Venerable Pachomius the Great, Founder of Coenobitic Monasticism

St. Pachomius lived in the Egyptian Thebaid, and is to cenobitic monasticism what St. Anthony the Great is to the eremitic (solitary) way, and what St. Nilus of Sora is to skete life in Russia. He is commemorated on May 15.

From his Life at OCA.org:

St. Pachomius receives the monastic rule and habit from an angelic messenger (14th c. fresco, Mount Athos).

Saint Pachomius the Great was both a model of desert dwelling, and with Saints Anthony the Great (January 17), Macarius the Great (January 19), and Euthymius the Great (January 20), a founder of the cenobitic monastic life in Egypt.

Saint Pachomius was born in the third century in the Thebaid (Upper Egypt). His parents were pagans who gave him an excellent secular education. From his youth he had a good character, and he was prudent and sensible.

When Pachomius reached the age of twenty, he was called up to serve in the army of the emperor Constantine (apparently, in the year 315). They put the new conscripts in a city prison guarded by soldiers. The local Christians fed the soldiers and took care of them.

When the young man learned that these people acted this way because of their love for God, fulfilling His commandment to love their neighbor, this made a deep impression upon his pure soul. Pachomius vowed to become a Christian. Pachomius returned from the army after the victory, received holy Baptism, moved to the lonely settlement of Shenesit, and began to lead a strict ascetic life. Realizing the need for spiritual guidance, he turned to the desert-dweller Palamon. He was accepted by the Elder, and he began to follow the example of his instructor in monastic struggles.

Once, after ten years of asceticism, Saint Pachomius made his way through the desert, and halted at the ruins of the former village of Tabennisi. Here he heard a Voice ordering him to start a monastery at this place. Pachomius told the Elder Palamon of this, and they both regarded the words as a command from God.

Continue reading “Venerable Pachomius the Great, Founder of Coenobitic Monasticism”

Repose of the Venerable Nilus, Abbot of Sora

Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!

I hope and trust we have all had a soul-profiting Lent and Holy Week, and a radiant Pascha and Easter…

What better way to return to blogging on the North American Thebaid than to share the life of St Nilus of Sora, whom we just commemorated on May 7.

In the Russian Northern Thebaid, Venerable Nilus established the way of skete life, which is often considered the ‘Royal Way’ between the solitary monastic life (eremitic) and communal (cenobitic). In skete life, anywhere from a few to several monks or nuns live in their own separate cells or huts, within shouting distance of one another (in case of emergency), and then join together for the divine services for the Lord’s Day and on major feasts and saints’ days. During the week, they keep their monastic prayer rule and work at their crafts and obediences to help sustain the Skete.

Skete life shows the wisdom of the monastic way, as not everyone is suited for close living in community, and only a very few are called to life as a hermit, in complete solitude. It may very well be that here in North America, where we all have become accustomed to living such individualized, idiosyncratic lives, that skete life will be a real option for many monastics as the North American Thebaid grows and matures (should the Lord not return first).

Repose of the Venerable Nilus the Abbot of Sora

OCA, May 7, 2017:

Saint Nilus of Sora, a great ascetic of the Russian Church, was descended from the Maikov nobility. He accepted monasticism at the monastery of Saint Cyril of White Lake (June 9). Here he made use of the counsels of the pious Elder Paisius Yaroslavov, who was afterwards igumen of the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra.

Saint Nilus journeyed much through the East, studying the monastic life in Palestine and on Mt. Athos. Returning to Rus, he withdrew to the River Sora in the Vologda lands, and built a cell and a chapel, where there soon grew up a monastery with a new (for that time in Rus) skete Rule adopted by Saint Nilus from Mt. Athos. Following the command of Saint Nilus, the monks had to sustain themselves by the work of their own hands, to accept charity only in extreme need, and to shun the love of things and splendor even in church. Women were not permitted in the skete, monks was not allowed to leave the skete under any pretext, and the possession of lands or estates was forbidden. Continue reading “Repose of the Venerable Nilus, Abbot of Sora”

Heartfelt thanks to St Herman of Alaska Church in Hudson OH

The weekend of March 11-12 was very special for me, as I visited the fervent mission parish of St Herman of Alaska in Hudson Ohio, and gave a presentation on the Thebaid Project.

