Holy Orthodox Mission News - November 2008
My Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Bless! The Lord!
Every year when I sit down to write this yearly newsletter I search to find a theme that in some way sums up our yearly endeavors here at the Skete, Convent, and Mission Center. We wish to express this to you, our dear friends and fellow travelers on the spiritual path of sacrifice and love, that is Christ’s living legacy to the Church as a whole and to each of us individual believers. This year after much thought and reflection, I think that the issue before us has been to use our resources wisely and yet to keep and even emphasize more the outward expression of gladsome generosity that has been such a conscious part of our monastic and missionary minded outreach these many years. These general ideas normally influence our work here every year, but this year they are even more in focus and consciously sought and implemented. Join us now on our review for this year.
Recently I have been reading a wonderful book called “Wounded by Love” by Elder Porphyrios. There are many good spiritual books that inspire us to live a spiritual life and I read many regularly. This book, however, is quite unique in that I have never read any author, spiritual or secular, that has such a clear and positive way of expression to relook at everything in the whole world in the most wholesome and positive light, the Light of the Resurrection. I highly recommend this book to everyone. What most impressed me was the conscious desire of Elder Poryphyrios to recast the daily circumstances and struggle of our life into opportunities of blessing and thanksgiving. It renewed my own experience of many years that such an outlook is not only desirable, but very, very possible.
Often in the very mundane moments of our lives we can forget the unshakable gladness that the Holy Apostles and Martyrs, the Saints and the Righteous chose to live in as they approached all things in this Light of the Resurrection, in the perspective of Eternity which was vivid and right before them. They had troubles too, they had work too, they had hunger and thirst too, they had responsibilities too, but in this widening all things into the framework of Christian values, of Christian love, of Christian life, their experience of this world was transformed to blessedness, to holiness, and to a permanent reaching beyond this moment into Heaven Itself. It is a way of looking.
I see in my own life that the first principle of openness to receiving this vision and hope, is the active choice of thanksgiving and gladness, which often doesn’t feel like a logical choice at the time, especially when things get hard or unpleasant. Yet we have the freedom to look with different eyes and with a different heart which steers the mind towards the vision which Christ shared with His Saints. Always the Cross is here with us in life, and Adam had to bring forth bread out of the earth with sweat and sorrow, but the Resurrection is always present too, so the very fabric of pain can become the under-girding of the greatest consolation and joy. Christ is Risen! This is a continuous event, not one confined by time. We are never alone, and we are always at the edge of opportunity for spiritual growth and understanding. This is goodness before us, but how can we see this and choose it?
Last year we had two very shaping events here at the Skete, Convent, and Mission: the consecration of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church and the loss of two of our fellow monks who had been with us for many years. This year our focus has been to step back and consider how to refocus and how to regroup to make these events a beginning of new life and new growth here.
St. Isaac of Syria Skete
Father Anthony was able to finish this last year his online college classes to receive an Associate Degree in Business Administration. Congratulations Father Anthony! It was many hours of work and study, but with many practical skills honed in the process, and more tools and gifts to bring to our monastic endeavors, especially in our outreach of iconography of Orthodox Byzantine Icons and in financial understanding of the monastery, convent, and mission needs. He has been focused after graduation in many other more simple needs of our life here at the present and has become the chief cook and kitchen coordinator for our daily food for the monastics, our workers, and our guests. Some of the other housekeeping tasks which were shared among the other monks have also been given to Father Anthony, and his clean and neat style of management is apparent.
Ephraim Rama and Fr. Anthony
exhibit icon from St. Isaac's Icon Studio
In addition, he has had the practical day by day oversight of guiding the hand-painted icon studio’s iconographers and coordinating the requests for new orders when possible. Other parts of this oversight and guiding are done by other members of our staff, but as he is an iconographer himself, those particular skills are necessary for the work to proceed well in taking orders and speaking with customers. Shortly, he is scheduled this month to begin to work again a few hours a day in icon painting. This will be a blessing for the icon studio. His work in the custom icon reproductions has at the same time diminished as we are now sharing this work with others. He continues his work as the choir director.
