All posts by Brendan King

Long-hidden Holy Week music

The following email was sent by my good friend Father Christopher Zugger, a Byzantine Catholic priest and historian from Albuquerque, New Mexico:

Titled Passion Week, this oratorio in Slavonic was composed in secret by Maximilian Steinberg, son-in-law of the composer N. Rimsky-Korsakov, in the 1920s. The Soviets banned the composition and performance of all sacred music outside of churches, and no new compositions could be sung in church. This was the most intense period of imposing atheism and destroying churches, shrines, and sacred objects, 1920-1940.


This contains all the main chants of the Byzantine Holy Week, from Alleluia and Behold the Bridegroom of Holy Monday to the solemn burial of the Lord on Good Friday night. one hour long.
This performance was sung in a Latin rite church in Russia, perhaps the cathedral in Moscow but not positive.

Paul Scofield on Playing St. Thomas More

Paul Scofield on how he created his Award-winning stage and screen role as Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons”.
From “Actors on Acting: The Theories, Techniques, and Practices of the World’s Great Actors Told in their Own Words”, pages 421-422.
“What matters to me is whether I like the play, for one thing, and for another, whether I can recognize and identify myself with the character I’m to play. My intuition for a part has failed me only once – for the part of Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s ‘A Man for All Seasons’, which opened in London in July of 1960.
“I felt a tremendous warmth toward the character. Then I came to play him and I didn’t know how. As the play is written, it gives nothing more than the bare lines of what the man is saying. Its all in the lines. There is no opportunity for embroidery.
“I had to start from scratch, making myself totally faithful to what was on the page: More was a lawyer, a man of tremendous faith, a complex and subtle character. Everything in him led inevitably toward a kind of forensic point of view. It was a rather cold-blooded way of ordering one’s mind.
“I found that the part had what seemed like dogmatic exposition. Simply saying the lines for what they were worth would make More sound like a very pompous and noisy man. If I said the lines with all the intensity they seemed to require, he would seem like an aggressive man. And he was not an aggressive man. So I had to find a way of making the man sound not pompous and not aggressive. And yet he had to sound strong. If you can see it, then you can do it.
“First, I had to find the way the man would feel; then I was able to find the way that he would sound. Eventually, I discovered that if I used a specific range of my voice and characteristics of my voice that I had never used before, I might make him sound mild, even though what the lines themselves said was not mild… I used an accent for More that was absolutely a … thing of my own. My parents are Midlands people, with a very regional accent, and I drew somewhat on this accent and mixed it with some others.
“The way More sounded came out of my characterization of him as a lawyer. His dryness of mind, I found, led him to use a sort of dryness of speech. It evolved as I evolved the character. I would flatten or elongate a vowel in a certain way to get a certain effect I wanted. Not too much happened to the voice as a result of More’s being a man of faith and spirituality.
“One of the great traps in playing a man of spiritual depth is that one is given only a certain number of lines, and if they’re not made to sound absolutely true they are likely to sound very self-satisfied and sentimental. The false note is so often struck.
“Next I discovered More’s humor, and knew that that would be the thing to make him not smug. Then, More was a flesh-and-blood man, with strong family affections. His spiritual attitudes did not put him in the backwater of life… He used his senses. He enjoyed the things of life – food and wine and the rest. He didn’t relish physical discomfort. And he wouldn’t want to be hurt. At one point in the play, he says, ‘This is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.’
“Because you are thinking and feeling all these things, the voice comes out in a certain way. Its constant communication between thinking and feeling. Otherwise the muscles don’t work, don’t take the right shape. One’s voice follows the rest. It somehow becomes a willing instrument… That is the kind of professional knowledge one has.”

The Anne Frank of Stalin’s Russia

Nina Lugovskaya, a teenaged girl whose recently rediscovered diary caused the arrest of her entire family, is sometimes called “The Anne Frank of Stalin’s Russia.”
My friend Fr. Christopher Zugger recommends this documentary about her life and legacy. He calls it a stark contrast to the Pro-Putin propaganda usually put out by “Russia Today”. Be forewarned, it is powerful, but deeply depressing. In English.

