Archive for the ‘Contemporary Monasteries’ Category
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.
(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.
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?
Through the prayers of the holy fathers,
Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us and save us, Amen!
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.
I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but somehow I had never heard of this book until receiving it in the mail as a gift – and I’m so grateful I did! Come Follow Me is a collection of entries, chronicling Mother Casiana’s year spent living in the Holy Monastery of Varatec in Moldavia, Romania in 1984. Similar to my own book, The Scent of Holiness, in some ways, it offers us a glimpse into the everyday life, work and prayer regime of the sisterhood of Varatec Monastery (a sisterhood that numbered 350 individual nuns).
In the pages of Come Follow Me Mother Casiana not only invites us to take a look at the monastic way of life in Varatec Monastery, but she also takes us with her own pilgrimages to various monasteries and celebration of feast days in Moldavia. The book is, although short in length (just shy of 200 pages), is full of details concerning the life of the sisters at this particular monastery in Romania.
I appreciated getting to know the cycle of work and prayer at the monastery as the seasons come and go. And I especially liked getting to know some of the sisters and Abbess Nazaria – to the extent we are able to know her person through reading about her. Here is one of my favourite insights into her character:
“‘It’s impossible. We simply cannot have snow on the ground for Pascha!’
“When Mother Abbess Nazaria said this at the end of March I smiled to myself thinking that, after all, there is not much one can do about the snow if God continues to send it to us. It seemed that almost every day, we were shoveling newly fallen snow off the pathways. There were even several areas within the monastery courtyard where it was piled higher than the buildings themselves.
“The day after Mother Abbess had firmly stated that the snow must be gone before the Feast of the Lord’s Resurrection, it began to melt.” (Come Follow Me, p. 34)
One of the most prominent differences I noticed between monasticism in this particular monastery and what I experienced in Greece was that at Varatec Monastery some nuns have different spiritual mothers depending on whether they live in a skete outside the main monastery with one or more sisters, or whether they live at the staretia (the cenobium if I understood correctly) with the Abbess. In Greece sisterhoods function as one family, with one mother (for the most part). The practice of having various sketes, each with a spiritual mother and one or more disciples, is not commonly practiced in Greece – or at least not in the places I visited. This aspect of monasticism in Moldavia was unique to me and reminiscent of the monastic way of life on Mount Athos, where various sketes are attached to larger cenobiums but each has a spiritual father independent of the abbot.
One of the greatest similarities between monasticism in Moldavia and monasticism in Greece was the mutual love and support shared between monasteries: “It was clear that there was no sense of rivalry between the monasteries; in fact, I found the exact opposite to be the case. Each monastery does all it can to help the other: this help is expressed in various forms: domestic help as in cooking and serving food on special occasions; sending a choir of monastics to sing at a service; priest-monks serving for another monastery; offering of whatever other talents and gifts are available… The monasteries continually support, help, and encourage each other in a true spirit of Christian brotherhood. When one community suffers, all the other monasteries feel the pain as well; when one community experiences a great joy, the others join in that spiritual exultation.” (Come Follow Me, p. 92).
There are many interesting, as well as uplifting, passages and stories found in this little book. Some stories are reminiscent of those found in The Scent of Holiness and some are different. My book was from the perspective of a layperson, and although I received endless amounts of love and attention from the sisters, I was – at the end of the day – only a guest. Mother Casiana, on the other hand, was a member of the sisterhood, having been tonsured a nun at Varatec. Her stories are told with a unique perspective from within the community. I’m grateful she shared her experiences with us, so that those of us who have never traveled to Moldavia can have the opportunity to taste of the holy waters of monasticism in Orthodox Romania.
Whether it is Greece or Romania, or some other far off – or not so far off – place, we all have churches and/or monasteries we consider to be our spiritual homes. But it is also nice to be given a glimpse of the place someone else calls “home”. In her closing paragraph Mother Casiana, who, after one year in Moldavia returned to America and now lives in a monastery in Colorado, writes: “God has given us holy places throughout the world which we can visit and toward which we can direct our thoughts and our hearts… Like St. Peter on Tabor, we, too, long to remain in those holy places… Though I was prevented from doing so, I echo the words of Saint Peter at the Transfiguration, ‘Lord, it was good for me to be there.’” (Come Follow Me, p.181) And it was good for us to “be there” through Mother Casiana’s detailed descriptions in her book.
