I am very excited to share with you some images from my recent visit to the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension in Resaca GA.
The rugged beauty of the forested grounds, nestled in the mountains of northwest Georgia, and the luminous chapel and monastery building, stir the heart and evoke a deep yearning for God, for the Living God.
Summer travel and photography continues for the North American Thebaid Project with my first visit to the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension (ROCOR) in northwest Georgia, and pilgrimages to two of Elder Ephraim’s monasteries in Florida: Panagia Vlahernon and Holy Annunciation (GOA).
Each of these have informative and attractive websites (see links below) where you can learn about their way of life and how to schedule a pilgrimage. I am most eager to be back on the road and in the holy confines and sacred grounds with the monks and nuns.
In addition, I will be giving a presentation at St Mary of Egypt Church (ROCOR) in Roswell GA on Sunday, September 17, during coffee hour following the Divine Liturgy. If you are in the Greater Atlanta and Marietta area, please join us!
And, looking ahead to October, I am planning on attending the OCA Diocese of the Midwest Annual Assembly as an exhibitor, with a full display for the Thebaid Project including a continuous digital slide show, handouts, and more. I hope to see some of you there; please stop by my display so we can get acquainted!
Vespers at 6:30pm, followed at 7:15pm by my presentation on Orthodox Monasticism and a slide show of images from the North American Thebaid Project!
This coming week kicks off my Summer travels with a highly anticipated (certainly by me!) mid-week presentation at a thriving parish of the OCA Diocese of the South: St Athanasius Orthodox Church in Nicholasville, just a few miles south of Lexington KY.
If you’re curious about Orthodoxy and/or monasticism, I think you’ll find this a rich and informative evening.
I have long wanted to visit this growing Orthodox community, to worship in their new church building (which they moved into in 2014) to be sure, but also to get to better know these dear brothers and sisters just “down the road” from us in Cincinnati. It’s always a joy when Fr Justin and Mat. Tamara and sons stop in to join us for Vespers when passing through the area, and we have known each other now for years.
You can learn more here about the inspiring history of the still young parish of St Athanasius (especially significant for Protestants and Evangelicals wishing to learn more about Orthodoxy). Their journey is unique in some surprising ways, yet will sound very familiar to those of us who have likewise been converted in our hearts by our own encounters with the early Church Fathers.
Check their Directions page and make your plans to join us this coming Wednesday evening!
My sincere thanks to Fr Justin Patterson for his invitation, and to Kathy and Audrey for promotion, logistics and refreshments!
If you’re in the Lexington or Central Kentucky area, we hope to see you! Free and open to the public, refreshments provided, plenty of time for fellowship and Q&A.
Wednesday, July 19
6:30pm – Vespers
7:15pm – Presentation on Orthodox Monasticism and the North American Thebaid
A special update on the North American Thebaid Project, especially coming off this recent “quiet” period during Great Lent and the Pascha/Easter season.
Actually, there has been a great deal going on in the background, most of which is sketched out below, and you’ll see why I didn’t feel it was worth posting about at the time, as the details seem rather dull on the surface. But when it is all pulled together now, it makes for a good narrative, and helps relate the causes of my absence, as well as my eagerness to resume travel and photography.
So, here are the updates, arranged topically:
Temp Job & Auto Maintenance — The Thebaid Project has been quiet recently primarily due to an unexpected fundraising opportunity. Thanks to a referral from one of the project’s main advisors and supporters, I was able to take on a full-time administrative temp job for three months, in order to raise extra funds for the Thebaid project. This proved to be doubly providential, enabling me to take care of some major (and unexpected!) car maintenance (battery, alternator, belts), over and above normal service. A commitment from another supporter to replace two tires showing wear and dry-rot (we replaced the first pair of tires in September 2016) means that my vehicle should be quite roadworthy for the remainder of the project travel through mid-2018, God willing. And, I will still benefit from modest savings from the temp job gig. Had I pressed forward with travel instead of accepting the job offer, I might very well have had a breakdown on the road, with added expense due to hotel stays and possible towing beyond my AAA coverage. Thanks be to God!
Travel & Photography to resume in July — I am currently firming up details on the major legs of the pilgrimage: the Northeast, Midwest, the Northern Plains, Pacific Northwest and Alberta Canada, and California. Alaska timing is uncertain at this point. I am planning to cover the Southeast and Southwest in Late Autumn and Winter, following the seasons. My intent is to have the photography completed by April or May 2018, and be in a position to send the book to the printer by June 2018.
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.
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.
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!’”
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…
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.
After the Divine Liturgy yesterday, Sunday, September 4, Father Steven blessed my main camera and lenses, and my car, in anticipation of the travel and photography beginning today:
Several brothers and sisters from church gathered around to add their prayers, and it was quite a moving moment. Simple, brief, yet in accordance with the Church’s tradition of beginning every good work by seeking the Lord’s blessing.
Over 18 months of planning, preparation and initial fundraising now give way to pilgrimage and photography…
Special thanks to Mickey, Alexis and Annalisa Callender, and to Steve and Pat Pride, for the delightful gatherings and sendoff yesterday. And to Johnothon Sauer, for the photos of the blessing. (Johnothon remarked on the irony of using a smartphone to photograph the blessing of professional photographic equipment!)
As always, thankful for, and asking, your continued prayers and support for the North American Thebaid Project!
The North American Thebaid is truly unique in the Orthodox Christian world. Market research reveals very few projects similar to this in scope or purpose, and nothing like it in North America. Most photo books on Orthodox monasticism center on exotic and legendary locales such as Mount Athos in Greece, or St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, or on church art and architecture.
Much more than a documentary or photo essay, the images selected for the Thebaid book will resonate with Dostoevsky’s famous dictum, “Beauty will save the world.”
Both inspirational and informational, the Thebaid book will be something to linger over and return to again and again, conveying the unseen mystery and beauty of Orthodox monasticism through visual means, and drawing the viewer to “ask, seek and knock”, and to go deeper into the Orthodox Christian faith.
Because of this podvig of seeking to explore the apophatic, hidden life of the Monastic Way using visual means, I have sought to articulate a ‘Theology of Photography’ (see here and here). It is this emphasis which sets the North American Thebaid Project somewhat apart, and which requires some comparison with other photography books on monasticism.
I am deeply indebted to Archimandrite Gerasim (Eliel) of the OCA Diocese of the South who, in a conversation back in February 2016, urged me to conduct an actual “market study”, to survey and identify photographic books both similar to, as well as different from, my concept for the North American Thebaid. What I discovered is both illuminating, and inspiring.
His is a fine guide and a delightful, even inspiring, reference book, with many wonderful photos of monasteries and monastic life; it is at the same time not at all the type of photography or the sort of book I have set out to produce.
My background is more in fine art photography than documentary or even journalistic photography (categories which might best describe Alexei’s work).
Working primarily in black & white — which by its very nature abstracts the subject, shifting it beyond place and time — I’ve seen my gelatin silver prints selected for juried exhibits (and even win some awards) since 1983. For almost twenty years I worked in a range of film formats: 35mm, 120 (medium format), and 4×5 (large format). Then, at the turn of the century/millennium, I began making my first photographs using the digital medium, and had my first museum-grade, fine-art inkjet prints selected for the Water Tower Annual, in Louisville KY.
After a major digital camera upgrade in 2008, I returned to fine art landscape photography with renewed vigor and vision, and in 2014 published a coffee table book titled Pursuing the Light, a forty-year retrospective of my landscape photographs. The process of preparing that book led me to reflect on just what photography is, from an Orthodox Christian theological and aesthetical viewpoint. I have adapted some of my insights from the Preface to my book, and wish to share them with you.