We arrived last night and awoke to our first day at Camp Radonezh located just a few kilometers down the road from Optina Monastery. It is so far a great combination of two great loves of our family– camping and monasteries in a rare combination of both.
We begin and end the day with traditional services in slavonic. The campers take turns reading the ancient, yet timeless prayers. It is striking that though so many different editions of the prayer books are present, they all say the same prayers in the same order. We have not prayed these prayers in English long enough to achieve this level of unity (just over 150 years). There is something truly powerful about entering a language that has been prayed for over a millennium.
After breakfast and some warm-up exercises, we are given a poslushenie (obedience) in different groups, and since we are a bit short on adults, I am chosen to lead a group of eight other young adults. I am happy when I report for my obedience and find a monk from the monastery to guide us and youth who for the most part are responsive. Part of the motivational system of the camp includes teams that compete for points and how well they do their morning obedience is part of this system. We worked in the metal yard of the monastery cutting metal rods, straightening them, then creating dome-like forms out of them with twine. Our monastic guide Fr. Theophil was the model of patience and love of labor despite our need to have instructions repeated often. A refreshing drink of monastery kvass concluded the morning obedience.
After lunch, a period of rest called tiki chas (quiet hour) stretches far longer than a single hour and is concluded by polnik (afternoon tea) around 4pm. On a warm, sunny day like today, our Russian campers stretch their rest longer than usual. My wife, younger son, and I take advantage of the lull in activity to walk to the monastery for evening vigil. One of the characteristics of a monastery beyond just a local parish is that the atmosphere of prayer extends beyond the many churches and begins when one enters the monastery walls. This is why families should come to monasteries; for they enable prayer for parents who often need to chase restless little ones around the grounds and cannot spend very long in church standing in prayer. Our little restless one spends most of his time smelling flowers and chasing little orange bugs.
We return to camp much awakened from the heat and rest at noonday. A lively volleyball contest erupts at one end while a more quiet session of traditional crafts works at the other end. The lingering summer sun pushes dinner to a late hour while thankful and content campers pray and exchange wishes for a good night.