Archive for the ‘Contemporary Monasteries’ Category

The visit of the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God


The Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery, founded in 1989, serves under His Eminence Metropolitan Savas of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Monastery, located in Saxonburg, is dedicated to the Birth of the Mother of God, the Theotokos, and celebrates Her feast day on September 8th.

A visitor to the monastery finds a peaceful landscape that invites them to leave behind all cares and enter into a rhythm of solitude, experience a life where nuns can be heard ceaselessly saying the Jesus prayer “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”. It is a place that is dedicated to the worship and praise of God.  Byzantine chanting is heard celebrating the Divine Liturgy and invites the pilgrim to join with quiet reverence.

The Monastery serves as an oasis for pilgrims welcoming them and offering comfort from struggles and afflictions in a caring, spiritually nurturing environment. It is a place where children find joy and are often seen at play.

It all began 25 years ago in the village of Portaria, Greece, at the beautiful monastery of Panagia Odigitria [Mother of God the Directress]. In 1971, a young woman, Aphrodite Doukas, became a novice and one year later was tonsured a Great Schema nun and given the name Taxiarchia. In 1989, her spiritual father, Elder Ephraim, Abbot of the Monastery of Philotheou on Mount Athos, Greece brought her to America.

And along with Bishop Maximos, they tonsured her the first Abbess of the monastery. Nine months later, the current Abbess of the Monastery, Gerontissa Theophano joined the Sisterhood. Gerontissa Taxiarchia then began to fulfill the vision that was given to her by both founders: to maintain a life dedicated to prayer and to missionize to the faithful of the Orthodox Church.

Gerontissa Taxiarchia reposed in the Lord on August 3, 1994. Under the spiritual guidance of Gerontissa Theophano, the Monastery continues the legacy that was left behind by her spiritual mother Gerontissa Taxiarchia. Fourteen nuns now serve the Monastery, applying their skills to glorify God. They support themselves through hand-painted icons; icons on wood, agate, marble and embroidery; through sewing baptismal outfits, priest’s vestments and ecclesiastical items; making komboskinia [prayer ropes], candles for weddings and baptisms and hand-made soaps among other handiwork. The nuns are self-sustaining, raising their own produce and maintaining the grounds.

With the blessing and encouragement of His Eminence Metropolitan Savas, the Monastery has embarked on a project to expand the monastery, to renovate the existing structure to accommodate guests, increase the living space for the nuns, and build a church.

To learn more about the monastery, view photos and read about their building project see here.

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gerontissa grave

Christ is Risen!

Below is the transcript of a talk I gave for Holy Trinity Monastery fundraiser at the Four Seasons restaurant in London, ON, November 10, 2013. Gerontissa Macrina reposed on May 22 (Old Style) 1994.

You may notice that some stories are not written in full below. That is because at certain points in the talk I did not use notes. If you wish to hear these stories in full you can watch the recording here.


Gerontissa Macrina (the Greek title for elderess) is a very special person, for not only did she have a great influence on the spiritual lives of many in Greece, but in North America as well. A few of the women’s monasteries under the spiritual direction of Geronda Ephraim trace their roots to Gerontissa Macrina since he took nuns from her monastery to establish other monasteries.

If I could be so bold, I would say that just as Geronda Ephraim is the father of the revitalization of cenobitic monasticism in North America, so Gerontissa Macrina is the mother of this revitalization. She is a Mother for all Orthodox Christians, because she is, in every sense of the word, a Mother of the Church. She is a saint like the saints of old: wise in spiritual matters, reverent in every regard and virtuous beyond compare! She is, in my humble opinion, an abbess like St. Irene Chrystovalandou and St. Macrina the sister of St. Basil the Great. And for this reason, she is a Mother for us all.

While she lived many great contemporary spiritual elders recognized her purity of heart and the grace of God which dwelt in her. Elder Iakovos Tsalikis – who lived in St. David’s Monastery in Evia – used to say, “If I lived in Volos I would go on foot to kiss Gerontissa’s hand and get her blessing before going to work each day.” Once, Gerontissa met Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain. She traveled to Halikidi where Geronda was staying at a monastery and when they saw each other they both prostrated, one to the other (just like St. Mary of Egypt and St. Zosimas). Elder Ephraim Katanakiotis also loved and respected her very much. When she went to visit him at a hospital he was staying in his disciple asked him if he would receive her and he proclaimed, “Open wide the doors!” In fact, Elder Ephraim of Katonakia prayed and received confirmation from God that Gerontissa occupied a very high spiritual state like that of Elder Joseph the Hesychast (a very holy man who reposed in 1959). See, Gerontissa wasn’t merely a mother for the nuns in Greece and in North America. She was a mother even to these saintly men!

