Our Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Glory be to Jesus Christ!
Summer is full and green here at the Skete’s hills and valleys, with just a little brown because of the lack of rain so far this season. Like many other parts of the country it has been at times particularly hot and dry. Yet we were spared the very worst weather, such as tornados, flash floods, and severe storms, as they have gone either north or south of us as they blew in from the west. Over a week ago in Dubuque, Iowa, only sixty miles southwest of us, a record 10.3 inches of rain fell within 24 hours, with flooded streets and basements, missing manhole covers, and many stranded motorists–truly a torrential downpour.
For many of us all across the nation, this has been quite a trying year in weather, and also in economics. But as Christians, we can learn by conscious practice how to creatively and cooperatively rework with God our trials and tribulations into goodness and blessings. It takes much awareness and active mental and physical work, but then our sorrows can turn into joys. The transcendent God, full of goodness and love through His Son Jesus Christ, can give us the wisdom and understanding to keep and increase our faith, hope, and love. Then we can see the blessings, when all we saw before with worldly eyes was the pain.
It is precisely in living our lives as Christians, and looking to Heavenly ways and thoughts, that suffering can have a positive meaning and purpose in this world. We all suffer, for that is a given on earth, but the real question is how to use it positively. We can all begin this journey with Christ by being aware first and foremost of all that we are not alone. He is here–right now and right here–present and near, loving and with mercy for our hearts and souls. We need to start to acknowlege this daily, and then with time even more often, until moment by moment He becomes ever closer to our mind and heart. The greatest suffering that each and every one of us continuously experience, but are almost completely unaware of, is our lack of a conscious, loving, and dependent relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour of our souls. It is the foundation of all our pain. If we act as if God is present, even when we don’t initially perceive it, then He becomes more and more present. It is only our own eyes that can’t yet see reality. In just a few days, if we look this way, then we will see more.
Secondly, we need to back up and try to get a larger view of the pain that we are now aware of, and what are its causes. Are we suffering because we don’t get what we want? Are we suffering because we are listening and agreeing to worldly thoughts of greed, selfishness, wealth, pleasure, lust, or ease? Maybe those expectations are unreal or not good for us. Or are we really suffering because we don’t know what to do when we feel this way? With a little reflection, and maybe even writing down what it is we really want and then what we really need, and what is disappointing to us and why, this larger view can become more clear.
Thirdly, we can be thankful for both what we do have and what we don’t have. Having less is a wonderful opportunity to sympathize with others who have even less, and then go the next step of even sharing more of what you have. If we study those who are poor all over the world, they tend to be more generous, even in their poverty, than those who have more. Christ was poor outwardly, but infinitely rich inwardly. Our giving is the very best way to receive from Christ that spiritual richness. The more you do this, even in small ways, the more generous your heart and mind will become. Mercy and Love are living icons of the Living God. The only way to understand this, however, is by personal experience. Charity also covers a mulitude of sins. It always begins by doing.
Lastly, we have to become proactive in this our spiritual renewal by turning to God for understanding and strength to make what seems unfortunate into good. He is good, all good, and ever good. Everything that He made in this world was good from its creation. He said so and affirmed this in the accounts in Genesis. Man, in particular, in his creation was said to be very good. This goodness can shine in us if we are with Him, if we learn to trust Him, work with Him, turn to Him, act in Him, love in Him, and live in Him. His light will reflect in our hearts until we too shine with goodness.
Don’t listen to those voices that say that life is random and without meaning, that evil is stronger than good, and that the true story is mostly bad, not good. Don’t listen to those voices that tell us that we are helpless victims of circumstances and can do nothing about it. Let us join our voice to God in prayer. Nothing good is impossible with God. May His creative good recreate our minds to see that if our hearts are in Heaven, then all things will work for the good!
We, too, at the Skete are exploring this ascent into goodness by more thankfulness, inward and outward prayer, generosity to others, even in our want, and by seeing everything with the Gospel’s call to seek His Kingdom first of all, and believe that all needed things will be added. Our relationship with our many friends and benefactors is important to us, and it is why we write to you in these newsletters. It shares our hopes and dreams, pains and sorrows, joys and gladness, and in your feedback, we share those same things in your life that you tell us about. In our mutual prayers we are united through Christ to be close and truly near. In Him all these things are possible. It is the normal relationship of monastic communities to the Faithful.
This is our third email and direct mail sent to you this year of a newsletter and donation appeal. The last few months have been particularly difficult for us as our donations have been even less than before. We do want to thank you for your generosity, however, as it is not the amount that carries blessings and love, but the little given from the heart, and we ask God to bless you for such love. A little from many goes a long way, and we all can give a little.
We are asking first of all for the means here at the Skete to have the time and energy to live a life of prayer and outreach to all we come in contact with. We often eat quite simply. Our clothes are simple too. We have few possessions for ourselves. We try to put others and their needs before ourselves daily. We always give gifts to the many guests and visitors who come, and share our food and hospitality as we are able. We are working to help others with our icons, devotional goods, books, and educational materials. It is the reason that we do this work for all these years.
St. Isaac's Common Monastic Building
We are asking again for capital funds this year to help complete the beautiful Common Monastic Building which has been 12 years in construction. It will provide kitchen, dining, bathroom and shower, laundry, library, tool, and work space for the monks living here now and in the future. The next item we want to work on in this building is to increase and update our minimal solar electrical system as our back valley is already off the grid. We need many more solar panels, a larger inverter, more batteries, and a control panel and system to make this work for the pump for our wood boiler for heating this winter, and for the future well and water system still in planning. The initial costs will be about $6,000 now to get more panels and the poles and brackets to mount them. Help us move forward on this if you can.
The Convent is looking to add an additional room for storage. We would have the labor to do this without additional cash flow outlay this Fall. We just lack the construction materials. This would cost about $5,000. Mother Elizabeth also needs regular contributions to help her pay for her daily needs and special medicines and medical cost for her diabetes. She remembers all of her donors in prayer and thanksgiving. Please help her if you can.
In conclusion we ask that your hearts be full of God’s goodness and increasing your love this Summer. We ask you to remember us in your prayers and share with us a little of the blessings you have received if you can. We are earnestly praying for you and your life and for your abundant growth this Summer.
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 at St. Nicholas Church