Thebaid Book Layout Reaches Key First Goal

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All!

After several weeks of layout and design work since my last post, I’m happy to tell you we have reached a real milestone now, with significant progress being made each week.

Early Prototype Thebaid Book Cover,
Entrance to St Herman of Alaska Monastery, Platina, Calfornia

Also, before I get started, I wish to thank our new supporters who have pre-ordered the book. Interest continues to grow in the forthcoming Thebaid coffee table book, and we are deeply appreciative of each of you who have committed up front and pre-ordered your copy (or copies). I should mention that we will continue to accept pre-orders at The Thebaid Store up until the book goes to print. This is especially critical for the Deluxe Limited Edition in Bonded Leather, which will not be available through retail outlets, but only through pre-ordering using the link above. Of course the standard hardcover edition will be available through St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press, and a range of Orthodox and other resellers.

Back to today’s update!

The heart of the pre-press process has been our weekly production meetings, and with only a couple of exceptions, St. Tikhon’s Press (STMP) and I have been locked in for our Thursday afternoon sessions since early August now, and wow, they have become increasingly substantial over the last several weeks. Even on those couple of occasions when we haven’t been able to hold our weekly meeting, we have still been communicating in detail by email, sending notes and work lists back and forth, and sharing our files by Dropbox and Google Drive. By mid-September we were getting into precise questions of image placement, layout, sizing and sequencing, specific photo edits and text edits, so that our meetings have been ranging from 60 to 90 minutes on average! Which brings me to the big news for this update.

As of the latest batch of page mockups, STMP has completed about 90% of the initial page mockups, which nearly completes the basic layout. This is really the first major pre-press goal, and enables us now to go back through each regional section and monastery to confirm everything and complete any final image editing, etc. There are some special texts to be added and other features, but the heart of the book is firming up quite nicely.

It is important to note that our design and layout work is not merely about the details, the “nuts and bolts” of setting up a photo book. We have approached the book in a way similar to “composers” of a musical piece, seeking to present the photographs in a lyrical, poetic way, with movement, rhythm, harmony, dynamics. And this is the part of the process that I look forward to entering more deeply into, as it marks a return to the start, to the heart of the original vision I had for this project.

Watch for more frequent updates as we now move into the next stages, which will include the proofing process.

Thank you for your support and prayers, and for accompanying me on this pilgrimage!

Thebaid Book Design takes flight!

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims!

I am very happy to be able to share with you a significant amount of pre-press news since my mid-July update, as well as a page-spread example of our working design for the book:

With one or two exceptions, St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press (STM Press) and I have been conducting weekly production meetings (our “Thebaid Thursday” virtual sessions) since mid-July, and have actually worked through a few different design concepts during this initial period.

I really appreciate the creative and flexible approach Fr Mikel Hill has taken, and the opportunities for collaboration which make it all work so well for us both. We realized after our first couple of meetings that we were faced with a challenge over how to “introduce” each monastery throughout the book, given that some were older, larger, and well established, whereas others were only recently founded, sometimes with only one or two monastics, and with far fewer photographs for inclusion as a result. Larger monasteries would have numerous photographs spread across several pages, whereas smaller monasteries could conceivably be only two pages! How best to honor everyone as they are all striving worthily in their calling?

After a couple of variations, Fr Mikel has developed an intuitively strong design which lends itself just as well to the small sketes and hermitages as to the larger monasteries. You can see in the sample page spread above for Holy Myrrhbearers how this will generally look, with a full-page bleed image opposite the monastery intro page, featuring the name & location, a brief overview (typically my own reflections and impressions, providing a first-person journal experience), a small antique map with a red pin to show the location, and a small image or two to lead the viewer into that monastery section.

There is such variety to the types of images in my portfolio from these thirty plus monasteries, that this too created a challenge in layout and sequencing. In the above, we have a strong photograph at right showing a classic, almost iconic scene of the nuns ringing the bells to call the sisterhood to the divine service. The small image inset at left with room for a caption shows a more spontaneous moment akin to a photojournalistic approach. There is a little motion blur of the sheep, but otherwise it is tack sharp, and it shows a slice of life central to the monastery’s daily routine.

