Unveiling of Proof Edition begins final round of PrePress Edits for the Thebaid Book

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All ~

Greetings for the second week of Great Lent!

We received our printed copy of the Final Draft Version of The North American Thebaid Book back in early February, and have been very impressed by the results, as well as launched into a new round of pre-press edits!

The large size of the book (13 inches by 11 inches) presents the images on a truly grande scale. There are about a dozen two-page full-bleed spreads, which, at 26″ width by 11″ height, make a real impact on the viewer. A hundred or so full page images complete the effect, alternate with smaller images to vary the pace with vignettes of the life and surroundings of the monasteries. We’re very pleased with how it has come together. Above is a photo of me holding the full-size cover proof, and below is an example of a couple of pages from the section on Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Jct, Michigan (apologies for the glare on the left hand page):

Since receiving the proof edition, St Tikhon’s Monastery Press and I have had a few in-depth meetings on the final page and image edits required before we go to print. In a few cases we have actually changed the layout a bit, adding a couple of images to improve the flow and provide some unique views essential to this visual pilgrimage. In a couple of other places we have resized and rearranged images on the pages, again, all at the service of the pictorial and artistic narrative. Once these last image edits are done (and there are probably not (m)any more), we will be officially in “pre-flight” mode, and I will be working through the actual pre-press file conversions to optimize the images and convert them to CMYK for offset printing. We will print one last proof copy to review before going to print.

In short, we are at the threshold, or the launch pad, if you prefer, and that is a very exciting place to be after several years of working on this project!

Another big “Thank You” to those who have pre-ordered!

We continue to see a modest but steady flow of pre-orders for both the Standard Edition, Cloth Bound with French Fold Dust Jacket, and the Deluxe Limited Edition in Leather with Ribbon Marker. Both versions when pre-ordered come with a signed and matted fine-art print from the Thebaid Project. †

We greatly appreciate your practical support through pre-ordering, which really helps us as we ramp up to go to print. I will provide a final countdown notice here before we close the pre-order store and send the files to the printer. Please note that you can only purchase the Limited Edition by pre-order, and that the signed and matted fine art prints are likewise only available through pre-order of the book. See notes on ordering below; full details provided on the Thebaid Store.

Thank you for being such an important part of this amazing pilgrimage. I can’t wait to get the book into your hands.

With prayers for a Good Lent,

~ Ralph Sidway

† Pre-Order Notes:

  • Pre-orders of The North American Thebaid book are available for a limited time at The Thebaid Store.
  • The Deluxe Limited Edition (signed & numbered, with signed and matted print) is available only by pre-order for a limited time. Once the book goes go to print, we will close the pre-order Thebaid Store.
  • Signed copies of the Standard Edition (with a signed and matted print) are available by pre-order until the book goes to print.
  • The signed and matted 8×10 prints are only available by pre-order bundled with the book, and will not be available separately either before we go to print, or afterwards. There are currently no plans to offer Thebaid prints for sale.
  • Pre-orders will be shipped before retail channels receive their copies for resale.
  • Upon publication, the Standard Edition will be available through the STM Press Bookstore, and through other online and ‘brick and mortar’ resellers.
  • Contact STM Press with queries about discounts for resellers and church bookstores.

Thebaid Store Back Online

One of the early cover prototype designs, featuring Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville NY. Actual cover design may vary.

This is just a quick follow-up to my post from earlier today. Thankfully, all the DNS server connections and tumblers clicked into place and accomplished their secret digital handshakes, and lo and behold, the Thebaid Store is back online.

I made sure to update and test the links from the feature column on the right side of the thebaid.org website here (they all work as expected), as well as test the shopping cart and functions which, powered by PayPal as they are, all performed flawlessly. We are once again open for business, and look forward to receiving your preorders.

Please note that embedded links to the store from earlier posts and pages may not work. There are so many of these that it may not be possible to easily redirect them all, though I intend to go back through recent posts and manually update the links.