Fr Basil Rusen was one of the earliest supporters of the Thebaid Project outside of my home parish, strongly encouraging me at its very launch last Summer. We had corresponded about me visiting, and the timing happily coincided with one of the great monastic saints of the Church, Gregory Palamas, on the Second Sunday of Great Lent.

In addition to giving my presentation and slide show on the history of Orthodox Monasticism and its presence in North America, featuring many of my images from my monastery travels, I also was able to make some photographs for my gracious hosts, who took up a generous collection in support of the Thebaid Project.

I’ll be posting galleries of photos from my parish visits soon, but wanted to at least share one of my favorite images from the weekend with you.

My sincere thanks to Fr Basil, Popadija Patty, and the entire parish of St Herman’s for their hospitality. support and friendship. This was a very special event, and I look forward to repeat visits during my travels.

Join us this Sunday at St Herman of Alaska Church in Hudson OH

Announcing a special opportunity for those living in Northeastern Ohio (Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown):

Through a very gracious invitation by Fr. Basil Rusen, I will be giving a presentation on Orthodox Christian Monasticism and the North American Thebaid this coming Sunday, March 12, at St Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church, in Hudson, Ohio.

Join us for the Divine Liturgy at 10:00am, and stay for a lenten potluck lunch and my full digital presentation, covering the history of Orthodox monasticism from its formation in the 4th and 5th centuries, through the development of the ‘Northern Thebaid’ in Russia a thousand years later, and on to today.

With Orthodoxy sending down deep roots into the American continent and nearly eighty monasteries in the USA and Canada, we can properly speak of a spiritual geography called the ‘North American Thebaid’. My presentation features some of the most compelling photographs made so far on my pilgrimages.

See my special article, ‘What is a Thebaid?’

Located at 86 Owen Brown St, just off N. Main St and SR 303, St Herman’s is very easy to get to from any direction, being just south of I-80 (Ohio Turnpike). Visit the St Herman’s parish website for directions and map.

If you’ve been curious about the North American Thebaid, and are in the general area, this is a great opportunity.

Hope to see you there!

 

Inspirations, Part 1

As I prepare for another round of monastery travel and photography, I thought it might be inspiring for you (as well as for me!) to revisit some of my early posts on this website, which try to sketch out the contours of “Why” I am undertaking this two-year pilgrimage, “What” it means to me, and “Where” I hope it will lead.

With some minor editing, this is the section I wrote in Autumn 2015 on the Inspiration for the North American Thebaid.

Inspiration

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Eugene Rose (the future Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina) at about the time he saw a slide show on Orthodox monasticism which would change his life.

The inspiration for The North American Thebaid Project springs primarily from the example of seminarian Gleb Podmoshensky, whose 1961 pilgrimage to monastic sketes and settlements across the United States, Canada and Alaska, and his photographic slide show from these visits, had an inspiring and pivotal impact on a certain young man: Eugene Rose.

Gleb titled his presentation, “Holy Places in America,” and described his encounter with Eugene as follows:

Before Eugene’s amazed expression, Gleb recalls, “a new world of Apostolic Orthodoxy revealed itself. Color icons and portraits of saints and righteous ones of America; scenes of Blessed Fr. Herman’s Spruce Island in Alaska; renewed miracle-working icons that had been brought to America from Shanghai; abbesses and schemamonks in America; Canadian sketes; Holy Trinity Monastery and New Diveyevo Convent in New York, which brought the tradition of the Optina Elders to America, and so on. I gave a brief explanation of the slides, and of the phenomenon of the martyrdom of Holy Russia. Finally I told of the martyric fate of my father and its consequences, which had brought about my conversion to Christ and had eventually brought me here…

“The lecture was finished. My host, Eugene Rose, the future Fr. Seraphim, drawing in his breath, said, ‘What a revelation!’”

Continue reading “Inspirations, Part 1”

Parish Presentation in Lima kicks off Winter travel & photography

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Fr Mark Hodges, the Great Entrance

My sincere thanks to Fr Mark Hodges and the parish of St Stephen the First Martyr in Lima OH, who hosted me for a brief presentation on the Thebaid Project following the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, Feb. 19, and took up a very generous collection. I am truly humbled and grateful for your support…

img_1619This was a good example of how churches can help support the Thebaid Project, and earn valuable rewards for the entire parish, including my photographic services! I call it ‘Creative Tent-making’, and it seems to be catching on, with six parishes already signed on.

