Just returned from one of our favorite Greek Orthodox monasteries in Quebec, Canada, Panagia Parigoritissa. My wife and I will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary this coming winter and it has been almost ten years since we self-published our first little travel guide entitled Friar’s Guide to Family Friendly Monasteries in North America. While much of the information in the original booklet is dated, the introduction is timeless, and I offer it here as an especial tribute to one of our most favorite of family vacation spots.
It’s strange enough in America just to be Orthodox. Why on top of this would a family or individual consider going to a monastery as a retreat or a vacation?
The past decade has seen a proliferation of books, pamphlets, and websites dedicated to explaining “America’s best kept secret,” the Orthodox Church, but little has been written to explain the heart of this best kept secret, Orthodox monasticism. This little booklet is an effort to begin this introduction. The typical American parents are content to have a stable income, live in a friendly neighborhood, get the kids into good schools, plan a dream
vacation to Disneyland, and retire with enough money to live out the rest of their days in a certain degree of comfort. While nothing is particularly wrong with this vision, it fails to look beyond this world. Those whose calling it is to live the life of the age to come are the monks, and visiting a monastery or two may help to give an eternal dimension to family life.
Most of the people we know that criticize monasticism have never visited a monastery or have never known a monk as a friend or spiritual counselor. Orthodox monasteries in the West tend to get labeled with the same stereotypes as the Roman Catholic orders, even though they are very different. Some image of a repressed, self-flagellating, joyless existence keeps a would-be pilgrim from investigating any further. We can honestly say that we have met many monks who do not fit this image, and to the contrary portray a quiet and beaming countenance which reminds one of the innocence and simplicity of a child.
Okay, so maybe monasteries are a good place for a single person to visit, especially one considering this calling or way of life, but why monasteries as the next family vacation spot? Because parents should want the best for their children both in this life and the life to come. Monasteries give families a glimpse into the life to come where there will no longer be marriage or giving in marriage. Any family who tries at least one of the monasteries we recommend will come away not only with a relaxed feeling, but also feeling spiritually refreshed and renewed to tackle this world with a vision that reaches into the next.
Aaron, Anna & Anastasia Friar