“Grant to me O Lord that with peace of mind I may face all that this day is to bring.” So begins the Prayer of the Optina Elders and what a grace it is for us to begin our day and to continually punctuate the day with it.
No matter what our calling, or where we are, peace of mind is essential to see and do God’s will. The prayer continues, “Grant me the grace to surrender myself completely to Your Holy Will.” How desperately we need God’s grace in order to do His will in each moment of our day. It is right there in front of us and within us for “Whatever tidings I may receive during the day teach me to accept tranquilly in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Your Will.” If we only have eyes to see and believe that God uses everything in each moment of our life for our growth in Him, how peaceful and happy we would be.
So we continue the prayer. “Govern my thoughts and feelings in all I do and say. When things unforeseen occur, let me not forget that all comes down from You.” How well the Elders understand us – we do forget so easily that God is in charge and cares for us and holds us in the palm of His Hands.
Because of our human condition we need to pray, “Teach me to behave sincerely and reasonably toward every member of my family, that I may bring confusion and sorrow to none.” We are members of one another in Christ so this is a difficult learning experience for us, and we pray, “Bestow on me my Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day and to bear my part in all its activities.”
Our day involves a great deal of work both within and without and if we are living well, there is a definite fatigue factor. “Take up your cross and follow Me.” “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” “My burden is easy and My yoke is light.”
Our work is cut out for us and we beseech our good God to “Guide my will. Teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive and to love.” Amen!
No easy answers – just simple.
You have not missed an issue of our newsletter. Neither have you been taken off our mailing list. After almost a year, we are finally writing and publishing this very long and newsy “One Thing Needful.”
Never ever ask God how much more can be crammed into a day. While we are aging and slowing down, life at our monastery is full to overflowing. By God’s grace, the help of a third, and many others, we are able to continue our prayer life, host visitors, and endeavor to accomplish the tasks of running and building a monastery, albeit little by little.
At the end of February and beginning of March, Mother Thecla made a trip to Texas to visit her mother. It so happened that it coincided with the re-internment of Archbishop Dmitri of blessed memory (November 2, 1923 - August 28, 2011). The exhumation of His body which had not been embalmed, occurred on March 4th and was found to be incorrupt and still pliable as witnessed by those chosen for the task of changing his vestments. Later that day, his body was taken to Saint Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral in Dallas, Texas, and laid in state. Vespers was prayed that evening with Divine Liturgy served on Saturday morning, March 5th. After Liturgy, Archbishop Dmitri’s body was re-interred in a side chapel built for him. May his memory be eternal.
(To read another account of this event, go to http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/print91288.htm.
One of our favorite services of the year occurs on the Saturday before Orthodox Lent begins - The Commemoration of All Departed Monastics. Of course, the older we get, the more departed monastics we know.
On the last weekend of March, a group of women from Saint Maria of Paris Orthodox Mission in Cleveland, Tennessee, journeyed here and spent Saturday helping us with many chores. One was painting the third aluminum bench (the other two by another volunteer). Two washed windows while watching a child. Another group raked the pathways and vacuumed the large chapel. The fourth group cleaned up the work site on the east side of the building. When our contractor, who works well with volunteers, drove his trailer across the scales, he was impressed that the women had loaded 3000 pounds of debris. All of this helped us to ready ourselves for Pilgrimage.
On that same Saturday, we received news that a dear friend had reposed, Elizabeth Shaw who was a member of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Mission in North Augusta, South Carolina. She was buried here on Monday, March 28th. May her memory be eternal.
During the next week, we received additional help from three women, who had come for a retreat and were from Saint Anthony the Great Orthodox Mission in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Matins only was prayed the morning of April 2nd, the date for first Saturday Liturgy. Fr. Thomas Moore arrived in great pain only to be taken to the emergency room with kidney stones. In all the years that he has served our monthly Saturday Liturgy, this was the first time that he was so incapacitated that he could not serve Liturgy.
Twice this past year we have been visited by a family from Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in West Columbia, South Carolina, who brought their son and his friend, two strapping young men. The first time they laid the flat stone under the arbor in the perennial garden. The second time they learned how to lay the foundation row of castlewall block for raised beds in the vegetable garden. One bed is complete and another is started. We’re not sure how many raised beds will be built with six pallets, but we will find out.
Lent, Holy Week, and Bright Week (the week after Pascha/Easter) sped by quickly, and, as usual, contained customized spiritual lessons for each of us. We were blessed to have Liturgy served here on Thursday of Bright Week.