We have had many monastic enquiries in the last few months and are happy to mention that two men have made definite commitments to begin to live a monastic life here at the Skete: Gregory who will be here in the end of the first week of November, and Jacob who will be here by January 2 at the latest. Please pray for them to begin with energy and fervency. Two more enquirers are due for their first visit to the Skete this Fall. Please pray for their discernment on what God is calling them to do. It will be good to have more share our life here and reach out to others as we can.
Father Anthony and Choir
during Open House 2008
Father Simeon presenting at Open House
This has been a very busy year for me, and although I say that every year, this one has been even busier, but I have a great sense of peace and holiness coming out of all of the struggles we have faced and solved this year. Mostly it was getting back to the roots of the vision that has been given to me by my spiritual fathers in Christ, and dipping my mind and heart back into their blessed ideas of the inreach and outreach that we are involved in every day here at the Skete and Mission. Most of all, it is the deep foundation of prayer and self-denial, with obedience and love, that gird up the skete ideal of semi-hermitic monasticism that has reinvigorated me, and the sense of grateful generosity in mission work to the communities that surround us both locally and further afield that inspire me.
I presented many talks again this year on hesychast prayer, iconography, understanding Holy Scriptures, world paradigms in conflict (Islam, Orthodoxy and the West), modern youth, fasting, prayer rules, and monasticism, and these were in Minneapolis; Regina, SK, Canada; Hammond, Indiana, Rock Island, Illinois; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Amery, Wisconsin; and in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. Our Open House was in June again this year and focused on the theme of Radical Millennial Youth, what are their problems and blessings, and how to reach them with Christ’s message from an Orthodox point of view. Abbot Raphael Vereshack from Winnipeg and Father Gregory Schultz from the Madison area here in Wisconsin; and a panel of local Orthodox clergy and youth were involved in this year’s presentations. It was a very inspiring event. The talks will soon be available on our website if you would like to hear the presentations. (www.skete.com)
The Common Monastic Building sustained major damage this year from the ice damming over last winter’s storms and record snowfall. The entire back of the building where the root cellars and dry storage areas were located had the interior parts of the ceiling fall in with substantial mold problems underneath. The roof had large areas of water penetration that caused this damage. The whole steel roof of the building was removed, made water proof and reinstalled, so this water penetration is no longer a problem. Then the entire back area involved with mold has been gutted and is in the last part of mold remediation to allow the reinsulation of the roof and walls before deep winter sets in. It is a major overhaul, but well on its way.
Orthodox Byzantine Icons
and St. Isaac’s Bookstore
Catherine Simons leads off
the Youth Presentations at Open House
An attentive audience listens
This year’s Icon and Sacred Arts Festival was focused on youth, and the attendance was somewhat lighter due to the many floods that occurred in this area just a few weeks before in June. Many local communities around us suffered much by this extensive flooding. The focus this year in Orthodox Byzantine Icons was to try to scan electronically our many icons, both regular stock and customs, color correct them, and then be able to reproduce them in better color and form and many, many sizes including sizable enlargements. Over 900 have already been scanned. If possible we will continue to scan another one to two thousand more next year to offer a greatly expanded selection of custom icons in any size, and possibly icon prints as an additional offering. This will be a great improvement for all of our patrons and customers.
Our delivery system keeps on improving also as we are able to ship most items within a few days because of extensive in-house stock. We are now regularly emailing our customers with news from the Skete with icon, devotional goods, or book offerings once each six to eight weeks. If there is a sale going on, then this can be only three weeks apart. We have over 7,000 email addresses, but know that there are an additional 14,000 people on our hard mail list of whom we do not have their email address. As this emailing is so quick and reasonably inexpensive for it is paperless and without postage, we encourage you and your friends to give us your email, or remember to send it to us again if you change your email any time in the future.
We are still offering Affiliate marketing links for your church or organization to put on their web site to earn extra money for any sale that comes through this portal to us. It is a great fund-raising idea. If your parishioners buy from this link, a certain percentage comes back to your church or organization. Please look at our web site for more details.
Holy Orthodox Mission and
St. Nicholas Orthodox Mission Church
This last year’s St. Nicholas Day celebration was again quite 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 around 50 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. It is now 19 years that we have had the privilege to do so.