Pre-ordering the Thebaid Book:

  • Standard Edition, Signed, with Signed/Matted Fine Art Print – Starting at $100 each, quantity discounts available.
  • Deluxe Limited Edition, Leather Bound w/Ribbon Marker, Signed & Numbered, with Signed/Matted Fine Art Print – Starting at $275 each, quantity discounts available.
  • Pre-orders will be shipped and fulfilled before retail supplies reach stores.
  • Pre-orders are the only way to order the Signed/Matted Fine Art Prints, which come bundled with pre-order books; these prints will not be available separately.
  • Pre-orders are the only way to order the Deluxe Limited Edition, Leather Bound. As this is a true limited edition book, and is custom produced, we will only order the quantity of pre-orders, plus a small quantity for our Thebaid team. The Deluxe Limited Edition will not be available through retail stores or online, only by pre-order.

My heartfelt thanks again for your support, and my apologies for any inconvenience due to the store outage. I’m very glad to have everything back up and running as quickly as we did!

Best wishes, and watch for more updates as we begin the proofing process and get closer to setting an actual print date!

Thebaid Store coming back online soon!

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All!

UPDATED 4:18PM ET, FRI. DEC 30, 2022


One of the early book cover designs. Actual cover may vary.

My sincere apologies for the recent outage of the Thebaid Store! Apparently my domain renewal failed about a month or more ago, due to an expired debit card I failed to notice, and about which I was not informed by the hosting platform. The Thebaid Store has been offline since at least late November, and perhaps since late October.

I just discovered the outage this morning, and have reset everything, however, it could take up to 24-48 hours for it to update through the DNS servers and be publicly available. Allowing for possible further delays during this holiday weekend, I would cautiously expect us to be back online no later than Tuesday, January 3, 2023.

I promise to be watching it “like a hawk” (as they say!), and will put out another update as soon as the store is back online.

As I have been posting regularly, we are eager to receive your pre-orders for The North American Thebaid Book, coming soon from St Tikhon’s Monastery Press, which helps us anticipate our initial print run, and helps offset the printing costs somewhat.

Prototype cover design for the Deluxe Limited Edition, Leather Bound. Actual cover may vary.

Also, and very importantly, if you are interested in purchasing the Deluxe Limited Edition Thebaid Book, in Leather binding with ribbon marker, the only way to do so is by pre-order through our Thebaid Store. This is a unique, high end, custom bound book, which will be signed and numbered, and limited to the quantity of pre-orders, plus a small number of copies for our Thebaid team. The Deluxe Limited Edition will not be available in stores or online after we go to print.


To reaffirm my prior announcements, all pre-orders through the Thebaid Store for the Thebaid Book will be signed by me, and will be accompanied by a custom, archival fine art 8×10 print of one of the images from the Thebaid Project, mounted in an 11×14 museum archival mat, signed on the mat and ready for framing. These prints will not be available separately, and will only be available for preorder until the book goes to print.

As always, thank you very much indeed for your interest and support! Watch for fresh updates in 2023, starting off with the announcement of the Thebaid Store being back online!

Wishing you ongoing blessings of the Christmas Season, and every joy for the New Year!

Nativity Update and New Year News

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All,

Greetings for the Nativity Season, whether you are celebrating this weekend, or in a couple of weeks! I’m thrilled to be able to provide a hefty report on our pre-press progress this past Autumn, and sketch out what the coming weeks look like for the publication of the North American Thebaid book.

My weekly production meetings with St Tikhon’s Monastery Press, publishers of the Thebaid book, have continued throughout the Autumn, and we have made enormous progress perfecting the layout and book design, such that we are very close to ordering our first physical proof of the book. (More on that below!)

