My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Bless! The Lord!
Undoubtedly the most remarkable and memorable spiritual event this year was the recent consecration of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church by our dear Metropolitan Joseph, the head of the Bulgarian Patriarchal Diocese of the United States, Canada, and Australia. Metropolitan Joseph has a talent for inspiring others in the Church here and at home in Bulgaria with the desire to live more fully the Orthodox Christian life, and to also reach out to those around us with Christ’s great message of love and renewal of our lives. Although this talent is sensed by all of us when we are with him, it is not just easy charisma, but a well-prepared effort to make his homilies and advice prayerful and suited to each day’s events and each person’s needs. We were most fortunate to have him with us for a week just at the end of September, and it was a special time indeed. Thank you again, Vladiko Joseph!
This event brought back to me an important lesson that has been taught to me many times by my spiritual directors and by the many blessed spiritual men and women that I have known in my life, which can be stated rather simply: before and/or after every spiritual blessing there is also a price and difficulties. In my own case, I dearly love the spiritual blessings and the warmth that they always entail, but am not so welcoming to the difficulties when they occur. Yet, paradoxically, they are most often linked and consistently bound one to the other. If we want the blessings, then, we must be patient and thankful for the difficulties too. It is a hard lesson for me to learn so far.
- Church Consecration -
Metropolitan Joseph chants
with the Faithful and Clergy
- Church Consecration -
Metropolitan Joseph in front of Holy Altar
Click here to see photo highlights of St. Nicholas Church Consecration.
This newsletter will review some of these events that have happened here this year at the Skete, Convent, and Mission Center, all for our benefit and edification. May we remember to always thank God for His benevolent Providence over us.
St. Isaac of Syria Skete
The saddest event that we have to relate this year is the unexpected leaving of the monastic state of Father Theodore and Father Seraphim and their return to secular life after 11 years at the Skete. This occurred at the end of May and the beginning of June of 2007. The two Fathers were so much a part of our daily life and constant companions and fellow strugglers in the ascetic life, that this adjustment was very hard. For some time I cleaned up things to try to cope with my constant feelings of sadness, and this did help. Knowing that the monastic state is always a voluntary choice, I realized that no personal choice that I could make will change another monk’s personal choice, so I had to let go of my sadness and trust that God will bless each soul as He sees in the best way given our own choices. Please pray for our brothers that we so miss being in our midst.
Father Anthony and I are still here at the Skete trying to repent and live an ascetic monastic life, as is Mother Elizabeth at the Convent of St. Silouan nearby. Father Anthony is still pursuing many additional hours of online college classes in the major area of business management to help now and in the future those practical needs here at the Skete. He is just a few classes away from finishing his Associate Degree. He has tried to take the hours he could in the midst of his busy life to learn these helpful skills which will later benefit us. Besides this, he still takes care of the custom enlargements of icons, is the canonarch for all church services and leads the music, makes prosfora, and now more than ever, spends much time in the Icon Studio painting hand-painted icons.
Fr. Anthony and Brendan Kulp - display
Hand-painted Icons at annual Open House
Fr. Anthony and Novice Josiah
Brendan Kulp, the son of our dear friend Father Thomas Kulp of St. John’s Orthodox Church in Blue River, still works in the Icon Studio, as does Ephraim Rama, his brother-in-law, and we are making progress in catching up on our many previous orders. If you have a need for a hand-painted icon, let us know.
Father Anthony went to all the icon displays and shows again this year, and continues his work with music direction. All of the monastics also help with mailings and any other necessary monastic endeavors as they come up, including preparations for special events, outdoor maintenance, and daily kitchen clean up. The preparations for this year’s Open House and Consecration were a labor of love and much extra work with our two brothers not present. Others came to volunteer and we were able to be ready in time, but it was a bit harried at the time.
A recent blessing is the addition of two younger postulants, or those seeking to enter the monastic life. There is usually a testing period of up to six months to see if the life is agreeable to the person wishing to formally begin their obedience and then the acceptance of them into the rank of novices, which more properly translates into one learning obedience in Orthodox languages. Please pray for the servants of God Josiah and Oliver who are learning more about the Faith, and preparing to enter the monastic arena of ascetic struggle. Their timely help has been quite a boost to our morale and their enthusiasm is refreshing.
I have been more busy than ever just now, and during this last year with work in managing the icon studio, the icon reproduction distribution system, serving the priestly duties, giving and preparing for talks, doing icon shows, and organizing this year’s Open House and Sacred Arts Festival in June, and the new St. Nicholas Church’s consecration in September.
