First in a new series of blog posts featuring reflections on monasticism by 20th century Orthodox monks and nuns.
In working on the design for the North American Thebaid coffee table book — the publishing goal of my two-year photographic pilgrimage to Orthodox Christian monasteries of the USA & Canada — I am going back through favorite books for pithy sayings on monasticism and the spiritual life. Some of these may make it into the finished Thebaid book, providing prose glimpses into the monastic way to complement the photographs.
Some are lofty, some are challenging (a ‘hard word’), but in every case, it is a joy to rediscover these pearls, and I wanted to share some of them with you.
“The spiritual life has great joys. You fly away and leave this world and don’t take anything else into consideration. You become a child and God lives in your heart.”
“Love Christ, have humility, prayer, and patience. These are the four points of your spiritual compass. May the magnetic needle be your youthful Christian heart.”
The complete, 25 minute documentary, finally available for online viewing, and in much better quality!
This impressive and award-winning film was for years only able to be viewed in two 9-minute parts (the third and final part was apparently never uploaded), until PressValaam posted the complete video in January 2017, and in higher resolution.
I’m very pleased to be able to share this excellent film on our beloved “Apa”, Saint Herman, Elder and Wonderworker of Alaska!
Yesterday, December 13, was the Winter Feast of St. Herman, Elder and Wonderworker of Alaska.
The Eleventh Ikos of the Akathist Service to this first Orthodox Christian saint glorified in America provides an inspiring summary of why Fr. Herman, a humble monk (not ever ordained to the priesthood) from Valaam Monastery in Russia who came to Alaska in 1794 with the first Orthodox mission, is so significant for Orthodox monastics on our continent, and indeed throughout the world:
To all future members of the monastic order, you are a source of light and inspiration. For you foretold, O Venerable One, the founding of a monastery and of an Episcopal throne in this land. Today a choir of hierarchs and of monastics glorifies you in these words:
Rejoice, instructor of monastics and converser with angels;
Rejoice, most glorious founder of the ascetic way in our land;
Rejoice, foreseer of the growth of this great vineyard of Christ;
Rejoice, fulfillment of this prophecy to the coming generations;
Rejoice, giver of a true image of the monastic way;
Rejoice, for your love is made manifest to all;
Rejoice, our Venerable Father Herman of Alaska, America’s most glorious doer of wonders.
This serious article is a valuable resource for those of us seeking to live the Life in Christ in these last days, and may be read and re-read profitably.
Fr. Seraphim Rose (†1982) is a saint for our time, a trustworthy guide and example for us as we struggle against the deluge of apostasy, madness, and demonic activity which has been unleashed on the world.
The life of Fr. Seraphim Rose shows us that the way to recover our souls as Westerners is to return to the roots of the real culture of the West—Patristic Christianity, to form our souls, not of the pablum and poison of contemporary culture, but on apostolic faith, catacomb spirituality, Orthodox piety, and the mind of the fathers.
The American Acquisition of the Patristic Mind
The Significance of Fr. Seraphim Rose for the Christian of Today
In the back of the St. Herman Calendar published by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, there is a page entitled Remember Your Instructors, on which we find among others the name of Hieromonk Seraphim Rose of Platina.
Why do we need to remember our instructors? The purpose of remembering our instructors is, it seems to me, threefold:
first, to reverence their memory as holy, wise, and beloved counselors and teachers (as St. Paulinus of Nola said, “Only if the sky can forego its stars, earth its grass, honeycombs their honey, streams their water, and breasts their milk will our tongues be able to renounce their praise of the saints, in whom God is the strength of life and the fame of death”);
second, to pray for the repose of their souls and to seek their intercession on behalf of our continuing spiritual warfare here on earth (“Give rest to our fathers and brethren who have departed this life before us, and through the prayers of them all have mercy on my unhappy self in my depravity,” says St. Peter of Damascus in the prayer at the end of Compline);
and third, to imitate their example (as St. Basil the Great points out, “The righteous themselves do not want glory, but we who are as yet in this life need remembering them, so as to imitate them”).
In a sense, this third purpose for remembering our instructors, to imitate their example, implies the other two, and is the really important reason for us to keep fresh in our memories the lives of those who handed down the Orthodox faith and tradition to us.
I believe the example of Fr. Seraphim Rose, both in his life and in his work, contains a key that is of universal Orthodox significance in these last days, and is especially important for all those seeking to find and struggling to preserve true Orthodoxy in the West.