The pre-press procedure for us has been analogous to that of a lapidary, woodcarver, or any fine craftsman: we had the basic layout and design in place this time last year, and then began the more detailed work of writing and inserting texts for each monastery, reviewing and refining the image selection and sequencing, and making final decisions on layout parameters such as margins, fonts, and other page styles. Each pass through the book since then has finalized more and more elements, and clarified our fewer and fewer remaining tasks.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect for me personally has been revisiting the images themselves. The initial photographs which we inserted into the layout last year were, for the most part, “quick edits,” and in no way ready for print. Except for the fourteen or so images included in the 2019 St Tikhon’s Liturgical Calendar, the remainder were only minimally edited, and were intended merely as placeholders for our work on the book design. (Almost all the image galleries posted here on the Thebaid website use versions of these early “quick edits.”)

The process of delving back into these images has been revelatory in many ways. Bringing them up on the computer screen one by one and using the powerful tools in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop brings back to life my original vision, what I “saw” when originally making the photographs, and it is enormously satisfying to bring out various subtle elements, balance the highlights and shadows, heighten sharpness, color and detail, and generally use these tools to restore the drama, impact and “feeling” the real world scenes originally presented to me, but which were usually hidden in the unedited RAW files captured by my cameras.

For you geeks and photographers out there, this workflow description may sound familiar to you. My practice when doing digital photography since 2008 when I seriously committed to the medium and left film behind, has been to set the camera to save both a RAW file as well as a JPEG. Because of its compression, a JPEG file has only 8-bit depth by which to convey sharpness, detail, color and tonal range from shadows to highlights. The RAW file format saves the maximum amount of image data the camera sensor is capable of rendering. In the camera models I have been using for the Thebaid book, the RAW files provide either 12 or 14 bit depth, gathering from 50% to 75% greater image depth and data than a JPEG file. In a nutshell, this is part of the magic of digital photography, that one can work with those RAW files, and draw out amazing amounts of dynamic range and detail, and then save that in a smaller file for use in publication.

The excitement of seeing these images come alive as I work on these deep edits has been immensely fulfilling, and I can’t wait for you to experience them in the finished book.

What’s Next? — As I hinted above, we are now very close to ordering our first physical proof copy/copies of the book, and have set an internal deadline of January 15 to have all our remaining design, image and text edits completed so we can move forward by that date.

Obviously, this is the major milestone we have been pushing towards, and marks the culmination of the long and detailed process of book design and layout. St Tikhon’s Press and I have literally hundreds if not thousands of hours invested in preparing the Thebaid book, and are excited to be finally reaching the proofing stage. St Tikhon’s Press has been posting their own updates, and we share a growing anticipation as we get ready to go to print that this will be a very special book. Our production call today confirmed all our image edits over the last couple of weeks, and made us realize how close we are to the proofing stage. Watch for more news early in the New Year!

What else?

STILL OPEN FOR PRE-ORDERING: We continue to be deeply thankful for all those who have pre-ordered the Thebaid Book, and are still encouraging pre-orders at the Thebaid Store, as this helps us determine our initial print run, and helps offset the printing costs. 

As I posted this past Summer, all pre-orders made through the Thebaid Store will be signed by me, and will include a matted print, ready for framing, of one of the images from the Thebaid Project, signed on the mat. You can check out the specifications on the Standard Edition (Cloth Bound, Hardcover, with French-fold Dust Jacket) and place your preorders here. (Discounts available for multiple copies.)

An important reminder as we get close to the print deadline, that the Deluxe Limited Edition will only be available by pre-order. This leather-bound version, with ribbon marker, will be signed and numbered, and will be limited in quantity to the number of pre-orders (plus a few extra copies for our Thebaid Team), and will not be available through any retail or online stores. If you’re interested, head over to the Thebaid Store to check out the options, which include substantial discounts for quantity purchases.

SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS AND BOOK SIGNINGSI am deeply grateful for those who have recently contacted me about scheduling a Thebaid Presentation once the book is finished and in hand. One of the joys of my travels during the project pilgrimage from 2016-2018 was the experience of visiting numerous parishes in between my monastery visits, and giving a digital slide show and talk on Orthodox monasticism in America. I look forward to similar encounters when the book arrives, and my new presentation will of course feature extensive images from my monastery travels. Contact me for details, questions and to schedule.

