St Herman, Spruce Island & the Alaskan Pilgrimage

This past Tuesday I returned to Anchorage from Kodiak, having spent four days with the monks at Archangel Michael Skete on Spruce Island.

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Our monk skipper departs after dropping us pilgrims off at the landing for the return to Kodiak.

 

I’m back on the road today for my return leg, and am just putting up this quick post before leaving for the Divine Liturgy at St George (Antiochian) near Portland OR, so, as usual, I beg your patience and ask you to watch for photo galleries on this blessed chapter in my ongoing pilgrimage to Orthodox Christian monasteries in  North America.

These are unedited photos, which I will rework and re-post as soon as I can, but they give a tiny glimpse of the holy wonder I experienced on Spruce Island:

For a delightful look at the annual St Herman Pilgrimage, see this video report by Indie Alaska.

As always, my heartfelt thanks for your prayers and support!

 

 

A Quick Update before Alaska

I’m very thankful for all my travel plans coming together, and for my pilgrimage to Alaska (which begins later this morning!), but this has had the effect of delaying again the posting of new photo galleries for another couple of weeks.

I did want to give you at least a few images before going ‘off the grid’ yet again, so think of these as a promise of future galleries. There is a wide variety f images of monastic life to share, and numerous new images for the final book itself. Glory to God!

As always, thank you for your prayers and support!

 

More Galleries coming soon! Seven more, and then some…

I wish to thank everyone for your patience with my erratic gallery posting during this amazing period of travels.

North American Thebaid Photographic Pilgrimage
Very soon I’ll post a gallery which will take you through this entrance into another world…

Since July 1 alone, I have traveled to ten monasteries (in Arizona and California), and am literally getting in the car immediately after posting this to head to #11 this month, All-Merciful Saviour (Men’s, ROCOR), on Vashon Island WA. After that, I’ll be flying to Alaska, where I hope to take a boat to Archangel Michael and St Nilus sketes on Spruce Island, as well as visit Protecting Veil in Anchorage.

So, I am striving to do some quick edits and post galleries from seven monasteries, with another 3 or 4 following in early August. Coming up, in the order in which they were visited:

  • St Barbara Monastery, Santa Paula CA
  • St Silouan Monastery, Sonora CA
  • Holy Cross Monastery, Castro Valley CA
  • Holy Assumption Monastery, Calistoga CA
  • Monastery of St John of San Francisco, Manton CA
  • St Herman of Alaska Monastery, Platina CA
  • St Xenia Skete, Wildwood CA
  • All-Merciful Savior Monastery, Vashon Island WA

I should add that I had a wonderful visit at Annunciation Orthodox Church in Milwaukie OR for early morning Matins today, July 27, and hope to visit there again either before or immediately after my Alaska trip, and share more with the parish about the Thebaid Project.

I’m also trying to add a few other monasteries to my return trip, which may see me cross Washington State over to Spokane, then back south to Colorado and Arizona, and east across Texas on my way back to Birmingham AL.

If you have yet to pre-order the North American Thebaid book, doing so now helps me enormously with travel costs, and guarantees you will receive your copy before general distribution begins later this Autumn. There will be both a Standard Hardcover, Clothbound Edition, and a Deluxe Limited Edition in Bonded Leather, which will be signed and numbered and will have a special acknowledgments page listing supporters who pre-ordered the Deluxe Ltd. Ed. book.

Thank you all for your prayers and support!

 

Venerating a Saint, and Sunset at the Pacific

During the course of my Western Pilgrimage, I have (somewhat reluctantly) passed by many touristy destinations so as to keep to both my schedule and my purpose. The growing list is quirky, and includes the following:

  • Red Rocks Amphitheater, Denver CO (their Performers Hall of Fame is a ‘Who’s Who’ of Rock and Roll artists, ranging from Dan Fogelberg to U2, Sting, The Beatles, and many more)
  • Los Alamos NM (site of the development of the Atomic Bomb)
  • Roswell NM (site of the infamous alleged UFO crash in 1947
  • The Very Large Array Radio Telescope, NM (featured in the Jodie Foster film, ‘Contact’)
  • Alamogordo, New Mexico (site of the ‘Trinity’ Atomic Bomb Test)
  • Tombstone, Arizona (legendary Western town)
  • Joshua Tree National Forest (beloved by many U2 fans)
  • Yosemite (beloved by two photographer heroes of mine, Ansel Adams and John Sexton)
  • Golden Gate Park (though I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge)
  • Petrified Forest CA (though I have felt petrified at times by many of the canyons and cliffs I have been driving around!)
  • and more…

Any of these detours might have been justified, but would have extended my travels, and detracted from and confused my pilgrim’s progress.

