An Outward Desire

Eve of Thomas Sunday, April 25, 2020

We did it! We survived Holy Week, Pascha, and Bright Week mostly from our at home services and through live-stream on TV. The joy of the Resurrection and the growing warmth of spring naturally turns us outward, desiring to share the good news with others. But the continued COVID-19 quarantine still places limits on that desire.

A place in western Massachusetts that was bought by one of our parish deacons and his wife and transformed into a farm, retreat center, and sometime summer camp is now a fully-fledged, full-service spiritual oasis, St. John the Baptist Orthodox Christian Monastery. Our family visits the two monastic fathers who dwell here for a day trip that allows us to fulfill our desire to evangelize while obeying the strict rule of the government not to gather in groups larger than ten (7 + 2= 9).

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Cultivating the Church at Home

April 17, 2020, Great and Holy Friday

“How do you, Father Herman, manage to live alone in the forest, don’t you get bored?” He answered, “No, I’m not alone there! There is God, and God is everywhere! There are holy angels! How can one be bored with them? With whom is it more pleasant and better to converse, angels or people? Angels, of course.”

Little Russian Philokalia, Vol. 3, St. Herman

In this forth week of our at-home Coronavirus quarantine, we struggle as a family with where to go and what to do. Our travelogue has been quickly and suddenly restricted to our immediate vicinity, and we labor at how to overcome feelings of isolation and boredom. The saints in heaven and especially the monastic hermits like St. Herman of Alaska can teach us what to do with our boredom, and it does not involve surfing to the next binge-worthy series or reaching for our favorite comfort food. It involves a rediscovery of our blessed habitation, that home which Father Herman called, “the blessed place which will render my soul’s salvation.”

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A Sober Exuberance

48205105362_29a15541c3_kTime definitely passes differently at a camp near a monastery. I have asked two people already for the time and the day and both have responded alike that they count the day and the hour not according to their watch or phone, but according to their obedience: when it begins (now), when it ends (soon), when we will eat the next meal (soon enough), and when we will go to bed (before and after prayer). Who needs to measure the day with numbers in such an arrangement?

This monastic pattern of life makes this camp feel very different then even Orthodox camps I have visited in America. For it makes even loud events like sports or singing more subdued, more controlled— a kind of sober exuberance. Continue reading

The Best of Our National Heritage

48205054051_6e697aa29a_kWe are blessed with almost perfect weather this week, almost like Southern California. On day 2 at Camp Radonezh near Optina Monastery, the same pattern follows except that I am given a different obedience and a different set of campers in the morning. We hike to the farther Skete of Saint John the Baptist in order to pick berries, that great Russian tradition and past time. This time, a particular young man is the de facto leader of the group and what a lad he is: the kind of boy who knows the answer before the question is asked, an uber-capable young man already at the age of 10. He, of course, not only speaks decent English but claims to teach it along with Spanish. I have no way to evaluate the latter skill but given his proficiency in everything else, I have no doubt. Continue reading

A Monastic Camp

48205061766_f6f90aef5c_kWe 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. Continue reading

Old And New Jerusalem

June 30, 2019
In honor of the 5th Anniversary of the Repose of Fr. Herman Podmoshensky

What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem? The famous quip from the first century critic Tertullian was meant to dismiss any possibility of cross-pollination between these two ancient cities and cultures. On the one hand, Jerusalem, city of the Savior and of the chosen people who gave Him birth stands as a symbol of separation from the world and all its lusts. On the other, Athens, city of the gods beyond numbering and of philosophies beyond counting, stands as a paramount symbol of this world and its festival of vanity. Such was the diametric opposition that these two cities represented.

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I felt a similar separation between America and Russia the first time it was presented to me by one of my spiritual fathers whose repose we remember this day. In hearing of Holy Russia, Third Rome, and the Holy Elders in a 19th century monastery called Optina, I could only respond, “What hath Madison Avenue to do with this new Jerusalem?” Continue reading

Newly Illumined!

The following is the text of a toast I gave in honor of my parents’ reception into the Holy Orthodox Church on Sunday, May 12, Third Sunday of Pascha in honor of the Holy Myrrhbearers and American Mother’s Day. My father was received by Baptism and my mother by Chrismation at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in East Syracuse, NY.

20190512_093841“Nobody knows the trouble I seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.”

These simple, yet profound lyrics from an old negro spiritual express the longing of many a Christian lost in the multitude of denominations and confessions of the Church in this country and in the world. This family alone has experienced not less than 15 in our collective lives. But when I first witnessed the Orthodox Church I could see a church where, “Every generation chanteth hymns of praise to Christ.” Everyone from the smallest infant to the oldest great grandmother, all gather together in one Church. Today this prophecy has been fulfilled in your eyes: Not in a church designed principally for the youth, not in a church designed principally for the elderly, but in the Church where family integrated worship has never gone out of style. Continue reading

Hierarchical Visitations, New Ordinations, and the Establishment of a New Diocesan Monastery

Tuesday, August 15/28, 2018, Boston, MA
Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God

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It is an amazing gift that with the blessing of Patriarch Neofit and the blessing of the beloved Prelate of our diocese, Metropolitan Joseph, three Hierarchs, the Metropolitans Serafim of Nevrokop,  Grigorii of Vratsa, and Daniil of Vidin, together with Archimadrite Epifaniy came from Bulgaria to Boston to officiate the tonsuring and ordinations of our beloved Brothers in Christ from the parish of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Boston, MA. Continue reading

Christian Camps & Monasteries

teen-spiritual-program-15-4I 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. Continue reading