Vespers of Easter


Time: 0:25 Total: 3:25 Grand total: 17:40
Congregation: 25 or so. Daughter alerted me to a woman who had come in from the street who had noticed “there was something going on” and wanted to know what it was, and she stayed until the end.
Crew: Altar: Fr T and a hypodiakon. Choir: SSSAAATT, sorely in need of basses but we sang joyfully anyway.

The “we can’t stop celebrating” service. Opportunity to say “Christ is risen” to people who couldn’t come in the night. I saw one definite enemy and ignored them; would have greeted them in the night (as I did another enemy, I pointedly do that every year trying to stop being enemies but it hasn’t worked until now) but that mood was gone by Vespers. (I don’t have many enemies: can still count them on the fingers of one hand and have fingers left over. If I ever run out of fingers I may try to reconcile.)

Christ is risen!


Time: 3:00 Grand total: 17:15
Congregation: Many. Lots.
Crew: Altar: Fr T, one hypodiakon, 3 adult acolytes, 1 boy acolyte (who, according to the hypodiakon, was asleep most of the time) Choir: Everybody, except Intermittent Bass who was probably singing in Nijmegen. We got compliments for the singing, and a toast from Fr T at the feast.

We seem to always have a police car “just passing” at the procession; this time even two, one at the first corner we turned, and one in the last street before we got back to church. I didn’t notice the second one but Spouse did, and he’d seen them “observing”. I wonder if the first car called the second, and if so, why: we were a very peaceful procession and didn’t attract any cat-callers like a couple of years ago.

Choirmistress and I are going to clean up the Holy Week and Easter choirbooks on Tuesday and they sorely need it: not only the choirbook equivalent of bitrot but also some things that really should be clearer. We need a reader’s note for the Easter night, for one thing! The reader first forgot the prokeimenon, and when we yelled at her from the choir, tried to read the Ascension Day one as well (which is below the Easter one in the book because Ascension Day has the same reading, at least one that starts the same). I could tell her later that I did the same thing when I first read the Easter Epistle, but the choir couldn’t yell helpfully at me then because we were singing from the balcony and I had to go all the way down to read. After enlarging the church 11 years ago (goodness, have I been a reader so long?)  the balcony no longer exists, and it was a horrible place to sing anyway.

I was wearing a pair of knee-socks I’d found in the sock drawer because my dress was shorter than usual and it wasn’t warm enough for sandals. They turned out to be semi-compression socks: nice   if you’re standing and walking for a long time like working in a shop, but with standing still all the time in the choir they pinched my calves and ankles and made my feet tingle. The moment I started moving around for the Paschal greeting they did their work properly, but after that there was another hour and a half of standing, of course.

Afterwards at the feast we sat in the “children’s room” that’s always reserved for the choir and altar crew, and I said to a choirmate “look, we’re here and your daughter and mine are over there at the next table” — I think they know each other from camp, or Orthodox Youth. Then we saw Choirmistress’ daughter at that table as well. Choirmistress’ granddaughter, who will be four tomorrow, was at our table drawing and commenting on the sorry state of the crayons (she was right).


Vespers and Liturgy of Holy Saturday


Time: 2:45 Total: 4:50 Grand total: 14:15
Congregation: At least 90 because I heard Fr T count me as ’70’ at the blessing and there were twenty or more people behind me.
Crew: Altar: Fr T, both hypodiakons and two adult acolytes. We’d have liked to have the really clever boy acolyte but he’s in Ukraine at the moment celebrating Easter with family. He and his sister weren’t available to read some of the Old Testament readings either. Choir: SSSSAATB (with Intermittent Bass and Auxiliary Tenor). Another soprano, who hadn’t been to any practice, turned up halfway through the service, and Choirmistress asked me “is that S? she shouldn’t sing!” and sent her away.

Some ragged edges (Choirmistress gave a wrong cue when reading Exodus, so we got the end of the glorification wrong; I mixed up some animals in Psalm 103 but all translations have different animals anyway so it would hardly have mattered if I hadn’t called both deer and hares “hares”; one choir member sang a joyful phrase when everybody else was silent) but a wonderful service in all. Every time I’m in this service it seems to be more about the Resurrection: surely it’s Easter already!

Matins and First Hour of Holy Saturday


Time: 2:05 Grand total: 11:30
Congregation: looked as if there was hardly anybody at the beginning but we ended up at 10 or so, not counting the very populous choir.
Crew: Altar (though mostly behind and around the epitaph): Fr T and an adult acolyte. Choir: SSSSAAATB.

Rambling at times, mostly because we hadn’t practiced with everyone together so the other alto who is entitled to sing the troparia of the Lamentations (only old hands who can reliably carry a tune get to do that) and I weren’t on the same page all the time. Mistakes were made: I forgot to read the Ikos, Choirmistress gave very unfeasible notes a couple of times, Fr T skipped the troparion in the second tone at the end (but we clamored for it and got to sing it). I should have read that troparion in the First Hour instead of The Noble Joseph, come to think of it. Next year we should just have the hour in the book, troparion and kontakion and all.