Watch for parish photo galleries coming soon, and learn more about the Creative Tent-making Option here…

Phase II of the North American Thebaid has Officially Launched!

After our successful first season of travel and photography to several monasteries, and presentations at Orthodox parishes across five states, we’re officially announcing Phase II of the North American Thebaid Photographic Pilgrimage

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Support the North American Thebaid at our GoFundMe page…

Phase I fundraising was a solid success. Raising 92% of our initial goal, it enabled travel and photography to begin in Summer 2016, with photographs made at five monasteries across three states, and a return visit to Ellwood City for some strong images (such as above) at the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration.

Having tested and proven our plans, we are moving into the main stretch of the Thebaid Pilgrimage: 2017 will see the bulk of the travel and the longest legs of the journey, literally to the four corners of North America.

Continue reading “Phase II of the North American Thebaid has Officially Launched!”

Four New Galleries of Monastery Photos

Featuring a gallery of new photographs from Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville NY, made in November 2016, plus three galleries “from the archives”, dating from 2005 to 2015.

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Pannikhida (memorial service), Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville NY; © Ralph H. Sidway

The end of 2016 and the first weeks of the new year have been busy with the Great Feasts of the Nativity of Christ and His Glorious Theophany at the Baptism in the Jordan River, and like many of you, I have enjoyed making some personal travels during these holy days.

Now it is a great joy to turn again to the North American Thebaid Project, and I’m very  eager to share with you our plans for the coming year and beyond.

But first, it’s time for some new images!

Continue reading “Four New Galleries of Monastery Photos”

An Exhortation to Newly-tonsured Monks

Featuring photographs from my first pilgrimage to Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville NY, November 2016.  Full gallery to follow soon…

 

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Fr. Luke serving a pannikhida, surrounded by the brethren.   © Ralph H. Sidway, North American Thebaid.

Orthodox Life, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville NY, January 4, 2017:

On the eve of December 20th, 2016 (o.s.), the first day of the Forefeast of Nativity and the feasts of St Ignatius the God-bearer and St John of Kronstadt, the abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery Archimandrite Luke tonsured two novices into the rank of rassaphore monks. Following the tonsure, Fr Luke greeted the new monks with this exhortation:

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!

Dear fathers,

I congratulate you on receiving the grace of the tonsure into the riassa and the kamilavka. Stand fast, fathers, stand fast! Before you opens a banquet, a festive banquet — that is, the banquet of monasticism. The Lord invites you to take part in that banquet and you must agree to that invitation. You must come and take everything that the Lord offers you. We have all that is necessary for salvation in this monastery, but no one can force you. You need to come from your own free will and take what we offer.

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Veneration of the holy icons, lower chapel. © Ralph H. Sidway, North American Thebaid.

We sometimes say that our life is difficult; we have suffering, pain, problems. How can this be when the Lord says, My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Mt. 11:30)? There is a contradiction here. And why is there a contradiction? I think it is because of  one simple phrase: “We want!” We frequently want what we should not want and even when we want what is good we do not want it in the right way.

So therefore you have a chance to learn to desire those things that are good for you, that are good for your salvation. And what does the Lord want? He says very clearly. He says, “Man, give Me your heart !” (Prov. 23:26) How can we give the Lord our heart? To do this we need to — with all these problems, which mostly we create for ourselves —to come to him with the sufferings and the difficulties, to hand them over to Him, and from the depths of our souls, cry out, “Help me! Help me! Take this burden from me. Your burden is lighter.”

We ask the prayers of the brotherhood, of the seminarians and of all of our worshippers tonight for the salvation of the souls of Fathers Lev and Angelos.

Congratulations! Save yourself in the Lord!

Hesychia for the Holy Days

As we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, here are some images of stillness, purity and beauty…

“Peace on earth, good will towards men!”  ~Luke 2:14

“Beauty will save the world” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky

Explore more of these images from my book, Pursuing the Light – Forty Years of Photography…

Pond and Woods in Winter #1, Deam Lake State Park, Indiana

 

Continue reading “Hesychia for the Holy Days”