The one certainty of Otpust was the promise of a LOT of processions. One felt a great honor to follow behind one’s parish’s processional cross upon arrival to Mt. St. Macrina for an initial blessing before the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The parish’s processional cross was then traditionally placed at the shrine altar and carried during subsequent processions during the pilgrimage.
The first candlelight procession was accompanied by the singing of the Akathist to the Mother of God on Saturday evening, affirming the Eastern Christians’ great love for the Blessed Mother of God. Although the official services for the day concluded that evening with the Akathist, Mt. St. Macrina did not become silent. The “pobozhnije palomniki” (pious pilgrims) traditionally gathered on the dormitory porches of the pilgrim houses in the evenings to participate in the traditional “hymn singing sessions” that lasted until the early morning hours.
The “hymn singing sessions” are as old as the Otpust itself and are unique to the Carpatho-Rusyn people, who love to sing from their hearts, most especially at Otpust. The wealth of the Rusyn repertoire of para-liturgical hymns is amazing. The hymn singing would begin with the Marian hymns, continue with songs to Our Lord and then, to everyone’s delight, the entire liturgical year would manifest, as the faithful would sing the services and hymns of Christmas, Pascha and all the other major holydays of the church year “na pamjat” (by memory).
Some of the Marian hymns were written particularly for the Uniontown Otpust. These meaningful hymns speak directly of the pilgrims’ journey to Uniontown, to the holy Mount which contains the sacred image of Mary of Perpetual Help. They call upon “glorious Mary” as “our protection” “white rose and Mother of God.”
“On the Uniontown mount there is a most beautiful flower, for there Mary joyfully greets us – White rose, white lily, the Mother of God, the most holy Virgin.”
“Greetings, greetings, my dear children, what beautiful prayers will you pray.”
“To Mt. Macrina, to the Otpust we go, most pure Mary we gloriously will praise.”
“On Mt. Macrina we pray to you Mary, from your Son, beseech mercy for us.”
“We ask you, Virgin, to give us a joyful life, and after our death, the light of heaven.”
“O how beautiful and sweet, Mary of Uniontown, our loving Mother and helper.”
“Brothers and sisters, come to the Virgin Mary, to the miraculous, heavenly lily. Let us go to the garden, let us see the lily, the beautiful vine, the Virgin Mary. She helps us all under the holy protection of her omofor.”
“O Mother of God, do not forget us at all times. Pray, O pure One, to your Son, for us.”
“Our Mother of Uniontown never forgets us. Her motherly intercession protects us always.”
“Pilgrims to Uniontown, sing joyfully, the holy Virgin is now raised up on the Mount.”
These are but a few excerpts from the special Uniontown hymns that explain so well, my reason for pining to return year after year to Otpust at Mt. St. Macrina: love for Mary, our Mother of Perpetual Help, who we know will always help us, protect us and lead us to her Divine Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The vast majority of the “babas” (grandmothers) from “stariy kraij” (the old country) have reposed in the Lord and are now singing in the presence of our Lord and His Blessed Mother in heaven. The porches are no longer crowed as in times past, and few remember the numerous stanzas of the Slavonic-Rusyn hymns.
I cherish the memory of those nights and am thankful to have been blessed to participate in some of the more memorable hymn fests of previous pilgrimages long past. The passing of those faithful souls, who encouraged and motivated me to follow in their footsteps, brings to the forefront my own mortality and the fact that I am now the “starik” (old timer) called upon to preserve and continue the traditions taught by those who came before me. It is humbling to have reached this point in life. In so many ways, I feel that I have failed to pass this glorious torch of faith, but I sincerely hope and pray that these precious and invaluable hymns and traditions of pilgrimage will someday be valued by my progeny and that this humble blog will preserve these treasures when that time comes.