An Outline of Orthodox Monasticism – Part 2

Part 2 of a three-part series from the journal, Orthodox America.

Part 1 | Part 3

Where do Orthodox Monks and Nuns Come From?

The Labors of St Sergius of Radonezh – Mikhail Nesterov

Orthodox monks and nuns come from all walks and manner of life. In former times the greater number were of peasant stock, but at the same time many a great name lay hidden under the humble black habit and the new Christian name received at tonsure.

Certainly there were to be found many unlettered and uncultured monks, because the cloister was and is open to all, regardless of social rank or education. But if one reads the daily offices and grasps their scriptural and theological wealth, and if one hears the readings from the Holy Fathers — all of which are the monk’s daily fare, one begins to think twice about the intellectual superiority of their critics.

It must not be forgotten that it was the monks who translated these services and writings into their native tongues, a continuing labor in which nuns also take part. There are also spiritual writings that are unique to each nation, the beauty of which is unsurpassed in secular compositions, but which are little known outside the cloister. In monasteries were painted world famous icons and from them came exquisite embroideries and priceless illuminated manuscripts. All were written, painted and worked anonymously for the greater glory of God, reflecting that humility which is the keynote of all Christian monasticism. Continue reading “An Outline of Orthodox Monasticism – Part 2”

The Angelic Path – An Outline of Orthodox Monasticism

Part 1 of a three-part series from the journal, Orthodox America.

Part 2 | Part 3

“If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hadst, and give to the poor, and come, follow Me” (Matt. 19:21).

From the beginning these words of Christ have been a clear call to all Christian monks that they have felt impelled to obey to the letter.

Although Christ lived and worked among men, participated in the functions of His day, counted women among His friends, and although He instituted no monastic order, monasticism may well be considered the sum and substance of His teaching. Once He had entered upon His mission, He had no family life–in fact, He denied blood relationships (Matt. 12:48-50). He spent many hours in the wilderness in solitary communion with His Father. He said: If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)

The advice of Jesus to the young man who sought a greater perfection, beyond that of following the ten commandments, was to sell all he had and to follow Him (Matt. 19:21). Another man He challenged to follow Him without delay, without even taking time to attend to his father’s funeral (Luke 9:60). These are hard sayings for people in the world, but admirably suited to monks and nuns.

Let us here explain what we mean by “the world”. St. Isaac the Syrian defines it as:

“…the extension of a common name to distinct passions … passions are a part of the current of the world. Where they have ceased, the world’s current has ceased.” In other words, people in the world are held by the pull of their emotions into a vortex of preoccupations; they disperse and scatter abroad, as it were, their soul’s integrity, diversifying its primal simplicity.”

The ideal of a life entirely given over to God can be found on many pages of the New Testament. St. Paul held virginity in high esteem and advocated it for those who could bear it (I Cor. 7: 1, 7, 37, 40). We find many examples in Holy Scripture of men and women giving their lives unreservedly to God and to the service of the Church. In the first instance there were the Apostles and the Seventy and the women who followed and ministered unto Jesus; then there were the deacons and men like St. Luke and St. Barnabas, and women such as Dorcas and Phoebe, who worked with St. Paul. Nevertheless, it was only toward the beginning of the fourth century that Christian monasticism appeared as a definite institution.

Continue reading “The Angelic Path – An Outline of Orthodox Monasticism”

Children and Monasticism: Ideas for Summer reading (and pilgrimages!)

Children love pilgrimages to Orthodox Christian monasteries, as any Orthodox parent who has taken their kids to one can tell you. These books help reveal why.

Maybe it’s the total simplicity, beauty and peacefulness of the surroundings, or perhaps it is because the nuns or monks themselves have a child-like quality about them which allows children to relate to them with ease. Or maybe it’s because being at a monastery is like being at church, but even more!

Whatever the reasons, children love monasteries!

I was reminded of this by a mailing I received this week from Nancy Colakovic at Ancient Faith Publishing, recommending books for children. The first title really caught my eye: In the Candle’s Glow. Writes Nancy:

The first is In the Candle’s Glow, by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson, illustrated by Amandine Wanert. Our 8-year-old granddaughter loves this book. She’s read it over and over, and even took it to church with her. I especially like that this book teaches us where the candles in church come from, the emphasis placed on the Jesus Prayer as well as the Lord’s Prayer and the prayer for family and friends, and even that it helps us remember to bless the bees, and ask God to care for them.

I immediately looked up the book, which is getting great reviews on Amazon both for its story and for the illustrations. Here is one of the more descriptive 5-star reviews:

Continue reading “Children and Monasticism: Ideas for Summer reading (and pilgrimages!)”

‘Atlas of American Orthodox Monasteries’ now available in digital format for free

I have been using this outstanding book as a resource in planning my travels for the North American Thebaid Photographic Pilgrimage since the Atlas’s publication at the start of 2016, and downloaded this digital edition onto my iPad immediately after it was announced. The linked table of contents makes navigation a delight, and the ability to search the text likewise makes this an even more powerful tool than the already excellent print edition. Once you download the PDF file, you can easily import it into your Kindle or iBooks library, or most other ebook readers.