However, I have chosen to add two specific sites to my itinerary: Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Cathedral, and the Pacific Ocean.

Holy Virgin Cathedral (‘Joy of All Who Sorrow’) was built in the 1960s, and shepherded to completion by the much beloved wonderworking saint, Archbishop John Maximovitch, who had also been bishop in Shanghai and Western Europe. St John is such a towering figure in contemporary Orthodoxy that his impact is immeasurable. I am deeply thankful  I was able to navigate the traffic to worship at the Cathedral for the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, July 15, and to venerate St. John’s incorrupt relics, which are enclosed in a beautiful shrine and canopy on the right hand side of the lofty cathedral.

 

As for the Pacific Ocean, I had expected to be able to find a beach and walk and photograph easily, but due to the demands of photo editing and travel, I was able only to make two brief excursions to the coast, to Dillon Beach, and Bodega Bay, where I made a few photographs, which I share with you here. There is such deep symbolism and power in contemplating the ocean…

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Sunset, hills of Dillon Beach, Pacific Ocean.
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Bodega Bay and Tidal Pool, Pacific Ocean.

Watch for more monastery galleries to be uploaded as time (and internet access!) permits.

And, as always, thank you all for your prayers and support!!!

Fragrance of the Desert, Pt. 4 – St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Florence AZ

New Photo Gallery posted, with unique images made at St Anthony’s in the Arizona Desert.

North American Thebaid Photographic Pilgrimage

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am very thankful to God’s providence for opening the doors for me to stay at St Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery for a few days, even though I had been unable to reach the monks to formally schedule a visit. They had room for me, and were most kind and hospitable, and Abbot Paisios gave his blessing for me to make some photographs during my stay.

This is a thriving and bustling monastery, with both men and women pilgrims. I saw whole families there, as well as a youth group, and met people from all across the US and Canada, and even from Australia.

Proceed to this special Gallery page to view the new photos, and watch for more galleries to be posted soon, as I continue my Western pilgrimage.

As a reminder, if you haven’t yet pre-ordered the North American Thebaid coffee table book (due later this Autumn), please consider doing so, as book pre-orders are our primary fundraising means to support the travel and photography.  Additional rewards are provided to supporters at a variety of levels. Thank you!

 

Fragrance of the Desert, Pt. 3 – St Paisius Monastery, in the High Desert of Arizona

This was a providential visit, and is hopefully a prelude to a longer stay on my return journey.

In my emails with Abbess Michaila, I learned the nuns were deep into their new building project, a new dining hall which would accommodate the sisterhood and their growing numbers of guests. Having a larger kitchen will greatly aid their ability to provide meals and hospitality for pilgrims.

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Proceed to the new gallery here…

Unfortunately, this meant I was passing through at an inconvenient time for the sisterhood, and would not be able to stay. I decided to time my travels to be at the monastery for the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, July 1. A good plan, but I didn’t count on road fatigue, so after an extended rest, I arrived shortly after Liturgy had ended, and made my way to the beautiful Gift Shop, where I was warmly greeted by two of the sisters.

I also came bearing gifts – from the brotherhood at Archangel Michael Monastery in Cañones, New Mexico, where I had been a week prior. They sent me on my way with some delightful teas for the sisters at St Paisius, and a few items for Fr Dorotheus, the Chaplain, so I was determined to faithfully make my delivery!

As it turned out, Abbess Michaila had one of the nuns give me a tour of the grounds and chapels, and gave her blessing for me to make some photos. You can see the ‘initial visit’ gallery here, as well as learn more about St Paisius and explore their website through the links provided.

Watch for more galleries coming soon! And if you haven’t yet pre-ordered the North American Thebaid book, please consider doing so! Pre-sales of the book is our primary fundraiser to keep the car (and me) fueled up, and bring this pilgrimage to a successful conclusion.

As always, thank you for your prayers and support!

Thebaid Update: July is Scheduled!

And more galleries coming soon…

The last few days have been a whirlwind of emails and phone calls as I’ve reached out to numerous Orthodox monasteries in California and beyond, and I am very happy to report that I’ve got a full schedule for the remainder of July, covering eight monasteries.