By looking at the life and teachings of Gerontissa Macrina, we want to stress the importance of monasticism. Because of the holy monasteries we have spiritual giants such as Gerontissa Macrina. She – through monastic struggle – became a saint and because she acquired holiness thousands of people profit from her influence, the example of her selfless life. This is why the monasteries are important! They produce saints and teach us how to become saints in the world.

There is a book about Gerontissa Macrina that her monastery published last year, about her life and teachings. Her book is aptly called Λόγια Καρδίας (Words from the Heart) and her words not only come from the heart but penetrate the heart as well. If you read her book you will see that just about every paragraph describes some miracle Gerontissa lived. At times I would read it and actually become discouraged seeing as though I am spiritual light-years behind Gerontissa.

Gerontissa Macrina experienced many hardships, but she also experienced many states of grace. However, it is not the miracles she experienced and describes that make her a Mother of the Church. It was the little things that show us that she had acquired a high level of virtue and this should encourage us to also struggle here in the world to emulate Gerontissa’s uncomprising fight to attain holiness – not so we can say we had so-and-so saint visit us, heal us, etc. but so we can attract the grace of God and become “gods by grace”.

When we have Christ living in us, like Gerontissa had, everything becomes light, everything easy, everything joyful. The greatest hardships in the world become means for us to commune with God, and instead of complaining we praise Him. Because hardships, tribulations and difficulties – as we will see in the life of Gerontissa Macrina – serve to help us seek and struggle to live a Christ-centered life. And it is about these things I wish to speak, for seeing visions and smelling divine fragrances are worthless if we don’t strive everyday to live for Christ so that He might live in us, transforming our darkness into light, our sadness into joy, and our tribulations into opportunities for spiritual victories.

It was in the little ways that Gerontissa Macrina’s virtue manifested itself. And it is in the little ways that we can emulate her, and with the help of God root out our evil habits, root out our dissatisfactions with our children, our in-laws, our jobs, and ultimately become full of peace and joy.

Gerontissa Macrina:

Gerontissa Macrina’s name in the world was Maria Vassopoulou. She was born in 1921 in the village of Χατζλέρι in the western part of Asia Minor. Her parents brought her to Greece during the Exchange of Population in 1922. They eventually settled in Νέα Ιωνία in Volos – the city in which Gerontissa and her nuns would later build a monastery.

By the young age of 9 she had lost both parents. Her father fell asleep first on Clean Monday in 1929 and the next year, again on Clean Monday, her mother passed away. Little Maria and her four-year old brother were left orphaned. This hardship was the first of many in Gerontissa Macrina’s life – all of which she accepted with fortitude and patience, and through which the grace of God made her holy.

As soon as she saved enough money from working, little Maria gave money to her spiritual father to serve 40 Liturgies for the souls of her parents. This alms-giving benefited their souls greatly and they were transposed to an even greater place in Paradise.

There were times during the war when her and her brother were literally starving to death. But before her father died, he was informed not only of his and his wife’s impending death, but also that God would protect and provide for little Maria and her brother George. Although it seemed that many times they would die, God protected them. For an entire year edible greens grew outside the window of their home and no matter how many times they picked the greens they’d grow back at an impossible speed. You see, from this we learn that sometimes it seems like God has abandoned us. He promised to take care of these children, and yet at times they almost died of starvation. Sometimes it seems like God has abandoned us, turned His back on us, but we need to be patient and we will see how much He cares for us at every turn!

From a young age little Maria enjoyed reading the Scriptures, lives of the saints, hymns, and Patristic and ascetical writings. See, we need to read these things to our children and grandchildren from a young to help them learn from holy writings which not only make them wise, but virtuous, just as Gerontissa was from childhood.

