Our Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Bless! The Lord!
Although we have passed the shortest days of the year, February is still one of the coldest months in Wisconsin, but the daylight here lengthens each day and we can sense that Winter will not last too long or grow more severe. Another Winter storm though is blowing in with snows and hard driving conditions still present. Winter in Wisconsin is a serious matter, but with proper preparations, we can manage what is needed and slowly move towards a more temperate and sunny time. This is true outside, but it is also true in the inner world that we live in just as surely.
Great Lent is upon us now, and we welcome it for its sobering message in all of the liturgical services of the Church, yet with hope always before us. The Lord moves towards Golgotha and His Passion and Death, but this is not all final, as in just a few days after that darkest hour, the bright light of the Resurrection springs forth. We are all people of hope, for the Christian message is filled with hope against our day of leaving this world not to a dead place, but to go forwards to a life more abundant and filled with hope and blessedness. So in this Lenten Season we seek the One Person, Jesus Christ, Who understands our pain and weakness, and heals our hearts of doubt and disbelief.
Hope is, however, not just a Lenten theme, but a way of living in this world, and we are all challenged to look for it in every day of our life. We too here at the Skete, Convent, and Mission look to Christ with hope, for He is the center of what we seek and what we find to give us more hope. And after hope and faith, there is love. This sacred love never dies, but grows in all Eternity.
So Lent has a dark radiance that has to be entered to be understood. The door to this entrance is more fasting and self-restraint, more prayer and asking God for help in our weakness, and more concrete love expressed in the greater giving of ourselves, our resources, and our time. The Church services have a more muted tone, there are more readings, more prostrations, more bows, more time to reflect that something important is happening. We are being prepared to receive, through the great love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the great gift of radiant Light that shines most fully on Pascha, or Easter, the Resurrection of the Lord. Every day is a day of preparation, and then on the last day, Christ bursts forth and shines in us. It is the Feast of Feasts, and the most blessed day of all blessed days. Let us sing a song of victory!
Wintertime at the Skete
This winter came early with much snow and much extra cold weather here in southwestern Wisconsin. It seems like it has been going on for a long time already. The driveway and paths still have a layer of ice underneath the snow on top, and the icicles are still hanging from the many roof edges all around each building. We have been able to stay warm so far, but several buildings have had frozen pipes and occasional malfunctioning furnaces which required attention and repairs. Just in the last two weeks, the Hospitality Center had its plumbing brought inside as it was not possible to repair the broken pipe underneath due to the cold and lack of space. That is all working now.
Frozen traps and drains have been another problem, but there is only one left to thaw, and that is a great improvement. You never know how important water and drainage is until it is more scarce and uncertain. This has been a busy winter, beside the repairs, and because of the early date of Pascha, the Lenten Season is quite early this year, one of the earliest dates it can occur. In the first week of Great Lent there is much fasting and special longer church services including the wonderful Canon of Repentance of St. Andrew of Crete. This deepens the whole of Lent, for we enter it more fully with a serious level of time and energy focused on repentance or deep change. If we follow this time-proven path, the Light of Christ will shine in us more brightly when Pascha comes.
This is our first email and direct mail sent to you this year of a newsletter and donation appeal. Our last appeal was very helpful, and your response brought up our overall donations in 2009 from the hefty 37% below 2008 to a lesser but still subsantial 28% below. This is still a lot less to try to live on and manage daily affairs. We are still struggling to just make simple ends meet, and we know that many people are doing this in their own lives. We are not asking much, but everyone can give something to others: prayer, love, a kind word, and as we are able, some alms-giving especially this Great Lent.
Your donations go directly to support our daily needs and to help others. Just last week we sent a packet of many hundreds of paper icon prints to India to help some Christian communities there through a priest who is traveling to help their mission work. We regularly send many icon prints to Siberia also for those who need the icons, yet cannot afford them. Sending them as paper prints lets us send far more than in any other way.
When we fast, when we pray, when we give alms, then God is present and immediate, He calls us to Him. It is the inner work of Great Lent. It turns us from just outward things to inward ones. St. Isaac of Syria says it best: “The beginning of the renewal of the inner person consists, then, in the meditation and constant reflection on things to come. By this means a person is little by little purified of customary distraction of earthly things....” (Homilies, the Second Part, 8:16)
All of us, those here in Boscobel and those who will read this, are truly brothers and sisters in our humanity, and in the fact of our being created in the image and likeness of God. We are also alike in weakness, whatever the particular forms of weakness we individually express. God won’t love us more when “we are better” because we can’t make ourselves better without God’s help— only cooperate more with Christ Who can make us better. God’s love is complete and without limitations, and is unconditional. What we need to do, and do today, not later, is just be with Him now. Let us talk to Him, pray to Him, ask Him about what is scary and hard to deal with, show Him our pain and fears and imperfections. He already knows all this, but we don’t know this practically yet.
When we give by consciously doing this giving to Christ through others, He receives it and remembers clearly who and why it was given. “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered, and fed Thee? or thirsty, and gave Thee drink? Or when saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed Thee? Or when saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt, 26: 34-40)
We have just finished budgeting for this year and have tightened our belts to try and live with less and make better use of our resources in hand. This is the third year in a row that we have had to do so. We still give something to those less fortunate each month, and it is joyous to do so, so we can share a little, even if not much. This active outreach has been a real part of our mission since its foundation 23 years ago. We also pray for those whom we see, and for those whom we correspond with, including each of you. This is family, the family of Christ and His Kingdom. Please pray for us, and if you can give something more, please remember us in this special season of repentance and love.
God bless you and keep you in His Holy Name,
Your Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Monastics of St. Isaac of Syria Skete
and the Convent of St. Silouan,
and the Community of St. Nicholas Church