My Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Bless! The Lord!
Today we celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of the Great and Holy Lenten season which prepares us for Christ’s Passion, Death, and Holy Resurrection. What a glorious season it is, for there is no time of the year so richly or consciously related liturgically and ascetically to its season as Great Lent and the Holy Week before and including Pascha or Easter. We enter more fully into this great Mystery of Faith and Love through fasting and prayer, and thus gain the hope that by the intent awareness of our sinful inclinations in thought, word, and deed (and by humbly confessing them and repenting deeply that we are in such a low and sunken state), God will forgive us, help change us, and so set us on the path to Heaven.
What often is most lacking to achieve this now is our conscious and true repentance. We hear St. Paul in his Epistle confess that he is the chief of sinners. (1 Tim 1:15) We hear the Publican in the Gospel strike his breast and not even look up to Heaven, freely confessing by his attitude and words his lowly condition while standing afar as he honestly condemns himself and asks God to "be merciful to me a sinner." (Luke 18:13) We hear St. Peter also in his Epistle say that Judgment begins at the house of God and the Righteous are scarcely saved. (1 Peter 4:17-18) Where is there room in these readings for ungodly confidence in ourselves on the one hand, and on the other hand, as always follows, the condemning judgment of others? Repentance means far more that just saying that we are wrong and that we are sorry, yet these are surely its prerequisites. True repentance is change, pure and simple, and the heart and will’s commitment not to sin (with God’s help) again as we have just fallen, or as we now find ourselves enmeshed through long habit.
Repentance is putting Christ back into the very center of our life: in our hearts, in our thoughts, and in every thing that we do, for the root of idolatry in our present condition is when we, rather than God, are in the center of our awareness of the universe. Repentance is avoiding the places and situations whenever possible that lead us to step over the bounds of our conscience or to go carelessly where we have been tempted in the past. Repentance is to stop blaming others or circumstances for our mistakes and our imperfections, for we are consciously or unconsciously always making a choice for Heaven or earth, and one truly goes up and one down. Repentance is trust that God will never lead us into sin, and is stronger than any evil, and can and will help anyone at anytime to a Heavenly life if they will truly ask from the depth of their heart, and really do what He says to do to live in Heaven. Repentance is love and truth. May God bring them to us today!
Our last donation appeal was wonderfully successful in providing all of the funding needed to buy and install the pine log siding on St. Nicholas Church, and I am including a picture of how the church looks just now. Thank you very much for your timely and generous help. We had 142 people respond, raising all of the monies needed for this project (which cost about $10,500 in materials and paid labor). The average gift was just over $86. Many of these gifts were non specific and we decided to put most of them towards this immediately needed project’s completion.
Although the winter is still upon us (for it snowed heavily last Sunday), we are looking forward to the end of winter and the beginning of spring weather, which hopefully may come early this year. Our January thaw this year was quite long and very noticeable. As we think about the rest of this winter and the beginning of spring, there are several needs here at the Skete that would require additional funding and so we are asking for your help again today.
First of all, continuing the next steps towards the completion of St. Nicholas Church is still a high priority. For right now this means purchasing the new exterior light fixtures and installing them, purchasing the wood to trim the interior windows and doors, finishing it, and its installation, and then purchasing, finishing, and installing the two interior entry way doors. To complete these would be a great blessing and could be done while the weather is still inclement this winter. In the early spring the exterior doors (which have already been purchased) could be stained and installed, the base for the three octagonal domes on the church could be designed, built, and stained, and finally the exterior staining of all of the wood siding could be completed to protect and beautify that work so that the church would look and actually be nearly completely finished outside. Final landscaping, floodlights, and the burying of the electrical service would require warmer weather. These things together would cost approximately $12,000 and we ask for your help to fund them.
The best way we know to get these funds for this project is to ask now for 200 people to give $60 each to provide the means to make this happen this winter and spring. Of course, larger donations would help average out those who could not give as much, or let less people still come up with the totals required. Please indicate on your check or on the return envelope that your donation is for this project if that is what you specifically wish to support. As I mentioned many times before, every donor’s name (unless specifically asked to be exempt from this) will be attached to a plaque inside the church when it is all finished. God bless you for your continued support on this most worthy project, and may our Holy Father Nicholas, the great Wonder-worker, pray for you to thank you for helping to build his church here in the wooded hills and verdant valleys of Southwestern Wisconsin for the Glory of God.
Unfortunately, the other project that we asked for in our last fund-raiser (which was the renovation of the kitchen and then this renovation continuing to include the dining room) did not bring in enough monies to begin to complete this. In addition, our long time handyman who was working on this project has since left our employment and a suitable substitute has not been found. Just a few weeks ago I personally did some of the renovation work still left in the kitchen proper, working on the area that we already have most of the materials to complete, and one of the nearby friends of the Skete volunteered to take two days off from work to help. We installed two of the three ceiling lights, put in new insulation and sheetrock on about half of the remaining unfinished ceiling and put down most of the new subflooring and insulation. I was physically sore as it has been awhile since I did this kind of construction.
Another friend of the Skete has volunteered later to help move the commercial sink and some of the plumbing connected to it. This can only happen after the subfloor joints are filled, the new tiles glued in place, and finally the rest of the walls reinsulated, new sheet rock put on, with taping, mudding, and painting for the walls and ceiling. We do not have any monies for labor to do this work just now and are asking your help.
A modest donation of $40 by 200 people could fund the rest of the materials for the dining room and at least some of the labor to put everything together. I have included a few pictures here to show where we presently are in this project that would make our life at the Skete much better for us and our guests.
Let me close this letter with this thought: there are, according to the Fathers, three legs that together hold up our spiritual life, especially in Great Lent--fasting, prayer, and alms-giving. Let us deepen our commitment in this holy season to each of these as a means to deepen our life with God, and remember that it was not too much for the Lord to love us, even with His life. Let us begin to return such transforming love in kind by refocusing our hearts and minds towards Him. Let us also love each other most actively this Lenten Season through mutual prayers for each other’s spiritual transformation– the true repentance, and earnestly look forward to the bright, awesome, and yet soothing light of His Glorious, Life-Giving, and Most Holy Resurrection.
Keep us in your prayers and love,
Your Brother in Christ,
Father Simeon, Abbot
and the brotherhood of St. Isaac of Syria Skete
and the sisterhood of St. Silouan’s Convent
and the community of St. Nicholas Church