July 5 / 18, 2006
NMM Elizabeth and Barbara
My Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Glory be to Jesus Christ!
We celebrate today the memory of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth and the Nun Barbara, for this is their birthday into Heaven as they endured frightful martyrdom near the town of Alapaevsk in the south central Russian Urals in 1918. Throwing them down a mine shaft to be broken and die in seeming ignominy, those soldiers deluded by the promise of a worldly paradise of materialistic Communism rejoiced at the close of an era– an era of love, respect, and Godliness that these women exemplified but which could not be understood by their persecutors whose new dawn was truly a sunset, and whose longed for light was truly a great darkness. Those painful times in Russia are past now and today these martyrs’ memories are a source of great gladness, for they have become radiant icons of Christ for us. May we remember that what is politically acclaimed one day may be a source of great shame on another and that it is only in Godly retrospect that we can see the value of a Church-borne heart climbing Heavenward. Holy martyrs and nuns Elizabeth and Barbara, pray to God for us!
This has been a very busy time in our lives here at the Skete, mostly now with the immediate preparations for our Sacred Arts Festival and Open House which is only 11 days away as I write this, which we will celebrate on Saturday, July 29th and Sunday, July 30th. We are still hoping to see you if possible– so many of our dear friends and fellow pilgrims in our life of mutual prayer to God, and to every place where He gloriously dwells. In every church where His Body and Blood are held in reserve and the relics of Holy Saints sit on the altar in the holy antimens, the Holy Seat spoken of in the Old Testament Holy of Holies is present and manifest today. Our Lord also sits enthroned on our altar in our new St. Nicholas Church.
The church construction has been progressing nicely as the frame of our new iconostasis has been put up, faced with beautiful walnut and cherry wood. This was finished just six weeks ago. I helped stain it with a penetrating oil to bring out the highlights and depth of these hardwoods who wonderfully complement each other, and just two days ago I was able to see the new cherry wood carved panels that will sit under each principal icon. Thank you Father Jerome Sanderson for the carved panels in progress, and Ignatius Veraschagin for the iconostasis construction, and may God reward your efforts even more than men.
The Holy Doors are in the design stage, again with a walnut frame and cherry-wood carved panels echoing the elements of designs of the panels under the icons. First we will put custom icon reproductions in the proper places, then we can schedule their hand painted replacements that Fathers Theodore and Anthony will make with much prayer. We have found sources for spiral cherry-wood four and six inch columns to complete the iconostasis and hope to order them soon, as soon as the funding is in place.
As all good things in church building, sometimes our plans are enhanced by better ones, and with the development of the iconostasis, this has certainly been the case. Unfortunately, these change of plans often cost more than originally projected. The material and labor to complete the sinews of the iconostasis were more than double what was projected, using all of the money collected and then some just to be able to pay this as it went. The work with these beautiful hardwoods made the construction and carving much more time consuming, but the results are moving. A sizable donation was just made which will probably now just cover the eight cherry-wood panels and the Holy Doors, but that still does not cover the angel doors, or the icon reproductions still needed, or the cabinetry to finish storage for the holy things in the Holy Place, or the new Holy Altar.
It is my hope to schedule the consecration of St. Nicholas Church next spring on St. Nicholas summer feast, May 9 / 22, 2007, and I just spoke with Metropolitan Joseph about this at our annual convention last Sunday. He is looking forward to the time he can come and perform the consecration. As it is really best to be able to complete all of the major construction before the consecration, this still leaves funding for the choir loft, trimming and installing all of the windows and permanent doors, and the angel doors, columns, cabinetry, and the new altar that we hope can be completed by that date. I am coming to you again with hope that you can continue to help us build this holy church to the Wonder-Worker St. Nicholas.
View in Church where the planned choir loft will be
My current guess (hopefully with no more unseen surprises) for all these things is approximately $27,000. We have already spent or have current donations committed to about $17,000 for the iconostasis, including the finished hardwood faced frame, the carved panels, and the Holy Doors. It will cost about another $6,000 more to finish this, including the columns, angel doors, and icon reproductions. We project that the choir loft will cost about $8,000 to build, the doors and window trimming about $4,000, the altar cabinets and altar holy table would be another $5,000, the dome bases about $2,000, and bleaching and staining to finish the log siding about $2,000 besides. It is possible that the three domes will be donated, greatly reducing the cost of the church.
It is also possible that Father Theodore and Father Anthony’s iconography master teacher may come for about a month with his family to help us get started on the large iconography project in the new church, either this Fall or next Spring (we are praying that it is in the Fall). This would be an enormous impetus to begin bringing out the Heavenly nature of an Orthodox church which is to be an icon of Heaven Itself, and with iconography surrounding those who stand to worship in its sacred space. Dmitri worked with Father Theodore on the basic iconographic design for the entire church which would prove to be truly stunning when complete. God bless you, Dmitri and your good heart. Father Theodore spent some time with him last winter to help him paint icons in a church in Minneapolis / St. Paul. What a wonderful lesson to work with your teacher on such large icons on the walls of a church. We are truly blessed.
When I first came to Wisconsin twenty years ago, I was so poor that I lived far below poverty level, almost creating new levels of it. Our first chapel was a converted tobacco shed rebuilt into a lean-to with a floor that looked like waves coming into the shore of a small lake after a speed boat passed by. I learned to get four cups of tea from a single tea bag as my treat for the week (it was a treat!) and never ate fruit, because it was much too expensive. I cut the wood to heat my drafty cell with a chain saw and threw it down the side of a hill until I could wheel it over to the church in a wheel barrow and split it into pieces that would fit in the wood stove. I never asked for a donation for years, even when many people began to come to church. I am not asking now for myself in these newsletters and donation appeals, but for the beauty of God’s holy church, and for the comfort and welcome of our many guests. Help us share this beauty with all who come here.
Hope to see you here very soon so that with your own eyes you can behold the beauty of the Lord and His Holy Church of St. Nicholas. God bless you,
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