As always, my heartfelt thanks to all of you, our many supporters and all those who have pre-ordered. It has now been a little over six years since we launched the crowdfunding and travel for this epic photographic pilgrimage to Orthodox monasteries in America, back in September 2016! We are profoundly energized by our progress on the book. Publication draws closer every week, and we are committed to getting it into your hands as quickly as possible. Please pray for us as we finish the Thebaid Book and send the final files to print.

Nativity and Christmas Greetings to you all as we celebrate the Birth in the Flesh of the Son of God and Lord of All, Jesus Christ.


Photo: Cross at St Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina CA, overlooking the California mountains. © Ralph H. Sidway.

Thebaid Book Update: AAC News, Text Deadline, Pre-Press image proofing

The Thebaid Display at the OCA All American Council in Baltimore, July 18-22

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All,

Much news to share since mid-July, so let’s get to it:

The OCA’s All American Council, July 18-22, was a great opportunity to put The North American Thebaid Book Project in front of people for a whole week. I was invited by St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press to join their large vendor’s booth, and was given an entire table to anchor my display. STM Press had printed some handsome Thebaid Sample Booklets to share, and I brought my large (20″x 30″) canvas prints of some of the very best images to anchor the display. Two easels enabled us to have these large images facing both directions of the main aisle, and it was genuinely rewarding to talk with interested visitors about the project. We took some pre-orders for the book, and some folks donated directly to STM Press to help underwrite the printing costs, all of which helps us to the goal line. Thank you to everyone who stopped by the booth!

The new statue of St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, carved on site from a tree which had recently died.

Following the AAC, I spent a week at St. Tikhon’s Monastery working on the book, and this daily interaction between myself and press manager Fr. Mikel Hill was very productive. In addition to my week at St. Tikhon’s I made a couple of stops at other regional monasteries and in general had a very productive mid-summer as we continued to prep the book for going to print.

My weekly production calls with STM Press resumed after my week-long working visit, and I’m very pleased to announce we are on track to complete all the text by September 15, and will be having the text files proof-read after that date. This is a major milestone, which will be followed immediately by our review of the image sequencing and layout decisions. This will be our final review of the entire book to optimize the flow of the photographs and make the visual narrative as strong as it can possibly be.

There are other steps also on the agenda, including final design elements, special graphic additions, and especially generating physical pre-press proofs to ensure proper reproduction of the images, many of which have a broad dynamic range, deep shadow detail, specific color gamuts, or heightened Black & White contrast and tonality.

My thanks to all who have recently pre-ordered the Thebaid Book. (I just received notice of another pre-order this morning!) Please note that we will stop taking pre-orders for the Deluxe Limited Edition once we send the book to print. This leather-bound version, with ribbon marker, will be signed and numbered, and will be limited in quantity to the number of pre-orders (plus a few extra copies for our Thebaid Team), and will not be available through any retail or online stores. If you’re interested to learn more, head over to the Thebaid Store to check out the options, which include quantity discounts.

As always, my heartfelt thanks to all our many supporters and those who have pre-ordered. Many of you have been waiting patiently for the fulfillment of this project since we launched this epic photographic pilgrimage six years ago, in September 2016! We are absolutely thrilled to be seeing the publication of the book getting closer every week, and are dedicated to getting it into your hands as quickly as possible. Please pray for us as we labor to get the Thebaid Book over the finish line.

Watch for more updates soon as we check off these various pre-press deadlines!

PS – Also in my summer travels were trips to Jordanville and St. Gregory Palamas in Hayesville, Ohio. Here are some examples of the images I made at these two monasteries. Click to enlarge, as these thumbnails are cropped to fit into the gallery format:

NEWS UPDATE: Thebaid Book Preview at the OCA All American Conference

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims all!

Much news to share as our pre-press work on The North American Thebaid Book continues:

If you’re going to be at the Orthodox Church in America’s All American Council next week (July 18-22) in Baltimore MD, I hope to see you there!

