Without the Monasteries We Are Dead

Driving to the Monastery

Driving to the Monastery

As I prepared for my journey to Saint Paisius Monastery everything in my life seemed to scream, “You cannot go to the monastery even for 24 hours!” My wife’s car is having transmission trouble, one of my kids is sick, my church is under re-construction after our flood, my other kids have homework and voice lessons, etc., etc. And to be perfectly honest, I have been experiencing some unusually high anxiety of late. I had to talk myself back into going to the monastery 3 times just yesterday. I am a little like King David telling his own soul to praise the Lord. I had to point a finger at my soul and say, “get on with the Monastery Reconnaissance.” The Lord was gracious, just starting to drive was a blessing. I love road trips and I needed these 24 hours away very badly (see above).

saintpaisiusgates3 ½ hours later I pulled up to the gates of an industrious, joyful and ordered monastic sisterhood. After vespers, and what felt to me like a very early dinner, one of the sisters toured me around 15 of their 300 acres. I saw the beginnings of apple, olive and pomegranate orchards next to enclosures of goats, chickens and a guard donkey. I learned that no self-respecting coyotes mess with donkeys! While showing me around we came upon a Mojave snake. These sweet sisters are snake experts. The non-threatening snakes are left alone but the aggressive and dangerous rattlesnakes are a different matter. The snake we came upon was hissing and rattling something fierce. Turns out these Mojaves are ill-tempered bad boys.

  • Start the clock: We see snake. 10 seconds.
  • Sister #1 walkie-talkies Sister #2. 10 seconds.
  • Sister #2 shows up with a shovel and long grabber tongs. Sister #2 grabs the snake near the head. 2 minutes.
  • Sweet Sister #1 calmly uses shovel to separate that hissin’ part from the rattlin’ part. 10 seconds
  • Time elapse: 2 ½ minutes.

After watching the Sisters take care of snake business I am convinced that this is a perfect parable of what is necessary to spend your life praying and working for hours everyday in the Eastern deserts of Arizona (or anywhere for that matter). The spiritual life is for those with self-control who can face danger with courage, bravery and heart.

A brother priest recently said to me, “Without the monasteries we are dead.” I now know more fully what he means. He was speaking about those of us who need to spiritually refuel. A monastery visit is for those of us who feel drained by the speed of life, the passage of time, the weight of responsibility and the pressure resisting temptation (or our failure to resist). Christians have been visiting monastic communities for 1500 years ever since the first men and women ran out in the Egyptian deserts seeking the Lord. Monastery visits have not been something I have practiced in any regular way. But watching these Sisters work and praying with them (beginning at 4:30 this morning) went a long way to putting me right again. I will be going back because without the monasteries we are dead.



Filed under Beaches, Canyons, Deserts, Mountains and Monasteries, Scripture Rumination

9 responses to “Without the Monasteries We Are Dead

  1. Tami Heim

    How absolutely perfect! May God restore you and energize you for all He has planned.
    Bless you Father!

  2. This is just a wonderful post–terrific images–both visual and spiritual. The inner resistance you experienced on the way out is intriguing. That seems to be common experience. Reminds me of the George MacDonald quote, “Father, am I about to do a good thing? Then into your hands, lest the enemy have me now.”

  3. Great post, Abouna. We need to treat sin in our lives just like the sisters treated that snake – cut off its head before it bites us and infects us with its poison.

  4. Thank you Father. I spent a precious hour looking at the St Paisius website last week. So your blog was timely for me. I remember driving from Phoenix to San Diego in the 70’s – that Arizona desert sure puts you in your place, you are fortunate to have it next door (as the remnants of Hurricane Bill pass overhead)
    I’m glad The Lord’s sisters saved you from the serpent too.

  5. s-p

    Beautiful. One might note that the Sisters have a blessing from Bp. Jovan to kill the rattlesnakes. The infestation was really bad when they first moved in and it was dangerous to even walk to the chapel. It is rare to see one around the “livable area” now. Mother Abbess and Mother Xenia are quite deadly with a shotgun. I think they have an icon of Annie Oakley stashed somewhere. 🙂

  6. Father James, this is a very nice reminder that the monasteries stand as an outward and visible sign calling us each to an interiorized monasticism regardless of our daily life, relationships, and work. Peace be with you, Mike

  7. Beautiful post. I couldn’t agree more, we often comment how even just a few minutes spent at a monastery recharges our batteries. Hence, our decision to live next to two of them! You can see how dead our batteries really are!! 🙂 Thank you for this…

  8. Alison Defrese

    Greetings from an inquirer at St. Andrews Orth. Church in Riverside, CA.

    I got a giggle out of your post. The sisters are pioneer women of the 21st century! Perhaps the nuns could be called “The Order of the Snake-Dispatchin’ Sisters”?

    In Christ,

  9. Reader John Herman

    Eager to join you, Father, on your next excursion. You are absolutely right, “The spiritual life is for those with self-control who can face danger with courage, bravery and heart.” Lord, grant me such grace as to enter in without reservation.

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