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Axios!: New Abbot of St. Herman of Alaska Monastery

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On Saturday, July 20 (n.s.), His Grace Bishop Maxim visited the St. Herman of Alaska Serbian Orthodox Monastery in Platina, California, served the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, and installed Hieromonk Damascene (Christensen) as abbot of the monastery. Concelebrating clergy included Protopresbyter Dane Popovich of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Serbian Orthodox Church in Sacramento, California; Priest Nektarios Rozadilla of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Redding, California; Hieromonk Paisius (Bjerke) of the St. Herman Monastery; Priest George Elliott and Deacon Philip Mayer of St. Andrew’s Serbian Orthodox Church in Anderson, California; and Priest Daniel Mackay of St. John the Wonderworker Serbian Orthodox Church in Eugene, Oregon.

Bishop Maxim served the rite of the elevation and installation of the new abbot during the Liturgy, at the time of the Entrance with the Gospel.

platinia-new-abbott-july-20-2013-20.jpgIn his sermon after the Gospel reading, His Grace spoke of how God took the initiative in becoming man for our sake, so that we can become one with Him. God has withheld nothing of Himself from us. In the Orthodox Church—unlike in non-Orthodox denominations and non-Christian religions, God is not distant from us. He is with us here, now, and He has given us all the means for communion with Him, making us true members of His Body.

His Grace also emphasized that our Faith is not only about receiving from God, but also about giving. Our lives as Christians, he said, should be ones of sacrifice for God and our neighbor. In the context of having installed an abbot, he spoke specifically of how a spiritual father should sacrifice himself for his spiritual children, putting their needs above his own.

At the end of the Liturgy, Bishop Maxim, in giving Fr. Damascene the abbot’s staff, spoke more on the same theme, telling how the abbot—in Serbian iguman, after the Greek igoumenos—means “one who leads.” A true leader, he said, is one who stands in front of his flock. In the case of an abbot, he stands in front of soldiers of Christ, being ready to give his life for them. He exhorted Abbot Damascene to guide his brothers with humility, love and forbearance.

platinia-new-abbott-july-20-2013-24.jpgBorn in 1961 in family with Scandinavian roots, Fr Damascene joined St Herman of Alaska Monastery, where he has lived for over 25 years. While in college at U.C. Santa Cruz, John Christensen met Eastern Orthodox Christian students and was invited by them to a lecture by an American priest and monk, who had also been a serious student of Eastern philosophy and Buddhism. It was through this lecture that Father Damascene met the man through whose influence his life would be radically altered. This man was Seraphim Rose, spiritual seeker, Eastern Religious scholar, Orthodox monk and priest. It was through this meeting, his ongoing studies, and many pilgrimages to the monastery Father Seraphim founded in the secluded woods of Northern California, that John Christensen came to discover that truth was not just an abstract idea, sought and known by the mind, but something personal, even a person, sought and loved by the heart. As a writer, Fr Damascene is best known for his biography of Seraphim Rose and he also wrote Christ the Eternal Tao.

platinia-new-abbott-july-20-2013-08.jpgAfter the Liturgy, the Bishop, clergy, monastics and faithful gathered in the monastery trapeza for a festive meal. His Grace spoke more inspiring words to the gathering, after which Abbot Damascene addressed everyone, acknowledging how much he will depend on his bishop, his brothers, other monastics with experience of the spiritual life, and the prayerful support of the faithful to fulfill the new responsibilities in a way that will be pleasing to God and will lead the monastic community to salvation. Then Fr. Nektarios, who has known Fr. Damascene for over twenty years and has gone twice with him to Russia, gave a talk in which he stressed the importance of monasteries in the life of the Orthodox Church, and the necessity of obedience in the monastic life.

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