North American Thebaid Photographic Pilgrimage
St Anthony’s Monastery, Florence AZ

Due to travel considerations, and the facilities of some of the monasteries, a few of these will be “day trips,” but that is the nature of a true pilgrimage, which this has become since I set out in early June. At that time, I only had one monastery scheduled, but worked on contacting other monasteries from the road, which worked very well.

There have been some blessed surprises along the way. I had been unable to get an answer on the phone at St Anthony’s in Florence AZ, and had not seen a reply to my email s either, but as I left New Mexico I decided I could at least make a day trip to St Anthony’s, the crown of the Greek Orthodox monasteries planted by Elder Ephraim, the Athonite disciple of Elder Joseph the Hesychast and former Abbot of Philotheou Monastery on the Holy Mountain.

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Veneration of the Icons, St Anthony’s Monastery, Florence AZ

Imagine my surprise when, on my arrival shortly before Vespers, I was warmly welcomed by the monks. So much so that I asked if I could stay for a few days. Happily, they had plenty of room, and an important door opened up. The next day, I was able to meet with Abbot Paisios and receive his blessing to make some photographs during the divine services.

Watch for a new gallery of images from St Anthony’s coming soon, and further updates as the pilgrimage continues…

 

Fragrance of the Desert, Pt. 2 – Archangel Michael Monastery, in the Canyons of New Mexico

New Photo Gallery now posted from Archangel Michael Monastery in Cañones NM. I almost titled this blog post ‘Streams in the Desert’, as the abundance of water flowing through the canyon is used most creatively by the monks to water their crops, vegetables, and fruit trees. You’ll see many photographs of water.

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Chapel in late afternoon.

Once again, as in Colorado, the instant I got out of my car upon arriving, I noticed a gentle fragrance on the breeze, which beckons and whispers to “slow down, breath, be at peace.”

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Life-giving water…

In the gallery you’ll not see any photos of the monks, per the direction of the Superior, Father Silouan. I deeply respect the decisions of the monastics, whether to preserve their anonymity, or to allow me to share glimpses of their life. This is their life, and I am but a pilgrim. The camera can be an invasive eye, and the internet can strip away one’s privacy and hiddenness.

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Streams in the desert…

So enjoy the photographic exploration of the monastery grounds, chapel, gardens, and guest house, and imagine yourself walking there and breathing the ‘fragrance of the desert’.

You would be most welcomed to contact the monks to schedule a pilgrimage.

Proceed to the gallery…

New Galleries coming soon… Here’s an advance peek!

The North American Thebaid Pilgrimage is in full swing! I’m about halfway through photo editing from my recent stay at Archangel Michael Monastery in Cañones, New Mexico, and am also preparing photos from a brief visit at St Paisius in Safford AZ.

Today I head on to St Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence AZ, one of the most significant Orthodox monasteries in North America. From there it’s on to California and several monasteries in succession…

If you haven’t yet pre-ordered the North American Thebaid book, please keep in mind that this is our main fundraising method. Your support keeps the car (and me!) fueled  up and pressing on towards the goal! Follow this link to learn about the different levels of rewards we offer our supporters, and to contribute. Thank you for your consideration!

Here are a few images from Archangel Michael Monastery in the meantime (captions will follow in the full gallery!):

 

The Fragrance of the Desert, Pt. 1 – Protection of the Virgin, in the Colorado Rockies

New Photo Gallery now posted from Protection of the Virgin Mary Monastery, Lake George CO. Dozens of images plus info on the monastery, and my reflections on this haven of stillness in the Rockies.

North American Thebaid Photographic Pilgrimage
Approaching the entrance…

There is a certain ‘Fragrance of the Desert’ in the more remote monasteries, which goes beyond the heady blend of flora one catches whiffs of on the breeze, and exerts a calming and centering effect on one’s soul. Participating in the cycle of services and the rhythm of life at the monasteries leads to the dual effect of feeling both grounded and prayerful, centered on Christ.

With no internet or cell phone service, one soon begins to feel… healthy! Yes, and sane! These are the fruits and virtues one hopes to bring back after making a monastery pilgrimage.

During my visit, I had some insightful conversations about the monastic life with the Superior, Mother Cassiana, whose counsel for novices might be summed up as, “Persevere, and vow never to leave the monastery, no matter what!”

I hope you get a sense of the ‘fragrance of the desert’ from this new photo gallery. More galleries are coming soon as I continue my great western pilgrimage…

North American Thebaid Photographic Pilgrimage
The little chapel feels ‘prayed in’.