Our Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Bless! The Lord!
Here at the Skete in the hills and valleys of Southwestern Wisconsin the ground is hard, snow is on the hills, ice is in patches on the driveways and gravel roads, and the trees are barren with their stiff branches sticking up into the sky as you walk beneath them while the breezes blow cold all around you. It is a quiet and hidden time. The birds, for the most part, are still somewhere south in warmer climes. The small spring-fed stream flows by with little tufts of fog-steam rising whitely from the water below.
We sit inside and enter this silence and quiet, and enter too the hidden cave in our hearts, waiting. It is the time of waiting, for something will come: a whisper of change, a breeze of gladness, a scent of freshness. It will come, but not before this season will pass. By entering this season now more fully, the rhythm of Nature will take us onward to the renewal of rebirth as naturally as taking the next breath. Let us enter this season with understanding and with tender hearts.
Deep in the earth, underneath the cold and snow, below the storms and ice of Winter, hidden seeds are waiting too, waiting to come forth in the warmth of Spring and bear fruit in the Summer’s fullness. Most of this is hidden from our sensible eyes, just as most of Life and Love in God is hidden too, for we have to dive deep to touch the Real, the Lasting, and the Eternal. There is a wonderful hymn sung during Matins called the Hymn of Ascents. It reads, “In the Holy Spirit, every soul is quickened, and through cleansing is exalted and made radiant by the Triple Unity in a hidden and sacred manner.”
St. Nicholas Church
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is that time of preparation and repentance of Great Lent when we prepare our hearts to receive the great Light of the Resurrection. We fast, we pray, we give alms and love to others. We watch, as the Lord said, for we don’t know when grace will come, and truth from God which bears judgment inside, so let us make this Great Lent fruitful before the Spring and Summer come outside. Love, great love, is hidden too deep within, in the prayers, in self-restraint, in hidden charity, in forgiveness, and in heartfelt contrition for living so far from Christ, the manifest God of Love. He is here waiting too, to turn our heart to the Kingdom of God within. Open wide the gates, O Lord!
St. Isaac, our patron, says this most beautifully in Homily 75 from the Syriac text, “What the power of spring customarily does to the earth’s nature, this also does grace to the soul through purity.... In like manner grace causes the manifest blossoming of all the splendor that God has concealed in the soul’s nature, and it shows this to her and causes her to rejoice in its beauty.” In another place, St. Isaac says most succinctly, “This life has been give to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits.” If we live this holy season in a spirit of repentance, of daily thanksgiving, of ardent prayers, and of conscious dependence on God day by day, then we have entered the palace where the King of King lives. He lives within.
It is not our efforts that make us change, but we still need to make them well; it is not our actions that bring the God-Man Jesus Christ near us, but act we must; for it is our rising awareness of our humbled nakedness which gives God the room to renew us from the bottom up.
He is our only Saviour, but we need to live like we need saving constantly. This is the road up Golgotha which leads to Paradise. Here we are again this year, let us go up that road with Him.
This is our first email and direct mail sent to you this year of a combined newsletter and donation appeal. It’s theme has been renewal in the time of Great Lent. We here at the Skete are also entering this time of renewal with ardor. We have felt a quiet yet tangible undercurrent of grace growing since the Lord’s Nativity, and deepening since the time of His Theophany. Like a wind from Heaven, it is touching many hearts in those we have talked to, our friends and benefactors, in the season just passed. There is still our daily life and chores, our daily thoughts and troubles, but yet they are flavored with this silent breeze of goodness and love. We pray that this Great Lenten season will be filled too with the goodness and love of God’s presence and grace in our time of repentance.
Our financial needs are a part of those daily thoughts and troubles that come up regularly. I’m sure that you all experience them too. Last year our overall donations were down almost 39% making it very hard to make ends meet. Some of those donations were earmarked by you for the long-term easing of expenses by finishing energy-efficient living, off-the-grid, in the Skete’s back valley in our monastic cells and in the beautiful Common Monastic Building still in construction. Also we are spending much time and energy this year already in improving efficiency of time and resources, so that our overall financial needs will be less as time goes on. Sometimes it still takes more time, energy, and resources now to save those very things in the weeks and years to come.
We ask now for your continued support as you can for both our daily needs, and in the continuing completion of the Common Monastic Building. By your generosity in donations for matching funds at the end of last year and its extension into the first two weeks of this year, we were able to raise enough money ($9,000) to buy the tile, cement, and grout for the floors throughout this building. That was a great start. Unfortunately we were unable to afford the tile, grout, and cement for the walls, counters, preparation island, and serving pass-through in the kitchen, and the walls in the bathrooms and laundry room, as we ran out of the necessary funds. That will cost about another $5,000 to $6,000.
Common Monastic Building
We are now clearing the space in the large back room (22 feet by 46 feet) which will be tiled first, but before we begin that we need to sheet-rock the walls and ceilings. This is the area that had water and mold damage from ice dams on the roof about four years ago. It is all cleaned up, with more windows and light, and insulation, but needs the sheet-rocking and painting before the floor goes down. After the floor is done, we will move the desks and filing cabinets which we already have, the extra food storage, and all of the tools and paint back into the room which has no wall tiles, so when the floor is finished, it can be set for permanent use. The sheet-rocking and its installation and painting will only cost about $3,500 to $4,000 which is quite reasonable. If you can help with this, it is the next needed job to get done.
When the back room is set up, then we will empty the dining room and do the floor tiling in that room. No additional monies are needed for this room, just time and effort. The labor for the tiling is in house. There are more floors, but that will wait until after the back room and dining room are done and set up. At that point the building will begin to be useful beyond a storage area. This is a most unusual design of energy efficiency and form. It is a great blessing to be moving now towards completion. Thank you for your needed help for this worthy project. The back valley is filled with silence. It will be very helpful to spend more of our time back there when more of our daily life can be lived in this special valley so conducive to prayer.
We thank you for all of your help, for all of your prayers, and for all of your kind thoughts and words. Thoughts, especially generous ones, are powerful indeed. We are praying for you in our prayers, and in our thoughts and actions too. We are praying that you have a most blessed and heartfelt Great Lent, filled with prayer, fasting, and alms-giving from your generous hearts. We are asking God to deepen you, to strengthen you, to protect you, and to bring you the blessing of Heaven, both outwardly and inwardly.
We ask you also to remember our daily needs with your support, both for the Skete and for the nearby Convent. We also ask that in this season of forgiveness and repentance, that you forgive us our many sins and inadequacies, especially if we have inadvertently offended you in any way. It was never our intent. We pray that we all come together spiritually at Pascha, when the Lord of Life shines forth most brightly in His Glorious and Holy Resurrection! May you have a good and blessed struggle this Holy Lent.
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