Helping to Expand the Mission of Orthodox Christianity in North America
Such is the impetus behind this book project, which seems to dovetail in a most providential way with the words and mission of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon of the OCA, and of Archimandrite Sergius, abbot of St Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery in Waymart PA.
From Metropolitan Tikhon’s address to the OCA 18th AAC in Atlanta, July 2015:
The way of the Church is the way of sacrifice and martyrdom… We are here, in North America, called to be apostles and martyrs for Christ…
In addition to supporting our monasteries as institutions, it is important for all of our clergy and faithful to recognize the great contribution that the monastics make to the Apostolic Work of the Church. It has historically been the monasteries that were on the forefront of the missionary endeavors of the Church, beginning with the example of the early Church.
But the life of prayer and repentance is required of all of us. We are grateful for the example and the life of the monastics, and we need to encourage our children to consider this sacred life. (Emphasis added.)
It is my prayer and hope that through this endeavor, some young people will be inspired to test the monastic calling themselves. As God wills.
Beyond Photography: the Larger Goal and Purpose
Recognizing this Apostolic Work of the Church and the great contribution which monasteries have traditionally made to that holy labor, this photographic pilgrimage must not be misunderstood as merely an opportunity for a fine art depiction of the lives and settings of monks and nuns in North America.
The goal is not a handsome photo book. Rather, the book is but a tool in service of the real goal. The point is not to “abstract” or objectify the monastic way, and inadvertently further distance it from the minds and hearts of Orthodox faithful.
Rather, the purpose is to help make the monastic life vividly and beautifully present and real, and in the best sense of the word, to challenge our Orthodox brothers and sisters, especially young people and children, with the radical, martyric — but also joyful — call to follow Christ, which Metropolitan Tikhon spoke of in his AAC address, and which our monastic brothers and sisters faithfully strive to follow every day.
Nor will this project somehow inadvertently convey a false dichotomy between the monastic and married life, between following Christ through the tonsure and following Him in the world.
Here we can apply the counsel of Archimandrite Sergius, Abbot of St Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery, who notes that both monastics and married laity are “called to live 100% for our Lord 100% of the time,” and the monastic life has traditionally been accepted as the inspiration for the laity.
The synopsis of Fr. Sergius’ AAC address on the St. Tikhon’s Monastery website continues:
The health of the Church in a particular area can be measured by the health of monasticism in that area, and thus the relation of monastic life to the greater Orthodox Church in America is one that concerns all the faithful…
Monasticism affects the entire Church: “We, as members of Christ’s body, can and must support the building and growth of monasteries and monastic vocations. By so doing, we invest in the well-being and preservation of the Church as well as in the ‘churching’ of America. Through the monasteries, organic Orthodox life will grow and flourish, and acting like a catalyst, it will empower and inspire local parishioners to give more of their own hearts and lives to God and to prayer.
“The power that emanates from a monastery is not only real and tangible, it is intensely powerful, life-creating and life-changing.” (Emphasis added.)
That the concept for The North American Thebaid — born during the Winter of 2014-2015, when I was testing the monastic vocation myself at St Gregory Palamas Monastery in Hayesville, Ohio — should be so in sync with these recent addresses by Metropolitan Tikhon and Abbot Sergius, is a great encouragement, and leads me to dare hope that I may have found a unique path by which to help “expand the mission” and contribute to the “churching of America.”