Anastassy, Philaret, and Laurus, Archbishops Tikhon (Troitsky), Apollinary (Koshevoy), Averky (Taushev), and Anthony (Medvedev), Valaam Abbot Philemon (Nikitin), iconographer Archimandrite Cyprian (Pyzhov), and the martyred guardian of the myrrh-streaming Iveron-Montreal Icon of the Mother of God, Brother Jose (Muñoz-Cortes). The monastery’s current abbot is Archimandrite Luke (Murianka).
The pilgrims were comfortably housed at the monastery guesthouse, only a ten-minute walk from the holy habitation. The monastic brethren, seminarians, and pilgrims gathered at 6:00 PM for dinner in the monastery’s two refectories: male (monastic) and female (for guests). According to monastic tradition, after joining together in prayer, everyone ate silently, listening to the assigned seminarian read the life of the Russian Emperor Paul I. Fragrant borscht soup, spaghetti with vegetable sauce, fresh salad, and freshly-baked monastery bread with tea were particularly delicious.
Some pilgrims took a walk to the monastery from the guest house, to attend Vigil, taking in the last warm rays of the sun, setting into the snowy landscape. The cold began to bite. The sound of the evening bells called the Orthodox to worship. The soul overflowed with quiet joy. It seemed that this was happiness – to travel on foot, in no hurry, along a winter road to church for the evening service, being called by the ringing of the bells… All-Night Vigil began at 7:00 PM. The monastery’s male choir sang prayerfully and triumphally. All pilgrims seven years old and up went to confession. Exiting the church after 10:00 PM, it was impossible not to admire with the night sky! A cold wind blew outside, biting with frost, but inside the rooms, it was warm and comfortable. Each room is adorned with its own icon corner.
Background on Nyack’s Russian School: The parish school at Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, NY is the oldest parish school on the East Coast, founded over 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 4-17. 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, 32 teachers teach at the school, all volunteers. Every year, the parish holds a Nativity Yolka and a musical play in which every student – large and small – can take part, Children’s Bliny with a costume contest on a given theme, baking of "larks" pastries for the feast of the Forty Martyrs, school-wide confession during Great Lent, a poetry contest, concert, and the "Young Talents" exhibition, and a school picnic.
On Sunday, March 25, Liturgy began at 9:00 AM with the triumphal greeting of His Eminence Gabriel, Archbishop of Montreal & Canada. Two of the older students were allowed to sing in the monastery choir. The sermon before Holy Communion addressed one of the most dangerous sins that strikes all, both monastery brethren and laity – the sin of judging: often people fall into judging even without noticing it, thus turning God’s love away from themselves. All of the pilgrims received Holy Communion.
After the kissing of the cross, the pilgrims stood outside of the church and shared their impressions on the triumph and beauty of the Liturgy and the special prayerful mood of the service. A spring wind carried the majestic peal of the bells far and wide across the neighboring fields. The sun was shining brightly, as if celebrating this beautiful Sunday and extending congratulations to all communicants.
Praying before their meal, they all sat next to one another at the long tables of the refectories. A delicious luncheon was served, comprised of split pea soup, mashed potatoes, buckwheat, fresh salad, with monastery bread and jam with tea and coffee. The life of Venerable Theodosius of Totma was read during the meal. After luncheon and a group photo on the steps of the church, the pilgrims from Nyack’s Russian School visited the bookstore to purchase books, icons, and monastery honey.
Later, one of the monks, Fr. Angelos, originally from Scotland, took the pilgrims to the bell tower, the upper and the lower churches, the candle factory, the bakery, and the museum. With much interest and reverence, the pilgrims listened about the history of the monastery, admired the church frescoes, venerated icons and relics, including the wonderworking copy of the icon of the Pochaev Mother of God. While visiting the candle factory, Fr. Angelos explained how candles are made by hand, and showed a tub with congealed wax, the wax "bricks" and, of course, candles fragrant with the wonderful smell of honey and wax. While visiting the bakery, Fr. Angelos told the pilgrims about the process of making prosphora with holy water, as well as the technique of bread-making. The story about an elusive cat, who would sometimes sneak into the bakery via a secret passage, especially fascinated the children.
The local historian, Andrei Lubimov, met the pilgrims in the monastery museum. The museum exhibit, entitled "The Russian Word & Image: Four Centuries of Books & Art," contains several marvelous pieces, among which are ancient Russian handwritten and printed books, the oldest of which is around 450 years old; stunningly beautiful icons, crosses, a richly adorned shroud, and a panagia; a ceremonial priest’s epitrachelion ("stole") with an opulent double-headed eagle design from the 1896 coronation of the last Russian tsar, Emperor Nicholas II; a copy of the coronation luncheon menu from 1896, drawn by the renowned Russian artist V. Vasnetsov; historic photographs, awards, and personal items belonging to participants of the White Movement. All were deeply touched by the exhibit’s personal items from the Royal Family, including a white embroidered shirt belonging to one of the grand duchesses Olga, and the icon of Savior gifted by Nicholas II to his daughter, Grand Duchess Anastasia for her 13th birthday.
The gentle sunlight, the deep blue skies, the joyful chirping of the birds, the beauty of the monastery, and the spiritual joy of the two days spent here had a calming effect on the people, and the pilgrims delayed their inevitable return from this remarkable place to life in the world. May the Lord bless Holy Trinity Monastery and its brethren!