Sunday, July 12, 2009

69. St. Michael's Chapel (Russicum)

Address: 266 Mulberry St. (South of Houston)
Phone: 212.226.2644
Great Vespers: Saturday 6pm
Divine Liturgy: Sundays 11am
The Holy Mystery of Repentance (Confession:) Saturdays before Vespers
Divine Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts: Wednesdays 6pm (During Lent)
Constructed: 1859
Parish Opened: 1935
History
The Parish
On Flickr
The Russian Catholic Church
Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos
My Visit to St. Michael Church
About St. Michael the Archangel

What an experience this week! I wandered into the celebration of The Divine Liturgy. I had never attended this before and it was like entering another world, so different than the Masses I am used to.

I had plans of visiting Our Lady of Loreto church at 309 Elizabeth street in NoHo, but upon arriving at the address, it didn't appear to be a church and the door was closed and locked. I wandered around the block, happening upon a priest who I asked about the church. He told me he was a visiting priest from out of town and that there was no church. I had called Our Lady of Loreto earlier and they told me Mass was at 11am. Trying the number again, I received no answer. A mystery. If anyone out there knows anything about Our Lady of Loreto church, please fill me in...

Knowing full well that this area of the city has a few other churches, I began walking around, heading towards Mulberry street. Approaching 266 Mulberry I came upon St. Michael's Chapel. Someone had actually mentioned this chapel to me before in a comment. Peering through the window of the door I witnessed the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. There were four priests, fully decked out in traditional Byzantine Rite robes, gathered around an altar behind an ornate altar fence; I could hear the small congregation praying and singing in Russian; incense wafted through the air - immediately I was overwhelmed and my first thought was to flee. However, something made me open up the doors and walk in, standing alone in the small entryway corridor. Then, an older gentleman saw me and ushered me inside, and I entered the chapel.

It was a small room, about 15 square feet and already about 20 or so gathered there. The Liturgy had already begun and as I walked in, the commotion of singing and genuflecting and men bending over to touch the ground in solemnity filled the room and I wondered what I had gotten myself into. After dropping off my bag in a small utility room I knew I was there until the end of the service - however long that would be.

Because the singing and prayer were all in Russian, I felt like I had entered a foreign land, at a loss for what was happening. Then, Ed, who must be an usher or work for St. Michael's in some way (very nice, very welcoming,) noticed me and handed me a little booklet - the Divine Liturgy text. From there I tried to follow along with the English text, which became easier as I realized the service was going to be a blend of Russian and English.
"For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.
For this holy house and for those who enter with faith, reverence, and the fear of God, let us pray to the Lord.
For this city, for every city and country, and for the faithful dwelling in them, let us pray to the Lord."
- Portion of "The Great Litany," from the Divine Liturgy text
The song and the prayer that followed for the next hour and a half were incredible, and it was really something special to be in that small, intimate space of such devotion. There were no chairs, save a few exceptions for some older members of the small congregation, and though admittedly an hour and a half is a long time to stand, it seemed to fly by.

The first reading was sung, as was the Gospel of Matthew - such a different way to experience the Word of God. Then the sermon was preached by a visiting priest from their sister church in Australia, Fr. Lawrence. It was a special homily, perhaps this was again because of the closeness and proximity of those gathered together. He preached, succinctly, on the way sin "clings" to all of us, and that the young novice brother or sister who is trying to rid themselves of sin by their own doing, and not God's, is certain to be headed toward some spiritual disaster. It really made the impact and point to me today that there is no way out of sin but through Him. And I listened and took it all in, all the while I stared at the icon of St. Andrew painted on the altar gate which stared right back at me.

"Who for our salvation willed to be incarnate of the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary,
Who without change became man and was crucified,
Who is one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit:
O Christ our God, trampling down death by death, save us!"
- Portion of "The Second Antiphon," from the Divine Liturgy text
As the time for Communion approached, Ed, who was slowly becoming more and more my guide through the Divine Liturgy (a much needed one, I must add, who helped me to feel welcome and gave me a sense of what was going on and what part I should play - the kind of guide I need in my life right now, who can point me in the right direction and lend guidance, but I digress...) asked me if I took the Eucharist. I told him I did but had no idea what to expect here. He informed me it would be intinction and quietly and quickly verbally walked me through what was to happen.

