Our Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Bless! The Lord!
This year has been unusually cold and snowy throughout much of the country, and this has also been true here in the hills and valleys of southwestern Wisconsin at our Skete, Convent, and Mission Center. Yet we are now in March and so each day we are moving closer to Spring and the renewal to the plants and flowers that this brings each year. Inwardly we are just entering the time of the Great Lenten Fast, which is also a time of renewal and change. Before Spring comes, and Pascha or Easter, there is still a period of waiting and preparation that we all have to go through.
Waiting is an interesting time if we think about it instead of just tapping our feet, or straining our necks to just look ahead. Everything has its time and season, so waiting has many blessings to enter into if we will take the time and see it as an essential pre-condition for action. Instead of free-falling into the next moment, we can learn the cardinal virtue of patience which softens the heart and prepares the mind to thankfully deal with reality. Jesus Christ says it best, “In patience, possess ye your souls.”
Why is patience so important, and why is it such a neglected virtue and practice in our time? This has a lot to do with our desires and expectations, which in our days are increasingly “on-demand.” Advertisements all around us promise immediate gratification of our senses and minds, and the subsequent attitude that we shouldn’t have to wait for anything. Fast foods, fast internet sales and deliveries, movies on demand, and an increased pace of almost every aspect of life can lull the mind into thinking without reflection that speed is always good, and that we should always have what we want right now or whenever we want it.
Nature, however, and life just don’t work that way. It still takes nine months for a normal pregnancy to deliver a new born child into this world. It still takes so many weeks and days for crops to grow to blossom and then to maturity so we can eat them when they are truly ripe and nutritious. It still takes years to become educated in arts, or science, or religious life for mature and meaningful understanding and skills to insure that quality, not just quantity, is manifest. When we are too much in a hurry, we never really see the life and opportunities that are around us. It takes patience to slow down to see yourself and the world with meaningful eyes.
Spiritual life is the same. Often we bring our attitudes towards cheap and easy acquisitions to our understanding of spiritual practices. These can seem like a nice buffet that we can just stroll down the table and fill up our plate with the latest interesting dish. If it works at the local food buffet, we think that this can also work in our spiritual development and life, but God is not a worldly commodity that we can codify and control. For that matter, neither is anything else really. Instead of us controlling God, we need to be reformed by Him, especially in this important matter of patience. Patience breeds self-control, reflection, conscious thought, humility, and the conscious change from us being in charge to us being a living part of all of Creation around us. When we are patient, we are becoming God-like. After all, He is most patient with us, for He has been waiting day by day for us to notice and accept our dependent and loving relationship with Him in His plan to renew us and everything around us. His patience is extraordinary.
Our impatience has now manifested certain signs of profound indifference to others, so that more and more young people (and their elders too) are rudely multi-tasking when eating together, or drinking, or even just visiting with us. This is noticeable both privately and also more frequently publically. If we can’t really pay attention to someone else made in the image and likeness of God, how will we fare if we meet God someday? People aren’t distractions, they are icons, and truly icons of Jesus Christ. How we treat them is in some sense how we treat God. If we stop and notice and pay attention with respect, we can begin to reverse this trait which so mars our times and our hearts. And we don’t have to look far, or look at others. If we will stop and notice, we all show impatience and indifference to some extent, often daily. Yet the practice of patience will change this in us. Let us at least try to do so, both you and all of us, today.
St. Isaac's Common Monastic Building
This is our first newsletter and donation appeal sent to you this year. Contrary to some public assurances, we still are living in economically challenging times. It is still hard for many if not most of us to responsibly meet our financial obligations and see clearly for a better future. Many are still without work or the means to improve their lives. But these challenges should give us greater sympathy for others who are in even greater need than we are, and there are many who fall into that situation today.
We struggle here at the Skete, Convent, and Mission to both meet our daily needs, continue to look for a future which will more judiciously conserve resources in the future, and still reach out to help those who come to us in need. Charity is a most important Christian virtue that St. Paul so eloquently praises in his Epistles. Underneath any outward help is an inward state of charitable feelings and love for each and every person whom we are intrinsically connected with, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Because Jesus Christ came to earth and lived a most human life, we are all brothers here, and so our pain is not just personal but universal. The Universal God-Man feels everyone's pain, and when we draw near to Him, we feel it too.
This year we are asking for your continued support first of all in sympathy and prayer, for we have a concomitant relationship of prayer with all of our donors, supporters, patrons, and well-wishers. It is in prayer that we all draw near to God, and through Him, to others. Before all things, prayer, the language of the world to come, is first. And it is in prayer, most of all, that true sympathy and a charitable heart is established, nourished, and grows.
Sample of Educational Materials
Then we also ask for monetary or material support for our daily needs, our commitment in time to better use all of our resources in house at the Skete, Convent, and Mission, and to bring out spiritual works and supports to help others. This outward help includes our icon reproductions, our hand-painted icons, and our educational elementary school materials. This last effort in educational materials has moved to the forefront in our plans for this year. We already have begun to re-typeset the 44 books that we had written for Orthodox Christian curriculum, and hope to continue this until they can go out to readers for critical revue, then revision, and finally publication. This is very time consuming, drawing resources away from other projects, and we need your prayers and financial support to at last complete this project.
Another important project this year is to continue to complete more parts of the Common Monastic Building in our back Skete valley. At the moment we have access to very inexpensive help to do the floor and wall tiling for this wonderful energy self-sufficient building that will eventually house the monastery’s kitchen, dining room, laundry area, baths, library, and communal meeting room. It is a beautiful design which was green in planning before this term was so popular, as the shell was begun in 1999. Right now we are trying to raise the monies to buy the floor and wall tile while our inexpensive labor is so readily available. We need a porcelain tile so that it will last in this monastic haven for many, many years. The tile for the 3,000 square foot floor will cost only about $6,000, and for the extensive walls in the kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry areas, it will cost about an additional $4,000. If you can help us while this golden opportunity is at hand, it would be most appreciated. This is very inexpensive for this great improvement.
In the end, however, whatever plans we have for improvements, the most important needs of the Skete, the Convent, and the Mission Center are our daily sustenance. We are frugal in our life, in our food, and in our utilities and clothes. Every month we struggle to make ends meet. Last month our donations were considerably down from the previous February and we had higher heating costs. If you can help reasonably, please help now. We do ask that you pray for us, and we are praying for you. Let us keep this prayerful connection even stronger this year and this Great Lent.
Your Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The monastics of St. Isaac of Syria Skete
and the Convent of St. Silouan,
and the community at St. Nicholas Church