Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Julian Calendar Epiphany in Rome

Every year on or around the feast of the Epiphany, news outlets around the world run photographs like this one
of Byzantine Rite Christians diving into icy pools, lakes and rivers in mid-winter. These waters are blessed on the feast of the Theophany, the commemoration of the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan, and as part of the blessing, the priests will often throw a Cross into them; the faithful may then dive in after it to get it back, as seen above. It is popularly believed, at least according to the news reports, that the one who gets it will enjoy good health for the coming year. (Those in colder climes, including basically all of the Slavs, are definitely going to need all the help they can get after taking that bath!)
The Tiber river has probably not frozen since the last Ice Age, but is in any case entirely too dirty to swim in. The Eritrean Orthodox community of Rome was, however, able to take the Blessing of the Waters out into the piazza in front of their church, where the clergy enthusiastically flung large buckets of the blessed water all over the congregation, (fortunately, it was a very mild day in Rome) ...
accompanied, as always, by equally enthusiastic drumming and dancing, unique among historical Christian liturgies to the tradition of the Ethiopian Church and those derived from it (Eritrean and Somali).
The Pontifical Russian College, or “Russicum”, as it is generally known, follows the Gregorian Calendar, but many of its students follow the Julian Calendar at home.
The iconostasis of the Russicum’s main sanctuary, with the star of the Nativity hung over the Royal Doors. 
The church of the Russicum is dedicated to St Anthony the Abbot, whose feast day just passed on January 17th. For many decades, it has been the college’s tradition to have a “Christmas tree festival”, (Pождественская Ёлка) on or close to the patronal feast; this year it coincided with Julian Epiphany. Everyone was pleased to welcome back to the college Fr Ludwig Pichler, S.J., who directed the choir from 1948 until his retirement in 2009.
The festival begins every year with a brief moleben in honor of the Nativity, a liturgical service based on Matins, but very much briefer, especially by Byzantine standards; the officiant here is the rector of the church, Fr. Germano Marani, S.J.
The moleben is followed by various choirs singing Russian folk songs or pieces from the liturgical repertoire. This year we also had some pieces of poetry by one of the students at the college; in previous years, we have also had some great concert piano-playing. Among the choirs participating this year were Pусская Душа (Russkaya Dusha - ‘Russian Soul’, as in anima, not as in Otis Redding.)
and the Sisters of the Little Flower of Bethany, a congregation founded in India in 1921. Four members of the congregation do the housekeeping and cooking at the Russicum.
The final choir was that of the college itself, conducted by the rector, Fr. Anton Lozuk, S.J., who is also Fr Pichler’s worthy successor as director of the choir.

To all our readers who follow the Julian Calendar, we wish you a most blessed feast of the Theophany!

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