My heart was racing as the time for communion approached, and I realized this was another reason why I am on this journey of churches - to enhance the experience of the Mass for me. How great it is too feel excitement (and a little fear, or rather some trepidation) mixed with mystery and adrenaline in the presence of the Lord in the form of the Eucharist! It was different than that weekly ritual of Communion time we are all familiar with, when the ushers slowly let us rise, row by row, and we waddle up the aisle, perhaps in prayer and some meditation, but typically distracted by others in the congregation, or our fleeting thoughts, or anything else rattling around in our dumb heads.

I made my way to the altar, spoke my name, then the priest dipped the bread into the wine and using a little spoon dropped it into my mouth. The deacon wiped my lips with a cloth and I kissed the base of the chalice as I had witnessed the others in the chapel do. To the left of the altar, a small table had been set up between two priests (or maybe they were deacons or acolytes, I'm not sure) that contained another plate of bread and small ladles of wine. My hand was shaking as I picked up the ladle. I quickly drank the wine, took another portion of bread, crossed myself clumsily and went back to my place against the wall to listen to the post-Communion hymns and prayers.

"I believe Lord, and profess that you are in truth the Christ, the son of the living God, come to the world to save sinners, of whom I am the greatest. I believe also that this is really your sacred body and that this is really your precious blood. And so I pray to you, have mercy on me and pardon my offenses, deliberate and indeliberate, in word and deed, remembered and long-forgotten: and grant that I may without condemnation share your sacred mysteries, for the remission of sins and for eternal life Amen.

This day receive me, Son of God, to eat your sacramental supper: for I shall not betray the sacrament to your enemies, nor give you a kiss like Judas, but like the thief acknowledge you: Remember me, Lord, in your kingdom.

May this sharing in your holy mysteries, Lord, be for me not to judgment or to damnation, but to the healing of soul and body."
- From prayer card handed out before Communion
After the services, Ed instructed me to venerate the cross, and I followed in line with the rest, kissing the base of a small Byzantine-style cross held in the hands of the priest, who, after my veneration was done, told me that coffee would be served after the Liturgy and I should attend. All of the parishioners at St. Michael's were like this - warm, welcoming and sincere. I told one woman, Colleen, that I had just kind of wandered in, and she told me that many of the congregation had discovered the chapel similarly, hearing music from the street, and peering in to discover what was happening inside. Another man too, Auggie, was so considerate and welcoming when I met him after Mass, as were so many from this church, that just thinking back on my short time there today I am filled with such warm, pleasant special memories.

I would say attending the Divine Liturgy here at St. Michael's is another "must" for any New York city Catholic.

I left the small chapel on Mulberry street, filled with peace, and another feeling - a strange fulfilled calm within me that stayed there through the walk to and ride on the subway home, and into the weeks ahead...

20 comments:

  1. Andrew--I was wondering when you were going to stumble on this place...smile. It was good to read your perspective as a first timer. And Church Slavonic isn't that bad once you get used to it. ;-) John

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  2. Reading your story was like being there with you. Thank you for sharing. I had a similar experience in the Greek Orthodox Church, especially the kindness of people was very similar. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Well, this is a pleasant surprise. I'm Ed.
    Someone posted this on the ByzCath Forum
    and one of the brethren alerted me to it.
    Thanks for your kind words. I'm sure you
    found the Liturgy rather bewildering; I certainly did the first time I went to St.
    Michael's 14 years ago. The first ten minutes
    or so have no real paralell in the Roman Mass
    for one thing, and then there are all those
    Litanies. Our Litury is strictly in accord
    with Russian Orthodox practice, which is our
    mandate from the Holy See. The language is
    Church Slavonic, except that the second
    reading of the Gospel is in Modern Russian,
    for our Russian-speaking parishioners. There
    were, in fact, three priests; the gent with
    the red stole who sang the Litanies being
    Fr. Protodeacon Christopher without whom
    St. Michael's might not have survivied its
    many vissisitudes over the years. If you really want an experience, come to the Easter
    Vigil Service (we are on the Gregorian Calendar)starts at 11:30pm goes on for about
    three hours and then we have a party.