This year I served as the President of the Board of a free medical clinic in Boscobel called InHealth Community Wellness (Free) Clinic which just opened October 22, 2007, and this next year I will serve as the Vice-President. Many communities are turning to set up such free clinics to help those who need medical treatment and cannot afford to do so in their local area. Our free clinic has now expanded services to include dental care, vision care, and audio and hearing care in addition to free medical care. It is a real way to give to our local community, and it is so needed today in our trying economy.
We will be supporting a local Orthodox bible study class in Boscobel that is open to the greater communities around us which will run through this Fall and into the Winter. As I mentioned earlier in this newsletter, I have given talks in both the local Wisconsin state and in many other parts of the country and Canada this year. It is a joy to see the hearts of so many people open and receptive to His Love and the fullness of His Church. Visitors come from every direction and we are glad to have them come to share our prayer and worship life with us. We would be honored if you would plan a pilgrimage this year and we have free guest facilities available most all of the time. Please come and visit us. The Fathers of the Church often saw the visitor as Christ Himself. Whether it is a day visit, a weekend, a week, or even more, you are most welcome. Just let us know so we can expect you.
Convent of St. Silouan
Mother Elizabeth has been a real help in the icon reproduction cleaning room this last year to augment the staff who were short-handed after last winter. Her knee surgery recovery is stabilized to the level that it will be, and her managing of her diabetes works best when she has more control in cooking her own food which she is doing many days now. Your donations and other prayerful support has been much appreciated this year, and allowed Mother to work an hour less a day to help support herself as she can.
Mother Elizabeth came with me to visit the trade show in St. Charles, Illinois, this last May and helped choose new book titles for our bookstore and web site. She will be doing more of the book reviews and then suggestions for new book titles to be added to our collection. The next major project for Mother is to return to our Education Research library and help rearrange and classify our books, periodicals, and Audio Visual materials for better use and retrieval.
Besides this she has already begun the reviewing process of her five years of materials used in our Orthodox pilot school, her notes, quizzes, tests, and other support material to best teach the children then under her care. With her invaluable contribution to our experience of the school here she will also help in the revision process currently going on with our curriculum materials.
St. Isaac Orthodox School
There has been an annual Orthodox School Conference for the last two years sponsored by the Orthodox School Association, and it was set this last August in the Boston area at the Hellenic College in nearby Brookline. The conference was very well organized and had good programs for sharing many areas of expertise in running Orthodox Christian schools which are still growing here in America. The president of the Association called me to ask if I would present a talk on the imaginative faculty which I accepted and called, “Flights of Fancy: Is the Use of the Imagination Orthodox?” This was one of the two talks given to the entire group, and it was received well from the feedback given. It was quite a challenge to prepare, but rewarding.
Going to this conference was most helpful to us here in our educational work for two reasons: first to see what other people were doing in their approach to Orthodox education in their school environments, and secondly, it gave us a chance to bring samples of our own curriculum materials to see if there was a real interest in their content and presentation. We got much positive feedback on the five different books (one from each grades 4th through 8th), and this has motivated us to again energetically pursue first the re-typesetting the books into a standard and beautiful format, sending these out to readers for critique, and then the extensive revisions that may be required to complete this work.
It is our hope to work on these Orthodox books (44 done and another 7 planned) and make them available for publication next year. Pray that we have the resources and energy to do this. It is exciting to work again on these truly blessed materials for our children.
Often I see that I have lost sight of the vision of life that makes everything blessed and an opportunity to love God and my neighbor as myself. It is usually that I get caught up with the details of things rather than remaining always in the added dimensions of Eternity and Love which define a much larger universe than we normally perceive. It is in this larger perspective that I again feel joy, trust, love, and patience with adversity when it occurs. Yet it is this very vision of wholeness, of great yearning love, or openness to the Kingdom that inspires and gladdens me to the depths of my heart.
Holiness is not just an idea or even a virtue, but a condition that we must invite in with generosity of heart, and with faith, hope, and love which opens the gates of Paradise to us. Let us run towards such a life which God calls us to, as the Lord of Life draws close to us at the time of His Holy Nativity. May we be together on that glorious night as the Angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.”
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
Mother Elizabeth and Father Anthony