An introduction to Spanish Renaissance polyphony from an English Orthodox archimandrite

This is one of my favorite Latin polyphonic pieces, arranged by Spanish composer Francisco Guerrero de Sevilla (1528-99). The words of the prayer, “O Sacrum Convivium” are part of a poem by St Thomas Aquinas honoring the Eucharist as the Sacred Banquet.

I would like to share with you a remarkable account of how I came to first hear this magnificent choral piece. The very kind Archimandrite Fr. Avraamy (Neyman) introduced me to this composition a year ago during my time studying on exchange at the University of Edinburgh.

Following Liturgy on a late January day, he invited me to dinner at his cozy, modest house on the other side of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Fr. Avraamy is a very kindhearted man, and his beard reminded me very much of both Albus Dumbledore and Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware). Possessed of a fine voice, he renders the priest’s parts of the Liturgy in a beautiful, classic Queen’s English. I will always remember that pleasant afternoon in his home, during which he regaled me with stories of his childhood in a Roman Catholic preparatory college in Southampton, England. I especially remember how he described to me the magnificent choral music which surrounded him during his Catholic school youth.

Bemoaning the decline in polyphonic choral music in the Roman rite following the adoption of the Novus Ordo Missae in 1969, he wanted to draw my attention to the magnificent choral traditions which he remembered from his youth, growing up around Renaissance-inspired music in the contemporary Roman Catholic Church in England and the (then much more traditional) Church of England. Besides the majestic choir of Westminster Abbey (London’s most historic Anglican church founded by St. Edward the Confessor, technically the Collegiate Church of St Peter), Fr. Avraamy especially praised the work of the Roman Catholic choir of London’s Westminster Cathedral.

Following the dinner he cooked (which consisted of tasty fried fish, and a warm pudding for dessert, which he informed me was called, to my immense surprise and mirth, “spotted dick“), Fr. Avraamy showed me the above choral arrangement of “O Sacrum Convivium” sung by Cappella Nicolai in Amsterdam’s principal Catholic church of St. Nicholas.

Members of Cappella Nicolai in St Nicholas Church, Amsterdam.

Members of Cappella Nicolai in St Nicholas Church, Amsterdam.

Fr. Avraamy is an archimandrite serving in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain under the omophorion of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. Along with the two priests mentioned below, he has charge of the Archdiocese’s parishes scattered across eastern Scotland.

During the first month of my incredible semester-long stay in Edinburgh beginning in January 2012, I began attending Liturgy and vigil at the warm, close-knot Orthodox community of Saint Andrew. The community was — and still is — led by three exceptionally kind archimandrites; Fr. John Maitland-Moir, the 86 year old priest who founded the parish out of his home in George Square; Fr. Raphael Pavouris, a wonderful Greek hieromonk who spent time on Mount Athos, to whom I went for confession, and whose kind sister and mother were also pillars of the community; and of course, Fr. Avraamy.

The delightful Father John Maitland-Moir, the beloved octogenarian founding priest of the Edinburgh Orthodox community of St Andrew.

The delightful Father John Maitland-Moir, the beloved octogenarian founding priest of the Edinburgh Orthodox community of St Andrew.

This delightful and diverse community, an icon of the catholicity and universality of Orthodoxy with many Greek, Cypriot, Romanian, Russian and Ukrainian immigrant families, as well as British converts and American expats, has for its church a small but cozy house at 2 Meadow Lane. This is located right next to the Meadows, a lovely series of parks and fields roughly analogous to New York City’s Central Park.

Reminiscent of the early Christian house churches, the sanctuary itself comprised a large room in the front of the house, with dozens of icons covering the walls and a small iconostasis at the eastern end of the room. I will always remember the wonderful people I met while attending the divine services here. Deacon Luke and his very kind wife, both converts to the faith, the English convert Stephen, a very kind student at the University, Jakub Hampl, a Czech computer programming student, and so many of the other Romanian and Greek students all made lasting impressions on me.

Father Avraamy (Neyman), left, and Father Raphael (Pavouris), right. These exceptionally kind men are pillars of the Orthodox communities in Scotland.

Father Avraamy (Neyman), left, and Father Raphael (Pavouris), right. These exceptionally kind men are pillars of the Orthodox communities in Scotland.

Recently, a friend brought this wonderful November news story to my attention which appeared in a popular Scottish newspaper. The growing community, having expanded to over 100 worshipers on a given Sunday, is hoping to buy a deconsecrated former Protestant church which will give them more space.

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6 thoughts on “An introduction to Spanish Renaissance polyphony from an English Orthodox archimandrite

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. I meant to respond to your post from yesterday, and noticed it was missing. In any case, yes! I have been in Edinburgh the last 5 months, doing an Ancient Philosophy master’s at the University. That’s also so awesome you got to know everyone at the St Andrew’s community, especially as I’ve been getting to know all of them. Fr Raphael is also my current confessor here, and I’ve been wonderfully blessed by him and everyone here. I assume you also got to meet the Bartels? So happens, though I only met them here, they’re fellow CA countrymen, having a large number of mutual friends from the Orthodox community in the LA area. Apparently we also have a number of mutual friends… agh! anyway. I should probably stop now, especially seeing this is all public. 🙂

  3. Also, send me an email! Or a message…somehow… (if there’s a way to pass email addresses without publicly doing so.) For various reasons, I don’t have Facebook at the moment.

  4. Pingback: Magnificent Medieval Latin Communion Hymn | Orthodox in the District

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