    Ed MacDonald

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  4. P.S. I forgot to say that if you are interested
    in learning more about St. Michael's and
    the Russian Catholic Church in general, check
    out our website at stmichaelruscath.org The
    site needs updating, which we're working on,
    but is still well worth viewing.

    Ed

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  5. Hi Ed -

    Thanks again for the warm welcome and a great experience at St. Michael's. I'll keep Easter in mind, as I'm sure it's a fascinating Liturgy to be a part of - and the party sounds great as well.

    Cheers.

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  6. What a nice post; thank you. I learned so much; one of your other commenters said he/she felt like she was there. I felt the same!

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  7. I have been told that Our Lady of Loreto church is part of a school building on the corner of Elizabeth and Bleeker. Apparantly in 2003 it had the smallest Sunday Mass attendance in the Archdiocese with only 9 people attending. Hardly surprising it's so small if people can't find the church!

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  8. Oh how I wish there were a Russian Catholic Church in my city! Of course there is Ukrainian Church, but there is nothing quite like the Russian Rite. When will God send us a Pope that will give the Russian Catholics their own hierarchy again?

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  9. Just wondered if you phoned O.L. of Loreto to find out what happened. I'm sure many of us are curious to know about this church.
    Thankyou, Stella.

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  10. Hi Stella (and others,)

    As far as I've been able to learn, the entrance to Our Lady of Loreto is at Bleecker (possibly 18 Bleecker St.?) and Sunday Mass is at 11am. I think also they have a 10am weekday Mass. I'll have to attempt again one of these days...

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  11. as far as i know OL of Loretto parish is not really a parish but is attached to Holy Name Center which has been a day and outreach program to the homeless for 70 years, so you may find information if you contact the Holy Name center,,,,i think they kept it as a parish so that they could bury homeless me from the bowery that we catholic.

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  12. Oh this gets more interesting. Andrew, you have to go to Mass there soon and let us know all about it.

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  13. Yes, please try to go there soon. I'm getting very curious about this church. Stella

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  14. When in NYC i make every chance to attend services . This small parish is a gem! This parish still falls under the juridiction of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York........Several years ago Bishop Losten the retired Ukrainian Catholic Bishop from Stamford tried to take control of this parish by ordaining a man from this parish to the diaconate..... but Cardinal Egan refused. The parishioners never quite figured this one out. One parishioner told me that Losten left the impression that he was only concerned about the property.....Enough said!

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  15. I've been to this church about four times, once for the whole weekend round of services. It's small and charming a lot like my church at home.

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  16. Just so good to read about diversity in the Catholic Church when some are trying to homogenize the church and create a "club" and almost a cult of another form of orthodoxy which feels more like imperialism and "our way or the highway.' Re: EWTN

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  17. i atended the nursery and kindergarden school of st. loretto on elizabeth st. this was in 1950-1954 i thought the church was torn down years ago. i last visited with the school and nuns who ran it in[i believe]1973. any info on this church would be appreciated. dave

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  18. davemlicata@comcast.netDecember 22, 2009 at 12:04 PM

    WHO WOULD BELIEVE IT? I CALLED THE PHONE # LISTED FOR ST. LORETTO AND SPOKE TO A FR. AHERN. HE HAS BEEN THERE SINCE BEING ORDAINED IN 1954. HE KNOWS THE WHOLE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH GOING BACK TO 1926 THERE IS STILL A CHAPEL ON SITE AT 18 BLEEKER ST. THE REST OF THE FACILITY WAS TORN DOWN FR. AHERN SAYS MASS AT 11:00AM EVERY SUNDAY. I EXPLAINED WHO I WAS AND WHEN I ATTENDED THE SCHOOL. I PLAN TO MEET HIM ON MY NEXT TRIP TO NYC. DAVE

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  19. Thanks for the info, Dave. I've called the number several times and sometimes often there is no answer. This is good to know and I plan to visit in 2010. Merry Christmas!

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  20. I visited the church this past Sunday and really loved it. Vince invited me to come up for coffee afterwards and I met Ed and several other very nice folks also. I won't be back in New York on a Sunday until December, and visiting St. Michael's again is definitely on my must do list.

    I heard that Our Lady of Loreto is gone. It's intresting to hear that there is still a chapel at 18 Bleecker Street. Certainly the address that is listed in the archdiocese's website is incorrect.

    Mike lionman1198 at hotmail dot com.

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