I remember so well the first time I stayed overnight in an Orthodox Christian monastery. I dreamed of every Christian camp and conference I had attended up to that point in my life, for they represented the highest and deepest of my spiritual experience. After just one day in the concentrated prayers of the monastic daily cycle, those previous experiences of prayer became as mere foretastes of reality.
By God’s providence, I have been able to revisit both kinds of places recently. On our Alaska and California pilgrimage, three of us went to a Skete (small monastery) on Spruce Island and a monastery in Platina, northern California. And now with my whole family, I am blessed to be at a Greek Orthodox camp in southern New Hampshire. It seems to me now that camps are more important than ever in bringing me to heaven. They are the bridge between this world and the extremely rich spiritual atmosphere of the monastery.
Here in the secluded forests of New Hampshire where the noise of cell phone reception is purposely avoided, the Christians of the Boston Metropolis with their beloved Metropolitan Methodios have built a camp and retreat center named the St. Methodios Faith & Heritage Center. This is the 3rd or 4th time for us coming to a program called Family Camp. It is an occasion for families to take just half a week (four days) to gather in the name of Christ, live together in oneness of mind, and most of all, breath the common prayers of our Mother Church saying, We commit ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God. While individualizing activities like social media and electronic games are excluded, vigorous sports and socializing games are encouraged for the interpersonal fellowship they foster among believers. It all serves to draw us out of ourselves, to stop our soul-destroying habits, and to foster new and more healthy directions for our lives.
Pilgrimage to a monastery brings a person or even a family one step further. Having whiffed the scent of prayer in the temporary community of Christian camping, the pilgrim to a Christian monastery can witness the full flowering of that prayer in a place permanently dedicated to it. In the full aroma of monastic life, the Kingdom of Heaven can come as close to a person as the very air they breath.
So it is no mistake that the three holy people we visited on our past pilgrimage all lived in this life as monastic angels: Monk Herman of Alaska, Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, and Archbishop John of Shanghai and San Francisco. Certainly, many outside the monastic calling have attained holiness, but monasticism is a greatly maligned and misunderstood way of life in our overly segregated and confused world. And Christian camping can help us rediscover this lost treasure of spiritual life.
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