I’ve been invited to join St Tikhon’s Monastery Press at their display where we will have a special section just for The North American Thebaid Book, featuring an advance look at the book design and some actual page spreads, as well as some large display prints of some of my best images from the project. I’d love to meet you so please stop by and visit!

Our pre-press work on text and image layout continues to proceed very well, with our weekly production meetings often running to an hour or an hour and a half as we fine-tune the details at all levels of the book design. Last month we moved a couple of the main articles around to improve the flow of images and written word sections. There are whole sequences now which are virtually complete and are an absolute joy to page through, inviting the viewer to linger over images before eagerly moving on to see what’s next. As you may recall from my earlier posts, our design has taken the form of a sequential pilgrimage through the great regions of our continent, and we are seeing that approach come to fruition as our work nears its end, the alternating images and texts creating an engaging narrative for the viewer.

Happily, I have had a few opportunities to make new photographs at some of the monasteries, which greatly improve the overall collection, and help make sure the book will be as up to date as possible. Plus it has been a joy to visit again at some of these holy places where I now feel strong connections from my prior pilgrimages.

STILL OPEN FOR PRE-ORDERING: My sincere thanks for all of our new pre-orders of the Thebaid Book since my last update. (We have even had our first pre-order from Australia!) We are still encouraging pre-orders at the Thebaid Store, as this helps us determine our initial print run, and helps offset the printing costs.

As an added perk, effective immediately all pre-orders made through the Thebaid Store will be signed by me, and will include a matted print, ready for framing, of one of the images from the Thebaid Project, signed on the mat. You can check out the specifications on the Standard Edition (Cloth Bound, Hardcover, with French-fold Dust Jacket) and place your preorders here. (Discounts available for multiple copies.) *

Most importantly, the only way to secure a copy of the Deluxe Limited Edition with leather cover and ribbon marker is through pre-order. Each Deluxe Limited Edition copy will be signed and numbered, and will feature a special insert page with the names of all our supporters and pre-orders who selected this special edition. All Deluxe Limited Edition pre-orders will also include a matted print, signed on the mat. Once we close the portal for pre-orders and send the files to the printer, the offer for the Deluxe Limited Edition will cease; this version will not be available through ordinary retail or online stores. You can learn more about the Deluxe Limited Edition (with discounts for multiple copies) and place your pre-orders here.

Perhaps the biggest news I have to share on the publishing end concerns a special trip I am making right after the OCA All American Council, as I will be staying at St Tikhon’s Monastery from July 25-29 for a week-long working session on the Thebaid Book. The STM Press offices are on site at the Bookstore, and we’ll be able to spend hours together each day fine tuning the details. I’m really looking forward to this intensive on-site session which should really move the ball down the field.

Needless to say, this is an exhilarating time for me with the AAC event and our special week-long working session bringing the goal of publication ever closer into view. I can’t wait to complete the book and get it into your hands.

In the meantime, feel free to browse around the many articles about the Thebaid Project, and explore the galleries to learn about or visit anew this amazing and unique multi-year journey. Thank you all again for your support and prayers, and I look forward to sharing the next round of news with you!

* Please note: The Standard Edition is no longer available by itself for preorder, unsigned and without the signed/matted print.

Pre-Press Updates, and Thoughts on Printing

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All!

Before starting my update, as we enter into Great Lent, as is our Orthodox praxis and holy tradition, I ask your forgiveness… God forgives!

Monastery of the Transfiguration, the Sisterhood exchanges forgiveness.
Photo © Ralph H. Sidway

The main thing to ask your forgiveness for is the lack of recent updates. It’s not for lack of news, which is significantly more than the recent steady progress (which we are happy for!) we have been making through Autumn and into the Nativity and holiday season. (But I’ll get to that in a moment.) Rather, it’s been a tumultuous couple of months, from coming down with Covid at the end of the year (only mild-to-moderate symptoms, thankfully), to having to pack and move (a process which is nearing its conclusion).

