Our Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Bless! The Lord!
The Fall colors have come and gone here in Southwestern Wisconsin, but they were particularly beautiful this year, bright and flaming with a brilliance that was most memorable. The nights are edging into frost often now as the weeks move forward, marching toward cold weather that is just nearby. We remember at such times that this transition time is to prepare for the season ahead: Thanksgiving, the Lord’s Nativity, on to the New Year, with warm winter nights near the wood stove, and blankets of snow outside. Today it is just hinted at, but we know surely that this will come.
We too prepare inside for the coming season’s change as we move from the outside busyness to the quieter times of indoor activities which predominate the long set of winter days and nights. And further inside there is the vast world of quietness that permeates Heaven and Earth when we turn to the deeper realms of true life with God present and His Heaven surrounding our minds and hearts. When we go deep in prayer, then all things are present, for where God is, all of Creation is with Him. This in-between time, however, is a motion between outside and inside, earth and Heaven. It is truly a time of transition.
Transitions can come by invitation, not just when the seasons change, and we can welcome this readily if we are open to hear what God and others have to say to us both within and without. We see adversity, trial, tribulations, troubles, and anguish all around us. It is on the news, in the streets, and even in our own homes when we are victims of the vagaries of circumstance, and fighting to get our own way.
There is another way that Christ brought to earth, a quiet way, a silent way, a simple way, and a loving way. It is stronger than all of the disturbances which may surround us. It is in the first words that He spoke to His Apostles as they hid in the upper room afraid for their lives and in shock over the killing of the King of Israel and Heaven and Earth. He said simply, “Peace be unto you” (John 20:19). Then He showed them His hands and His side, and said to them again, “Peace be unto you.” This peace is the only peace that can last. The only real answer to all turmoil is this peace.
How can we accept this peace? It really isn’t hard, just not our practice. We need to stop looking at the waves and the rough sea that surround us on all sides so that we feel that we are sinking, and keep our eyes and hearts focused on Jesus. St. Peter could walk on water as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. It was when he looked down with fear that he began to sink.
It is natural to be afraid in this fallen world without some focus and anchor that is above and beyond it. Jesus Christ came to earth to reveal that He was here now and would never leave us if we cling to Him. If we look up instead of down, then the fear goes away, even if there are problems. It just takes practice, but (and this is a big but), it takes a lot of practice to turn this habit of thinking and feeling critical fear into trusting love. Although we have the rest of our lives to learn it, it will never be easier than to start today.
If there wasn’t peace on earth in the times and life of Jesus Christ, why do we think that we will have it here and now? What we can have is His peace, and this is the peace that no one can take away from us because it is an inner choice whatever happens in the space around us. He offers us this gift that He gave to His Apostles. We need to pick it up and hold onto it, leaving the world of fear. When you find this peace, you are never a helpless victim again, for with Christ is true victory, and He has truly overcome all evil.
Here at the Skete, Convent, and Mission we are also practicing finding this peace. We have had a busy year, especially cleaning up outside and in. This year in Orthodox Byzantine Icons we have introduced new Commemorative Gift Icon Cards, new Special Imported Gift items, added more custom icons to our our over 2,100 unique images, computer catalogued all of our icon books, re-introduced our fine blessing crosses to our devotional line, filled out our seasonal icons offered each email to include those Saints or Feasts celebrated in that season, added beautiful wooden Outdoor Icon Shrines, re-sized all catalogue icons to every size available, custom or regular catalogue icon, to the largest size that they will maintain visual integrity, filled up our inventory, and added more quality assurance checks to maintain the highest standards possible. It was a very busy year.
St. Isaac's Back Valley - Wood stacked for winter
In the monastery, much time was spent improving the outdoor grounds to keep it beautiful, trimmed, and in order, which involved extensive tree trimming, rock removal, brush-hogging, weed-whipping, and mowing. After years of growing wild, the lower fields have all been put in order, while the many hills still are full of a large variety of fruit and hardwood trees, with bushes, wild ginseng, and boulders in abundance. The Common Monastic Building had a cracked retaining wall just repaired and the road above the building widened and about to be regraded and gravelled. The entire area above the building and near the wood fired boiler has had the left-over wood from last year removed so the snow plow can keep it clean.
This year we found a very bright idea for wood storage in screwing and cross-bracing four pallets into a movable wood container that holds one third of a full cord of wood. All of the good wood left over from last year has been put into these containers, and much more wood has been cut, split, and stacked into other containers (40 in all) so that all of our year’s supply of wood is already put up and will store dry through the winter. These containers let us move them with our skid steer (like a Bobcat), and just keep two right near the boiler so that it is easy to load the wood. When a container is empty, we will move it away and bring another full one in its place, thus keeping the road clear all winter long.
We are hoping to re-roof the current Hospitality Center and the Bookstore soon so that they can survive the winter snows. Their old roofs are just worn out. We also hope to finish the winterizing of buildings so that we will have less damage from the Wisconsin cold snow, and ice. A little prevention now will solve many freezing problems this winter.
Mother Elizabeth at the Convent has been consistently busy computer cataloguing our library for most of this year. There is still much to go. We ask for financial help for her as she has many needs because of her diabetes. Please help her if you can. The Icon Studio has been moving along with producing new hand-painted icons. Father Anthony has become an adept and skillful iconographer through his many years of practice. Pray that he can continue to enter and stay in the spiritual space where very good icons can be produced.
Our finances for normal operation have been challenging. Our donations this year are down now almost 30%, and even with judicious budgeting and careful use of our resources, this has been hard to manage as the last two years had also been challenging before. If you can, please consider a donation to help us get through this transitional time to the quietness of winter. If you can help us with a little, it would be a real blessing, $25 or $50 from many people would fill in the gap. If you have more means, please help more too. Even basic foods cost much these days.
St. Isaac's Common Monastic Building - 2011
This winter we have the wonderful opportunity to do something dear to our hearts: to move the finishing of the Common Monastic Building ahead. The needed construction help is here and available without additional cash flow. All we need are some materials. What is most needed and easy on the budget is trim for the windows and doors, patching the damaged dry wall, touching up a little insulation’s empty pockets, adding two solar panels to the four that we already have, and two more deep cell batteries to keep the wood-fired boiler’s pump running on sunless winter days, and some banisters for the second floor’s safety. A little help with this ongoing capital campaign will go a long way now. This will only cost together about $3,500 to $4,000 for all of this work to happen. It will help move more of our monastic life back permanently into the back Skete valley which is permeated with the thick silence of prayer. That is why it is so dear.
We also need, as was mentioned earlier, to quickly re-roof the present Hospitality Center and Bookstore for visitors. We have many more visitors coming these days, which is a real blessing. It would cost about $2,500 to buy the materials and just a week to complete it. Help us also with this worthy project.
We are praying for you in the time of this season’s transition, and ask you to pray for us. Together let us use the time wisely to return again and again to the source of all good things, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, and then also pray to His Virgin Mother Mary, and to His Holy Saints. May they help us grow closer together.
God bless your good hearts,
The brotherhood of St. Isaac of Syria Skete
and the sisterhood of St. Silouan's Convent
and the community of St. Nicholas Church