On April 9-10, 2016, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, a group of the second year seminarians attended the divine services at the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church of Nativity in Erie, Pennsylvania and enjoyed the hospitality of this unique community of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, led by the Very Rev. Archpriest Pimen Simon. All the students in the group are currently enrolled in the course of Russian Church History taught by the Rev. Deacon Andrei Psarev, and this semester study in depth the history of the schism in the Russian Church in the 17th century. This year, the students were accompanied by Dr Vitaly Permiakov, Instructor in Liturgical Theology, and the librarian and archivist Andrei Lyubimov.
Upon arriving at the parish on Saturday afternoon, they were warmly greeted by Fr Pimen who helped the students to settle in at the Parish Center, and briefly introduced the guests to the history of the parish and to the distinctive characteristics of the divine services in the Old Rite, practiced in the Russian Church before the Nikonian reforms of mid-17th century.
That evening, the seminarians attended Small Vespers which was immediately followed by the All-Night Vigil which lasted from 4:30 to about 8:45 PM. Fr Pimen invited the students to follow the service on kliros (or “krylos”) and to try singing if they felt comfortable doing so. The parishioners were quite welcoming, not minding if the seminarians followed New Rite traditions, yet the students, for the most part, tried to follow the Old Rite customs, which included numerous prostrations and bows during the vigil, using the ‘podruchniki’ (special little rugs designed to keep the hands of the worshipper clean). After Vigil, Fr Pimen and Matushka invited the group for dinner where the rector answered many questions from the students and shared more of the parish’s history, relating the history of the transition of an Old-Rite Bespopovtsy (“priestless”) community with services only in Slavonic to the use of English, to the acceptance of the Orthodox priesthood, and to the union with the Russian Church Abroad in 1982.
On Sunday morning, the guests from Jordanville attended the midnight office, hours and the Divine Liturgy, during which some students served in the altar and were able to observe closely the distinct practices of liturgical celebration from the pre-Nikonian period. All of the guests received the Holy Mysteries at the liturgy. After the kissing of the cross, Fr Pimen also showed the group a few of the 17th century liturgical books that are preserved in the parish’s library.
Following breakfast, many parishioners participated in Sunday school, during which, at the request of Fr Pimen, Dr Permiakov shared a few reflections concerning the liturgical traditions of Great Lent and, in particular, their connection with the ancient rites of initiation in Jerusalem and Constantinople. Before departing, the guests attended the Lenten Sunday Vespers.
The group from Holy Trinity then visited the American side of Niagara Falls and enjoyed the majestic beauty and frigid air before returning to the Monastery and Seminary late that evening.
The trip was greatly enjoyed by all. The students and the members of faculty and staff that took part in this trip express their sincere gratitude to Fr Pimen and the Old-Rite parish of the Nativity for their amazing hospitality and this unique experience of worship in accordance with the ancient tradition of the Russian Church. The seminarians came away from this experience with the impression that the services were beautiful, the liturgical differences were fairly minor, and the parish was cordial. In the words of the second-year seminarian Christian Watts, “after studying the schism in class, actually being at the Nativity Church and participating in their services helped us understand the history and differences more than any textbook could.” Most of the guests, God willing, would be very happy to return and experience the unique bit of Russian America again.