The Western Pilgrimage Begins…

Parish visits and a special encounter with a monastic writer and abbot, plus great travel weather, have ‘put the wind in my sails’ for this major leg of my American Thebaid Pilgrimage.

Sorry for the spotty posting lately, but my limited multitasking capabilities have been limited to a variety of deadline-driven tasks. Now that I’m actually on the road towards my next monastery destination, I wanted to take a moment and share with you some recent experiences.

North American Thebaid Photographic Pilgrimage
Fr Damascene of Platina and Fr Gregory Schultz of St Michael the Archangel (Serbian Archdiocese), celebrate Vespers during the annual Parish Retreat in Huntsville AL, June 1.

After leaving Birmingham AL on Thursday last (May 31), I headed ‘just up the road’ to Huntsville, where Fr Damascene, abbot of St Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina CA, was giving a series of talks for the annual parish retreat of St Michael the Archangel (Serbian Archdiocese – English language).

St Herman’s was, as most of you know, co-founded in the late 1960s by Fr Seraphim Rose of Blessed Memory (†1982) and Abbot Herman (Podmoshensky), who reposed just a couple of years ago. Fr Damascene was one of the last spiritual sons of Fr Seraphim Rose, and is the author or editor of three remarkable and essential books: Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, Christ the Eternal Tao, and Genesis, Creation and Early Man – The Orthodox Christian Vision (by Fr Seraphim Rose, edited by Fr Damascene).

This retreat was a wonderful experience, both for Fr Damascene’s talks on Creation, Salvation, and Deification (deeply immersed in the words of the Holy Fathers of the Church), and for the experience of camping out at Monte Sano State Park with the St Michael’s parish community.

IMG_1089
At the campground at Monte Sano, “Mount of Sanity”, or more colloquially, Mount Healthy.

As you can see from the photos, a portable iconostasis and altar were set up in the rustic camp pavilion, with icons mounted on the rafters and support pillars, creating a wilderness chapel for the faithful. This enabled the celebration of the divine services from Thursday evening through Saturday, and all got a taste of the original ‘Platina Experience’ during those halcyon days back in the 1970s and through 1982, when Fr Seraphim and Fr Herman were holding annual St Herman Pilgrimages and the New Valaam Theological Academy in the wilderness of Northern California. Wonderful meals (appropriate for our “meat fare” weekend before the start of the Apostles Fast) and fellowship enhanced the retreat experience for all. I even had my first camping experience on the Thebaid Pilgrimage, which, thanks to the gift of a new tent and accessories from my family, I look forward to repeating many times in the weeks ahead!

Info on Fr Damascene’s topics are still posted on the St Michael website, where you can explore the scope of his presentations, and the talks were recorded in both video and audio, so we hope for them to be made available by the parish at some point, and I’ll share the links here when that happens.

I also had a wonderful visit at my former home parish in Louisville KY, St Michael the Archangel (Antiochian), where I got to warmly renew deep friendships with dear brothers and sisters I haven’t seen in a number of years. While there I also had an inspiring conversation with David Wright, director and founder of The Climacus Conference of Thoughtful Ascent. David is really doing some exciting work with this unique biennial assembly (the next conference will be in early 2019) of some of Orthodoxy’s most compelling writers, thinkers, artists, and clergy. Do visit the Climacus Conference website, as well as Ancient Faith Radio, where recordings of some of the past conferences are archived (the 2017 conference talks are here; search for more through AFR) .

Enjoy the photos (below), and watch for additional snapshots from my travels on the Thebaid Facebook Page, plus monastery photo galleries as the summer proceeds.

Asking your prayers for safe and fruitful travels!

Photos from St Michael the Archangel Annual Parish Retreat, with Abbot Damascene of St Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina CA

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