Monday, August 2, 2010

Eis polla – A Hierarchical Visit

Saturday evening our parish had the great joy of welcoming His Grace Bishop Savas (Zembillas) of Troas for Great Vespers. It is usually with both joy and trepidation that choir directors anticipate a hierarchical visit. This visit was no exception. For those of you who have lived your Orthodox life in one jurisdiction, the rubrics do become old hat after you have lived through several and discover that it really isn’t that hard. But for those of us who for one reason or another have had fewer hierarchical visits and/or have been in multiple jurisdictions they can also be slightly dreaded and heart pounding events. Although you may have the rubrics down for Divine Liturgy, you may wonder, what are the rubrical changes for Great Vespers, if the Bishop is present?  

I feel the need to insert an aside in the form of a confession: I was honestly, really dreading this hierarchical visit. Our parish has recently come under the omiphorion of Archbishop DEMETRIOS of the Greek Archdiocese. This was to be our first hierarchical visit. I knew it would be something of a scene and I was not looking forward to the stress of it, new people, new rubrics, new, new, new. Early in the week I felt it was time to wrap my brain around the visit and the rubrics. I suddenly realized that this Greek Bishop who was coming was the same Bishop whom I had friended on FaceBook a month or so ago, whose daily postings – commentary of the daily scripture readings, notes on American history, etc – I thoroughly enjoy. Almost instantly my dread of the event vanished and the joy of a hierarchical visit returned to me. I realize now that I had been being prepared for this visit long before I even knew it was coming.

His Grace and the Choir
Alright, back to rubrics. So the rubrics for Great Vespers are pretty straightforward and the Liturgikon fairly clear, especially as regards items that might vary slightly and need to be confirmed. A possible Litany in the narthex … Eis polla when the Bishop reaches the ambon for the first blessing … a few spots that the Bishop takes: Come Let us Worship, Psalm 103, Vouchsafe, O Lord, Prayer of St. Simeon … Ton dhespotin at the dismissal … no problem … except for those items Vespers proceeds in the normal order. Straightforward, yes. Confirmed with the clergy before we began, yes. I have warned the choir that although I have confirmed everything they need to be on their toes because you never know what may happen …

Curve ball #1 – The deacon who was to be ordained to the priesthood the next day would be serving. I found this out when he came out for the Great Litany. Great relief when he was chanting on a pitch that would work with the Litany we were using.

Curve ball #2 – Fr. Mark, who travels with the Bishop, came out a stood very close to me. “Eis polla,” he whispered. Huh? In the middle of a litany? I obliged, but was completely confused. The choir looked at me rather strangely but joined in. My heart is pounding, pounding, pounding. As the litany continues, he whispers, “Eis polla whenever the deacon mentions the Bishop by name.” OK, I got it. That will happen at least one more time. Next time I’ll be ready!

Curve ball #3 – This one was more minor, but noticeable nonetheless. Our parish practice is for one of our chanters to chant “Most Holy Theotokos, save us” under the deacons intonation, “Commemorating our all-holy, pure, most blessed …”. What we figured out after the 2nd litany was that the deacon would stop and expect the chanter intonation and then continue. So instead of it being chanted while the deacon intoned the commemoration, we needed to wait for the space he left.

Most of the rest of Vespers went off without a hitch, the choir sang the stichera quite beautifully. Although I couldn’t see the Bishop, choir members who could see him said it was clear he was listening intently and pleased by what he heard. Oh wait, we are approaching the end of the Aposticha … Fr. Mark is again by my side.

Curve ball #4 – He lets me know that after the Bishop chants the Prayer of St. Simeon we need to have someone do another Eis polla before we begin corporately speaking the Trisagion Prayers, as is our custom. Not on the melody. So I indicate to our head chanter for him to do Eis polla there.

We made it to the end. Whew! The Bishop spoke, telling us a little about himself and speaking on the unity of the church and how important it is that we are now under the Archbishop. He words were soothing and refreshing. He gave a wonderful, and heartfelt compliment to the choir, expressing how, in particular, he could really understand the words of the stichera for the Holy Fathers, whom we commemorated this week.

Anne & I receiving a blessing after Vespers and
giving His Grace a copy of our latest CD – Life-Giving Wood.
After the service, Fr. Mark and I debriefed a little. He kindly clarified a few of the items that came up, so that next time all can go more smoothly. For example, the Eis polla before the Trisagion Prayers should actually be spoken, not sung at all, and the reader needed to go a receive a blessing from the Bishop as he did it. Be assured I took copious notes! He also was very complimentary of the choir and the beauty and blend of the voices. I loved when he said that next time we should do the Russian “Eis polla” because Ii would sound so great with our choir!

Yes, it was truly a great joy to have His Grace in our midst and I will look forward to his next visit with anticipation and joy! By the way, once curve ball #1 hit, my poor little heart didn’t really stop its pounding, pounding, pounding until I got home, close to an hour after Vespers ended! LOL

(* Thanks to Dan Agulian for his photos.)

1 comment:

  1. Amen to all you said! The choir sounded beautiful. Thanks for all your hard work!