Maria, though a child, had a faithful and ascetical mindset. She fully trusted in God, just as we should do. Once while visiting family friends in Athens she heard about an illumined geronda who was clairvoyant staying in Piraeus. One morning she made her cross and set out, fasting, to find the elder, but she didn’t know his address. She just walked and prayed for God’s guidance. Just as it was getting dark Maria decided to stop and ask someone if they knew where the elder was staying. The first door she knocked on, who answered? The very elder she was looking for! He invited her in, fed her and advised her. And he revealed many things about her future. Such was this child’s faith that she completely entrusted herself to God. What a great example for us not to worry about this or that, but to pray, make our cross and have faith and patience. God takes care of everything!

She had great love for and trust in her spiritual father. She would ask him to cross her and miracles would occur on account of her faith and obedience…

Such was her virtue. She struggled, she confessed her sins, she did perfect obedience to her spiritual father, she humbled herself and with the grace of God she enjoyed great states of prayer and blessedness.

After working in the world until we was in her late thirties, Maria and some of her spiritual sisters from the world found a place wherein they could live out the monastic life. They contacted Elder Joseph the Hesychast (the elder of Geronda Ephraim) and he became their spiritual father and director (after his death Geronda Ephraim of Arizona became the monastery’s spiritual father). Without having ever met Maria, and even though there were other women older than her, Geronda Iosif prayed and saw a green pasture with many sheep gathered around Maria. There appeared a monkey who was trying to bother the sheep but Maria shoed it far away with a reed she was holding. Thus Geronda had confirmation from God that it was His will for Maria to guide and protect the sisterhood.

On account of her humility, however, it was very difficult for Maria to accept this. So the elder prayed for her to receive confirmation herself that this was God’s will for her. One evening Maria saw the Holy Forerunner John claiming a mountain toward the heavens with a staff in his hand. She followed behind him and behind her a host of monastics. At some point the saint stopped, turned toward Maria and handed her his staff. After this Maria accepted God’s will and thus she became Gerontissa Macrina in holy monasticism. This is a little example of her great humility! She wasn’t able to make herself the leader without firm confirmation from God, but once she received the confirmation she didn’t insist on her will, but accepted God’s will for her.

As we’ve seen, her virtues weren’t limited to monasticism. She herself tells us that while in the world she struggled to obey her spiritual father. She taught that obedience to your spiritual father brings the soul joy, it is the cause of constant gratitude; obedience is a golden life which gives you strength and grace and keeps our consciences clean. And she tells us, this caused her to feel the presence of God. She convinced herself that even while in the world those around her were like her cenovio (her sisterhood) and she did obedience those people. She said doing our own will, what our thoughts tell us, instead of obedience is one of the greatest downfalls we are able to experience.

Another thing that Gerontissa spoke a great deal about was not wasting time. This was of great concern to her. God gave us the time that we have in this life to draw closer to Him. We need to safeguard this time, use it wisely. She taught that we need order in our lives and spiritual lives. Reading the lives of the saints, prayer, reading Scripture, these were all things she stressed. She would say the Fathers, the saints, did not have more than we do. They fought the same passions and struggled to live holy lives, just as we should do; with struggle and a good disposition they arrived at holiness, just as we are able to. If they were able to succeed, we have no excuses, because all we need to do is put in a little effort and God will give us so much grace that no spiritual victory will be impossible for us to accomplish. Even if only for one week, she said, we were to struggle to keep silent and pray we would see – even in this short period of time – the depth of God’s love!!!

God’s grace visits us when someone upsets us, they say harsh things to us, criticize or fight with us, if we keep our thoughts humble even in the midst of these trials God will visit us with grace! God will change our hearts – hard as stone though they may be, He will make our darkness light and our cold hearts to burn with love for God. And when we see the grace of God we’ll say: “I’m gonna try not to have disdain for anyone in my soul.” And even to those who hate us and treat us poorly we will say, “This person is a saint in my eyes!” And gradually all the vices in our hearts will flee and God’s grace will reign.

Gerontissa not only loved God above all and taught her nuns to love Him, but she also loved her neighbour as herself. With pain of heart she would pray for people and they would receive great benefit. She once prayed for her friend, a woman who was a teacher in the world. This teacher didn’t believe in God as Trinity. She couldn’t understand and refused to believe how God in Trinity could be one essence since God is also three persons. Gerontissa prayed very much for this misguided teacher, for Gerontissa feared what the woman was teaching the children in school about God since she was in error. Gerontissa prayed so much for this woman that one night three angels appeared to this woman. They told her, “Examine us and see if you can find any difference between us.” She examined them from their heads to their toes, their height, their nails, their eyes, hair, everything. She could not find a single difference between them. “There is no difference between you,” she answered. “Now do you believe in the one essence?” The woman ran to Gerontissa’s house (this was before Gerontissa became a monastic), she told her the story and began crying, “You prayed for me!” she said. “Now I will teach this at school.”