- Church Consecration -
Fr. Simeon and Metropolitan Joseph
Common Monastic Building
As almost all of our fund-raising efforts this year went towards preparing the church for its Consecration, then the fund-raising to upgrade our electrical system and connection of our radiators to better heat the Common Monastic Building were put off last year. We are hoping to begin tiling the floor and the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room walls over this winter if we can raise the moneys for the tile. I have the volunteers here ready to do the tiling for free. This quite unique building has been in construction since 1999 and it would be a big blessing to work now on trying to get it complete enough to use. The basic idea is to design and build a monastic kitchen/dining room, laundry and shower facilities, a greenhouse for growing vegetables all year long and a place to grow vegetable starts for later outside gardening, a dry food storage area, a tool storage area, a novice dormitory, monastic library, and large root cellars for storage of root vegetables throughout the winter. This building is built with the conscious design to have a self-sustaining life style as monastics have done for many centuries, from the foundation of monastic life in Egypt in the 4th century, through the great monastic foundations in medieval times to today. It is about 70% done and needs support to finish it for active use this next year.
This year’s sixth annual Open House and Icon and Sacred Arts Festival was held on Saturday June 23 and Sunday June 24 to avoid the heat of the last few years’ events. This worked rather well, and so our Open House next year will be on June 21 and 22, 2008. Father Jeremiah Loch, pastor of St. Innocent’s Russian Orthodox Church in Carol Stream, Illinois and Father Cornell Zubritsky, pastor of St. Ivan Suchevsky Ukrainine Orthodox Church in Winnipeg, Alberta, Canada were the two principle speakers besides myself at this year’s event. The theme for this last year was “The Distorted and Undistorted Image of God and Man.” I introduced the subject, and also gave two of the talks “Visual Stimuli: Its Message and Effect” and “The Patterning of Man and Its Impact on Modern Faith” while Father Jeremiah spoke on “Medicine and Morality: the Icon or New Superman” and Father Cornell spoke on “Sounds and Silence: from Heaven and Hell.”
St. Isaac's annual Open House
Fr. Jeremiah Loch presenting
Fr. Cornell Zubritsky presenting
Click here to see more photohighlights from annual Open House and Sacred Arts Festival
Thank you Fathers, for your preparation and presentation of these quite informative talks. If you would like to hear them, please go to our website and listen to these informative recordings. Several other priestly friends came to the Open House, including Father Raphael Vereschak from Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church in Winnipeg and Father Thomas Kulp from St. John’s Russian Orthodox Church in nearby Blue River, Wisconsin and participated with the other Fathers in the lively panel discussion at the end of the presentations, which was such a spontaneous interaction with the faithful present that we will plan on doing this again next year.
In March, I again went to the annual diocesan govenie Lenten clergy retreat near Syracuse, New York. This was as other years quite a joy. In July, I attended the annual diocesan convention of the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church set again this last year in Indianapolis with its pastor Fr. Stevan Bauman. Thank you again, all clergy and faithful, for your continued love and support.
My own life is always busy, but this is not new, just normal. Again, as each year, I had much counseling and administrative work, studies, mentoring, writing, and giving talks. God help me be prayerfully sensitive to the needs of each soul that I come into contact with, and see them as living icons of Christ.
Orthodox Byzantine Icons and St. Isaac’s Bookstore
Again we made a trip to show icons in St. Charles, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. As I just mentioned, we had our own Icon Festival here at the Skete at the end of June. We also are scheduled for another show in Des Moines, Iowa before the year is out. We are now offering special reduced prices on icon reproduction enlargements, especially for churches, as we now have this equipment in house. In addition we are now also offering beautiful custom hand-made carved hardwood iconostases to churches, and hardwood custom Holy Altars and Proskomede Tables from our experience of making these items for our own church to St. Nicholas, just consecrated in September. We hope that the new Affiliate marketing links to provide a source of additional fund-raising income to churches will continue to blossom this year in a connection for retail and church bookstores to our over 1100 icons offered on our web site. The icon summaries are still in preparation, and we hope to get the top icons completed by next year. Please pray that this blessed work moves quickly.
Frs. Anthony and Simeon
with Custom Enlarged Icon
Iconostasis in St. Nicholas Church
Click here for more information on Custom Enlarged Icons
Click here for more information on Custom Iconostases and Church Furniture
Click here for more information on Affiliate Program
Holy Orthodox Mission and St. Nicholas Orthodox Mission Church
Last year’s St. Nicholas Day celebration was again a joy and a blessing and was held at a nearby local inn in Readstown. We had our yearly gift exchange here at the Skete, then with a hearty meal at the inn with over 60 people attending. We went to serve food again at the Tuffley Center in Boscobel on December 25th, and helped cook, feed, and clean up (with the local community) for the less fortunate or those without immediate family there. For the last 18 years, we have had this opportunity to be so connected to serve our brothers and sisters here, and it is a gift for us to be touched by their needs and their love. This year I was elected President of the Board of a free medical clinic called InHealth Community Wellness (Free) Clinic which just opened on October 22, 2007 to help those who need medical treatment and cannot afford to do so in our local area. This is a blessed work and so needful in our times with so many people without adequate or any insurance or hope of adequate health care. Pray that this work goes well throughout this coming year.
