Our Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Bless! The Lord!
We know from the Holy Scriptures, our living Christian Faith and Traditions, and the direct experience of all the Saints that God is both eternal and yet lived on earth in our temporal time. He was and is fully God and fully Man. At this time of the year, we commemorate an entire season which prepares us physically and spiritually to be ready to receive Christ when He appears on earth, for all time that He sanctified on earth now echoes throughout eternity. When we celebrate His birth, we do not just remember Him, but, if we have purified our minds and hearts sufficiently, as many saints have, it is possible to see the truth that Christ is truly born on earth. Glorify Him!
That is what the Nativity Season is all about. It is a preparation to better receive Christ. Through more fasting, prayer, generous deeds, spiritual reading, church services, and the reading of the Holy Scriptures, at this time we cleanse our hearts from the passions, self-love, and a distracted and too busy worldly life. In our everyday life we often drift along without the conscious awareness that Christ and Heaven are near to us, and that this is truly the most precious and important thing for us in our life. To make a change to see God as near, real, and constant, it takes conscious and consistent effort to calm down the wandering mind, and our erupting thoughts, feelings, and impressions that crowd out eternity with merely temporal awareness.
The Fall Season is quickly slipping into Winter, if not officially, then at least practically. We are approaching the shortest days of the year, with less sunshine and daylight, longer nights, and colder temperatures. It is a time for moving from outdoor busyness to more indoor activities.
Because of an unexpected window of opportunity of sunny days with temperatures in the 70’s last week, we were able to make a major dent in cutting, loading, moving, unloading, and stacking our winter wood supply near the Common Monastic Building in the back Skete Valley. We were able to move about nine cords of wood, which had been cut, and stack about four of them (a cord, by the way, equals a slightly overfull full sized pickup load, or 144 cubic feet of space). This coming week we hope to move the last four cords, then split about eight or nine of them and finish stacking it all near the wood-burning boiler.
What made us so thankful, was that unexpectedly, a dedicated friend and volunteer from Rockford, Illinois, showed up to help after he read our last newsletter where we mentioned that we were hoping for some help with this sizable (and seemingly overwhelming) project. God bless Zakaria. He had a break from his construction work, a chain saw to bring, and lots of good energy and attitude which made this project possible, just when it seemed most unlikely. When we are unable to help ourselves, even though not from laziness or neglect, God often intervenes.
Wood Prepared for the Winter
That brings us to the main point of this newsletter, which is the fifth one to be mailed to our friends and donors this year: thankfulness. That is easy, like in this instance when things go so obviously right, and out of the blue. It is not so easy when things are hard, long, tiring, or seem to go the wrong way. Yet, like in some of the icons where God’s hand is blessing in one of the upper corners, He is always there, and unlikely as it may seem at the time, He is always blessing. What is hard to get over is our limited expectations.
The word in Greek for thankfulness or thanksgiving is eucharistia, the basis for our word eucharist, which is used to describe the Divine Liturgy in the Church. Eucharistia should not just be limited to that great and blessed Mystery of Faith and Love, but to every aspect of our lives. Like seeing God near and dear, this takes practice looking with different eyes and mind. When we do it, we can be always thankful.
We here at the Skete have more to be thankful for at this time. Our last donation appeal was very helpful and we had more responses to that appeal than the one before it, even though the average donation was somewhat smaller. By seeming chance (if you believe in such things), we were able to find another older used van without a transmission in it that was going to be salvaged with less miles on the engine than the van we mentioned that was dying in the last newsletter. It became obvious when a friend and mechanic saw it, that our other van was not safe to drive anymore, so we have sent it up to him to swap the transmission and get us something to drive around in this winter. While still not what we wanted, it was a good alternative for now.
The last steel roof over the office was completed since the last newsletter, and a new shingle roof was put over the convent. We have a new (for us) used wood boiler here for the monks cells in the back Skete valley which we got for a wonderful price and it was paid for. This will have to wait until next year to get the solar electricity upgrade so it can be installed and run properly.
Another useful piece of equipment is coming in December and is over half paid for- a used steer skidder (commonly known as a Bobcat), with a used trailer to haul it when needed, which is fully paid for. Our beater 1991 Ford 4 x 4 truck got two new gas tanks (it is built with a secondary tank) to replace the two too old to fix ones. We used it to haul the firewood the next day. Our road to the back Skete valley which was majorly disturbed to be almost impassible was fixed after a two month wait. That happened just hours before we started hauling wood.
These are all indicators of support and help from the outside which is very timely and for which we are very thankful. But more importantly, our thankfulness is for the spiritual life that we are allowed to live here, the spiritual work that we are blessed to do here, and the dear spiritual friends that we are allowed to know and cherish. You are a conscious part of that cherishing.
At the end of November, we have the American holiday of Thanksgiving. Let us remember God and His abundant goodness for us then and throughout the year. The Nativity Fast and Advent Season is a time to reflect on God coming to earth to be with us, even while we are still sinners. This preparation is a time to get ready for the great thanksgiving of being with Christ at His Nativity into this fallen world, for He is truly of our flesh and bone, so He knows our joys, sorrows, and every human emotion, but without sin.
In this spirit of thanksgiving, we also wish to thank you for your heartfelt prayer and financial support throughout this last year. Traditionally November and December have been a major part of our donations received each year. We hope that this November and December will be the same. We most ardently hope that our mutual prayers will rise like incense before the Lord Who will be born in Bethlehem “as a young child.” We also most ardently pray that we will come together before His modest manger filled with Life, for He is the Lord of Life.
Please remember Mother Elizabeth, in the Convent of St. Silouan nearby, who lives in an older mobile home with limited space and amenities (and now a new shingled roof). She has more health needs because of her diabetes and the winters are hard on her mobility. She is busy working on organizing our educational research library to help access to the books written for our Orthodox educational work.
Struggles are not always a problem. Sometimes they are a spiritual solution. When we struggle, we more often turn to God for help, consolation, and a deeper relationship. This is a blessing in disguise. Let us struggle together to make this season blessed and thankful, and to really thank God that no matter how far we have strayed from Him, He is still close and waiting for us. He is coming. He is near. Soon we will say, “Christ is born! Glorify Him!"
God bless your good hearts,
The brotherhood of St. Isaac of Syria Skete
and the Sisterhood of St. Silouan's Convent,
and the Community at St. Nicholas Church