The Edith Stein of Stalin’s Russia

As today is the 80th anniversary of her martyrdom in Joseph Stalin’s concentration camps, I strongly recommend watching the following documentary, which relates the life and martyrdom of Mother Catherine Abrikosova, a Byzantine Catholic Dominican nun, a former Marxist, and, since 2003, a candidate for Catholic Sainthood. In Russian with English subtitles.

If Jeff Foxworthy were an Eastern Christian

  1. If you recognize the liturgical chanting in “The Deer Hunter”, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If your Church’s fasting laws FORBID you to eat fish on Fridays, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If you consider a 2 1/2 hour church service to be short, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If at the end of Great Lent your forehead is covered with rug burns, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If your Bishop has ever answered the telephone himself, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If your parish has a recent convert named Barsanuphius and you think nothing of it, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If your priest has legitimate offspring, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If you are still in church for 20 minutes after the priest says, “Let us depart in peace”, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If you are ever tempted to ask shopping mall Santas for their blessing,  you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If the problem in your Church is nationalism rather than rationalism, you might be an Eastern Christian.


And the final reason…


  1. If you have ever wondered why the Pope makes the Sign of the Cross backwards, you might be an Eastern Christian.


“I Saw Santa Punching Arius”

This video based on the legend that at the first Ecumenical Council, at Nicaea in 325 AD, St Nicholas was so angry at Arius’ heresy about Jesus not being fully divine and human at the same time, that he punched him right in the face.
For this he is thrown into chains in a cell, and the Fathers threaten to depose him as a bishop.
Later, Our Lady and Our Lord both appear to him in his cell, and restore to him the Gospel Book and his episcopal pallium, thus restoring him as  Bishop of Myra.
This Council gave us the main part of the Nicene Creed, which is included in the film.

From “Reminiscences of a Hebridean Schoolmaster”

From “A School in South Uist: Reminiscences of a Hebridean Schoolmaster, 1890-1913”, pages 14-15.
Sunday arrived and after a cup of tea and some oat cake, we watched the people coming to church. As Father Allan had to say the eleven o’clock Mass, of course he was fasting. From before ten o’clock I could see figures, single or in groups, approaching in a leisurely manner from all directions, as far as the eye could reach. Some were seen on the road, some crossing boggy ground, but all walking, although I had previously seen many on shaggy ponies riding bareback. As they arrived in the vicinity of the church the men stopped, resting in groups against walls, or on rocks, evidently engaged on conversation. The women, mostly wrapped in plaid shawls, with a smaller one over their heads and tied tightly at the back of the neck, entered at the paddock gate, steadily advanced up the road and entered the church without pause.
Eleven o’clock arrived and passed, Father Allan went occasionally to the window, and then returned to his chair, saying that he could see more coming in the distance. It was nearer twelve o’clock than eleven when he gave the order for the bell — one salvaged from a wrecked ship — to be rung.  Explaining the delay, he said, “Some of them have to come a long way, and not many have clocks, so I do not ring the bell till all have gathered.” Afterwards I learnt that some came from an island called Eriskay by boat to the other side of the hills, and walked six or eight miles to hear Mass.
The interior of the church looked very bare — small pictures of the Stations of the Cross being the only ornaments — but it was full, men on one side and women on the other. The people worshiped with great decorum and devotion. The language of the Mass, being in Latin, was the same as in the city I had left. I realized the value of this to one away from his native land. The concluding prayers were said in Gaelic, which sounded very strange to me.
Looking through the window just before sitting down to our late breakfast, I could see the congregation dispersing in all directions as they had come. I believe some of them could not reach home before well into the night. This manifestation of faith impressed me strongly.
“The Blue and the Gray”

“The Blue and the Gray”

