Nativity (Detail) - CF806
The Lord’s Nativity: Rejoice, for God is With Us!
Our Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Bless! The Lord!
Why is Christianity so immediate and blessed? Because God came down from Heaven and became a man, sharing our own humanity and giving us the opportunity to become most blessed, holy, and even like Him as much as human beings can do by His grace. He is not a distant, impersonal God, not indifferent to our sufferings and our very real limitations, for He knows this firsthand from His own experience. He is present, right here and right now: and filled with mercy and understanding. Not a principle but a person. Not distant but present. Not unsympathetic but with great sympathy and knowledge of our physical, mental, and spiritual condition. He is the God of Love, and that Love is pointed towards us at every day, hour, and moment of our lives. We just need to learn how to reach back and touch this unrequited Love.
When God was born on Earth everyone was completely amazed. Even the Angelic Hosts didn’t know until the Holy Archangel Gabriel had announced it to the Virgin Mary nine months before. This is a great mystery filled with hope for us. The Lord of Glory comes humble as a little child, taking food and nourishment from His mother, fellowship with all those He comes in contact with, and then in time being hungry and thirsty just like us. He voluntarily came down to our level to bring us up towards Him eternally, and to restore all that had fallen in this world. Let us celebrate today with the Holy Angels as they always cry out: Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill towards men.
This Year at the Skete in Review
This has been a very busy year here, both outwardly and inwardly, and a very challenging one too. Often we can see challenges and difficulties as problems to be solved rather than opportunities to be explored, but Christ promised that all who would follow Him would have tribulations in this life. Why is this so? Because God loves us intensely and wants us to grow in every dimension, physically, mentally, and spiritually. That requires the exercise of willing participation of our minds and wills to work with Him for our ultimate good. Just like any other exercise, it is perfected in practice.
Extreme weather at times this year has brought many opportunities for patience, and for turning difficulties into thankfulness. Last Winter was especially cold and this was especially early too so we had many pipes in buildings and in the ground freeze or break. The lines all were cleared or repaired, the heat tape re-regulated, and we haven’t had any problems with them since last Winter.
On June 22nd there was a flash flood here when, after the ground had been saturated by lesser rains, it then rained that afternoon almost 4 inches in less than an hour and the runoff from the two valleys west and north of us converged at our stream ford. The water level went up between four to five feet very rapidly. We had relocated our footbridge the year before to just west of the stream ford, and put it over five feet up from the water. The roaring flash flood threw debris up on top of the bridge, but thankfully the flood receded just after the rain stopped when the water was within six inches of the bridge.
The ford was torn up, several buildings had water damage when water from the causeway on the public road side of our property jumped over the bank at several points flooding areas and gouging out the causeway in one place over four feet, throwing tree trunks and branches here and there. Providentially the foundation supports held. If the rain had continued even another 15 minutes, we would have lost the bridge and much, much more. All has been repaired, and the ford has also been improved since then.
We had many challenges also with vehicles. Over a year ago our beater truck for firewood was disabled and then sold. At the end of last December a generous donor gave us a better used truck Last November one of the monks hit a big buck deer that had leaped out from the side of the road and totalled the small SUV he was driving. Providentially, the monk was not injured, just shaken up. In February, another monk went down to Texas to find a small used SUV with four wheel drive to replace it. It is a better vehicle. Our used van also died this year and so far we have been unable to replace it.
All of last winter the boiler to heat the Common Monastic Building lost its damper control to automatically adjust the boiler to the correct temperature. We were still able to heat the building, but with many adjustments required daily which reduced the efficiency of the entire heating system. Our older solar panels set up from many, many years before had stopped functioning, which provided the power to work the damper. Just now we are in the process of putting in a new electrical line from our newer solar panel bank and battery configuration to allow the boiler to function correctly. This required opening a ditch, removing a storage shed with the old batteries and controllers and inverters, and redoing the water line connections that feed the boiler’s water in and out of the building. Pray that this is all done before the ground freezes, usually about this time of the year.
Several of the monks had many and varied bouts of illness this year, the last ones continuing even until now. That is certainly a challenge, especially to be grateful. Pray that we can do so every time.
We had a large turnover in long-term employees that caused practical delays, and then extensive retraining to get back on track. The new employees hired since then have been a real Godsend. We had our IT system essentially replaced last year which was traumatic, with some functionality only coming back after many months, especially our ability to hard mail wholesalers and donors. That has been fixed since this last July, thanks be to God! All this caused a great financial hardship, which has been much alleviated by your recent kind donations and prayers since July. Thank you, and may God bless you.
We have come a long way through many, many challenges here this year both physically and financially. God is good, and His Faithful are compassionate in their merciful prayers and financial help. We need more prayers and more help now as you can give. It is important before this year shifts to Winter in earnest, which could come at any time now. Please buy some icon gifts from us for your friends and loved ones this Christmas. That would help a lot, and what better gift could you give to those you care for than something that will remind them of God and His Saints, and also help their spiritual life. We need better transportation soon to navigate our needs this Winter, as one small vehicle is not enough, and the used truck is a just an on-the-property vehicle. Our donations were off the charts low until last July when we were able at last to mail you, our donors, after 18 months without a mailing. They are still lower than we need to meet our needs before the end of this year, even though some of you were most generous when we asked before. Please be generous again, so we can continue this ministry of both making beautiful icon reproductions, and living out our monastic life of prayer here at the Skete as we have for the last 29 years. Most of all, please keep us consciously in your prayers and we will keep you in ours. May the Lord of Goodness, Life, and Love fill all of our hearts with joy and gladness in this Holy Nativity Season, and may we all greet His coming into the world gratefully on that most Blessed Day.
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
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