We didn’t have anyone to carry the cross in the procession, only the one acolyte with the lantern, so the cross wasn’t carried. No problem — less chance to accidentally put it back among the flowers awry.


Vespers of Good Friday


Time: 1:05 Total: 5:30 Grand total: 9:25
Congregation: 40? Didn’t really count, this is a very rough estimate.
Crew: Altar: Fr T, a hypodiakon, two adult acolytes (one was late and put on a sticharion that was much too short for him but couldn’t change that in time). Choir: SSSSAAAB, sorely missed a tenor but two of the altos can sing some tenor parts and both of them did so occasionally.

Strangely this Good Friday had no conflict at all. Usually I get into some altercation because everybody’s tempers are frayed from fasting. It might have helped that I made a point of drinking a glass of water every time I happened to be in my own kitchen: made the difference between staying in one piece and falling apart.

Royal Hours and Typika of Good Friday


Time: 1:50 Total: 4:25 Grand total: 8:20
Congregation: starting out 2, growing to 5
Crew: Fr T outside the altar with a hypodiakon to handle the candlestick and the censer, Choirmistress and I in the choir so we alternated hours and I got the Typika.

This is such a wonderful understated service. I used to go with an attitude of “ah well, while I’m at it” but I love it more every year. Hearing all the Passion Gospels in full (well, except Luke who gets only the part the other ones don’t have) helps too. And psalms that don’t usually come up unless we read arbitrary psalms when Fr T is hearing confessions.

All day I’ve had a spate of being extremely practical in little things — a small blessing which I’m grateful for! For one thing, I tied the plastic thingy that supports the overflow of pages when the choir book is thicker than the lectern is wide to the base of the lectern with a length of sturdy but almost-invisible thread, so we don’t have to search for it when someone (likely to be me as I’m the usual Turner of Pages) unwisely turns a page without heeding the bleeping thing and it falls to the floor again.

Of church-cleaning, I didn’t do anything except take all the things that had accumulated inside the choir lectern out, wipe it, sort the stuff and put the useful stuff back again. Also sharpened the pencil and provided a bottle of white-out, because I found several spare bottles of white-out in my desk while searching for labels. I felt sort of called to polish copper and brass but a couple of minutes in the cellar to ask someone a question and stick the “Don’t switch off this machine!” note [1] on the dehumidifier gave me such a headache and sore throat that I went shopping instead. Many people can polish brass, but not many people can read verses and I happen to be one of the latter.

[1] Also with a table of “if the humidity is below 45, tell Irina; if 45-59, setting should be Low; 60-70 Medium; over 70, High” because someone switched off the machine because they thought it had done its work –after all the humidity was 55 or so, down from 80 when we bought the machine– and it was back in the 70s when I noticed a couple of days later.

Yesterday I mentioned to a choirmate that the little notepad and the pencil are in the lectern in case someone thinks of something they’d otherwise either forget or would need to keep in their head during the rest of the service, and she was all “oh!” because she’d been annoyed with me writing things down, but she absolutely gets into the same situation quite often.


Matins of Good Friday


Time: 2:35 Grand total: 6:25
Congregation: 3-6, some staying all the time, others coming in later or leaving earlier or, in one case, both.
Crew: Clergy (outside the altar): Fr T and an adult acolyte who was instructed by the hypodiakon (who wasn’t serving and left early to nurse his vestigial bronchitis) how to ring the bell. He did fairly well, learning how to strike it softly in the course of the service but as he got tired struck it too loudly again. Choir: SSAT and for about half the service another T.

The service started very smoothly and felt very quick, but eventually it was only five minutes shorter than last year, probably because there were fewer people to venerate the Cross.

We actually started the sedalion in the fourth tone right! Probably because I remembered to virtually strike out the ordinary Amen and point to the special fits-with-it Amen. It’s a very hard piece so it was still a bit ragged, but definitely better than last year.

All of us had forgotten to get the cross from its usual place (the corner where the dead are commemorated) so when we saw “Carrying out of the cross” in the book there was a brief flurry of excitement, resulting in Auxiliary Tenor getting the cross to Fr T so he could carry it into the altar in order to properly carry it out.

It’s a good thing that the Gospel readings get shorter and shorter: the first one is four and a half chapters of John, easily twenty minutes, and the last only four verses of Matthew. This service is exhausting enough as it is.


Vespers and Liturgy of Holy Thursday


Time: 2:10 Total: 3:50
Congregation: about 5, coming and going.
Crew: Altar: Fr T, one hypodiakon and one adult acolyte. Choir: SSSAAT (Regular but Still Somewhat Trainee Tenor was holding his own very well)

Nice no-nonsense service. Afterwards, over coffee and cinnamon bread and a glass of wine, a very good conversation between Fr T and a choirmate (who is a physicist) and me about, well, the world. The sciences. The fact that some people are ignorant enough to disbelieve that a person can be a scientist and a Christian (which is not the same as a Christian Scientist!) And that both the creation story and the Big Bang are in fact models for the same thing: the beginning of the word. The same thing can be described accurately by more than one model, though models are of necessity not a complete description.