Regarding the photo of the sheep, I was told by the nuns that the sheep liked me and felt comfortable with me there. I asked how they could tell, and they replied with some humor, “Because they didn’t get nervous and didn’t make a mess!” It is little stories like these that I especially look forward to sharing, and which will, I hope, make this book an endearing, heartwarming experience for viewers.

So, this is now our basic template, with each monastery having a variation of this for its intro page. Subsequent pages will show a variety of views of the worship and life of the monastics, or of the grounds, guest house, and even other pilgrims.

I look forward to sharing more page spreads with you in the weeks ahead, and in keeping you updated on the progress. This is an exciting time with the layout in place for the first couple of monasteries, and it’s very rewarding to finally be hitting our stride on this.

Real Thebaid News, and a Real Path to Publication

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All ~

First, my apologies for no updates during the year of covid. As for many of us it was a strange and challenging year, and brought all progress on the Thebaid book to a standstill.

As I recently found out, the covid lockdown hit St Tikhon’s Monastery Press hard also, but in different ways. My time for the book evaporated overnight, as everything became ruled by the “tyranny of the urgent.” Part time day job became full time, and my modest volunteer ministry at my home parish became a greatly expanded role (like a second job, truly): facilitating live-streaming of services, signups, heightened communications, and much more.

In contrast, St Tikhon’s lost their volunteer staff (largely students from the seminary) for the Press and Bookstore, the reduced manpower affecting their publishing capacity, and requiring real dedication to hold to their existing printing schedule.

So it was with a great sense of relief and actually joy, that we linked up by phone a few weeks ago and set in place our Path to Publication.

Visual Pilgrimage by Region

Because I had already done so much file prep and image editing, and had provided an abundance of image files to the Press in late 2019, Fr. Mikel Hill at STM Press has swiftly resumed his organization of the book and general sequencing of the photographs, which will follow my actual travels, leading the viewer on a visual pilgrimage through the major regions of America. I will be providing detailed layout and image placement instructions each week, with Fr. Mikel sending back PDF galley proofs for me to approve or tweak.

The groups of images will be punctuated by special articles, contributed by American monastics. Select quotes and information about the monasteries will be highlighted in text boxes overlaying full-page-bleed images and 2-page spreads. There will be a rhythm, a cadence, a flow to the book. And I’ll be sharing some of the galley proofs here for you to keep you informed on the progress.

Weekly Production Meetings

To effect all this, we will be conducting weekly production meetings by phone and Skype, and have already begun these “Thebaid Thursday” sessions.

All of this is invigorating enough, and I get the clear sense from Fr. Mikel that he (and Abbot Sergius) are very enthusiastic about completing our work and getting the book to print. There is a joyful energy around this resumption of our shared work, testimony to our shared purpose, the advancement of Orthodoxy and Orthodox monasticism in America, through the beauty and mystery of these images.

‘Time’ to Finish

For me personally, the ability to take an extended sabbatical from work and devote myself 100% to The North American Thebaid Book, is the “critical mass” of the publishing process. This is actually how the entire project began, with a convergence of time, vision and inspiration, followed by scheduling, travel and photography. Now, it seems the fullness of time for the Thebaid Book has come, and with that elusive element of Time opened back up for me, and with it the renewed vision, collaboration, and activity leading to the finished book, in your hands.

Thanksgiving, and a Teaser

Thank you all, for your patience and trust, and for your continuing prayers for this project. And my thanks to those of you who took a few minutes to reach out and see how I have been and where things stand. I am so gratified to be able to report this solid, real news, and our Real Path to Publication.

Rather than post one of my images today, I felt it most appropriate to post a “teaser” of sorts, the galley proof of the prototype Copyright page from the early design work at St Tikhon’s done towards the end of 2020. I look forward to sharing more pages and spreads in the weeks ahead.