After this experience the woman became very faithful! All through Gerontissa’s prayers! Her love and her prayers corrected this woman’s wrong belief. And this is a great testimony for us – prayer works wonders. We should never give up on someone, pray, pray, pray and God will enlighten them because His love and mercy are greater than ours and He’s always looking for an excuse to help someone. So we should pray – even for those who hate us!

Gerontissa tells another story about a woman who slandered her and the spiritual benefit we can receive from praying for those who hate us and never judging, not even those who slander us…

And so, agapite mou adelfoi, brothers and sisters, St. Paul says “Let us fear then, lest perhaps, being left a promise to enter into His rest, any of you [us] seems to have come short of it” (Heb. 4:1). What excuse will we give to the Just Judge if we too don’t reach holiness? What will we say? We’ll have no words. We will stand in silence, filled with shame because the medicine was there for the taking, all our lives the pill of holiness is offered to us, all we have to do is swallow it, pick up our cross and follow Him, deny ourselves – struggle in other words. Woe to us if we don’t make a spiritual effort! Woe is us if we leave the acquisition of holiness up to people like Gerontissa Macrina, to the monastics. Woe to us! For all we need to do is give one, and God gives one hundred. May we then, through the prayers of holy Gerontissa Macrina, and all monastics, arrive at holiness even here in the world!

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Christ is risen!

A film about the Bevreti Monastery, Georgia, built by the initiative of Fr Teimuraz with the blessing of Patriarch IIia II.

Awarded the St Andrew Cross at the International Orthodox Film Festival 2013.

Director/Writer: David Kemkhadze
Genre: Documentary
Country: Georgia
Archdiocese: Georgian Apostolic Church
Nominations: Best Film, Best Director

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Fragment of a monastic meeting held on December 30, 2013

Nun Chionia: We brought up the following topic during one of our previous meetings: as soon as a person decides to struggle with a certain sin, she is immediately overwhelmed by temptations. I’m having a serious issue with it. No matter how many times I tried to struggle with my passions, of which I have plenty – I can simply pick and choose any of them – I have always faced this problem. As soon as I tell myself that I start the fight, I meet a temptation. I cannot get it: why does it happen, given that the enemy does not know our good thoughts?

Father Andrew: This is because the enemy knows our weaknesses.

Nun Chionia: How can he know that, for instance, today I would like to start fighting this or that sin?

Father Andrew: He feels it. He has an intuition. Perhaps, this is what God allows him to do. A person thinks, “I will get up early and attend all the nocturnal services,” but immediately she is overcome by such sleepiness that she cannot possibly attend a nocturnal service at all. The Lord says, “Come on, you are free to try but it is Me who you need to succeed.” The brothers who stay at the metochion often promise that they will never drink again but this never happens because they rely solely on their own strength. We should call unto God, “O Lord, help me! I cannot live like that anymore.”

Nun Chionia: Yes, we should begin with praying to God. However, even though I do pray, the situation never changes; perhaps, this is because my prayer is too weak. I have sins like irascibility and anger. So I plan to struggle with these sins and say, “O Lord, help me, protect me, teach me to react to everything calmly.” Nevertheless, I fail to do this and temptations come down on me like an avalanche. I want to fight the sin, and start sinning even more as a result.

Father Andrew: You’ve got to feel your weakness, for God’s power is made manifest in weakness; you’ve got to humble yourself down because you are a proud person. So if you say, “I’ll do this, I’ll do that,” gradually you may be overridden with pride, self-confidence with regard to your abilities and your spiritual condition, and this will be the most horrifying of all.

Nun Chionia: How can I improve?

Father Andrew: You have to humble down.

Abbess Euphrosinia: I can relate to what you are saying. You want to do everything for your own sake, for the sake of your pride, not for the sake of Christ.