Then Choirmistress and I turned the church black — it won’t be white again until Saturday morning, and all the ordinary non-Easter white cloths can now go in the wash — and put the holder for the cross in place and filled it with flower-arranging foam. While we were doing that, a man and a woman looked in with interested faces so I said “you can come in!” and they did. We talked a bit, explained the Orthodox cross, showed off our icons of St Lebuinus, and then it transpired that they were killing time while the man’s wife/the woman’s mother was in surgery. “You can light a candle if you want!” we said, “we’ll snuff it when we leave but light it again tonight when the service starts.” And they wanted! Unfortunately we forgot to ask for the woman’s name so we could pray for her, but the church has the convenient “Thy handmaiden, whose name Thou knowest” for that.


Matins and First Hour of Holy Thursday


Time: 1:40
Congregation: 1 man and 1 woman. But they did stay the for the whole service
Crew: Altar: Fr T and 1 adult acolyte. Choir: SSSAATB! Both T and B were the non-regulars, who happen to have more experience than the regulars.

We turned the church white before the service (in the early afternoon in fact) because Choirmistress and Fr T had talked about it and decided that it’s Matins of Thursday, so it’s Thursday, so the church ought to be white already. And it did make a difference!

Wonderful singing, too. Very good start of Holy Week, at least for the choir: Fr T did Holy Unction on Monday but none of us were there for historical (it used to be a tacked-on thing that the other priest, who now belongs to a different diocese, did, and when he left some people in the congregation were so used to it that Fr T does it now but the choir wants no part of it) and emotional (as I said, the choir wants no part of it) reasons.

In the afternoon, after turning the church white and having a spare key for the bulletin-board case cut but long before the service, I was cycling to the Turkish butcher to order a leg of lamb for Sunday and suddenly something in my brain snapped me into Holy Week mode, where the world may be there but it doesn’t matter, only the great cosmic drama matters. The little things are still there, like having the key cut and ordering the leg of lamb (and those little things are somehow more important than the greater outside world), but they don’t matter in that way.

Writer’s brain


I put on a coat I hadn’t worn for some time and found a folded piece of paper in the pocket: an old church bulletin. This told me when and where I’d last worn it, of course. But suppose that it had been a Clue!

I used to play detective a lot when I was a kid, that’s probably where I got the habit, but it’s useful plotting practice too. In one of the “how to be a detective” books I read at the time there was a whole chapter about figuring out facts about a person from papers and tickets in their pockets, wallet, et cetera. (I recently found a metro ticket from Paris in the middle of a book, suggesting I was reading it in Paris and stopped halfway through because it wasn’t gripping enough, and indeed I didn’t even remember the part before the bookmark. But on the other hand, I tend to keep tickets around to use as bookmarks so they often get recycled.)

So here we have a church bulletin from the Thisdenomination church in Seasidetown in the pocket of a woman’s coat. (Let’s call her Subject to avoid saying “the woman” all the time.) We probably know a couple of things about Subject already, for instance that she lives too far from Seasidetown for this to be her regular church, and that when she does go to church it’s one of a different denomination. So we can conclude that she was on holiday at the time and went to the local church, right?

Not unconditionally. If there’s anything written on the paper, for instance an email address or a phone number, Subject might have got it from the person who wanted to give it to her and didn’t have another piece of paper handy. That person could be from Seasidetown, or close enough to be in the habit of going to church there. Or they could even have been on holiday, gone to church, and slipped the bulletin in their pocket. We could track the person by the phone number or the email address and find out what their relationship to Subject is. Heck, we could track the person by their fingerprints if the paper holds them long enough while folded up in a coat pocket. If there are three sets of fingerprints, Subject’s and two others’, it’s likely that the first set belongs to the person who handed the paper to a churchgoer (the second set) and the churchgoer gave the paper to Subject.

If there’s nothing on the paper except what’s normally on a church bulletin, we’re back at our first assumption that Subject went to the Thisdenomination church in Seasidetown on that date herself. For a nice plot twist, let her have picked up the bulletin in a train and used it as a bookmark until she finished the book, still on the train, and put the paper in her pocket instead of leaving it at the back of the book.

Writer’s Brain’s companion condition, Writer’s Ear, is even more entertaining. In the swimming pool last Wednesday there were two pairs of swimmers going at more or less the same speed as me, one pair talking about work in a pharmacy and the other about travelling in Eastern Europe. Both equally interesting! I do have two ears but only one brain…

(And this morning I failed to go swimming because I was down an internet rabbit hole researching medieval waterworks and sanitation. GM’s brain rather than writer’s brain, but it comes down to the same thing.)