According to ancient Syrian and Greek manuscripts, Saint Thekla was born into a prosperous pagan family in the Lycaonian city of Iconium (present-day Konya in south-central Turkey) in A.D. 16. When she was 18 years old and betrothed to a young man named Thamyris, Saint Paul the Apostle and Saint Barnabas arrived in Iconium from Antioch (Acts 14). Thekla’s mother Theokleia prohibited her from joining the crowds which gathered to hear Paul preach. But Thekla found that if she sat near her bedroom window she could hear his every word. Thekla sat there for three days and three nights listening to Paul preach the word of God. She was particularly touched by his call to chastity. As it became apparent that Thekla was becoming interested in the new Faith, Theokleia and Thamyris went to the governor of the city and complained about Paul and his preaching. To pacify them and the other outraged citizens of Iconium, the governor had Paul imprisoned to await trial.
When Thekla learned of Paul’s arrest she secretly went to the prison, and using her golden bracelets to bribe the guard, gained admittance to his cell. When she saw the Apostle she knelt before him and kissed the chains which bound his hands and feet. She remained there a long time listening to his message of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Being concerned at Thekla’s prolonged absence, Theokleia and Thamyris asked her servant if she knew where she was. The servant said that Thekla had gone to visit an imprisoned stranger. Theokleia and Thamyris knew at once that she was with Paul. They decided to go again to the governor, this time demanding immediate judgement for the Apostle. After the governor chastened Paul for the disturbances he had caused in the city, he had him stoned and expelled from Iconium. The governor then admonished Thekla for her foolishness and commanded her to return home with her mother and fiancé. When Thekla announced that she had vowed to remain a virgin for the sake of Christ, her mother became enraged and asked the governor to threaten Thekla with severe punishment. The governor complied with this wish and ruled that Thekla was to be burned at the stake unless she renounced her faith in Christ.
When Thekla refused to renounce her Heavenly Bridegroom, she was taken to the arena for punishment. As she was tied to the stake she saw a vision of Jesus Christ which gave her strength to face the flames. The fire was lit, but as the flames came near Thekla a thunderstorm suddenly arose and a great torrent of rain and hail came down from heaven and extinguished the flames. Embarrassed because his plan had failed, the angry governor released Thekla but commanded that she must leave Iconium at once.
Upon her release, Thekla went to the outskirts of the city where she rejoined Paul. She told him of her trial and miraculous escape from punishment and asked for baptism. Paul refused to baptize Thekla, saying that this would be accomplished in God’s own way and time. Paul and Thekla then departed from the region of Iconium and traveled to Antioch in Syria. As they were entering the city a young nobleman named Alexander saw Thekla. Being entranced by her beauty he rushed forward and tried to seduce her, but Thekla fought him off, thus disgracing him in front of his crowd of friends. Alexander went to the governor of Antioch and complained that this wandering girl had disgraced him, a nobleman, in public. He demanded that she be punished with death. The governor complied and ruled that Thekla would face the wild beasts in the arena. Thekla’s only reply was that she be allowed to preserve her virginity unto death. Her wish was granted and she was given into the care of the noblewoman Tryphaena, a relative of Caesar, until the time of punishment.
When Thekla was taken to the arena, a lioness was set free to attack her. But to the astonishment of the crowd, the lioness approached the Saint and sat tamely at her feet. A bear was then released, but as it came close to Thekla the lioness rose up to defend her and killed the bear. A large lion was then released. The lioness again came to Thekla’s defense killing the lion, but losing her own life also. Then all the cages were opened and a large number of wild animals charged at the defenseless Thekla. After crossing herself and praying for courage, the Saint noticed a large tank of water which was nearby, containing the aquatic animals. She climbed into the water, asking that she might be baptized by Christ as she did so. Seeing that the beasts were unable to harm Thekla, Alexander asked that the Saint be given over to him for punishment. He tied her to two large bulls in the hopes that they would pull her asunder. But when the bulls charged off in opposite directions, the ropes which held Thekla to them were miraculously loosened and she was spared. Seeing that no harm could be done to Thekla, the authorities released her. She went to the home of Tryphaena where she remained for eight days preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ and converting Tryphaena and her entire household. When she departed from Antioch, Tryphaena gave her a treasure in gold and precious jewels.
After she left Antioch, Thekla journeyed to Myra where she rejoined Paul. She informed him of all that had occurred, including her baptism and asked that she might be permitted to spend the remainder of her life as an ascetic. Paul gave her his blessing and she departed, leaving with Paul all the gold and jewels that Tryphaena had given her so that he might distribute them among the poor and needy.