Polishing the Prologue (and Epilogue!)

Revisiting the early stages of the Thebaid Project has been the key to its successful fulfillment in the near future.

Over the last few weeks I have been revising my text contributions to the North American Thebaid photo book, at the direction of Fr Mikel Hill, manager of St Tikhon’s Monastery Press and Bookstore, and editor of the Thebaid book. Specifically, Fr Mikel gave me the task of combining two separate articles of mine into one, and provided a word count limit, which has been a welcomed but grand challenge (as those who know me can imagine!).

EquipmentBlessing-090416 - 1
Fr Steven Kostoff blesses my photo gear at the beginning of my travels, September 2016.

Part of my wordsmithing process has included revisiting other earlier blog posts here on the Thebaid website, which has been nothing short of a revelation. Looking back three and four years to my earliest expressions of the nature of the Thebaid Project, my writings on photography and monasticism, and the many articles and features which I have reposted from an array of excellent Orthodox Christian sites, monastic writers, and respected photographers, has been a joyous journey indeed, one which I think you all might enjoy as well.

Continue reading “Polishing the Prologue (and Epilogue!)”

The Book Proofing Process Begins!

At long last, a truly substantive update on the Thebaid Photo Book!

BookCover3-sm
One of the prototype cover designs. (Photos from St Michael Skete, Spruce Island, Alaska)

I recently had some wonderful news from St Tikhon’s Monastery Press, that they had set an internal deadline of the end of February for the first full virtual proof of the Thebaid photo book. Practically speaking, with Great Lent beginning on March 2, this means we are looking at the second week of March for serious work on editing based off that first digital proof.

This is the first major marker on the final stretch toward publication of the finished book, and is a thrilling accomplishment in its own right.

Who can describe the enormous amount of quiet, diligent behind the scenes labors by the design team at St Tikhon’s Press to get us to this point? They have been at it for months, and I am eager to see — and share with you! — the results!

There is so much that goes into creating a book like this. First of all the final selection of the images — the very best of the very best — from the approximately 300 images which I provided to the Press last Autumn, those culled from over 26,000 images which I made during my pilgrimage. Then the sequencing, sizing and formatting of the images, with interspersed text, to carry the viewer of the book on a visual pilgrimage across the Orthodox Monasteries of North America.

Then too there are the special articles being submitted for the book by Orthodox monastic writers in America. The whole look and feel of the book is now taking shape. Graphics and design elements, titles, headings, fonts and block quotes; it will all be there in this first proof for us to scrutinize and perfect.

There is a saying many of us use to enable us to get things done in an efficient manner: “Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.” This was my motto for much of the two years of planning and three years of travel, when scheduling was done on the fly, and photos were made in ideal, and often far less than ideal, conditions. Everything seemed to move so quickly back then, and as it seemed easy to wrap up my travels, so I also felt (wrongly) that the publication would be an equally easy process.

Not at all, as I have learned. Now the motto is reversed, and we can more accurately say, “Don’t let the good be the enemy of the perfect,” or at least of the sublime. We only get one opportunity with the book to make it the landmark edition we have long hoped for it to be.

I cannot adequately express my appreciation for all of you, our supporters. You have made this 3 year pilgrimage possible through pre-ordering the book — whether Standard Hardcover Edition or Deluxe Limited Edition in Bonded Leather — and through your prayers and patience, especially during these long months when the progress has been hidden behind the scenes.

As we approach the beginning of Great Lent, I also ask your forgiveness for not providing more updates. There were so few substantive updates to provide, and rather than artificially try to “gin up” excitement over the still indefinite publishing date, I chose to be patient with the process. Some of you have kindly reached out through messages and email, and I have been only too happy to communicate with you what I did know. But now — now at last — we are entering into the final stages of the book prep, and there is cause and need for regular posts and updates as the proofing process begins in earnest.

