New Women’s Monastery established in Upstate New York

The quiet churching of America continues, with yet another monastery being established in New York State. Glory to God!

New Women’s Monastery blessed in Upstate New York, Richfield Springs, New York, November 29, 2017:

Property in upstate New York was recently purchased and blessed for a new Russian Orthodox convent, reports the site of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia’s Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York.

The community, named in honor of the “She Who is Quick to Hear” Icon of the Mother of God, was initially founded two years ago with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

The life of the monastery will flow within the same Russian Tradition as Holy Trinity Monastery, with services in English, and under the spiritual administration of Holy Trinity.

Read the full article…

Books for Monastic Seekers: ‘Recollections of Mount Athos’

A warm and inspiring first-person account of the author’s journey to the Holy Mountain as a young man, his experiences with different monasteries, counsels received from various monks and elders, and how the Lord directed his steps and helped him grow in his early days as a monk.

Sunset, St Anne’s Skete, Mount Athos; photo © Ralph H. Sidway.

Published in the early years of St Gregory Palamas Monastery (Hayesville, Ohio) under the direction of Bishop Maximos and the sponsorship of the GOA Diocese of Pittsburgh, this beautiful memoir exudes the fragrance and savor of Holy Orthodoxy, and may be of special help to monastic seekers in discerning the Lord’s will for their lives, and in helping them live it to the fullest, as they heed the call to the narrow way to the Kingdom of God.

Rather than being a didactic book of instruction like The Arena and Letters To A Beginner, Recollections of Mount Athos weaves monastic counsels through a charming narrative of unforgettable ascetics, strugglers, abbots and elders, all seen through the wide, perceptive eyes and warm, faithful heart of young George, the future Archimandrite Cherubim, and all overshadowed by the grace of God.

From Chapter 1, First Impressions:

From the time I was fourteen years old, the vivid descriptions of two Hagiorite [i.e., Athonite] hieromonks who were rigorous in practicing the virtues, the Elders Paisios and Chrysanthos, had molded Mount Athos in my soul like a place that, though terrestrial, touches heaven. My burning desire for that place urged me toward the big decision: I was going to live there forever…

As soon as my foot stepped on land, my first concern was to kneel behind an old building an with emotion kiss that holy ground. I had vowed to do it. I used to say: “My Panagia [Greek for “All Holy”, a loving term for the Virgin May, the Theotokos], enable me one day to find myself on the Holy Mountain, and the first thing I will do will be to kiss its ground.”

My favorite quote:

“Talk like a monk, look like a monk, sit like a monk, walk like a monk, eat like a monk, sleep like a monk, think like a monk, pray like a monk.” ~ Papa Joachim, St Anne’s Skete, Mount Athos, p. 82.

Recollections of Mount Athos

by Archimandrite Cherubim Karambelas, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline MA; © 1987, St Gregory Palamas Monastery.

Featuring an Introduction by Bishop Maximos of Pittsburgh, ‘Monasticism in the Orthodox Church’, with a helpful glossary of terms.

“This book springs from the author’s own personal monastic experience on Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain. Archimandrite Cherubim Karambelas spent only four years on Mount Athos. He was eighteen years old when he went to the Holy Mountain with the intention of staying there forever. However, he was forced, due to ill health, to return to wartime Athens. He was not to return to the Mountain again until many years later, and then only to visit a dying monk, a friend, who wished to see him before he died. At that time he was the abbot of the Holy Monastery of the Paraclete which he established, located on the outskirts of Athens.”  — From the Translator’s Preface

Order from St Gregory Palamas Monastery; Paperback, 202 pages; Price: $12.00


Books for Monastic Seekers: ‘The Arena’

A classic manual on the Christian spiritual life, by Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, this is the second in this series of posts. See post 1 here.

The Arena: Guidelines for Spiritual and Monastic Life

By Ignatius (Brianchaninov) Translated by Lazarus (Moore) Foreword by Kallistos (Ware); Holy Trinity Publications, Jordanville NY.

From the publisher’s description:

This is one of the most important and accessible texts of Orthodox Christian teaching on the spiritual life, and and not unlike the better known “Philokalia.” The author, St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) describes this work as his legacy “of soul saving instruction.” He promises that “Those who carry out these instructions will enter into possession of spiritual riches.”

In an age even more alienated from spiritual culture and rooted in materialism, his words pose both a challenge and an invitation to all who ever say to themselves “There must be more to life than this.”

For anyone who desires to deepen their own spiritual journey based upon an encounter with Christ as God, this book is essential reading. Its contents may ultimately be accepted or rejected, but they will be very difficult to ignore.

Continue reading “Books for Monastic Seekers: ‘The Arena’”

Books for Monastic Seekers: ‘Letters to a Beginner on Giving One’s Life to God’

For the first of a new series of blog posts, I would like to share a thin but extremely weighty and important book which was recommended to me several years ago when  I was preparing to test the monastic life:

Letters to a Beginner on Giving One’s Life to God

by Abbess Thaisia of Leushino, St Herman of Alaska Press:


“The work of success in your monastic life—the work of your salvation, is, so to speak, in your own hands; and would it not be a shame, would it not be sad, to lose it from your hands irretrievably?”


This book was so popular and beneficial for those leading a spiritual life in pre-Revolutionary Russia that it was reprinted several times and distributed to all monasteries, sketes, and many parishes. It was a key guidebook for women monastic aspirants, giving them a right understanding of how to dedicate their lives to God.

Continue reading “Books for Monastic Seekers: ‘Letters to a Beginner on Giving One’s Life to God’”

An Outline of Orthodox Monasticism – Part 3

Third and concluding part from the journal, Orthodox America.

