My Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Bless! The Lord!
We remember and commemorate each August the Dormition or Falling Asleep of the Virgin Mary Theotokos as she left this life to go to be reunited with her Son in Heaven. The Church rejoices in her life and completes a special almost two week fast just before the day that she died in this world and was born into the next. There is a very beautiful hymn sung to her which I love very much, “In thy birth-giving thou didst not forsake thy virginity, and in thy falling asleep thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos. Thou has ascended to life being the Mother of Life, and by thine intercession thou dost save our souls from death.” (Troparion of Dormition) O Most Holy Theotokos pray for us here who honor your blessed memory!
It has been almost four months since we last wrote to you and it has been a very busy time indeed. I have been busy in particular with preparation for presenting a talk at the Holy Cross Seminary and Hellenic College in Boston for an Orthodox School Conference held there, and also preparing materials for review from our developing Orthodox Christian curriculum. These materials were developed during the pilot St. Isaac Orthodox School, an elementary school that operated here at the Mission Center between 1993 and 2002 covering in order each of the first eight grades. In the course of those years we wrote 44 books from an Orthodox Christian educational perspective with the conscious effort to present (within our limitations) each subject matter from a consistent Patristic understanding. This was an enormous challenge at the time.
The conference was sponsored by the Orthodox School Association and this was their second annual conference to begin an earnest discussion and sharing of ideas on Orthodox Christian education and schooling here in the U.S. There were about 50 participants in this year’s conference. I was asked to speak on “Flights of Fancy: Is the Use of the Imagination Orthodox?” I am hoping to have this presentation available from our website sometime next month. There was also a very interesting panel discussion at the end of the conference on “Toward an Orthodox Educational Philosophy” with Andrew Kern, Dr. Vigen Guroian, David Jepson, Bryan Smith myself and others from the conference joining in on this important discussion.
Without a critical examination of existing educational models and their underlying assumptions and a discernment about how Orthodox Christianity differs from these assumptions, Orthodox teachers and educators will simply use the assumptions of non-Orthodox educational models unconsciously. The discussion held began to first formulate the questions needed to examine such non-Orthodox educational models and explore what an Orthodox educational model might look like. This is just a beginning, but an important one at that. Pray that all those involved may prayerfully continue this discussion and exploration.
From the feedback received at the conference about our curriculum materials, we are beginning to critically revise them, re-typeset them, and hope to make them available over the course of next year in 2009. We need your active prayers and support for this work as it is a very big work with much time and effort needed to complete it. We have already begun, re-typesetting one of the main lesson books for each of the grades 4th through 8th for the conference. The next set is being worked on now starting with 4th Grade, as the first three years of books which were handwritten will take extra time and work.
In general I have been presenting many talks over the last year and a half with 21 talks given in 2007 and 9 already this year and another one scheduled two weeks from now. They are interesting and stimulating for me, and a challenge for a naturally shy person, but one I am learning to enjoy more and more. Please pray that I can do my part to reach people with God’s lively hope for a Godly life even in this world today.
Father Anthony at
Skete Open House 2008
Mother Elizabeth at Open House 2008
In another area of work here at the Skete and Mission Center we have been digitizing our main icon reproduction collection to allow greater accessibility through indexing and cataloguing all of our regular and current custom icons. These number just over 1,100 icons now. This is also a big job, but an important one as we are now planning to add at least another thousand to two thousand custom icons to our website next year from the great icon treasures of the world. In time we will try to collect in one location many of these great icons so that they may be available to see, to study, to have and to cherish. About 700 icons are already scanned and many are being color corrected now. This is intensive work and needs careful attention and much time. Pray that we can continue energetically. We are also hoping to add the availability of icon prints as we complete this digitizing process. We hope to make these available by the beginning of next year.
As you can imagine, with our limited manpower and many other monastic and outreach duties, these projects which so inspire us and hopefully will help many others, are taxing on our time, and on our resources. Yet a momentum has begun to now go forward on these projects that have been either growing very slowly or not at all for the last four (since our last catalogue of icons) to six (since our 8th grade students graduated) years. Won’t you help us go forwards towards these most admirable goals?
We have asked most earnestly for your financial and prayerful support in our last few newletters. This has been a great help and created a positive space to get through the summer months when typically icon reproduction sales are slower. Because of the current economy our general operational fund still remains in need of support. I am inspired to spend extra effort now in my own life to do more active work in both Orthodox education and in the icon indexing and cataloguing, and have found some volunteers who would help as they had some time to make this go faster. Our staff at Orthodox Byzantine Icons has renewed their commitment to continue and even increase their help in the transformation of the historic icons into digital form for better accessibility. Things are moving forward steadily. We still, however, need your help.
The roof repairs for all of the buildings in front and for the Common Monastic Building from the ice damming have all been accomplished due to your generosity. Mother Elizabeth is able to work an average of an hour less a day because you have remembered her each month
(and please remember to continue to do so). We are using our resources frugally to be good stewards for the gifts of our many friends.
Father Anthony is now the chief cook, bottlewasher, and housekeeper, besides his other musical, liturgical, and custom icon work. His icon painting is on hold until he has some more free time. We are now a small crew but try to keep up the personal generosity of welcome to our many, many guests and friends that come to see us regularly, and the work of the Skete and Mission that have been our mainstay these many years.
Father Simeon leading a tour at Skete Open House 2008