“Backbones” of Chapel Return to Sacred Ground
15 May 2011 • Campus Gathering • Deborah (Malacky) Belonick
If you walk into Three Hierarchs Chapel just as the bell that calls our community to worship begins to toll, 15 minutes before the start of any service, you'll note a striking atmosphere. Candles are flickering in shining lampadas, sheet music is neatly stacked on choir stands, incense is wafting in the quiet air, dimmer switches are set just so, readers are lined up with texts in hand, and altar servers are vested and at the ready. The prayerful setting is produced by our student sacristans and ecclesiarchs. They are the ones who create an aura of expectation, calm, and order just before a service begins, and they are the ones who keep a service flowing on course, like water through a riverbed.
"They are the backbone of liturgical life here at the seminary," says the chief Chapel Ecclesiarch, Fr. Alexander Rentel, who also is Assistant Professor of Canon Law at St. Vladimir's. "They are ones that show up a good half hour before each service, never complaining. They're faithful, loyal liturgical leaders who love the church services.
"They are also the first line of defense if ever there's a problem in chapel," he continues, "they are often the first to make corrections, when corrections need to be made. I refuse to say that they 'work for me,' because they 'work with me.' They teach me a s well. They are a fine, fine group of people...everyone of them that I've worked with."
And, he's worked with several. Among his alumni ecclesiarchs he names: Andrew Smith (current), Dn. Evan Freeman, Gregory Abdalah, Dn. Nicholas Belcher, Daniel Belonick, Peter Drobac, and Dn. Kevin Smith; among his alumni sacristans are: Lee Bozeman and Dn. Dunstan Lyon (both current), Dn. Evan Freeman, Dn. Nicholas Hubbard, Fr. Barnabas Powell, Fr. Nathan Preston, and Jacob Hatch. "Next year," he says, "our seminarian, Harrison Russin," will resume the tradition of a 'double-duty' ecclesiarch, both serving in that capacity and directing the choir from time-to-time, as others did in the past."
This past Sunday several "alumni" sacristans and ecclesiarchs happened to be in our seminary chapel, and they joined current sacristans and ecclesiarchs and Fr. Alexander for a photo shoot. Some offered reminisces of their experiences as chapel overseers, sharing with us what goes on "behind the veil":
"The sacristan, in many ways, can really be called a master of ceremonies. It’s his job to make sure that everything needed for a specific service is set out and ready to go, to make sure all the candles are lit, and, in short, to make the clergy look good and that the services flow smoothly without a hitch. While things may be going well in front of the iconostasis, it can often be just a bit less than smooth sailing behind the iconostasis. Though this is one of the more demanding community service assignments on campus, I feel blessed to have been chosen to serve in this position the past two years. In fact, there's no other community service assignment I'd rather have!
"Perhaps the greatest joy of being a sacristan is getting to work with all sorts of people. Not only am I able to help train all the students on campus, but I've also gotten to serve with bishops from all over the country, and the world. Perhaps my favorite people to work with in the sacristy are the young children of the professors and students. They always have a story that makes me smile, and they bring a prayerful energy to the altar that can't be matched. Even if they can never remember to button the top button of their shirt when vested, I can always depend on them to make the entrances without any mistakes. I'll never forget the several times a seminarian was lost in the service and the young altar boy would grab him by the cassock and lead him to where he's supposed to be. Though the seminarian's face may be red with embarrassment, my face has a proud grin on it."—Dn. Dunstan Lyon
"One of my favorite memories of being an Assistant Sacristan here at SVOTS during my first year was ringing the festal bells before Vigils and on Sundays and feastdays— including one time when Nick Hubbard (then the Head Sacristan, now Fr. Nicholas Hubbard) and I were ringing the bells (both of us were wearing headphones) and Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov (wearing no headphones and with a big smile) joined in, ringing the bells with us. It was the best I had ever heard those bells, and it was a particularly joyous moment."—Fr. Maximus Cabey
"As the student Ecclesiarch, I remember fondly the regular conversations I had with Fr. Paul Lazor concerning the order of our chapel services. His expansive knowledge of liturgics, seasoned with pastoral discernment, had a great impact on me. In addition, working with the texts of our hymnographic tradition, especially under the guidance of Fr. Alex Rentel, made me appreciate the beauty and brilliance of Orthodox worship in a way I never before appreciated."—Daniel Belonick
"One of my favorite memories is when Nick Hubbard, Brock Johns, and I were serving as sacristans for the Paschal services in 2008. We had gathered as many different kinds of incense as we could, both from the chapel, and also from the seminarians around campus, to use for the Paschal services. You can imagine the dramatic contrast when, after using only Frankincense for all of Lent, we put around 15 different kinds of festal incense into the censers during Paschal Matins and the Divine Liturgy!"—Dn. Evan Freeman
"Each Saturday at Vigil, I really enjoy the 1st Hour. All of the lights are off at that moment and the priest is standing at the altar with a candle. It is, for the most part, very quiet. The servers and deacons have all un-vested and they stand in their places in the altar in the darkness and in silence. There is something about that moment that is really pleasant. And then we begin to sing 'O, Champion Leader' and the sound swells, especially when I am able to stand near Fr. Alexander, who sings it with great gusto. That is a favorite moment of mine."—David Lee Bozeman
Current Sacristan Dn. Dunstan Lyon gives some wise, final counsel to any future sacristans and ecclesiarchs, "From the secret book, which is handed down sacristan to sacristan":
“You have been blessed with an important and difficult task. …I had considered also writing about the ‘way of the sacristan,’ but much of the value in the service you are about to undertake lies in the discovery of all this ministry entails. Though there are there are many common threads, each experience is unique. …One, hopefully enduring piece of advice is this: try to pray when you can…”
Learn more about our Chapel Community and view a listing of our services in our Chapel Calendar. Watch a video of Dean Emeritus Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko presenting a tour of Three Hierarchs Chapel.