Thursday, April 7, 2011

Special Guests

"When God so wishes," said the bodiless angel, "the order of nature is overcome and what is beyond man comes to pass." (from Lord, I Have Cried, Vespers for The Annunciation)

I wanted to wear pink this morning. It's a small detail - I just really felt like wearing pink. But we all wear blue on feasts of the Theotokos, and not wanting to stand out like Jezebel at the debutante ball, I put on my blue dress. If you are Orthodox, you will understand.

This morning, we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation at the Old Cathedral - and I still wasn't sure which zadostoinik we were going to sing when I got there. (A zadostoinik is the hymn sung on a feast in place of It Is Truly Meet - Dostoino Yest/Axion Estin). We would normally sing the one from the canon, but I didn't have music for the refrains. I had something in Slavonic - which nobody else would have been able to read.

We had some Greek pilgrims visiting us, and we had a special guest - a Reader on loan from a Greek church in Oregon. I always go for maximal utility - I wouldn't let someone who could really sing but didn't know our music just stand there with nothing to do. So, I asked him if he would sing "what we sing in place of Truly Meet". He found the music on his iPhone, and when the time came, he sang a beautiful version of "It Is Truly Meet". Well, it isn't what we would have sung in the Russian church - but that's OK.

During lunch, one of the pilgrims, Pres. Maria, said that she had a myrrh streaming icon of St. Anna. It is a photocopy of a picture of the Myrrh Streaming icon of St. Anna with the Theotokos that is from Philadelphia. She had it with her. She told us that when we sang Truly Meet, she could smell the myrrh begin to stream from her icon - so she took it out of her bag to show us.

Reality check - there are people who claim that myrrh streaming icons are a man made phenomenon - that wood mounted icons (or those painted on wood) are tampered with and infused with oil to make it look like the icons are streaming forth myrrh. For those people, I would like to emphasize that THIS ICON WAS A SHEET OF PAPER, kept in a wooden case with a glass lid. You can't infuse paper with oil. It will completely disintegrate. The myrrh streams as tears from the faces of St. Anna and the Theotokos - it isn't a pool that just spreads.

I told Pres. Maria that I had the music for the whole molieben and akathist service - all set in western notation - from the time that the original icon had come to our parish last year, and I offered to send her a copy. Our priest had planned to do a molieben service to St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco for the pilgrims who had come to SF specifically to venerate his relics. Since the icon was streaming myrrh, they decided to include St. Anna in the molieben. I suggested that we could do the whole Akathist - we had everything ready to go . I should also mention that the other pilgrims were from the church in Roseville where there are actual relics of Sts. Joachim and Anna. I really should have gone with the pink dress.

I have one akathist service ready to sing - it's the one for the icon of St. Anna.

While we were getting everything ready to do the service, the presvytera came up to me with a picture and said that St. Anna had let her know that I didn't have one - and this one was mine. As I took it from her, she said "smell - it's starting to smell - can you smell it" I said no - and to be honest, after being visited by the Hawaiian Iveron icon while it was gushing myrrh, I was expecting to be blown away and overwhelmed by intense fragrance. Pres. Maria said to just relax and I would notice. And after a few seconds, I could smell the fragrance - but it wasn't what I was expecting. This was more subtle and kind of spicy, kind of like honey and cinnamon. It smelled more like the relic of St. George someone showed me once.

While I was holding the picture of the picture of the picture of the original icon, it began to give off warmth. If you have never been to the Old Cathedral, you must understand that it's the coldest church ever. It's 10-15 degrees colder in the church than it is outside. We regularly see our breath when we sing. We wear coats and put pants on under our skirts. I gave the choir wool gloves for Nativity - it's freezing in there. Choristers jockey for position under the incandescent light bulb on kliros because it's warmer there. So - if something is giving off heat- it's very noticeable.

And I stood there, with numb feet, with a 4 x 6 photo resting in the palms of my hands that was actually getting hot, and I was thinking "What have I done to deserve this". The presvytera said that she could see that it was starting to produce myrrh. I did not see the myrrh - although that pretty much would have been the coolest thing ever - it was mesmerizing nonetheless . . . and warm - like when I've had my laptop on my lap too long.

I know that it's out of place, liturgically speaking - but what have I done to deserve this? I'm not sure I want to know.

As we sang the service they had never heard sung before, some of the pilgrims were crying. I had to leave just as soon as we were done because I was about an hour late to pick up my kids from school - which the school was very nice about, BTW - and they didn't ask why I was "unavoidably detained". I didn't get a chance to say good bye to the presvytera or the other pilgrims.

I have the picture on the table next to my bed now - it's neither warm nor fragrant, but holding it makes my heart melt. I think I am going to have to get a frame for it from someplace other than the Dollar Tree.