I have always felt the timing of the Atlas to be uncanny, as I had begun planning the NA Thebaid Project almost a full year before Krindatch’s Atlas was published. Now this digital edition comes out just as I am resuming travel and photography after a brief hiatus.

Our twin efforts clearly herald a growing vibrancy in and awareness of Orthodox Christian monasticism in the USA and Canada, and my hope is that the Atlas, the North American Thebaid Project (and the finished Thebaid book, due in Autumn 2018), and similar future efforts, will help inspire Orthodox monastic vocations, as well as draw spiritual seekers to the Orthodox Church, inviting them to “come and see” the ancient and timeless Christian Faith, which was “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Atlas of American Orthodox Monasteries Electronic Edition is Now Available

Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA, June 12, 2017:

The electronic version of the widely popular Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Monasteries has been released by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA and made available free of charge to everyone. The PDF file with the Atlas can be downloaded free of charge here. The hard copy of the Atlas can be purchased directly from the publisher, Holy Cross Orthodox Press.

Drawing on extensive research, as well as fascinating stories and insider information, the Atlas offers readers:

  • A scholarly introduction into traditions of Eastern Christian monasticism and a history of Orthodox monasteries in America
  • A full and comprehensive directory of 80 American Orthodox Christian monasteries
  • An enticing travel guide for those seeking to visit American monasteries and to “sample” monastic life.

In addition, twenty-two featured monasteries share their personal stories and offer a glimpse into the surprising spiritual appeal of monastic life in 21st century America.

Edited by Alexei Krindatch. 150 pages of text are accompanied by four sets of color maps and more than one hundred photographs depicting everyday life in US Orthodox monasteries. The full table of contents is provided below. Continue reading “‘Atlas of American Orthodox Monasteries’ now available in digital format for free”

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”

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”

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!

New Gallery: Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery, in the Catskills, New York State

A new gallery of over forty photographs taken at Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery is up and available for viewing and sharing. 

Proceed to the Holy Myrrhbearers Gallery…

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Making a prayer rope…

I am very pleased with the overall selection of images, and several in particular are early contenders for the North American Thebaid book, scheduled for publication in late 2018.

Please consider supporting the North American Thebaid Project.

We fund this endeavor through subscription pre-sales of the Standard Hardcover Edition, and the Deluxe Limited Edition in Bonded Leather. We also offer eBooks and digital rewards for all supporters contributing at $25 and above. Proceed to the ‘Rewards for Supporters’ page to learn more, and use the PayPal button at top right to contribute.

Be sure to Like and Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and share the Thebaid Project with your friends, family and church.

Thank you for your support and prayers!

 

OCA Monastic Synaxis invites presentation on North American Thebaid Project

I was deeply honored to be invited to speak about the North American Thebaid Project at the OCA’s recent Monastic Synaxis.

The superiors, led by His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, and Archbishop Nathaniel, had numerous excellent questions and insights, all of which further improve the Thebaid Project, and help it support monastic life even more than before.

Based on conversations and personal invitations from several of the superiors, I sensed a real interest in the Project, and I very much look forward to visiting the many monasteries in the OCA.

Holy Transfiguration Monastery site of monastic superiors’ annual Synaxis

Ellwood City, PA [OCA]

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2016 OCA Monastic Synaxis; Photo by Ralph H. Sidway.

With the blessing of their diocesan bishops, superiors of monasteries of the Orthodox Church in America gathered at the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration here October 25-27, 2016 for their third annual Synaxis for the purpose of strengthening monastic life in the OCA while providing a forum for the superiors to meet and share their respective communities’ joys and challenges.

The Synaxis opened with the celebration of the Vigil and Divine Liturgy for the feast of the Great Marty Demetrius.  His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, who oversees the stavropegial monasteries, and His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel, in whose diocese the Monastery of the Transfiguration is located, were present for this year’s meeting.

The OCA counts some 25 men’s and women’s monastic communities in the US, Canada and Mexico, twelve of which were represented by their superiors, including

  • Mother Capitolina, Superior of the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos Community, Anchorage, AK.
  • Mother Cassiana, Superior of the Holy Protection Monastery, Lake George, CO.
  • Sister Cecelia, Prioress of the Nuns of New Skete, Cambridge, NY.
  • Brother Christopher, Prior of the Monks of New Skete, Cambridge, NY.
  • Mother Christophora, Abbess of the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration, Ellwood City, PA.
  • Igumen Gabriel, representing Archimandrite Sergius, Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, South Canaan, PA.
  • Mother Gabriella, Abbess of the Holy Dormition Monastery, Rives Junction, MI.
  • Archimandrite Gerasim, Abbot of Saint Elias Hermitage, Smoky Lake County, AB, Canada.
  • Hieromonk Innocent, Superior of the Monastery of Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco, Manton, CA.
  • Mother Melania, Superior of Holy Assumption Monastery, Calistoga, CA.
  • Mother Sergia, Abbess of the Presentation of the Theotokos Monastery, Marshfield, MO.
  • Mother Thekla, Abbess of the Mary and Martha Monastery, Wagener, NC.

Continue reading “OCA Monastic Synaxis invites presentation on North American Thebaid Project”