Day 12 has arrived and with it the relief of having completed the difficult but fulfilling task of recording another Grammy hopeful. That remains to be seen but our mission is always focused on fostering and preserving the original splendor of Russian Orthodox choral music, with its astounding spiritual depth, and spreading the liturgical music of our church throughout the world. But today that’s all in the background. Today is Sunday and the first stop of the day is a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy in the Church of Mary Magdalene. The church is located in the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in the Garden of Gethsemane, also on the Mount of Olives, not too far from the choir’s host, the Eleon Monastery.
The beautiful gold onion domes of the church are unmistakable, their beauty shining forth as they glow in the Jerusalem sunshine. Once inside the church, it quickly becomes apparent that the interior is equal to the beauty of the exterior.
The Hierarchical service was very moving and heartfelt with the Male Choir, led by another singer from our group, Elias Dubelsten, reflecting those feelings with their beautiful and soulful singing.
After the service was completed all the singers and staff gathered in front of the stunning church to take a group photo.
The entire PaTRAM group, singers, staff and pilgrims, were all invited by Egumenia Elizaveta, the Abbess of the Convent, to attend a special Trapeza lunch. The Abbess (standing center) addressed the attendees and handed out commemorative gifts marking PaTRAM’s visit to the Convent. A very special moment.
After the lunch, as has become habit, the group boarded the bus again and began their trip to the open desert where they were about to be treated to something most common in the Middle East, a camel ride! The bus took the group past the wall, separating Israel from Palestine, and into the desert where the vistas were spectacular.
After driving about 45 mins or so, the group arrived at a bedouin camp run by locals. Their primary business is taking their clients for camel rides. After a short introduction to riding a camel, the guides helped seat people wanting to take the ride and took them for a short, 10-minute ride to Abraham’s tent.
The person playing “Abraham” gave a colorful history of the area and its Biblical past. One of our Australian choristers quickly recognized Abraham’s accent as Australian and when asked admitted that, indeed, he was Australian and has been working as “Abraham” for the past 24 years. Very interesting.
After the interesting meeting with “Abraham”, the group boarded the bus again for the final leg of today’s adventure, the closing banquet in a Bethlehem kebab restaurant. With its traditional bedouin tent look and low bench-seat tables, the restaurant presented the group with its menu of sauces, hummus, breads and, of course, chicken and meat kebab skewers.
There were speeches and presentations of gifts especially by PaTRAM Chairman Alex Lukianov who acknowledged the work of the producer, Blanton Alspaugh (left frame), conductor, Ekaterina Antonenko (2nd from left frame), on-the-ground logistics manager and guide, Father Roman Gultaev (2nd from right frame) and the PaTRAM staff (L-R, CEO, Tatiana Geringer, Personal Assistant for the Lukianovs, Natalia Prokopeca and Executive Director, Alex Milas), and thanked them for their efforts.
However, the most important people of note, without whom none of this would have happened and whose selfless support for the mission makes PaTRAM Institute what it is, Alex and Katya Lukianov. Their love for their Church, for the organization and for each other always shines through. Gorko!!!
And so, the group’s 12-day adventure comes to an end. Both happiness and melancholy frame the day. Happiness, in what the working group achieved, under some difficult circumstances, the new people met and the memories of a lifetime. Melancholy, in knowing that it’s over and the time has come for all of them to return to their regular lives.
With God’s help another adventure awaits!