Holy Week and Easter Excerpts
Recorded at Ascension Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Oakland, CA
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Holy Week and Easter at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Ascension
By Perecles Peter Phillips, Excerpts from Holy Week and Easter
He arrived in Oakland in 1926 and began a musical ministry that was to span 28 years. He was a man who chanted the music of our Most Holy Church with exquisite pride and dignity. God had bestowed upon him a magnificent bass-baritone voice. And that voice was heard only, and over a period of more than 50 years, when he chanted the hymns of his church. His name was Athanasios Alambakos and he was born in Philatria, Greece around 1873. In Philatria, he studied, and sang, with the Protopsalti (First Cantor) Basilios Albanis. He then went to Athens where he entered the Cantoral School directed by the noted Byzantine musician and cantor John Theodore Sakellaridis. God then ordained that he migrate to the United States.
Forty-two years ago, Alambakos gathered a small group of Altar Boys, myself among them, and patiently began the task of teaching them the music of the Divine Liturgy, Matins and other services. The Ascension Liturgical Choir is directly descended from that humble beginning.
On September 23, 1954, while chanting the music of the Divine Liturgy, Athanasios Alambakos musical ministry on this earth ended abruptly. God had chosen that moment to call Alambakos to His Eternal Kingdom. Athanasios Alambakos, His God given voice and the message he brought us through the hymns of our Most Holy Church, has not been forgotten. Every hymn, and reading, projected this Holy Cantor’s unshakable belief in the Resurrected Christ. Never was this belief more evident than during Holy Week and Easter.
Today, Holy Week and Easter services are the crowning jewels in the Liturgical year of the Ascension Parish, as they were when Alambakos first transmitted their significance. The tradition he established was continued by the first, and succeeding choir directors of our parish. From Constance Bales Dagres to Dawn Rostain, Helen Gonis, Elleny Satsonis Mahoney, Tula Marakas Gallanes, John Reckas, Thomas Pallad, Dr. Tikey Zes, Edward Godoshian and Peter Cardiasmenos, the Ascension Liturgical Choir has been blessed with dedicated directors. Each director left with us a significant mark.
Anna Marakas Counelis, who served with most of the aforementioned directors, is an accomplished pipe organist and pianist. Beyond that, she is a church musician in every sense of the word. Her total understanding of the service of our Most Holy Orthodox Church is evidenced every time she is seated at the console. Her sensitivity, for music and text, and a lifetime of dedication cannot be described in a few short words. She is “one of a kind.”
This commemorative album is intended solely as an offering to God’s Most Holy Orthodox Church. All of the choirs, you are about to hear, participate in the Holy Week and Easter Services. The core of the Women’s, Men’s and Byzantine Chant choirs emanate from the Liturgical Choir and are augmented by other members of our parish for the Holy Week and Easter services and other services throughout the year. There are 13 services throughout the week, from the Palm Sunday Liturgy to the Easter Sunday Vespers (Vespers of Love), in which one of these five choirs participate.
The four excerpts presented here focus on the following:
1. Christ’s parable of the five wise and five unwise virgins, Mary Magdalene’s repentance and Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Christ (Holy Tuesday Evening).
2. Christ’s crucifixion and his bearing the Cross along the narrow road (Dolorous Way) to the hill known as “Golgotha.” (Holy Thursday Evening).
3. God’s deliverance of the Three Youths – Shadrach (Ananias), Meshach (Mishael) and Abednego (Azarias) – from Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. (Holy Saturday Morning Vesper and Liturgy of St. Basil the Great – often called the “Mikri Anastasi,” or, “Little Resurrection”).
4. The pronouncement of Christ’s Glorious Resurrection (Resurrection Matins).
Any attempt, on my part, to detail what you are about to hear would be both meager and redundant. Some 1.5 millennia have passed since the early hymnographers devoted their entire lives to the exaltation of God and His Christ in poetry and music. What they recorded, to this day, tells the story far better than any of us – who have inherited their God inspired message in music – could ever transmit.