During this same period, St Tikhon’s Press has been seeding their communications with the publishing world equivalent of “teaser trailers” for The North American Thebaid book. Their brief mentions of the Thebaid book in blog posts and emails underscore their commitment and dedication to making it a significant contribution to the life of Orthodoxy in America.

Much of our recent progress has involved setting the introductory texts for each monastery. It has been a joy to revisit my notes and blog posts from my travels as I prepare these brief descriptions, and I hope and trust my reflections on my pilgrimage will resonate with you and others.

I have also been contacting the monasteries to confirm image usage, an especially important process as a couple of the communities were initially somewhat reserved about their inclusion in the Thebaid book. Though I was given their blessing to photograph, the final decision to publish was withheld, so I am most grateful for the positive reception the images and page mockups we sent these monasteries have been embraced, and permission warmly granted for inclusion in the finished book.

One of the biggest “signs” that we are tracking towards publication is the process of securing revised quotes for the printing. This makes it real, and adds a sense of urgency to all our labors in finalizing the texts and formatting, and working through the remaining pre-press photo edits, not to mention the detailed editing, proofreading, spell-checking, etc., which involves bringing in “fresh eyes” to notice what our core team, in our daily familiarity, may have missed.

Lastly (for today), I want to share with you a brief but marvelous post by Fr Mikel Hill, manager of St Tikhon’s Press, in which he raises and answers the question, “Why Print?” His approach is clearly concentrating on the value of printed books of text, but the principles he puts forth can just as powerfully be applied to photographic books. Consider this passage:

The very inconvenience itself of books leads to the formation of a different relationship than one has with digital forms media, which are “conjured forth, then disappear. We consume them.” Books, by contrast, “are embodied. They live in history. They have their own biographies.” They demand commitment, space, and respect. We approach a book with a certain sense of awe and humility, mindful of the many lives this particular volume, this specific paper and ink, this impression by real type upon this page, has shaped and will continue to shape, long after our death.

This reaffirms what I wrote five and six years ago when first launching this project, that “by committing up-front to the finest book printing, image reproduction, archival materials, and state-of-the-art publishing, pre-press and proofing technologies, we have attained a clear vision of our goal and methods, and have great confidence in our ability to create a worthy volume which we hope will be a lasting gift to Orthodox Christians and the Church for many years to come.”

Fr Mikel goes on to describe the virtues of a printed book, which seem to be uncannily appropriate when applied to a photographic book about Orthodox monasticism in North America:

A permanence transcending generations, a rootedness and immobility, and a refusal to reconfigure are each elements that not only shape the experience of reading a book but shape the reader himself. The medium by which we interact with ideas will influence the formation of the ideas themselves. (Emphasis added.)

Elsewhere I have posted about the devaluation of images in a culture where 1.8 billion images are shared each day via social media. Yet in spite of all these images we remain malnourished for the most part. We are left longing for the Image that might Fill us, Move us, Call to us, Change us, Direct us to the Way. In spite of having posted hundreds of my images here in my galleries, I was and am still convinced of the necessity of presenting fine images — photographs — in print form, and particularly, in a large book format. This appreciation for and dedication to The Photographic Book as providing a “permanence transcending generations,” that “not only shapes the experience” of viewing the images, “but shapes the [viewer] himself” is the underlying philosophy of publishing which imbues and propels our work on The North American Thebaid Book as we prepare it for print.

Fr Mikel Hill closes out his article, “Why Print?” with the following:

It is for these reasons that STM Press is committed to promulgating the value of carefully printed and quality bound texts. We are convinced that our efforts to promote the worth of physical books contains a potential to re-shape and transform the way we think and act, that books are in themselves a spiritual tool for the renewing of our minds in an age that has forgotten how to read...

…and forgotten how to see. Do click over and read the full article.

With my recent move (and covid) behind me, watch for not only more frequent progress updates, but a series of posts looking back at the course of this photographic pilgrimage, which has proven also to be an inner pilgrimage. Unsurprisingly.

Thank you for following along on this journey. A good lent to you all.

