What is a “thebaid”? Per the Catholic Encyclopaedia,
The valley of the Nile, under Roman domination, was divided into four provinces: Lower and Upper Egypt, Lower and Upper Thebaid. The last two comprised the upper part of the valley. During the fourth to fifth centuries it was the chosen land of the monks, who by their sanctity and by the form they impressed on the monastic system greatly influenced the East and the West.
A thousand years after this initial flowering of Christian monasticism in the Egyptian Thebaid, there was already flourishing in Russia a “Northern Thebaid,” and in the mid-1970s, St Herman of Alaska Press of Platina, California, published a collection of the lives of many of the great Russian ascetics in a book bearing that title. The book’s description reads:
“From the fourth century A.D., the desert Thebaid of Egypt was the home of thousands of monks and nuns who made the desert a city peopled with Christians striving toward heaven in the angelic way of life. A thousand years later, no fewer thousands of monks and nuns, likewise seeking union with God, went to live in the forests of northern Russia, creating what has become known as the ‘Northern Thebaid’.
Just as the sultry African nature with its clear blue sky, lush colors, its burning sun, and its incomparable moonlit nights, is distinct from the aquarelle soft tones of Russia’s northern nature with the blue surface of its lakes and the soft shades of its leafy forests—in the same way the sanctity of the Saints of the Egyptian desert, elemental and mighty, is distinct from the sanctity of Russia, which is quiet, lofty, and as crystal-clear as the radiant and quiet evening of the Russian spring. But both in Russia and in Egypt there is the same noetic prayer, the same interior silence.”
It was out of the Russian “Northern Thebaid” that the Orthodox Christian Faith was brought to North America, by a group of missionary monks in 1794. Now, more than two centuries later, Orthodox Christian monasticism is firmly rooted in the United States and Canada, and so it seemed proper to launch this project — a photographic pilgrimage to the “North American Thebaid” — to begin exploring these holy sites sanctified by the prayers and labors of men and women who have “denied themselves, taken up their cross, and followed Christ.”
We invite you to become a ‘Thebaid Pilgrim’ and join us on this journey, and we ask for your prayers and support…