I believe the example of Fr. Seraphim Rose, both in his life and in his work, contains a key that is of universal Orthodox significance in these last days, and is especially important for all those seeking to find and struggling to preserve true Orthodoxy in the West. For Fr. Seraphim is our contemporary, a man who lived and breathed the same deadly modern atmosphere of godless humanism, atheistic hedonism, and soulless ecumenism that is the common experience of all modern children of the West.
Two of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most important monastery founders are commemorated on August 8, Saints Zosimas and Sabbatius of Solovki.
Though not my patron saint (Abba Zosimas of Palestine, whom the Lord led to find St Mary of Egypt and bring her edifying life story to the Church), I have a special devotion to St Zosimas of Solovki; both share a brave yearning to seek God through the monastic way in the wilderness.
The Transfer of the Relics of Saints Zosimas and Sabbatius of Solovki took place on August 8, 1566, on the third day of the altar-feast of the Solovki monastery of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The relics of the saints were transferred into a chapel of the Transfiguration cathedral, built in their honor. Beekeepers pray to these saints for an increase of bees. (OCA)
Saint Zosimas is also commemorated on April 17, and is reproduced below; the Life of Saint Sabbatius may be found on September 27. You can read about them also in the classic book on the monastic movement in the Russian north, The Northern Thebaid (St Herman of Alaska Press, Platina CA).
Venerable Zosimas the Abbot of Solovki
(April 17, OCA) — Saint Zosimas, Igumen of Solovki a great luminary of the Russian North, was the founder of cenobitic monasticism on Solovki Island. He was born in Novgorod diocese, in the village of Tolvui near Lake Onega. From his early years he was raised in piety, and after the death of his parents Gabriel and Barbara, he gave away his possessions and received monastic tonsure.
In search of a solitary place, he journeyed to the shores of the White Sea, and at the mouth of the Suma he met Saint Herman (July 30), who told him of a desolate sea island, where he had spent six years with Saint Sabbatius (September 27).
Around the year 1436, the hermits crossed the sea and landed at the Solovki islands. There Saint Zosimas had a vision of a beautiful church in the sky. With their own hands the monks built cells and an enclosure, and they began to cultivate and sow the land.
A patriarch, two monasteries, and numerous hierarchs, clergy, monastics and laity from several Orthodox jurisdictions join together as another saint who shone forth in America is glorified by the Church.
St. Mardarije is a unique saint for our time, a Serbian monastic who loved Christ and His Church from his youth, received his theological training in Russia, was sent to America as a missionary bishop, and served in that capacity with St Nikolai (Velimirovich) of Ohrid. He died from lung disease at the young age of 46 after laboring for his flock for many years. When his remains were disinterred in May of this year, they were found to be incorrupt.
The below article from the Midwest Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) relates the Glorification and events surrounding it, and provides a good overview of St Mardarije’s life.
Metropolitan Tikhon, Bishop Paul concelebrate at Glorification of St. Mardarije of Libertyville
LIBERTYVILLE, IL [MW Diocese Communications] — His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon and His Grace, Bishop Paul of Chicago and the Midwest were among the numerous hierarchs present for the celebration of the Glorification of Saint Mardarije of Libertyville, North America’s first ruling Serbian Orthodox bishop, at Saint Sava Monastery here July 14-16, 2017.
Presiding at the pan-Orthodox celebration was His Holiness, Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, who was greeted upon his arrival in Chicago by His Grace, Bishop Longin of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of New Gracanica and Midwest America and the clergy of Chicago’s Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral. En route to Chicago, Patriarch Irinej visited the site of Saint Sava Cathedral, New York, NY, which had been destroyed by fire on Pascha 2016, where he was met by His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and His Grace, Bishop Irinej of Eastern America of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who brief the Patriarch on plans for rebuilding the historic cathedral.
In Chicago, the weekend opened with a Friday evening symposium—“The Life and Times of Saint Mardarije”—at which His Eminence, Metropolitan Amphilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral delivered the keynote address, titled “Saint Mardarije: Wondrous is God in His Saints.” A new 35-minute documentary and dramatization of Saint Mardarije’s life, “Christ’s Quiet Corner”, also made its debut. [See also the St Sava Monastery Facebook page for photo coverage and more.]
[The trailer for the documentary is currently available in the Serbian language only, with no English subtitles, yet it immediately draws one in with the fragrance of Orthodoxy. We look forward to the full documentary being made available, with subtitles, as it was premiered for St Mardarije’s Glorification.]
