Pascha 2007 Newsletter and Donation Appeal
January 28/ February 10, 2007
Feast of St. Isaac of Syria
My Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Glory be to Jesus Christ!
Today we celebrated the patronal feast day of our most kind and grace-filled Father among the Saints, St. Isaac of Syria, who was “...filled with immaterial light, and dost illumine all with the rays of thy words...” to whom our small Skete is dedicated. As we sang in the prokeimenon at the Divine Liturgy, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints” so he is also precious to us.
Indeed, this great ascetic father from the 7th century lived like a true angel on earth, loved hesychia (or silence to all things), was merciful towards even reptiles and insects, and had a heart filled with love for God and all men. His words are without equal in the treasury of the spiritual life of the Church, for they are fragrant with grace, love, remarkable insight, and deep sobriety. When I met Elder Paisios of Athos of blessed memory (+1994) many years ago, he told me that St. Isaac’s words were truly blessed and grace-filled and of great eminence. Truly in both life and death, this Saint was precious and most holy. O Blessed Father Isaac, pray unto God for us!
Since we are only a few days away from the beginning of Great Lent I wanted to write to you in greetings at this most special time of the liturgical year. Here at the Skete we clean all of the holy vessels, the lamps, the church, and change the altar cloths to fittingly celebrate our entry into the blessed days of repentance and dark radiant love which pour out on the world in these days of increased ascetic fasting, concentrated prayer, and abundant alms-giving. When we start this holy season, we inexplicably draw near to the time of Christ’s Holy Passion, His Death on the Cross, and His Holy Resurrection, so everything is secretly illumined to bring us near the Lord and His great victory over death. May we sing in spirit “Christ is Risen!” together this Pascha.
I wanted to tell you first of all how thankful I am to live with the other Fathers who struggle here at St. Isaac’s Skete to live a more unselfish life filled with prayer. They are a great inspiration for me as I see their daily effort to become humble and selfless, prayerful and gracious, spiritually-minded and kind. We are all quite human so this is work that takes much conscious attention. Thank you Father Theodore, Father Anthony, and Father Seraphim.
I was just looking at my last Lenten letter which was written right after Pascha last year, and it brought home to me how another year has passed, and how much is both changed and unchanged. The work of the Skete and the work of the Mission are foundationally linked as they were given to me as a commission to found at the same time, now twenty years ago by my late Father in Christ Elder Theodore of blessed memory (+1996). There is a certain timelessness in the rhythm of the daily and seasonal church services, daily interior prayer, prostrations, daily chores and work, and the stream of visitors who come to us each week, with the silence and beauty of the verdant or barren hills, flowing springs, open skies, and brilliant stars that surround us. Yet in the midst of each day there is a certain fresh spontaneity, uniqueness, and fervency when our hearts and minds are turned to God, and our hands outstretched towards those God sends that day. These things, both those new and also those unchanging, are a daily blessing.
In addition, we have seen many other changes this last year that have added beauty and functionality to our life here at the Skete and Mission, including most visibly the complete overhaul and renovation of our Trapeza (dining room and kitchen), and the exterior and interior changes in the continuing construction of St. Nicholas Church. These are most practical, with far more structure and space, and are also quite visually pleasing. I am thankful each time I enter the Trapeza or Church, and glad that others who will come can be welcomed by such outward beauty. These are both a great improvement from what was there before.
I have included some pictures of these as they look today. The drawings of the choir loft and iconostasis came from last year’s newsletter. Although the choir loft is still in construction (the handrails, spindles, treads, and balustrades for the stairs and railings are coming shortly and then will be stained and installed), you can already start to see how it will look when finished. We are planning to get and install the interior doors; finish the trim on the interior windows and doors; build and install the second vestment cabinet; build and install the coatracks and the bookcase for liturgical books and for candles in the entry way; and then tile and finish the second bathroom and install their fixtures. This will cost approximately another $8,000.
The iconostasis still lacks the installation of the wooden rope columns which will be built in cherry wood. The final decision on style is made and in a few weeks they should be ready to finish and install. There are also carved panels to go near the top, and two crosses left to put up, one on the top of the Holy Doors and the other on top of the main arch over the Holy Doors. These are ordered and in process of completion. The rounded tops over the icon reproductions will be put up soon to make the shape like that on the Angel Doors. Two new cabinets are built and installed for the holy vessels and vestments in the Holy Altar. Monies for all these mentioned in this paragraph so far have already been paid and/or are set aside. Watching these projects come to completion in each stage of the construction in the new church is very rewarding and inspiring, for they have been aided surely by a greater hand than even the total of the wonderful people here that have worked towards its completion. Thank you, St. Nicholas, for your help, and thank you Larry, Father Jerome, Ignatius, Kevin, Father Isaac, the many volunteers, and our many donors who have worked so hard together to make this a reality.
We are still looking at the very real possibility of consecrating the church this May or June when all these construction jobs are done. This would include the three domes for the roof, if at all possible, and that particular funding will have to come later and by a separate appeal. The outside lights by each entry door have already been paid for and will be installed next week. The painting around the new choir is finished, and we will try to get the rug in the loft installed very soon. I enjoy looking after many of the details of the design and construction on this church for they have turned out so much more beautiful than I had imagined.
I again wanted to thank each of the donors to this beautiful temple dedicated to St. Nicholas for your help. To date we have spent less than half of typical construction costs even if including all of the volunteer help received to make this building a reality, which is a very judicious use of the monies given to have come so far is so short a time. God bless your generosity. I am asking again for more help. There are quite a few articles needed now for the Holy Place and the church main body too. These will cost about $7,000 more. Together this and the other woodworking that I mentioned before will cost around $15,000. If 100 people gave $150 each we would have come that much closer to be ready for consecration. Help us if you can, first by prayer, and then if so moved by a donation. We thank you in advance.
God bless you and keep you in His Holy Name.
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