So, with all that said, here’s what you can look forward to in the weeks ahead:

  • New galleries of images I have held back especially for this final pre-press stage. These are from the last several monasteries of my Western Pilgrimage, from Alaska to Arizona, and from Washington State to Texas, five or more monastery photo galleries in all, plus additions to some of the others;
  • Real-time updates during the proofing process, including whatever I can provide in the way of screen shots, “galley proofs” and page layouts;
  • Advance notice of the publishing timeline, with shipping dates for Thebaid Supporter Pre-Orders, online availability through St Tikhon’s Monastery Press Online Bookstore and other Orthodox online resellers, as well as Amazon and broader availability through brick & mortar bookstores in select markets;
  • Advance notice of special Thebaid presentations, exhibits and book signings at select churches, bookstores and venues;
  • And, hopefully, a few surprises I have in mind which are sure to be appreciated by many of you.

As a reminder, you can still pre-order the Thebaid Photo Book through our Online Store:

Our Online Store has all the specifications for the finished book (size, fine-art paper stock, etc.), plus beautifully rendered mockups of different prototype cover designs.

The Standard Edition will be available through all retail outlets, but the only way you can purchase the Deluxe Limited Edition is through pre-ordering it from our Thebaid Online Store. I’ll post a notice here when we are preparing to send the book to the printer, and the final deadline for pre-orders. If you’re interested in the Deluxe Limited Edition, best to pre-order right away to reserve your copy.

Thank you all again for your prayers, patience and support. I can’t wait to get the finished Thebaid Photo Book into your hands!

Watch for more updates soon and on a regular basis going forward!

Ralph Zosimas Sidway

At Long Last! – A Thebaid Book Update

Greetings for the Dormition Season!

The Platina Pilgrimage
The hand operated printing press at St Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina CA, where Fr Seraphim Rose and Abbot Herman produced The Orthodox Word and numerous important books.

First of all, my sincere apologies for not posting any news on the Thebaid book for quite some time. We simply haven’t had any news to share, but have been in somewhat of a holding pattern. But all that is changing rapidly, thanks be to God!

Some of you have reached out to ask about the book’s progress, and I am very grateful for your contact, and happy to have some solid news to report.

Met-Leonty-Cover-500x738
St Tikhon’s Press had asked me last December to be patient, as they had new books which had been scheduled for publication in 2019 well ahead of mine. The first of these was published in conjunction with St Tikhon’s annual Memorial Day Pilgrimage Weekend (a beautiful new book on Metropolitan Leonty of blessed memory), and the other titles have been proceeding apace, meaning the Thebaid Book is next up.

This is most invigorating for me, I can assure you, and I am looking forward to making an extended working visit to St Tikhon’s in mid-September, which will enable us to make much progress. But even in advance of that, we have been fleshing out the specifics of the book sections, and image use and sequencing remotely through correspondence. Continue reading “At Long Last! – A Thebaid Book Update”

‘Jordanville Conference’ available in both Audio and Video, from Ancient Faith Radio

High quality recordings in both audio and video from the landmark ‘Jordanville Conference’ which took place just last weekend (March 7-9) are now available for online listening and download from Ancient Faith Radio.

img_1262Titled ‘Chastity, Purity, Integrity: Orthodox Anthropology and Secular Culture in the 21st Century’, this is shaping up to be the most significant Orthodox Christian conference yet of the new century. The fifteen presentations — more than five hours, not including the 48 minute long keynote address by Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option — present a wide variety of traditional, authentic, Orthodox perspectives on the anthropological heresy of our age. AFR’s special page for the conference recordings states:

Held at Holy Trinity Seminary (Russian Orthodox Church Abroad) March 7 – 9 2019, scholarly and pastoral perspectives were shared with the goal of articulating the application of Orthodox Tradition and apologetics to current needs, in the face of current social trends regarding sex, body, and human nature.

Someone might ask, “You are doing a photo book on Orthodox monasticism. Why are you blogging about such a hot button topic completely tangential to your work?”

Fair question.