Father Andrew: In order to justify yourself in your own eyes. You should be thinking, “Lord, I am the worst of all the sisters. I do not deserve anything but please do not leave me; I want to live with love, humility, and patience, but instead I am angry and all my passions, all my sinful dirt pours over onto my dear sisters. Forgive me, O Lord, help me!” If you reprimand yourself like that, if you feel your absolute dependency on God – you will not even notice how your way of doing things will change. This is because if you decide to do something, you cannot help watching over yourself and looking at the result, and believing that this result is your own. That is why the saints used to say that they were the worst of all: they did not see themselves exalted, they saw their wretchedness. Whenever God would give something to them, they were humbled even more because they considered themselves unworthy of it. You see, you can walk on nails and stand on your head, you can be sophisticated to a great extent – and many people do it – however, the basis for it will not be right, it will be the spirit of pride, the evil spirit. Apparently, the Lord sees that you have to humble down more. You want it but you cannot do it so you should rebuke yourself and ask for the sisters’ prayers, and when you succeed, you should say, “The sisters’ prayers managed to do it, not my own strength.” The first person you should ask for prayers is the person you dislike most. This will be a humbling experience for you, and that is how you will grow spiritually and not notice yourself doing any good. As you look into your soul, you will be able to see how deep your fall is and will no longer be proud of what the Lord gives you. The original sin deformed the human nature, so we can say that the worse – the better, if you do not become desperate.

Nun Chionia: You tell me I should ask for the prayers of the sister I have a hard time getting along with. This is the most difficult task for me…

Father Andrew: Well, you should be friends, help each other, serve each other. Carry out your holy obedience. See how Nun Nadezhda carries it out and feels that God is her strength.

March 7, 2014

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During the years my husband was a deacon in Greece, we spent every Sunday of the summer months at a monastery where he assisted the priest for the celebration of Divine Liturgy. We would also go for some feasts that fall in the summer months, such as the feast of the Transfiguration, among others.

Our last summer living in Greece we joined the sisters once again to celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. That particular year an icon of Panagia Paramythia had been lent to the monastery as a blessing for the feast of the Mother of God on August 15.

The prototype of this icon is located at Vatopedi Monastery on Holy Mount Athos and has an incredible history behind it. Tradition has it that the figure’s hands and faces were in different positions originally. Until January 21, 807 when the abbot, praying alone, heard the voice of the Mother of God warning him not to open the gate to the monastery that day and to drive away the pirates, who had already landed on the shores of the Holy Mountain with the intention of pillaging the monastery.

Hearing this, the abbot turned toward the icon and saw the small hand of the Christ child reaching up to cover His Mother’s mouth. He heard Christ tell His Mother not to watch over that sinful flock but to let them fall to the pirates. At this the Theotokos held the child’s hand back and turned her head away to repeat the same warning to the abbot.

The abbot heeded her advice. The lives of the monks were spared that day and the depiction of the Mother of God and Christ has remained in that position even until today. Thus, the icon adopted the new name of Panagia Paramythia, paramythia meaning “restrain” or “calm down”.

The particular copy of this icon which was lent to the monastery we were visiting came from Jerusalem and was painted by a nun who was almost completely blind. The likeness of the Theotokos and Christ were so precise that it was hard to believe a hand could replicate such an exact copy, let alone a hand belonging to someone with very poor eyesight.

Being an iconographer, I examined the icon with interest. The original is covered in rizo (a decorative silver encasing) but this one was full of brilliant colour. I had the blessing of venerating it before and after the service and was told it would be returned to Jerusalem in a week or so.

A week later monks from the Holy Land came to pick up the icon. As they were processing with it to the parking lot, just as they exited the gates of the monastery, I was told hundreds of birds swooped down all at once and bowed to the icon. Those witnessing this miracle were so astounded that they decided they should contact the iconographer to tell her about this divine occurrence. Once she heard of the news she said, “It seems that the Mother of God would like to stay there.” And that is how the brilliantly-coloured icon of Panagia Paramythia, painted by an almost completely blind nun in the Holy Land came to permanently reside in a monastery in Greece that my husband had the blessing of serving in on numerous occasions.


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Zhicha Monastery

(Source) This article was written in October, 2011, but it’s content is still interesting today:

The first ever Orthodox International spiritual-academic symposium dedicated to women’s monasticism has now been held in Serbia, in the famous and ancient Zhicha Monastery, which is celebrating its eight-hundredth anniversary.

There is a proverb which is the same even across the most different of Orthodox nations: “If you want to find out if someone loves Christ, find out in he loves monasticism.” Truly, monasticism is the nervous system of the Church, Her hope and expectation. Therefore the spiritual health of the nation depends very much on the health and strength of its monasticism.