Pilgrimage, as always, falls on the second Saturday after Pascha which is before Holy Myrrhbearers Sunday, one of the feastdays of Saints Mary and Martha of Bethany who themselves were Myrrhbearers. This year we had invited Fr. Garasim Eliel from Saint Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral in Dallas, Texas, to be our guest priest and head celebrant. In addition to Fr. Garasim, the chancellor, Fr. Marcus Burch from Saint John of the Ladder Orthodox Church in Greenville, South Carolina, Fr. John Parker from Holy Ascension in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and Fr. Thomas Moore from Holy Apostles in West Columbia, concelebrated the Divine Liturgy. Two deacons also served, Deacon Mark Barna from Holy Ascension and Deacon Nicholas Griswall from Holy Apostles. As is our tradition, on Pilgrimage Saturday, we sing the Paschal canon and walk around to all the graves and have the priest, Fr. Garasim this time, bless them. A number of the people who have loved ones buried here attended. All in all 68 people attended our Pilgrimage on May 14th.
Less than a week later, we lost another good friend, Olga Chernecky McGuiness. At Midfeast, May 25th, we drove to Saint Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church OCA (Orthodox Church in America) in Norcross, Georgia (a suburb of Atlanta) to attend a Panahida (service for the departed) for her. Then her body was flown to Connecticut for burial.
During this time, Makiko, our gray, tailless, part-Manx cat disappeared. We had given her up for dead when she reappeared. As is normal for cats when they are hurt or sick, she went into seclusion to either die or get better and return home. In her case, she found a space under the low ramp behind the Barne Shoppes.
A friend informed us that a nursery had gone out of business due to illness and that their children did not want to take over their business. Their specialty had been azaleas. If we could make our way through all the briars, she would sell the gallon size to us for fifty cents each. The only prerequisite we had was that they had to be alive. 120 azaleas plus eight magnolias filled up the bed of our pick up. We went through them, trimmed off the dead, watered them regularly, and watched as they returned to healthy looking azaleas. Then, with the help of several friends over the summer and into the fall, we planted all of them in the woods along our drives. Each plant was marked with a three-foot, PVC pipe and watered judicially for weeks. Thank God, all of them are living. Now it looks like we planted PVC pipe. Given time, the azaleas will grow and the PVC pipe will be removed. Seven of the magnolias lived. One was pulled up by a wild critter looking for water.
Saturdays, June 11th & November 12th, were our flea market days during 2016. We brought in $395.35 and $226.20 respectively and added it to our Building Fund. As we have said in the past, we now go for the PR and to greet old friends and meet new ones. After all these years, the regulars feel free to ask us questions or, in some cases ask questions for their friends. For the past several years, we have also had help from friends of our monastery in manning our tables. You never know what we will be selling, as items come from many sources.
On June 17th, a new seeker arrived. On December 23rd she was robed a novice. Please add Sister Angela to your prayers.
Our newly-elect Bishop Alexander visited us on Friday, July 1st. It was good to show him what God has done here.
That Saturday we attended a Hierarchical Liturgy at Holy Apostles Orthodox Church, and, on Sunday, attended Liturgy at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Mission where Bishop Alexander also served.
From July 26th to the 29th, Mother Thecla attended the Diocesan Assembly in Wilmington, North Carolina. Having just finished building a new church, Saint Basil the Great Orthodox Church celebrated their first Liturgy, a Hierarchical Liturgy at that, with Bishop Alexander and Archbishop Nikon. Their guest speaker was Sister Vassa from Austria who hosts Orthodox education videos entitled, “Coffee with Sister Vassa” (coffeewithsistervassa.com). She is most witty.
Our under-construction building, like our building fund, proceeds slowly. In many ways that gives us time to think about the next step, make decisions and changes as needed.
Vents and crawl space doors are now installed. No surprise, they had to be custom made. For a while we wanted them to match the red brick color of the building, but decided that steel gray was a better color. After all, there is a substantial amount of gray mortar in those walls.
We asked our contractor to provide us with an estimate on the next three steps: 1)roughing in the heating, air conditioning and dehumidifying systems (HVAC), 2) roughing in the electrical, and 3) roughing in the plumbing. Remembering that this is a sizable building and that it has to meet numerous government regulations, the bids came in at $93,000 for HVAC which included some of the equipment, and $50,000 each for the electrical and plumbing. So far, we have been able to save around $76,702.46 towards the HVAC which must be done first due to the rigidity of the ductwork, etc. We have $16,297.54 left to meet this goal. Then we will be saving for the electrical. Infrastructure is so important.
While we are saving money, we are doing small, finishing touches on the outside of the building, like the vents and crawl space doors mentioned above. We finally decided that we wanted the same brick pattern that is on the stoop to the sun room on the landings at the bottom of the stairwell and the bottom of the stairs from the sun room. The edging consists of Ogee (bullnose) bricks and standard bricks in the middle. There were enough Ogee bricks for the first landing, but not enough for the second. The additional bricks have been received, and now we are waiting for the brick masons to have a betwixt and between day to complete the second landing.