I am blogging about this conference precisely because it reveals something quite dynamic and critical to the health of Orthodoxy in America, namely the massive contribution Orthodox Christian Monasticism has to make to the very life and witness of the Orthodox Church, in America and around the world. It is precisely the Orthodox monastic ethos and phronema that undergirds this Conference which gives it its legitimacy, its authenticity, and its prophetic tone and urgency. I made that very point in my earlier post, in which I wrote:

This visionary conference, perhaps the first of its kind in North America, features speakers and a planning committee who hail primarily from Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary (ROCOR, Jordanville NY) and St Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (OCA, South Canaan PA), both of which are unique in North America among Orthodox seminaries for being linked to and deriving their traditional Orthodox ethos from the monasteries out of which they grew.

Clearly, there is a large amount of material to cover here. So far, I have watched four of the presentations (quite out of their chronological order), those by Dr. Mark Cherry, Fr. Peter Heers, Fr. John Parker, and Fr. Alexander Webster. These are each so weighty and intense, that I look forward to the rest, and am determined to make the viewing of these presentations an important part of my Lenten effort for 2019. Indeed, that may have been the aim of the conference planning committee, who timed the conference for the threshold of the beginning of Great Lent, and who obviously coordinated tightly with Ancient Faith Radio to make the presentations available less than a week after the conclusion of the conference.

(I should add that the videos are not raw, unedited uploads, but benefit from three or four camera angles, nicely varied, with the brief introduction of each speaker, and the speaker’s name and position/title recurrently displayed at bottom. This professional presentation adds to the significance of the entire effort.)

The talks by Dr Mark Cherry (Professor of Philosophy at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas) and Fr Alexander F.C. Webster (Dean and Professor of Moral Theology at Holy Trinity Seminary (ROCOR) in Jordanville, New York) serve to frame the conference as a prophetic moment in the life of the Orthodox Church in North America and the West in general.

Continue reading “‘Jordanville Conference’ available in both Audio and Video, from Ancient Faith Radio”

Jordanville Conference features speakers from the only two American Orthodox seminaries joined to monasteries

Titled Chastity, Purity, Integrity: – Orthodox Anthropology and Secular Culture in the 21st Century, this visionary conference, perhaps the first of its kind in North America, features speakers and a planning committee who hail primarily from Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary (ROCOR, Jordanville NY) and St Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (OCA, South Canaan PA), both of which are unique in North America among Orthodox seminaries for being linked to and deriving their traditional Orthodox ethos from the monasteries out of which they grew.

Confronting in a firm and direct manner the raging cultural heresies of the day, yet with love and compassion befitting a truly Christian endeavor, the conference features presentations with such traditional Orthodox titles and teachings as these:

  • Orthodox Anthropology: Encountering the “new gnosticism” of transgenderism, pansexuality, and post-humanism
  • Nurturing Christian Purity and Chastity among Young People Today
  • The Mystery of Male and Female
  • The Relevance and Application of Orthodox teachings of Purity and Chastity to 21st-Century America: Culture, Families, Parishes
  • Leavening American Society with the Moral Teachings of the Church

This conference clearly is intended to present in a living and engaging manner the divine-human Orthodox phronema, the Mind of Christ and His Church on the nature, calling, and destiny of mankind.

Unlike certain academic platforms, cut off as they are from the living Orthodox tradition, and which therefore spread heresy and error and seek to overthrow the divine teachings and commandments of Christ and the Scriptures regarding man and woman, marriage and sexuality, and to reimagine and subvert the living tradition of the Orthodox Church, this Jordanville Conference, deriving as it does from two of the oldest and most stalwart Orthodox Christian monasteries in the entire Western Hemisphere, offers not just Orthodox teaching on the nature of Mankind, but presents the Way of Life, as distinguished from the way which leads to death (see the Didache, esp. ch. 1 & 2).

Rather than reproduce the lovely aerial photo of Holy Trinity Monastery and Seminary featured with the conference announcement, I think it more appropriate to use one of my favorite images from The North American Thebaid, my photograph of the entrance to Jordanville, its domes faithfully shining beneath dark and threatening skies, a metaphor for the Orthodox Christian presence shining in the midst of the dark age we have entered into here in America.

