Saturday, March 12, 2005

Weather or Not, Here Comes Lent!

It's snowing. Again.

Normally, I like snow. I certainly prefer it to the broiling heat of summer, when the sun glares down on you through a haze of humidity and all you can do is sit around the house in survival mode. When it's 25 or so degrees out, and the snow is falling in big, fat flakes that cover all the bare branches of the trees with a coat of white, there's no wind, and it looks as if all the world is drowsing -- that's beautiful. I don't even mind shovelling in such circumstances, because as dusk falls the street lights pick up the sparkle in the snow and it looks like "poor man's diamonds." It's almost a moment for prayer.

That hasn't been our weather since the beginning of March. Today's blizzard is the third in two weeks -- March 1, March 9, and now today -- and though at the moment there's no wind, it's supposed to pick up considerably and stay that way for the rest of the week. I still haven't recovered from Wednesday's storm, when we had sustained winds of 40 mph and gusts near 80. I stayed in all day; my poor husband was the one who went outside and coped with the waist-high drifts and the brutal winds. To top it all off, Jim, despite 25 years of living in New England, still thinks like a New Yorker, that we are supposed to have crocus in our garden by March. (Hasn't happened yet. We usually see crocus sometime in April, forsythia around the first of May, and lily-of-the-valley -- known elsewhere as "Maybells" -- in June. IOW, we're a month behind almost everywhere else, except maybe Canada.)

I'm trying to find some spiritual benefit in all this, but all I can think is that last week, I missed church due to my cough, and this week, I'll miss church due to the weather. The final two Sundays before Lent, and I'm missing church. This does not bode well for my spiritual state, during a time that always brings its own struggles, when you definitely don't need anything extra to have to cope with. Like taxes. Or weather. Or the commuter bus breaking down three times in a week, as it did to Jim this week. (When he mentioned that to the bus company yesterday evening, they told him they'd give him a free bus pass for next week. Small compensation for getting home at 7:30 p.m....)

Podvig takes many forms, I guess...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Musical Muttonings

Have had a comment to my last post on my Xanga site, asking, "What is a Triodion, and what is an Octoechos?" Worthwhile answering in a separate post.

The Octoechos is the weekly prayer cycle of the Orthodox Church. It was set up in the eighth century A.D. by St. John of Damascus, and consists of an eight-week cycle of musical "moods" -- not to be confused with the do-re-mi scale of Western culture -- used for praying liturgical prayers. The closest you can come to this structure in Western culture is a knowledge of the "ecclesiastical Modes," the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, and Mixolydian scales, and their "plagal" tones -- I must admit to being a little fuzzy on what constitutes "plagal," but it seems to be a fifth above the "base note," or tonic, of the original Mode. So for example, Dorian mode begins on the key of D, and on a piano you would play an octave starting on D and going straight up, without any sharps or flats. In Byzantine Church music, that's Tone 1. We'll be in Tone 1 in two weeks -- this week is Tone 7, known in the Greek Church as "varis," or Grave. (I don't know why -- it doesn't strike me as all that somber! But it is considered somber enough that in the week following Pascha, when all the Tones are sung one per day, Tone 7/varis is the only one omitted -- too "grave" for Paschaltide.)

The Triodion is based on the Octoechos. Again, the basic 8-week melodic structure is used, but it adds prayers that are particular to Great Lent, the 40 days preceding Pascha.

So what does all this have to do with me? As a church musician and former choir director, I like to sing my prayers, and I also went to great pains and expense to learn all of this, so I don't want to forget the melodies. I also like my prayers to be portable -- when I'm on the go, I still want to be able to say them. So, last year, I took the basic Octoechos prayers I purchased at a monastery and entered them into my computer, in a format consistent with a Franklin Covey Compact Day Planner (, and every week I take out the previous week's Octoechos and insert the new Tone. Now I'm doing the same for the Triodion/Lenten cycle -- entering it into my computer and printing it out, week by week. Fortunately, the Triodion is already available online, so all I have to do is format it and print it out (which takes considerable effort anyway, since what's online is in modern English, and I prefer liturgical English). I'll do the same, God willing, with the Pentecostarion, which is the cycle of prayers from Pascha/Easter through the week after Pentecost.

Hey, we all have a compulsion of one sort or another. Mine's more harmless than gambling.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Here we sit, in the middle of yet another blizzard, this one with not so much snow, but with winds howling all around -- sustained at 20 mph, gusts up to 50. It will be good for starting to work on the Triodion -- yes, now that the Octoechos is finished, I decided to go ahead and enter the Triodion, greatly assisted by the fact that it's available online (I was going to try to post the url, but I can't get into it without losing this post. If anyone's interested, let me know, and I'll look it up before I post next). All I have to do is cut, paste, and format, and I have everything in front of me for my prayer rule -- Vespers and Matins. (Note: This is Music Geek or Liturgy Geek stuff. Stick with the prayer rule your priest gave you!)

Stayed home and worked on it yesterday, in fact -- for the past week I've had a cold, and it just wasn't going away. When I woke up dizzy yesterday, I figured I'd better not even try to drive to class, and instead visited the doctor, who prescribed an antibiotic. I feel better already. But boy, it's been some winter; I don't believe I've seen a winter like this in all my life, and I can recall some pretty nasty blizzards in the 1960s. One or two per season, though, not one after another like this year.