It is not surprising then that the recent symposium in Serbia was recognized as having great spiritual significance not only for the Serbian Church, but also for Universal Orthodoxy.

Representative from almost all of the local Orthodox Churches took part in the symposium: from Greece, Serbia, Russia, France, Georgia, Romania, Syria and other countries. Opening the symposium, His Holiness Patrirach Irenaeus of Serbia said that monasticism has been the greatest force in the Church during all eras. The greatest Christian minds were reared in monasticism. At the present time it is reviving in many countries, but is also passing through formidable temptations; and this requires discernment and conciliar thinking.

“It makes us very happy,” the Patriarch noted, “that both academics and monastics, representatives from various Orthodox Churches, are taking part in this grace-filled gathering. Thanks to this fact, we will be able to examine not only the history of Orthodox monasticism, but also its contemporary state, its problems and needs.”

In the course of the symposium’s work the most urgent questions facing leaders and members of today’s monastic communities. The titles of the presentations and the names of the participants speak for themselves: “The Abbess as Spiritual Mother,” “The Bishop and the Church,” “The Role of the Spiritual Father and the Clergyman in a Women’s Monastery,” “Women’s Monasticism and its Pastoral Role in the Church.” …

Nine hierarchs gave presentations, including Metropolitan Amphilochius of Montenegro and Primorsk, Metropolitan Afanassy of Limassol, Metropolitan Nikolai of Lavreot, Bishop Afanassy (Evtich) of Zakholmsk and Herzegovina, and others. Also presenting were seven abbots, abbesses, and spiritual fathers of monasteries, including Archimandritev Ephrem of Vatopedi, Archimandrite Elisseus of Simonopetra, Abbess Theoxenia of Chrysopighi Monastery in Crete, Archimandrite Ilia (Rago), spiritual father of a women’s monastery in France which is a dependency of Simonopetra.

Abbess Theoxenia

We offer an excerpt from the brilliant lecture of Bishop Nikolai of Lavreot. In response to the question of how a women’s monastery might serve the world, he established a few fundamental positions.


1. In the wise book of St. John of the Ladder we read: “Angels are the light of monks, and the monastic life is a light to people living in the world.” This means that the monastic form of life is itself an example for members of the Church who are struggling in the world. The monastic life offers a measure for the life of any Christian. The Church, in essence, is guided by a monastic way of thinking.

2. The life of the faithful is supported by the prayers of the monks. This is elucidated by the very fact that the faithful take refuge in such prayers. Just as Moses stretched out his hands and the Israelites conquered the Amalekites, so the monastics life up their hands to God and we, the faithful who are struggling in the wilderness of this world, conquer the noetic Amalek.

When human strength and even the advice and counsel of spiritual fathers bears no result, then the prayers of the Church, the prayers of the monastic order, which stand unceasingly before God, the prayers of ascetical monastics can bear fruit. The Church is guided more by prayer than by words and sermons. She gains more peace from the prayers of monastics than from the words of even the most talented teachers.

3. The third element of the monastic life that can truly benefit the struggle of the faithful is the quiet and silence of the monasteries.

In such a time in the world that is ruled by great hurry, powerful unrest, competition, many worries, uncontrollable stress, lack of certainty about tomorrow — in such a time the atmosphere of a monstery, where everything happens at its own time, according to a pre-appointed order, where the tenderness of quietude and the dialect of silence establish themselves as the natural and appropriate language of life, where life is untroubled, free from unnecessary information and mindless strivings, the greatest constancy presents itself; In place whose law says that material and bodily goods are not as absolutely necessary as the true and spiritual presence of God, where there is a waiting for the Kingdom of God — this is the most important thing in life; and so, in a such a time in the world as the one we live in, only visiting a monastery can restore the orientation of our lives and bring rest to the heart of the most disturbed man.

4. According to tradition, monasteries are distinguished by voluntary poverty, meekness and simplicity of life. It is true that this tradition has declined somewhat in our times. But where it exists, it gives the best answer to all the perversions of hyper-consumption and hedonistic materialism. A minimum of earthly comforts, absence of multifarious worldy ambitions, colors and subjects, a limited number of words, smiles, no tempestuous flow of joys and other feelings, always one and the same order of actions — all this establishes very fine borders for life, exclusively estranged from agitation of the feelings.

