Last night, I decided on a whim, though it was late, to have a Reader’s Vespers for the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord and our Father among the Saints Basil the Great.
I don’t have much by way of reflection in a formal sense, but I did want to address why I do these services and record them as part of the work of our mission in Chicago. Someone, for example, asked me why I don’t bother to do them in Church Slavonic the way that he thought they should be properly done. I suppose part of the implication is that my usage of English is a little vulgar, as are my circumcision jokes. Christ is circumcised! I am often tempted to say. Put a bandaid on him!
There are three reasons for our reader’s services offered in English. First, the Kyivan Church is not an ethnic Ukrainian church; we are the local Church of Kyiv in global form, which means that we try to sing in the local vernacular. Second, liturgy as such is not a ‘performance’; it is prayer, so it’s best to stick with the language that I’m most comfortable praying in. Third, there is a reason I have to do reader’s services here in Chicago and not in Richmond, and it is because the mentality here is that the church is about the ethnic community and not the people of God gathered under the omophor of our bishops. As such, I do not have services that I can attend usually, and if I do, my parish is far away, and I cannot get down there on weekdays. But I am part of this church, and our bishop has called us to pray in our families and in our parishes.
In fact, I am pretty sure we’ll be fine in the end, and the reader’s services are a foretaste of what is to come. We are named for the Great and Holy Wonderworker Nicholas of Myra. Stories of him moved me deeply when I was in the catechumenate, especially as I learned that there is a special devotion to him in China. The story that I love the most is one that the Holy Hierarch Philaret of New York tells about how a man in Harbin who was driving over thin ice and fell through suddenly remembered that St Nicholas’s icon was in the train station. He was probably not Orthodox, whether in communion with Rome or not, but he did remember the image, and he cried out as he was drowning, Old Man from the train station, save me! And there, he was, suddenly transported to the train station before the icon, drenched but safe.
Is this not, I reflect, the same cry that comes from my heart every Vespers, including in the reader’s service I prayed last night, at which the lamps are lit? O Lord, I cry to you, the cantor announces along with the tone. And thus it is, after we introduce the lamp-lighting psalms, the congregation resonates over and over as the entire psalm is read, Hear me, O Lord.