Thekla then traveled again to Syria where she went up into the mountains for a life of prayer and solitude. Many years later a young pagan found her praying in an isolated canyon and resolved to harass her and spoil her virginity. As he approached her and blocked her only exit to safety, she prayed that her Bridegroom would protect her as He had so many times in the past. At that moment the canyon wall was miraculously split allowing her to escape through a narrow crack in the rock.
Saint Thekla continued her life of asceticism and then peacefully fell asleep in Christ at the age of 90. Shortly after her death a community of virgins went to live in her mountain cell, building a small chapel to enshrine her body. This Convent of Saint Thekla still exists today near the village of Ma‘loula, Syria.
Because of her many sufferings for the Faith the Church counts her as a “Protomartyr”. And because she converted so many people to Christianity she is also know as an “Equal-to-the-Apostles”.
When we were children we fought a lot – I mean a lot. I’m surprised our mother wasn’t committed on account of how crazy we must have made her. But at the age of 15 my brother found his conscience and stopped being so mean.
I’m sure he’d say I stopped being such a contrary whiner – or perhaps I haven’t stopped but the change in our relationship was brought on solely because he grew kind. In any case, our relationship slowly turned from one of dislike to one of love and my little sister and I began to admire him.
From a young age we thought he would one day become a priest because God had spared his life on numerous occasions (from being temporarily blind and paralyzed due to infant-Meningitis; to running into a busy road in his toddler years; to falling through an ice-covered lake in his adolescence – just to name a few). Somehow we had it in our heads that God protected him because one day he would become a priest. Funny, looking back, the only priests I thought existed were Catholic…
Through Fr. Matthew’s fervent priestly prayers, his zeal for Christ, and his gift as a teacher may he turn many more toward Christ and His Church! AXIOS! AXIOS! AXIOS!, dear brother. I hate to say “I told you so,” but I told you so: You were destined to be a priest!
The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way… And into whatsoever city ye enter… heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you (Luke 10: 2-9).
A week ago today I returned from perhaps the greatest pilgrimage I have ever taken (or maybe that is just how one feels directly after every pilgrimage…). I spent one week in the Holy Monastery of St. Anthony the Great in Florence, Arizona, a place I would describe as – if all monasteries are Paradise – the Third Heaven of monasteries!
My mum and I went together. I hadn’t been there in six years, she in seven. However, once I was walking through those beautiful familiar paths encroached by flowers, butterflies and palms it felt as though no time had passed since my last visit. We met many wonderful people full of love for Christ, watched gorgeous sunsets, enjoyed the hot sun, and prayed in all of the chapels.
Knowing Greek this time ’round helped because I could follow the services almost exactly. When I could I would lean over to my mother and whisper the first line of the prayer or hymn in English so she could also follow along. Since the services (at least Matins and Divine Liturgy) are held during the night by candlelight it was difficult for her to see her English prayer book, but she had the prayer rope and the monks’ beautiful Byzantine chant helped make her prayer soar I’m sure.
We were blessed to be there for the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. The vigil that night consisted of Great Vespers, Matins, and Divine Liturgy. All I could think about was the hymn at the end of the Supplicatory Canon to the Theotokos: “O all ye Apostles from afar, being now gathered together…”
My mum and I had traveled many hours (we’re about a 7 hour direct flight to Phoenix, that’s how far away we are from Arizona), and yet here we found ourselves gathered together from afar to commemorate the day the Apostles gave burial to the All-holy one’s body. “O inexplicable wonder!” that we be found worthy to celebrate such a holy feast in such a holy place!
That day, in the afternoon, yet another huge blessing came our way: the memorial service the fathers held in memory of Elder Joseph the Hesychast! We were able to venerate his holy, fragrant skull and pray that with the righteous he may rest (not that there is any doubt he rests with the righteous!!!) But, this is the Orthodox custom: to pray for the soul of the departed loved one until God confirms him as a sanctified member of the choir of saints, at which point we will supplicate him (instead of for him) to intercede on our behalf. (Many already pray this way in private).
While at St. Anthony’s my mum and I prayed especially for my brother, (now) Priest Matthew, because his ordination to the Holy Priesthood was to take place (and has now taken place) on August 19, my mum’s birthday and the Feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration (Old Style) in Jordanville. We did not cease to thank God for His great blessings in both bringing us to St. Anthony’s and in making us worthy to have yet another priest in the family! (AXIOS!)
If you have visited St. Anthony’s Monastery in the past, I pray you find the opportunity to return. If you haven’t yet been, I encourage you to visit, and if you think it’s outside the realm of possibility to get there (on account of money or distance), pray and have patience and the Lord will grant your request!