This is encountered rarely today and offers a special kind of rest. There is not enough of this is today’s way of life, so that every visit to a monastery affords a man rare relaxation and a spiritual foothold: silence of the feelings awakens the inner activity of the soul. Communication with the world works in the opposite way: it awakens external feelings, while deadening the inner ones. The atmosphere of life in a monastery awakens the inner world and gives vigor to the nature of man.

5. Monastic life is founded on the renunciation of the world, and so presents itself as the renunciation of nature for the sake of surpassing it, in order to find what is above nature. In other words, monasticism contains in itself a deep element of exalted heroism, of real, genuine life. At the same time, the more estranged one is from this world, the more he is able to help this world.

A monk knows the secrets of the human soul, the activity of the passions and the image of the activity of the grace of God, the mysteries and difficulty of the spiritual path. The monk is one has himself struggled and learned much. He is the best psychologist. He understands the weak, the antagonistic, the grieved, the burdened and the betrayed, the hungry and the thirsty, the persecuted and unjustly insulted. Is this not the work of a pastor?

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Through the prayers of the holy fathers,

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us and save us, Amen!

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Article by Brandon Evans, Photos by Joe Duty

He wakes up before the sun. His days are filled with study, prayer and contemplation on God.

“I want to turn my desires away from this world and to God,” Father Gregory said as fogged breath escaped from his bearded face.

Long, curling hair droops beneath a black cloth hat. His light footfalls trace along a wooded trail. His dark robe rustles quietly centimeters above dew-dropped grass. A raven perches on a nearby post oak and cries into the wilderness.

“This is a place to carry out my monastic life,” he said, “a place to get closer to God.”

Almost two years ago, the 58-year-old Father Gregory left his long-time monastery in Pennsylvania and relocated to a rural patch of land in Wise County between Greenwood and Decatur. A wooden cross by the road is all that marks entry to the hermitage.

He’s a father in the Greek Orthodox Church. Although it’s the second largest Christian denomination in the world in terms of followers, he’s one of the few practitioners of the faith living in Wise County. The Orthodox Church doesn’t believe in change, and it follows a brand of Christianity remarkably similar to that founded by the apostles.

Elizabeth and Greg Davis live in Irving with three children, but they purchased the wooded patch of land on a winding county road several years ago. They invited Father Gregory, the family’s spiritual father, to live on the land and to create a hermitage there. It’s named after St. Arsenius, a fifth-century Roman monk who denied the riches of his parents to live as an impoverished hermit.

Arsenius was inspired by a passage in the Book of Matthew that reads, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

“The monastic life is very important to the Orthodox church,” Elizabeth Davis said. “It’s important to have a spiritual father that lives away from the world.”

Uninfluenced by the material wants of the world, he serves as a spiritual adviser to Greek Orthodox families in the area.

But Father Gregory gets out sometimes. He gives service once a month at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Wichita Falls.

He also holds service at his small chapel in the woods. Several simple chairs sit on a plain plywood floor. Images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles and a host of saints adorn the walls.

Father Gregory said the land might one day develop into a monastic community. They are in the process of building a 12-foot by 24-foot living quarters for him. The building is insulated by square hay bales coated with a clay mixture from the land. It will be powered by 11 solar panels that were donated to the hermitage.

Rainwater is collected from the roof and filtered for washing.

In a time of more distractions and gadgets than ever before, he lives a life most couldn’t handle. He lives simply, with hardly any belongings, in a 10-by-12-foot building. He shares the land with a few goats and chickens.

“Asceticism takes exercise and training like an athlete,” he said. “If you don’t pray every day how will you remember to honor God? If you don’t fast and deny yourself the entertainments of the world, where will your desires be?”

He joined the monastery 35 years ago. He spent most of those years in Pennsylvania, but he’s spent time at monasteries as far away as Greece. He said he became a monk because he was never satisfied with anything in the world. Comfort only came from contemplation and devotion to God.


“For us, salvation is an unending pursuit to give thoughts to God, and work to be purified,” he said. “When you go out and visit someone, you might end up watching a football game or talking about what the man down the street did. These are all distractions from the main purpose of life, to follow and study the word of God.

“I live away from the world. The monastic life can be described as a homesickness for the paradise that Adam lost.”

The land will eventually be deeded to the church as they continue to develop it into a monastery.

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