St. Jonah Orthodox Church, a parish of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America, sponsored an exhibit of historic Russian icons and a Liturgical Choral Concert in the English language, March 1-3, 2013 in Spring, Texas. Guest speakers were the Archimandrite Luke (Murianka), Dean of Holy Trinity Seminary and Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery, along with Dr. Kurt Sander, composer of Orthodox Liturgical Music and Associate Professor of Music Theory and Composition and Music Department Chair at Northern Kentucky University.
Many of you may recognize Kurt as both a graduate and resident theory professor at the Summer School of Liturgical Music at the Holy Trinity Orthodox Monastery in Jordanville, New York, and currently music director at St. George Russian Orthodox Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. With us also was Larissa Sander, Chairperson of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America Liturgical Music Committee.
The goal of the weekend was to impart a two-fold understanding about Orthodox Liturgical Worship and its components part- Word of God, icon and music. The first was to awaken ‘cradle’ Orthodox believers to the factors that appeal to one joining the Church- her inner life. The second was to share the Church’s self-understanding. The component parts of worship do not exist independently from each other, as if things unto themselves. Their artful expression is generated by and understood within the life of the Church. No other criterion outside her reveals the true meaning of their artfulness and aesthetic. The Word of God, icon, and music are each ‘Sacrament’, each unified with the other in the power, operation, and descent of the Holy Spirit to help lead our lives into redemption. Finally the liturgical arts have as their point of reference the revelation of God in the Old and New Testaments, not as afterthoughts but as the continuous movement to God toward man, through the divine energies of God at work in iconography and church music.
Archimandrite Luke spoke on the topic, “The Knowledge of Icons that Leads to God. ”Kurt Sander spoke on the topic, “Ineffable Beauty: An Introduction to the Aesthetics of Orthodox Liturgical Art and Music. ”Both linked the foundation of iconography to the creation of church music in a profound, engaging and thoughtful way unheard of before especially with regard to Orthodox Church Music.
The topics led us to conclude with the celebration of the Saturday evening All-night Vigil and Sunday morning Divine Liturgy. Fr. Luke as the main celebrant concelebrated with Fr. John Whiteford, rector of St. Jonah Church and resident Deacon David Companik, who was the master of ceremonies for the weekend. Other guest clergy included the Sunday homilist, the Hieromonk Innokenty (Reichert) from SS. Sergius and Herman Church in Houghton, MI, and Deacon and Mrs. Alexander Petrovsky, member of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America Liturgical Music Committee, from St. Innocent Church in Carol Stream, IL.
The choir of St. Jonah Church, under the direction of Ms. Demetra Short, sang a selection of hymns dedicated to the feast days of the Mother of God. The singing was complemented with commentary by Kurt Sander on the musical selections and text, and Iconographer John Lickwar on the corresponding icon. The choral presentation filled the church to capacity with one hundred and fifty plus and additional attendees having to stand outside. The choral concert work of Nicholas Kotar, now student at Holy Trinity Seminary, inspired the format of our choral presentation. We express our gratitude to his ground breaking work.
Our Concert Program Booklet included a letter from Fr. John Whiteford welcoming visitors and sharing information about the parish. He says, “Please keep in mind that by attending this weekend’s events, you will have walked into the first Orthodox Church in the world dedicated to the Holy hierarch Jonah of Manchuria. The year 2025 will mark his repose, October 20, 1925 (N.S.), and by that time it is our hope that we will have finished building a Temple and complex suitable to celebrate the occasion, and host the pilgrims that will come to join in that celebration.”
St. Jonah Orthodox Church was especially pleased to host the experience provided by this weekend for two reasons. First, here in Texas, we have joined with Ancient Faith Radio to provide to the world the unique opportunity of rediscovering Holy Trinity Orthodox Monastery and Seminary as the spiritual centers they have always been in the Orthodox world. Ancient Faith Radio was present to record and make each presentation available to a world-wide audience reaching one hundred and thirty countries with as many as six hundred thousand hits a month. Second, the program was not an academic event. It was intended as we said in the beginning, to connect people in part to the integrity of the Church through understanding the component parts of her liturgical worship.
“I’m personally more excited about events that might bring in more un-churched or Protestants and expose them to Orthodoxy…Not being artistically inclined I wouldn’t have thought the concert would have been a great vehicle for that either, but I’m glad I was wrong.”
Mr. James Hall, Attorney Warden, St. Jonah Orthodox Church
“Last Sunday, after an alert from a friend, I attended the Liturgy at St. Jonah’s about an hour north of Houston. It was a singularly joyous experience, due largely to the beauty of the choir….The great credit, of course, is due to its Choral Conductor, Demetra Short. She encompasses all of the qualities needed: gentle leadership combined with a thorough knowledge and love of the music… I’ve chosen my words carefully…
As I left the program, I said to the crowd collected outside: There is BEAUTY, there is WONDER inside!”
Ms. Olga Bennett Orthodox Christian and Visitor to St. Jonah’s
Glory to God for All Things!
Archimandrite Luke gives a lecture “The Knowledge of Icons that Leads To God.” at the Conference “Sacred Art, Sacred Music”
Kurt Sanders’ lecture Ineffable Beauty: An Introduction To The Aesthetics Of Orthodox Liturgical Art
Father John Whiteford’s News, Comments, and Reflections: Photo Report: Sacred Art, Sacred Music 2013