As weather permits, Liturgy can be served in the large Chapel, unless work is being done on it. To date, it has been too hot, too rainy, and now, too cold. Oh well, our little house chapel will suffice.
Over the past year, we have spent much time working with a stained glass artist designing the six windows for the chapel. Each saint is different and deserves to be lovingly treated as such, even Mary and Martha.
The window of Saint Olga of Alaska has been installed, but the face and hair were changed from what was drawn by the person making the window. We don’t know why and do not want to know. So sometime this year that will be corrected. We laughingly refer to the change as giving Olga a face lift and a dye job. Anyone who has made stained glass windows knows what a “royal pain” it is to correct this mistake. When she is completely finished, we will post a picture of her along with any other windows as they are completed and installed.
Saint Anna with the Theotokos, Saint Martha of Bethany, and Saint Thecla Equal to the Apostles are funded. The cost is $8500 for each window. St. Mary of Bethany has $5493.75 which leaves $3006.25 to reach goal. St. Lyubov of Ryazan, Fool for Christ, has $950.00 which leaves $7550.00 of which $5000.00 has been pledged.
Toward the end of August we received a phone call from Fr. Edward Rommen who was thinking about retiring and wanted to continue his ministry as our priest, but wanted to simply serve Liturgy and other sacraments and have time to write. Toward the end of September when Bishop Alexander visited Holy Ascension Orthodox Church near Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, Fr. Edward received his blessing to retire and be our monastery priest. So after Pascha, we will have a priest living on land adjacent to the monastery land and serving Liturgy on Sundays, the first Saturday of each month, on feastdays, and many other days as well.
This is a true blessing for which we are thankful to God, Bishop Alexander and Fr. Edward. We have been traveling forty-five minutes to an hour to attend Liturgy for almost twenty-one years now. After we knew that Fr. Edward was going to be our priest, we realized how weary we were of traveling back and forth to Liturgy.
At the Saturday Liturgy here on September 3rd, Fr. Alexis Baldwin chrismated his own father into the Orthodox Faith. He took the name of Job after Saint Job of Pochaev.
A week later we were visited by three women and a child. Two of the women helped us with yard work while the other, who had brought her sewing machine, did some much needed sewing and mending for us.
For eighteen years we have hosted the Clergy Wives retreat which takes place on the fourth Thursday through Sunday of September each year. This year thirteen clergy wives were able to attend. On March 1, 2016, one of their own, Jodonna (Cecelia) Winans Rhudy, wife of Fr. Steven Rhudy of Saint Luke Orthodox Church, Anniston, Alabama, reposed in our Lord Jesus Christ and was buried in the monastery cemetery. During their retreat, they took time to gather at her grave and pray for her soul. Each year it is good to see them grow closer together and gain strength from God and each other.
The following Thursday, we were in Aiken, South Carolina, driving back to the monastery from a doctor’s appointment when we decided to stop in at the Aiken Animal Shelter to see if there was a dog that would fit into our monastic life. We had been without a dog for a year and a half, and the wild animals were coming around the doublewide, especially at night. As God willed, there was a dog for us. She didn’t mind cats, liked children, wanted tummy scratches, was about a year old, did not look threatening, and had a sweet face and disposition. Nothing was known about her except they found her on the streets of Aiken. As it turned out someone had loved her and taken the time to train her well. We named her Moscata. It took some time for Mancini, our male Manx cat, to accept her, but now they play a game where he hisses and slaps at her, and she barks and “eggs him on.” On the other hand, Makiko, our female Manx cat, is much more reserved and dainty, but she is adjusting in her own way. Yes, the wild animals have moved back into the woods.
Almost every month we have a couple spend part of a day helping us with whatever needs to be done. This is a wonderful gift, as are the many others who come and give of their time and talents.
From October 25th to the 27th, the third Synaxis of Monastic Superiors was hosted by The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania. Metropolitan Tikon led the meeting. Archbishop Nathaniel and twelve superiors attended. Over the past three years, we are beginning to know each other and to realize how far monasticism has come in the OCA since 1970. We have much further to go.
Mother Thecla and Mother Helena were blessed to sponsor two women into the Orthodox Faith at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Mission in North Augusta, South Carolina. We have known Donna (now named Prisca after the virgin martyr of Rome) for over eighteen years. Fr. Alexis Baldwin baptized and chrismated her. Betty, who is also a long-time friend was received through chrismation and took the name Irene, after the great martyr. Glory be to Jesus Christ. (The picture to the left shows the newly-illumined processing around the analogion table led by the priest and followed by us.)