More info and links on the Jordanville Conference are below the photograph:

20161114-Thebaid-HolyTrinityJordanville-5

 

Chastity, Purity, Integrity:

Orthodox Anthropology and Secular Culture in the 21st Century

Holy Trinity Seminary Jordanville, New York

March 7 – 9, 2019 | Conference announcement and info

This three-day conference focuses on the application of Orthodox teachings on anthropology and morality to contemporary challenges posed by secular American culture (even within the Church).

It will include both scholarly and pastoral perspectives, with the goal of articulating the application of Orthodox Tradition and apologetics to current needs, in the face of current social trends regarding sex, body, and human nature.

It seeks to do so in a prayerful and traditional framework, out of compassion for both struggling Orthodox Christians and families, and those of our neighbors facing spiritual shipwreck in our culture today.

Speakers include::

  • Bishop Irenei (Steenberg)
  • Bishop/Abbot Luke Murianka
  • Dr. Alfred Kentigern Siewers
  • Dr. David Ford
  • Dr. Mary Ford
  • Dr. Edith Humphrey
  • Kh. Frederica Mathewes-Green
  • Fr. Chad Hatfield
  • Fr. Peter Heers
  • Dr. David Bradshaw
  • Fr. Hans Jacobse
  • Fr. John Parker
  • Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
  • Fr. Alexander Webster
  • Dr. John Mark Reynolds

Full information is available on the Holy Trinity Monastery website.

January 2019 Thebaid Update

On to publication of the Thebaid Book in Spring 2019!

This update serves as a special ‘Thank you’ to our dozens of dear supporters, for propelling the North American Thebaid Project to the threshold of its goal, the publication of the large-format, photographic coffee table book, due in Spring 2019 from St Tikhon’s Monastery Press, South Canaan PA.

In the coming weeks and months I’ll be deeply engaged in photo editing and book design, sending files back and forth with the design team at St. Tikhon’s Press, and working closely with our pre-press partners at Four Colour Print Group in Louisville and FCI Digital in Dayton, as we work to fulfill our goal of creating an inspiring, museum-quality photo book. We can’t wait to get it into your hands!

St Tikhon’s Press announces the Thebaid Book to over 20,000 readers

St Tikhon’s 2019 Liturgical Calendar, featuring photographs from the North American Thebaid.

St Tikhon’s Monastery Press chose to announce their role as publisher of the Thebaid book through a statement in their 2019 Liturgical Calendar, which features fourteen full-color images from the Thebaid Project.

Covering over a dozen Orthodox monasteries across America, from several of the canonical Orthodox jurisdictions and archdioceses here, this beautiful calendar has now been distributed to hundreds of parish churches, reaching an audience of over 20,000, who began using this unique liturgical calendar on January 1 of the New Year.

We are deeply grateful for St. Tikhon’s Press and their public endorsement of the Thebaid Project. You can order the St Tikhon’s 2019 Liturgical Calendar direct from STM Press…

Continue reading “January 2019 Thebaid Update”

Thebaid Store returns online! – Now accepting pre-orders for the Thebaid Photo Book

After a period of technical difficulties following the launch of our new Thebaid Online Store, we are officially back up and running, and accepting pre-orders.

Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville NY, one of several prototype cover designs you can view at the Thebaid Store.

 

This large-format, fine-art “coffee table” book represents the culmination of a unique multi-year project, which has combined crowdfunding, social media, and an unprecedented photographic pilgrimage to over thirty Orthodox monasteries across the American continent, to help raise awareness of and interest in the Orthodox Church and its ancient monastic traditions, and thus contribute to the “churching” of America.

Full specifications are provided for all products. Signed copies are offered, with signed & matted fine art prints. Quantity discounts for signed bundles are also available. At a glance:

  • Quantity discounts available for signed book & print bundles.
  • Additional info and answers to frequently asked questions are provided.

Proceed to the Thebaid Store…