(HTS) - On February 4–5, 2012, a small group of instructors and students from Holy Trinity Seminary visited the Church of the Nativity of Christ in Erie, Pennsylvania. The parish was formerly a priestless Old Believer congregation which was received into the Russian Church Abroad but still maintains the typikon of the medieval Russian Church. The group from Holy Trinity, having studied the history of the Old Believer schism in the classroom, was interested in experiencing Old Rite liturgics firsthand and learning more about the Old Believer movement from people within it. The last group of seminarians from Holy Trinity came to Erie in 2009.
The visitors arrived on Saturday afternoon. Archpriest Pimen Simon, the parish rector, welcomed them into his home and gave a short history of the parish: Priestless Old Believers from Russian Poland founded the church in the early 20th century. Fr Pimen, upon becoming the leader (nastavnik) of the congregation, felt a need for the fullness of the sacramental life. With the help of Priest Dimitri Alexandrow (1930–2010), Father Pimen brought most of his congregation into ROCOR in 1983. Fr Dimitri was consecrated a bishop for the Old Rite, becoming Bishop Daniel of Erie.
Vigil soon began with Small Vespers at 4:15pm. After a short break, the services continued with Vespers, Matins, and First Hour, lasting over four hours. The students saw many similarities in basic structure and texts used, but also noticed many differences in practice. For example, commentary on the Sunday gospel is read during Matins, Znamenny chant is exclusively sung on the “krylos” (kliros), and the sign of the cross is made at different times of the service. “We follow the ‘Tserkovnoe Oko’ [Eye of the Church],” said Fr Pimen in reference to the Typicon of St. Sava, first translated into Church Slavonic in the 14th century, “and many of the things we do are found in the New Rite as well. You just don’t do them.” Students had many questions about Old Rite practice, which Father Pimen answered over supper after the All-Night Vigil. He also related a few anecdotes about Bishop Daniel of blessed memory.
The next morning, the students attended the Divine Liturgy, which was preceded by the Midnight Office and the Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hours. All the seminarians participated in the Liturgy, whether on the chanter’s stand or in the altar. After liturgy, the students shared a meal with the parishioners and participated in a panel discussion; the congregation had as many questions for the seminarians as they had for the parishoners! The seminarians related how their misconceptions were changed by their visit. “I thought that all the men would have beards down to here and the women would wear seven layers of clothing,” said John Martin, a second-year seminarian, “but now I realize that you’re all regular Orthodox people, and I feel quite at home at this church.”
The instructors and seminarians are especially grateful to Fr. Pimen and the clergy and parishioners at the Nativity of Christ Church for their warm hospitality, and they hope to return again soon.