Other hierarchs present at the Glorification were His Eminence, Archbishop Nikodim of Northern Donetsk and Starobel’skii of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; His Eminence, Archbishop Peter of Chicago and Mid-America and His Grace, Bishop Theodosy of Seattle of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; His Eminence, Metropolitan Antonii of Vani and Baghdati and His Eminence, Metropolitan Sava of America of the Patriarchate of Georgia; His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicolae of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of America and Canada; and others. Countless clergy, monastics and pilgrims filled the monastery grounds throughout the weekend.
The weekend continued on Saturday with the celebration of the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy at New Gracanica Monastery, Third Like, IL. In his address during the Divine Liturgy, Patriarch Irinej noted the “exceptional personality” of Saint Mardarije, who lived the life of the holy apostles and other great saints, thus emulating the Lord. He noted that, as a saint in the likeness of God, Saint Mardarije belongs to all Orthodox Churches, and not just the Serbian Church.
The detailed Life of St. Cornelius of Komel presented in the newly published The Orthodox Word #311 provides fresh inspiration for Orthodox monastics and seekers, as well as for a certain pilgrim with a camera…
From the announcement on the St. Herman Press website (emphasis added):
Vol. 52, No. 6 (311) November-December, 2016 The Life of St. Cornelius of Komel
This issue of The Orthodox Word features a new chapter of the second volume of The Northern Thebaid: Monastic Saints of the Russian North.
St. Cornelius of Komel (†1538) was a great monastic founder of the Vologda region of Russia, about 250 miles to the northeast of Moscow. Like the renowned St. Sergius of Radonezh a century and a half before him, St. Cornelius was the spiritual father of many disciples who became founders of yet more monasteries.
This Life, based on the original Slavonic version, is rich in historical details and appears here in English for the first time. St. Cornelius’ monastic Rule is one of the only four surviving written testaments of that era of Russian spirituality; his introduction to that Rule is included in this Life.
Order the print version here, digital version here, subscribe (choose print or digital) here.
Beautifully illustrated by full color icons of St. Cornelius on the front and back covers, and numerous illustrations, icons and photographs accompanying the text (some in full color in the digital edition), this issue of The Orthodox Word points to the eventual publication of a worthy successor to The Northern Thebaid, originally published over forty years ago.
“Orphaned at an early age,” this great saint “was raised by a certain good and pious nun.” He “imitated his adoptive mother in the habits of monastic life, in fasting and in prayer,” and grew to be a shepherd of souls, founding a monastery which thrives to this day, over a millennium later.
From this we see how proximity to monasteries through regular pilgrimages can help children and young people — all of us, really — grow in the Life in Christ by cultivating the good habits of the monks and nuns. And who knows, some of us may eventually become monastics ourselves!
Venerable Athanasius the Founder of the Great Lavra and Coenobitic Monasticism on Mt. Athos
OCA.org, Commemorated on July 5; reposed ca. 1003 A.D.:
Saint Athanasius of Athos, in holy Baptism named Abraham, was born in the city of Trebezond. He was orphaned at an early age, and being raised by a certain good and pious nun, he imitated his adoptive mother in the habits of monastic life, in fasting and in prayer. Doing his lessons came easily and he soon outpaced his peers in study.
After the death of his adoptive mother, Abraham was taken to Constantinople, to the court of the Byzantine emperor Romanus the Elder, and was enrolled as a student under the renowned rhetorician Athanasius. In a short while the student attained the mastery of skill of his teacher and he himself became an instructor of youths. Reckoning as the true life that of fasting and vigilance, Abraham led a strict and abstinent life, he slept little and then only sitting upon a stool, and barley bread and water were his nourishment. When his teacher Athanasius through human weakness became jealous of his student, blessed Abraham gave up his teaching position and went away.
During these days there had arrived at Constantinople Saint Michael Maleinos (July 12), igumen of the Kyminas monastery. Abraham told the igumen about his life, and revealed to him his secret desire to become a monk. The holy Elder, discerning in Abraham a chosen vessel of the Holy Spirit, became fond of him and taught him much in questions of salvation. One time during their spiritual talks Saint Michael was visited by his nephew, Nicephorus Phocas, a military officer and future emperor. Abraham’s lofty spirit and profound mind impressed Nicephorus, and all his life he regarded the saint with reverent respect and with love. Abraham was consumed by his zeal for the monastic life. Having forsaken everything, he went to the Kyminas monastery and, falling down at the feet of the holy igumen, he begged to be received into the monastic life. The igumen fulfilled his request with joy and tonsured him with the name Athanasius.
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.
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.