Great Vespers was held at the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline in the Greater Boston area at 3:30pm on June 9/22, 2005, being the eve of the feast of the Chinese Martyrs as observed by the Monastery.
When we arrived at the monastery, monastics and pilgrims were standing in the main foyer and in other rooms meditating while hymns from the vespers can be heard from the adjoining Church inside the monastery compound. My son Tobias and I placed on our traditional Chinese attires for this festive occasion.
This being our first time at the feast, we wandered around. My wife Michelle was asked to stand in the front room during the service, since women do not stand in the main church with monastics. If this service was being celebrated in a convent, I would be the one standing outside, and my wife be in the Church with the nuns.
Tobias and I were allowed into the nave to venerate the holy icon of the Chinese Martyrs. Little Tobias was quite full of youthful energy and would not stand still, so I led him back out to the foyer. Even though distracting, the monks cast him a warm smile. They even had a cat roaming around named Tobias. A monk approached Tobias and gave him a medium-size icon of St Tobias and Archangel Raphael as a gift for him to venerate when he grows up, as he already has an identical small icon which he kisses every night before going to bed. The original icon hunged above the door to the dining room.
click for short video clip
of Liti for Chinese Martyrs
At about two-thirds into the service, those in the Church brought out a medium-size icon of the Chinese Martyrs in procession out into the main foyer for the "Liti", or "Entreaty". They placed the icon on the wall adjoining the dining room below a large icon of Christ. Then they placed a floor-standing candle in front of the icon and censed it, while chanting various hymns to the Chinese Martyrs. Little Tobias also joined in the service running back and forth in the foyer.
While the service was in the main foyer, one of the monks led us back into the Church to give us an opportunity to take pictures of the original icon of the Chinese Martyrs. The icon has been placed in the nave for the duration of the feast. On the next day, it was to be brought back to hang inside the dining room, where it is normally located during the rest of the year.
At the conclusion of the "Liti" , the monks in the foyer with the icon of the Chinese Martyrs proceeded back into to the Church to do "The Blessing of the Five Loaves". Also blessed are wine and oil. Then the monks queued up to venerate the large icon of the Chinese Martyrs and received anointing of oil from the vigil lamp from Metropolitan Ephraim.
Tobias loves the bread
Then the rest of us lined up behind them likewise. At the end of Vespers, we went up to venerate the cross and received a slice of the blessed bread from five loaves.
Afterwards, the monks gave me one of the five loaves to bring home for my nameday. They also gave me beeswax candles that were lit before the Chinese Martyrs icon as a memento. They showed their warm hospitality by having us stay and join them for supper. During the supper, we all sat eating, and listening attentively as the account of the Russian Mission in China was read aloud from the podium. It concluded with inspirational stories of the martyrdom of the priest St Mitrophan and others along with him who gave up their lives for their faith in Christ. Then his Eminence gave the final blessing to conclude the meal. Meanwhile, Michelle and Tobias were concluding their supper in the dining room next door, along with another Greek female pilgrim, as the sexes were segregated. She shared with us that the borscht we had for supper was typical Russian: rice with barley and a soup with tomatoes and beets. However, on the following day, they will be serving Chinese stir fried food.
The monks also held to a generous tradition of giving an icon for those who came to the monastery on their nameday. After they invited me to look through their icon store, I asked if they have an icon of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco. They were able to secure one from upstairs, and gave to me as a gift before I left. They also informed me that their liturgy was at midnight, where the canon to the Chinese Martyrs was also to be chanted. Even though we were not able to make it for the midnight liturgy, we were delighted to in sharing in the joy of celebrating the feast during great vespers. The monks likewise shared the same sentiments, finally seeing some Chinese visitors participating on this special feastday. We were touched by their hymns to the Martyrs with intercessions for China. They held this day with utmost veneration, as evident with the Chinese Martyr icon and service they wrote themselves for this occasion.