Two other burials took place here last year. One February 25th, Rebecca Ingram, wife of Deacon John Crook and member of Saint Basil the Great Orthodox Church, Wilmington, North Carolina, was laid to rest. Then on June 14th, Priest Gregory Heers (retired), the husband of Catherine Plato Heers, attached to Saint John of the Ladder Orthodox Church, Greenville, South Carolina, was also laid to rest here. May their memory be eternal.
In mid-November, Chelsea Youell, an art student at the University of South Carolina Aiken, requested an interview with us to fulfill a video class assignment. We thought that she did well and know that she has received many compliments for her work. Her short documentary of us and this monastery can be viewed on our web site:
Starting some time during the Fall, another friend of the monastery gave us the funds to build a three bay garage that is near, but separate from, the building in progress. It will have a matching red-blend brick exterior with a forest green metal roof. Our contractor had the required architectural drawings made and obtained a building permit. Now we are waiting for the weather to cooperate so that the land can be cleared and a concrete slab poured. We hope that this building will be completed before June.
On November 20th, we traveled to Saint Mary Magdalene Orthodox Church in Rincon, Georgia (near Savannah), to be with our spiritual father, Fr. James Bohlman, and the many parishioners whom we have come to know. They are like our third parish home. We were with them as they celebrated a hierarchical Liturgy with Bishop Alexander.
Once again we were invited by Holy Apostles Orthodox Church to have a booth at their Saint Nicholas Festival on the first Saturday of December. We were able to enjoy the day, visit with friends, and raise a little over a thousand dollars for the building fund.
After Liturgy the following Saturday, one of us went to let Moscata, our young and energetic dog, out of the room in which she had been confined. Exiting that room, she was excited to spy five little boys, and they rejoiced on seeing a dog. Going outside, they played with each other until they had to leave.
Over a year ago, we were offered a goodly amount of stained glass and stained glass supplies and patterns. Between scheduling conflicts, illnesses, and weather not conducive to moving stained glass, we finally moved the last glass on December 20th. Much of it has been organized, but much remains.
Candles, candles, candles -- We are so grateful for the many orders we receive and that we are able to fill them in a timely matter.
We are also heartened knowing how many of you are praying for us, wanting us to grow in numbers, and supporting us in various ways. You and we truly want a monastery to be built here. For this and so much more, we are thankful. Have a blessed 2017.
As you may have read in the body of this newsletter, you know that the next step to be achieved is roughing in the HVAC (heating, air conditioning, and dehumidify systems). The estimate is $93,000, which includes some of the equipment. We have $76,702.46 towards this goal. That still leaves $16,297.54.
Next, we will need to raise $50,000 to rough in the electrical and another $50,000 to rough in the plumbing.
The stained glass window for Saint Olga of Alaska has been installed. The money for Saint Anna with the Theotokos, Saint Martha of Bethany, and Saint Thecla Equal to the Apostles has been raised. Saint Mary of Bethany needs $3006.25 more and Saint Lyubov of Ryasan Fool for Christ is short by $2550 to be funded (see the monastery news for more details).
Notice: Starting April 23rd, Fr. Edward Rommen, who is retiring and moving near our monastery, will be serving Divine Liturgy every Sunday and on Feast Days here. He will continue to serve a first Saturday Liturgy every month. We will post this information on the Services page of our web site - http://www.saintsmaryandmarthaorthodoxmonastery.org/services.html. Visitors are welcomed.
1 large butternut squash, halved lengthways
1½ teaspoons caraway seeds, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon dried sage
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/3 cup of olive oil
6 ounces baby spinach
2¼ cups ricotta
4 Tablespoons grated parmesan, plus extra for topping
1 large free-range egg,
1 large egg yolk
1 package of fresh sage leaves
Heat oven to 350°F. Cut squash in half, scoop out the seeds and discard them. On a foil lined pan, place the squash halves cut-side down with whole garlic cloves under them. Tent with foil and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes until surface of the squash can be easily pressed down by hand.
Turn the squash over, remove the garlic and set it aside, score the flesh in a crosshatch pattern with a knife and season. Sprinkle the squash with the caraway seeds and parsley flakes. Roast an additional 10 minutes.
Scoop out the squash flesh into a large bowl. Reserve 2 tablespoons of squash in a medium bowl. Stir spinach into the large bowl of squash and allow to cool.
Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins into the bowl with the 2 tablespoon of squash and mash with a fork. Add the ricotta, parmesan and dried sage. Add the whole egg and egg yolk and stir well. Add this mixture to the spinach and squash and mix well.
Spoon into a medium casserole dish, place sage leaves on top and sprinkle parmesan and caraway seeds. Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden. Serve warm.