Thebaid Book Layout Reaches Key First Goal

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All!

After several weeks of layout and design work since my last post, I’m happy to tell you we have reached a real milestone now, with significant progress being made each week.

Early Prototype Thebaid Book Cover,
Entrance to St Herman of Alaska Monastery, Platina, Calfornia

Also, before I get started, I wish to thank our new supporters who have pre-ordered the book. Interest continues to grow in the forthcoming Thebaid coffee table book, and we are deeply appreciative of each of you who have committed up front and pre-ordered your copy (or copies). I should mention that we will continue to accept pre-orders at The Thebaid Store up until the book goes to print. This is especially critical for the Deluxe Limited Edition in Bonded Leather, which will not be available through retail outlets, but only through pre-ordering using the link above. Of course the standard hardcover edition will be available through St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press, and a range of Orthodox and other resellers.

Back to today’s update!

The heart of the pre-press process has been our weekly production meetings, and with only a couple of exceptions, St. Tikhon’s Press (STMP) and I have been locked in for our Thursday afternoon sessions since early August now, and wow, they have become increasingly substantial over the last several weeks. Even on those couple of occasions when we haven’t been able to hold our weekly meeting, we have still been communicating in detail by email, sending notes and work lists back and forth, and sharing our files by Dropbox and Google Drive. By mid-September we were getting into precise questions of image placement, layout, sizing and sequencing, specific photo edits and text edits, so that our meetings have been ranging from 60 to 90 minutes on average! Which brings me to the big news for this update.

As of the latest batch of page mockups, STMP has completed about 90% of the initial page mockups, which nearly completes the basic layout. This is really the first major pre-press goal, and enables us now to go back through each regional section and monastery to confirm everything and complete any final image editing, etc. There are some special texts to be added and other features, but the heart of the book is firming up quite nicely.

It is important to note that our design and layout work is not merely about the details, the “nuts and bolts” of setting up a photo book. We have approached the book in a way similar to “composers” of a musical piece, seeking to present the photographs in a lyrical, poetic way, with movement, rhythm, harmony, dynamics. And this is the part of the process that I look forward to entering more deeply into, as it marks a return to the start, to the heart of the original vision I had for this project.

Watch for more frequent updates as we now move into the next stages, which will include the proofing process.

Thank you for your support and prayers, and for accompanying me on this pilgrimage!

Thebaid Book Design takes flight!

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims!

I am very happy to be able to share with you a significant amount of pre-press news since my mid-July update, as well as a page-spread example of our working design for the book:

With one or two exceptions, St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press (STM Press) and I have been conducting weekly production meetings (our “Thebaid Thursday” virtual sessions) since mid-July, and have actually worked through a few different design concepts during this initial period.

I really appreciate the creative and flexible approach Fr Mikel Hill has taken, and the opportunities for collaboration which make it all work so well for us both. We realized after our first couple of meetings that we were faced with a challenge over how to “introduce” each monastery throughout the book, given that some were older, larger, and well established, whereas others were only recently founded, sometimes with only one or two monastics, and with far fewer photographs for inclusion as a result. Larger monasteries would have numerous photographs spread across several pages, whereas smaller monasteries could conceivably be only two pages! How best to honor everyone as they are all striving worthily in their calling?

After a couple of variations, Fr Mikel has developed an intuitively strong design which lends itself just as well to the small sketes and hermitages as to the larger monasteries. You can see in the sample page spread above for Holy Myrrhbearers how this will generally look, with a full-page bleed image opposite the monastery intro page, featuring the name & location, a brief overview (typically my own reflections and impressions, providing a first-person journal experience), a small antique map with a red pin to show the location, and a small image or two to lead the viewer into that monastery section.

There is such variety to the types of images in my portfolio from these thirty plus monasteries, that this too created a challenge in layout and sequencing. In the above, we have a strong photograph at right showing a classic, almost iconic scene of the nuns ringing the bells to call the sisterhood to the divine service. The small image inset at left with room for a caption shows a more spontaneous moment akin to a photojournalistic approach. There is a little motion blur of the sheep, but otherwise it is tack sharp, and it shows a slice of life central to the monastery’s daily routine.