In the recent controversy over whether or not to permit the display of the Confederate Flag, we forget, in my opinion, what the issue is really about. As a reminder to both sides in the debate, I am sharing an 1866 poem by Francis Miles Finch. A New Yorker and staunch Abolitionist, Finch was deeply moved by news that a women’s association in Mississippi was choosing to lay flowers, without distinction, on the graves of both Union and Confederate war dead. In response, he wrote the poem, “The Blue and the Grey” in honor of the dead and of the women who tended their graves. His poem, which expresses a sense of forgiveness spurned by both parties in the current debate, has much to teach us. Only when we cease to argue can the fallen of both sides truly by laid to rest…

The Blue And The Gray
By the flow of the inland river,
    Whence the fleets of iron have fled,
Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,
    Asleep are the ranks of the dead:
        Under the sod and the dew,
            Waiting the judgment-day;
        Under the one, the Blue,
            Under the other, the Gray
These in the robings of glory,
    Those in the gloom of defeat,
All with the battle-blood gory,
    In the dusk of eternity meet:
        Under the sod and the dew,
            Waiting the judgement-day
        Under the laurel, the Blue,
            Under the willow, the Gray.
From the silence of sorrowful hours
    The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers
    Alike for the friend and the foe;
        Under the sod and the dew,
            Waiting the judgement-day;
        Under the roses, the Blue,
            Under the lilies, the Gray.
So with an equal splendor,
    The morning sun-rays fall,
With a touch impartially tender,
    On the blossoms blooming for all:
        Under the sod and the dew,
            Waiting the judgment-day;
        Broidered with gold, the Blue,
            Mellowed with gold, the Gray.
So, when the summer calleth,
    On forest and field of grain,
With an equal murmur falleth
    The cooling drip of the rain:
        Under the sod and the dew,
            Waiting the judgment -day,
        Wet with the rain, the Blue
            Wet with the rain, the Gray.
Sadly, but not with upbraiding,
    The generous deed was done,
In the storm of the years that are fading
    No braver battle was won:
        Under the sod adn the dew,
            Waiting the judgment-day;
        Under the blossoms, the Blue,
            Under the garlands, the Gray
No more shall the war cry sever,
    Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever
    When they laurel the graves of our dead!
        Under the sod and the dew,
            Waiting the judgment-day,
        Love and tears for the Blue,
            Tears and love for the Gray.


image: Confederate cemetery at the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park by dbking / Wikimedia Commons

Brides of Christ, Martyrs for Russia

In her essay “The Church and the Fiction Writer”, Flannery O’Connor expressed disgust at the pious cliches which then masqueraded as Catholic literature during the 1950’s. Rather than take joy in fully formed characters with mixed flaws and virtues, Catholic readers preferred the simplistic, the sentimental, and the shallow. This problem is not only confined to Catholic fiction.

Catholic nonfiction, especially Saint’s biographies, are often plagued by the same set of problems. Rather than depict a flawed and complex person who became a Saint, Catholic “biographers” will serve up a plaster statue who seems unapproachable, uninspiring, and even outright unbelievable. Real people are, as a rule, far more interesting.

For this reason, it was with great pleasure that I learned that the new English translation of Irina Osipova’s book “Brides of Christ, Martyrs for Russia” has been made available for purchase on Amazon. Describing a community of Byzantine Catholic nuns who offered themselves up for the Salvation of Russia in August 1917, this book is composed of the Nuns’ memoirs of the Gulag, letters, KGB archival documents about their arrests and interrogations, and interviews with those who knew the surviving sisters in their old age. All in all, it reveals the human face of sanctity in a way that is often sorely lacking in other Catholic biographies. As two members of the Community, Mother Catherine Abrikosova and Sr. Rosa of the Heart of Mary, are now being investigated for possible Canonization, the value of this book cannot be underestimated. Therefore, “Brides of Christ, Martyrs for Russia” is strongly recommended to all readers who ware moved by stories of Faith and Martyrdom. To the all the Catholic Martyrs and Confessors under the Bolshevik Yoke, Let Their Memory Be Eternal!