Part 1 | Part 2 

The Monastic Rule

The Rule or “Typicon” governing Orthodox monastic life is based upon that of St. Basil the Great (d. 379), which he synthesized from the tradition of the early Desert Fathers. This Rule was later adapted by various great fathers of monasticism throughout the centuries: St. Sabbas the Sanctified in the 5th century, St. John Climacus in the 6th century, St. Theodore the Studite at the end of the 8th century, and others. It likewise provided the foundation for the great Athonite tradition which evolved in the 10th – 14th centuries, and the revival of monasticism in Russia and Moldavia in the late 18th century under the inspiration of St. Paisius Velichkovsky. Today St. Basil’s Rule remains an important part of the spiritual tradition of the Orthodox Church.

Continue reading “An Outline of Orthodox Monasticism – Part 3”

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”

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.


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…


Version 2
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.

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!

Update on St Peter’s Monastery in Montana

Outstanding article on this compelling new monastic initiative, being founded by dedicated lay benefactors, and shepherded by monastics from Monastery of St John in Manton, California.

See also my special page on the founding of St Peter’s Monastery.

Photos provided by Pravoslavie.


Pravoslavie, September 12, 2016

missoulian-1Eastern Orthodox believers are patiently moving forward with plans to build a monastery in Montana.

Though the timetable will depend on issues such as funding, members of St. Anthony the Great Orthodox Church in Bozeman already have donated land near the base of Montana’s Tobacco Root Mountains especially for the monastery. The property is near Harrison on Harrison Lake, also known as Willow Creek Reservoir.

“It’s already in a conservation easement which stipulates that nothing can be built on the land other than an Eastern Orthodox monastery,” said David Hicks, a member of St. Anthony the Great Orthodox Church in Bozeman. “The property is a 1,000-acre tract on the north shore of the lake.”

West of the Moon

David Hicks and his wife, Betsy, gave the parcel from what they called their West of the Moon ranch for the purpose of building St. Peter’s Monastery, as it is called. The “West of the Moon” name of the ranch comes from an old jazz standard “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon),” written by Princeton undergraduate Brooks Bowman and published in 1934, Hicks explained.

The monastery was formally established in 2014 and the St. Peter’s Monastery Foundation, which is guiding the effort to build it, is recognized by the state of Montana as a tax-exempt 501(c)3 foundation.

“We have been so blessed to live at West of the Moon and in our beautiful state,” Hicks told the Missoulian in an email. “No one ‘owns’ anything anyway. That’s just a fiction to appease the ego. It’s all on temporary loan. We are just the stewards in the parables told by Jesus, someday to give an account to the owner.”

Hicks, who is secretary of the foundation, noted that in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the new monastery may start out as a “skete” – essentially a little monastery associated with a larger one.

A website at discusses details.

Alone with God in the wilderness

Father Hieromonk Innocent, the superior of St. John Monastery in Manton, California, has led three delegations of monks to Harrison in recent years to get work started on the actual building of the monastery. Innocent said Montana is in line with what monasteries have traditionally been in Orthodox tradition.

“In the history of monasteries, the monks were actually trying to flee from the cities in order to be alone with God in the wilderness,” he said.

Continue reading “Update on St Peter’s Monastery in Montana”

Advice to Monastic Seekers

Insightful and practical guidance from Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin, Germany (ROCOR).

Advice to Potential Monastics, an interview with Archbishop Mark of Berlin;  Pravoslavie, August 5, 2013:

markofberlinWhy do people now go to monasteries not from an impoverished life but from a life of comfort, how can one find the right monastery, which of the holy fathers should be read, what is the proper relationship of a monastic to parents, should the internet be used, and why should young hieromonks should not be assigned to parishes? Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain, the head of the Monastery of St. Job of Pochaev, answers these questions.

—Are more or fewer people seeking the monastic life than before?

—It is difficult to say. I think that the contingent of our faithful is different than it was twenty or thirty years ago. We now have as a whole a greater number of believers, and corresponding to this growth is an increase in the number of monastics. I suppose that when people come from a live of poverty, they are not so inclined to monastic life than if they lived well. A person can more easily deny himself of what he has than of what he does not have.

—What do people expect from monasticism when they come to it today? What disappoints them?

—The most difficult thing—and not only in our time but always—is obedience and the denial of one’s own will. It is met with more resistance, more sharply today when a person lives in complete satisfaction, when the material world gives him all he wants. When there is no poverty, then one must reject all the external glitter, and as I said, this is not so hard. But what is hard is denying your own will. That is the problem.

—Can you learn monasticism from books?

—Books can help, they can give direction, but there is nothing like experience in order to really learn about it, just as any facet of life.

—What would you recommend new monastics to read today?

—First of all the Ancient Fathers: St Macarius of Egypt, St Anthony the Great. There are, of course, more contemporary guides, for example St Ignatius (Brianchaninov), who can help one find the right path. But this cannot replace personal guidance.

—How does one choose a monastery to go to?

—That depends on the country—in some there are many monasteries, in others not even one. In Germany we did not have a convent for many years. We would send our candidates to neighboring France, or to the Holy Land.

Then we were able to open our own convent, because a few women came together who could not leave Germany. These were the external conditions which led to the establishment of a convent.

The choice here is not as easy as, for example, in Russia, Serbia, or Greece.

That is why there is no set rule. Much depends on the spiritual father of the monastery. Let us say a person comes as a pilgrim to some monastery, and he likes it there. He has the opportunity to adjust to this monastery, but he can also visit other monasteries, examine their daily rule, their life, and select the one that suits him best.

I always advise people to visit several monasteries. One monastery may have a set of rules which isn’t for everyone, and thank God, there are many different ustavy [monastic charters. —trans.]. A person should choose the one that suits him best.

Continue reading “Advice to Monastic Seekers”