Regarding the photo of the sheep, I was told by the nuns that the sheep liked me and felt comfortable with me there. I asked how they could tell, and they replied with some humor, “Because they didn’t get nervous and didn’t make a mess!” It is little stories like these that I especially look forward to sharing, and which will, I hope, make this book an endearing, heartwarming experience for viewers.

So, this is now our basic template, with each monastery having a variation of this for its intro page. Subsequent pages will show a variety of views of the worship and life of the monastics, or of the grounds, guest house, and even other pilgrims.

I look forward to sharing more page spreads with you in the weeks ahead, and in keeping you updated on the progress. This is an exciting time with the layout in place for the first couple of monasteries, and it’s very rewarding to finally be hitting our stride on this.

Real Thebaid News, and a Real Path to Publication

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All ~

First, my apologies for no updates during the year of covid. As for many of us it was a strange and challenging year, and brought all progress on the Thebaid book to a standstill.

As I recently found out, the covid lockdown hit St Tikhon’s Monastery Press hard also, but in different ways. My time for the book evaporated overnight, as everything became ruled by the “tyranny of the urgent.” Part time day job became full time, and my modest volunteer ministry at my home parish became a greatly expanded role (like a second job, truly): facilitating live-streaming of services, signups, heightened communications, and much more.

In contrast, St Tikhon’s lost their volunteer staff (largely students from the seminary) for the Press and Bookstore, the reduced manpower affecting their publishing capacity, and requiring real dedication to hold to their existing printing schedule.

So it was with a great sense of relief and actually joy, that we linked up by phone a few weeks ago and set in place our Path to Publication.

Visual Pilgrimage by Region

Because I had already done so much file prep and image editing, and had provided an abundance of image files to the Press in late 2019, Fr. Mikel Hill at STM Press has swiftly resumed his organization of the book and general sequencing of the photographs, which will follow my actual travels, leading the viewer on a visual pilgrimage through the major regions of America. I will be providing detailed layout and image placement instructions each week, with Fr. Mikel sending back PDF galley proofs for me to approve or tweak.

The groups of images will be punctuated by special articles, contributed by American monastics. Select quotes and information about the monasteries will be highlighted in text boxes overlaying full-page-bleed images and 2-page spreads. There will be a rhythm, a cadence, a flow to the book. And I’ll be sharing some of the galley proofs here for you to keep you informed on the progress.

Weekly Production Meetings

To effect all this, we will be conducting weekly production meetings by phone and Skype, and have already begun these “Thebaid Thursday” sessions.

All of this is invigorating enough, and I get the clear sense from Fr. Mikel that he (and Abbot Sergius) are very enthusiastic about completing our work and getting the book to print. There is a joyful energy around this resumption of our shared work, testimony to our shared purpose, the advancement of Orthodoxy and Orthodox monasticism in America, through the beauty and mystery of these images.

‘Time’ to Finish

For me personally, the ability to take an extended sabbatical from work and devote myself 100% to The North American Thebaid Book, is the “critical mass” of the publishing process. This is actually how the entire project began, with a convergence of time, vision and inspiration, followed by scheduling, travel and photography. Now, it seems the fullness of time for the Thebaid Book has come, and with that elusive element of Time opened back up for me, and with it the renewed vision, collaboration, and activity leading to the finished book, in your hands.

Thanksgiving, and a Teaser

Thank you all, for your patience and trust, and for your continuing prayers for this project. And my thanks to those of you who took a few minutes to reach out and see how I have been and where things stand. I am so gratified to be able to report this solid, real news, and our Real Path to Publication.

Rather than post one of my images today, I felt it most appropriate to post a “teaser” of sorts, the galley proof of the prototype Copyright page from the early design work at St Tikhon’s done towards the end of 2020. I look forward to sharing more pages and spreads in the weeks ahead.