As in other years many visitors come from every part of the country, and this year they came from as far as New York just yesterday, and even Russia. I am going to Regina, Saskatuwan, Canada in a few weeks to give an all day seminar on living an Orthodox life at a Ukrainian church. Our Mission center and Skete looks to the great commission of Christ to live first and then spread the wonderful news of the Holy Gospel to “repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” We are so blessed when these wonderful visitors come and share our life with us. We invite you to come and be with us in person this next year.
This last May I was chosen to give the main address to the graduating seniors at the annual high school Baccalaureate in Boscobel. As I mentioned last year, our local community has preserved their involvement in this Christian focus at this important time in young people’s lives. I gave a presentation and seminar at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin for Friends of St. Isaac, a talk at an Episcopal Church just south of Rochester, New York in March, and a series of homilies at an Episcopal church in the Davenport/Moline quad city area. Just last week I gave an all day seminar in Amery, Wisconsin to a group from Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Clayton, Wisconsin. The talks were well received, and I was blessed by being with these wonderful people at each one.
The consecration of the new St. Nicholas Church was a milestone in our lives, for in just three short years of active building, we had come far enough along to consecrate the building. Metropolitan Joseph said that it was one of the most beautiful churches in his Diocese. This was accomplished by your most generous support and prayers. There are still some things left to do (such as the domes, the ceiling lighting, the icons, finishing the second bathroom tiling, and a little trim around the baseboards), but most everything was in place for the consecration which was a wonderful spiritual event. God bless you abundantly for your continued support. More about this is written in our annual donation appeal.
St. Nicholas Church Consecration
Convent of St. Silouan
Mother Elizabeth has had another trying year with continuing recovery from an operation for a total knee replacement on February 1, 2006. As it was problematic in healing and required an external manipulation while under anesthesia to free up scarring tissue that restricted range of motion, it has taken much longer to heal and give her more range of motion and a fuller reduction in pain. Please keep her in your continued prayers. She has worked some more this year on systematizing our library, helping with cleaning icons in our reproduction facilities, and organizing our menu planning.
St. Isaac Orthodox School
As I mentioned last year, our educational efforts of previous years have reached a plateau in that without either more funds or volunteer help in both theological and educational expertise we are unable to go substantially forward in making our materials and experience for Orthodox elementary school years available for both Orthodox school use or for Orthodox home schooling. I am still studying materials from many disciplines to enhance someday their finished publication. I did start last Pentecost day to work on the educational philosophy of Orthodox Christian education which would show the underlying Patristic and spiritual basis for an articulate educational system, and which could in time replace our present pagan foundations for classical education, and also replace the Deweyian foundations of our modern educational modality that we are, for the most part, still operating on in today’s modern educational models. We ask for your continued prayers to see this and other Orthodox educational work through to completion. If anyone is interested in helping with this worthwhile project, please let us know.
In preparing for and giving the seminar just last week on How to Enrich Your Orthodox Christian Life
I was reviewing and integrating much material that I had developed over that last twenty years of being here at the Mission and Skete, and also writing more materials for this particular presentation. Prayer, fasting, alms-giving, confession, spiritual reading, and communion; which together help us live a Divine Life with God were the subjects that were covered, including how to better study the Holy Scriptures. It was quite a meaningful experience for me to prepare and present this, and I realized again how precious and blessed is such work for me in my life.
The Lord said that it is more blessed to give than receive, but I was seeing in this instance that the preparation was deepening my own awareness of these practices and their effects on our hearts, and so could see again so clearly that when we wish to give to others, we are receiving far more back than we give, for God makes the harvest plentiful for all. As my spiritual father of blessed memory told me so many years ago, the love of God and the love of His People are just two sides of the same coin, and grow together when we practice either one. In these twenty one years now at the Skete and Mission, I see this more clearly than ever. I love this work, for I feel God’s blessings pour out on me when I forget myself in remembrance of Him and His People. May He always remember us and give us the means to do good work in His behalf.
God bless you this Nativity Season.
Your Brother in Christ,
Father Simeon, Abbot and Archimandrite
and the Brotherhood of St. Isaac of Syria Skete
and the Sisterhood of the Convent of St. Silouan