St. Aidan’s Orthodox church in Cranbrook has been presented with a new altar, meticulously carved from wood over a three-month period by Brother Moses from the Holy Transfiguration Hermitage in Lone Butte, B.C.
Brother Moses was joined by Father Samuel on the long drive to Cranbrook to present Father Andrew Applegate and Fr. Deacan Paul Bartlett of St. Aidan’s with the holy table.
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St. Aidan’s held a service of thanksgiving on Monday, Aug. 26 to celebrate the dedication, led by the monks in the earliest known modes of Gregorian chant.
“As a parish we’re just so blessed to have these [brothers here from] the Hermitage of the Transfiguration and the three of them are very, very close brothers in Christ and we really depend on their prayers just to survive, everything you see is certainly supported by their prayers,” said Father Andrew.
The altar is built for Orthodox worship, in particular to serve the divine Liturgy, the Eucharistic celebration of the church and the carving on its front depicts the icon of “The Hospitality of Abraham” — a painting of the same icon hangs in the church. It was commissioned by a friend of the parish 20 years ago and painted by Archimandrite Father Gregory Papazian and recently donated to the church.
The carving completed by Brother Moses was actually based upon the very same template drawing used to paint the icon 20 years ago.
The Hospitality of Abraham, first painted in the early 15th century by celebrated painter of Orthodox icons Andrei Rublev. It refers to the story from the book of Genesis and depicts an icon of the Trinity, but Brother Moses explained that this is different category of icon than one you would see representing Christ or the Mother of God.
“These are icons representing the incarnation of Christ whereas this icon is an allegorical icon,” he said. “The subject matter is the appearance of three angelic beings to Abraham in the Old Testament, and he receives them at the Oak of Mamre and offers them hospitality.”
He further explained that Andrei Rublev had an inspired vision of how to portray this event, which allegorically refers to what’s known as the “economy of the Trinity,” with the angels depicting God the Father on the right, with Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the centre and on the right, respectively.
“We receive grace through the image [representing physical manifestations] and we offer worship through the image,” he said.
“But this particular theme here is allegorical, it’s not of the same sort. It’s not intended to portray in a physical sense the persons of God the father and the holy spirt because they have never been incarnate. It is an important feature, because some people rightly, if they’re familiar with the scriptures they will rightly ask the question of how is it possible we can do this.”
Father Andrew reiterated just how special and precious it was to have the monks build and deliver this holy table.
“They’ve only been out of the hermitage twice that I know of, two years ago when they had to evacuate because to the great Elephant Hill fire so this is a special special thing to have them come and actually hand deliver it.”
He also explained the significance of the chanting with which they would lead the celebratory service — “albeit poorly,” Brother Moses added with a laugh, “because we’ve breathed a lot of incense and sawdust over the years, we’re not great singers.”
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“Father Moses and Father Samuel have been studying ancient Gegorian chant and when I say ancient, I’m not talking about the Byzantine kind of westernized Gregorian chant,” said Father Andrew. “They’re pretty much pioneers in this whole thing in the world in the studies.”
These chants go back through study of music thousands of years old and to the very roots of Christianity.
“What they’ll be doing is very the most closest we can know, is very similar to the very very first centuries of the church how they chanted.”
In March, 2018, St. Aidan received much needed upgrades and a new cupola, or dome, through the devotion of their parishioners and a grant from the CBT.
“I’m not a monk so I can boast a little more, but I would say we have the nicest cupola, the nicest holy table and the nicest hand cross in all of Canada.”