D.C. Concert Prompts a Russian Surprise

Orthodox Bishop's Christmas Oratorio Continues Tour

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ROME, JAN. 10, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A Christmas concert written by an Orthodox bishop and performed in a U.S. Catholic church gave a Russian politician the chance to put Christ at the center of a holiday increasingly secularized by the West.

This was the "most surprising moment" of the world premiere of Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev's "Christmas Oratorio" in Washington, D.C., according to Robert Moynihan, editor in chief of the Catholic magazine Inside the Vatican.

After its world premiere in the United States in December, the oratorio was performed Monday in Moscow, on the feast of Orthodox Christmas.

Moynihan told ZENIT: "Americans and Russians, Catholics and Russian Orthodox, worked together for many months to bring to America a very special exhibit on the renewal of spiritual life in Russia since the collapse of communism in 1991.

"Perhaps the most surprising moment was when the Russian minister of culture, Alexander Sokolov, introduced the concert in the [Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception], referring specifically to the joy he felt at participating in a Christmas concert commemorating the birth of 'our Lord Jesus Christ.'

"This reference by a leading public official and member of Putin's cabinet, seemed remarkable to many who heard it, as if there were a profound Christian sensibility in contemporary Russia, perhaps even more so than in the West, where politically correct thinking has increasingly kept Christ out of Christmas. Minister Sokolov set Christ at the center. What this means in unclear, but it certainly seems significant."

Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow attended Monday's performance of the Oratorio in Russia. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II sent a message, delivered on his behalf by Bishop Alexander of Dmitrov.

The oratorio, which consists of 28 parts and lasts for just over an hour, was performed by the Tchaikovsky Great Symphony Orchestra together with the Choir of the Tretyakov Gallery, the Youth Choir of the Musical College by the Moscow Conservatory and a group of soloists from the Moscow Boys' Choir Capella, conducted by Alexy Puzakov.

In Washington, the oratorio was performed by the same choirs, and the Russian Defense Ministry Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Valery Khalilov. The D.C. Boys Choir joined the 180 Russian musicians at the finale.

Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington and his predecessor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, were also present.