Getting to Know the Rev. Dn Dr Harrison Basil Russin


In this faculty spotlight interview, we speak with the Rev. Dn Dr Harrison Basil Russin, known around campus as Dn Harrison. On Saturday, Aug. 5 at 3:05 p.m. EDT, Dn Harrison will be co-hosting the session “Embodying Tradition in Contemporary Orthodox Liturgical Music: Back to the Future?” for Education Day Online 2023, alongside Dr Alexander Lingas, Professor of Music at St Vladimir’s Seminary. 


Dn Harrison is the Prokofiev Assistant Professor of Liturgical Music at St Vladimir’s Seminary, as well as the Director of Music at the Seminary. Dr Russin has a Ph.D. in historical musicology from Duke University and has published and lectured internationally on medieval and renaissance music. He is also an active church musician, directing three choirs at St Vladimir’s Seminary, teaching courses in singing, reading, music theory, composition, and conducting, and serving as a consultant to the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Liturgical Music and Translation. Dn Harrison and his wife Mat. Gabrielle met as seminarians at St Vladimir’s Seminary, and they are both honored to be back working and living at their alma mater. Their son, Simon, just turned one year old.

 Dn Harrison family

Dn Harrison, please share a bit about your family background and early life in the Church. What were some early influences that led you to dedicate your life to serving the Church as a seminary educator? 

My father’s family immigrated from Galicia (Poland)  to the US in the 1890s, and they were part of the movement that was led from the Greek Catholic Church to the Orthodox Church under Fr (now Saint) Alexis Toth. Saint Alexis baptized my grandfather. My mother’s family is of German Protestant background, and has been in America since the mid-18th century. I was baptized in the Orthodox Church as an infant but raised with exposure to both the Orthodox Church and the United Methodist church.

It was primarily my college experience that led me to a deeper Orthodox faith, and that brought me into contact with St Vladimir’s Seminary. I first attended a summer institute in 2007 (one of the last Institutes) and I fell in love with the school. Honestly, I never made a conscious goal of being a seminary educator. I came to the seminary as a student in 2010, and had a fantastic experience as a student; I was offered a part-time position in 2016 teaching music, as I was finishing my doctorate at Duke, and that became full-time in 2020.

As a St Vladimir's Seminary alumnus, how do you draw on your experience as a former student in relating to current students? What do you strive to impart to all of your students?

I have been blessed to have studied under wonderful teachers, thinkers, and readers. The chapel has always been the center of my seminary experience, both as a student and now as a professor, and I hope I can relate that sense of joy in worship to my students. There were many times as a student I remember studying one topic from different angles in different classes, and the chapel was a place where those angles could cohere into a whole.

Dn Harrison directing the choir

What is community life at St Vladimir's Seminary like for you?

Similarly, community life for me revolves around the chapel. We are not passive spectators in worship, but constantly engaging in the pronouncement of the word and the singing of hymns. Since my ordination to the diaconate in May 2023, I have been able to witness and “read” another element of Orthodox worship. 

On another level, I live in an apartment in a building with seminarians, and we are constantly interacting in different ways. There are many children here the same as my son, and it is a joy for me to see him grow up here.


You led the organization of the Summer Music Institute this year, propelling forward a bold topic: the composition of new liturgical music for use in American Orthodox worship. Why did you and your collaborators feel this was an important area of focus? 

Working closely with Talia Sheehan of St Tikhon’s Seminary and Monastery, we focused on the topic of new musical composition because we felt that the creative energy in that direction had “dried up” to a degree; of course, people are still creating new music for worship in the Orthodox Church, but there seems to be little cohesion or guiding principles. Our goal this summer was to gather three composers who are quite different in their experiences and priorities and have them demonstrate how they articulate a vision for music in the Orthodox Church.


What were some key takeaways from this year's Summer Institute?

I always leave the Institute exhausted and exhilarated. The reading session on the final day of the Institute was particularly inspiring; we were able to hear and sing compositions submitted from musicians across the country, and pay attention to how they navigate the different challenges posed by setting liturgical music in English.

In this year's Education Day Online, you and Dr Alexander Lingas will be continuing this discussion of the composition of liturgical music. Can you give us a sneak peek of some of the points you will touch on?

Dr Lingas and I will discuss the different ways the “past” of Orthodox music has been imagined and revived over the centuries. As Dr Lingas has pointed out, there was a general musical lingua franca across the Orthodox world until the 15th century; the musical traditions of most national Orthodox Churches derive from what we call “Byzantine Chant” today. We’ll tie a historical knowledge of Orthodox music to questions about what that can mean for present practice.

Join the conversation, Embodying Tradition in Contemporary Orthodox Liturgical Music: Back to the Future?, on Saturday, Aug. 5, at 3:05 p,m. EDT, with Dr Alexander Lingas and the Rev. Dn Dr Harrison Basil Russin. Register now to save your seat in their virtual classroom and submit your questions ahead of time.