Our Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As the seasons are turning from Winter to Spring and the month of April is upon us already, we are looking during this Holy Season of Great Lent turning into Pascha at the initial planting of our yearly gardens. We have a medium sized plot set aside that was carefully nourished last year, replenished with the minerals and nutrients lacking, then roto-tilled and planted with an overall garden plan to meet some of the daily needs of our monastery and outreach to others. The garden planning for this year brought to mind the idea of how to do something positive now in our current economic times and in our current world pollution, and to get more out of our limited resources that such times show so clearly. It is also a monastic ideal to be at least nominally self-sufficient where possible in managing our human and monetary resources to the best use available. This, of course, is not limited to just monastics, but to the general population at large, and would be something that we would like to share with our friends, and is quite interesting, for it is something that we can do, not just sit and feel helpless at local and world events that are not in our control. It is also a metaphor for spiritual life, but we will get to that a little later in this newsletter.
Skete Garden Plot getting ready for Spring Planting
In 1943 in the middle of the Second World War, the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt publically encouraged a return to the “Victory Gardens” movement that had sprung up during World War I to help face food shortages at that time. She planted a garden at the White House, and then 20 million Americans followed this good example and planted their own Victory Gardens, to supply vegetables for themselves and their neighbors, which by the end of the war supplied between 35 to 40% of all the country’s vegetable needs. Besides the back yard gardens, Americans planted in rooftops and in containers on their front porches and then harvested over eight million tons of fruits, vegetables and herbs in their own households. These gardens were also a civil morale booster, which was greatly needed in those perilous times. Today we face perilous times also: financial insecurity, terrorist movements that have even struck home and are wishing to do more harm to all of us, and a growing helplessness over these types of events that we can see no clear way of helping make things better. It can be quite discouraging. Of course, prayer and generosity are the first Christian means to help ourselves and to help others, but there is, we think, in this history of Victory Gardens something that can be a practical help too. Let us explore this for a moment more fully.
Fuel scarcity, rising food costs, and lack of prudent environmental management have affected each of us. Disturbing movements to control plant and hybrid seed production, the quiet and often non-publicized use of GMO’s in our food supplies, and the high use of pesticides in food production and hormones in animal supply chains also degrade the safety of food use in every home. Many documentary and exposes have been produced to make us aware of big industry’s efforts for profitability to manipulate our food sources, or at least modify them in long term safety and wholesomeness. The spreading of “Health Food” stores and supplies has sprung up all over the country as a major reaction to such concerns, and you can even see “no trans-fatty acids” put on many products that were full of these ingredients in the past. Besides all these food safety concerns, there is something about just getting your hands in the dirt of growing your own vegetables that gets you into the cycle of growth and abundance that the earth brings forth for us when we do this with love and prayer, and with Christ in our heart. From Adam’s time onwards, we have been tillers of the earth.
We are not suggesting food fads or diets, nor “back-to-the-land” lifestyles for us all, but at least to plant a little garden in your front or back yard, or at least in containers on your sunny windows, and to get to know the joys of caring for the abundance of the earth on a small scale. The taste of a cherry tomato that you grow yourself is very satisfying, and you can know just how it was grown and cared for on the way to your table or to share with your neighbors. In most cases there are many practical resources to help us grow a small Victory Garden ourselves. You need to know about seeds and where to get them, high and low temperatures in your local community with its growing days and frost days, and simple weeding and maintenance of whatever you wish to plant, but this is easy to find out about. A simple Google search on “Victory gardens” will help us all get on our way to a more sustainable life-style even if it is a small step for now.
There is, of course, a spiritual dimension to such thinking. It is by being accountable and responsible for something that such a spiritual dimension will blossom with much care. It is being careful and on time in planting and weeding, and in harvesting when the time is right, in both gardens and in other activities of our lives. It is being attentive and noticing little differences and needs that will make our work more productive. It is nurturing and caring for something which engenders the habit of nurturing and caring for others and for our selves in a healthy and spiritual way. In the deepest way it is the lowliness of heart and mind that prepares the deep and soft humus or ground of ourselves to be open to the good seeds that the Sower sows; to the constant care and planting and hoeing of every particular blessing in its own best time and process; to the careful weeding out of destructive traits and thoughts, and memories, so that there is room and nourishment for the good seeds to grow to their fullness in time; and lastly the surprising awareness that what seems so small as a mustard seed of goodness can grow into a wealth of holiness and blessedness when we do what He has told us will give us the true abundance of life—a broken and contrite heart filled with love for our dear and lovely Lord, the Holy Trinity, all of the Holy Saints, material and immaterial, and our neighbor as ourselves. What a blessed garden of victory, not only in this good earth, but with the victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ over sin and death. What a sweet and everlasting victory is this!
On almost every icon of the Lord there is this inscription, “IC XC, NIKA.” The first four letters are an abbreviation for the Greek Letters “Jesus Christ.” The next four letters are the Greek word nika, or victory or conqueror. Jesus Christ has conquered Death, He is the Victor over evil and the demons, and He is our Savior and Redeemer of the world. Let us all turn to Him with faith and cry out in just a few days, “Christ is Risen, Truly He is Risen. Amen.”
Please remember that your prayers and needs are precious to us, and tell us how you are doing just now. We will pray for you. Please also remember our needs and plant a little spiritual garden here as the Skete, at the Convent, and at the Mission Center by sending the seeds and nourishment in loving support for us to continue to pray ardently for all who come to us. God give you the reward of such conscious generosity and love. When economic times are hard, we can think that we can’t help, but this is never sober spiritual thinking. It isn’t the amount of the gift that is so important, but the act of giving. Remember the widow with two mites. We can always give something, and if it is a little from our necessity, God sees this and gives us wonderful consolation in return and the strength to hold our head looking up to Heaven and go on. Please pray and give something, however small, if you can.
God bless you and keep you in His Holy Name,
Keep us in your prayers and love,
The brotherhood of St. Isaac of Syria Skete
and the sisterhood of St. Silouan’s Convent
and the community of St. Nicholas Church