The First Monastery Piligrimage Part 2 of 3
There are no words to describe the tremendous spiritual joy that must have occurred in the hearts of all those present for this awesome event in the history of the Holy Orthodox Church in America. The personal impressions of Father Arseny, later recorded in the Viestnik, however, give us some insight into the feeling of that monumental evening:
The Bishop entered the modest little church, made a reverence before the icons and took his place in the tiny sanctuary. The Bishop gave me the blessing to begin the service. Standing before the Holy Throne with the censer in my hand I exclaimed: “Arise!” My heart trembled as the result of the indescribable joy that seized it....To whom, I thought, is this call “Arise” directed? To the forest, to the trees? I answered in my mind, to the animals of the forest and to the feathered birds, inhabitants of the nature which surrounds us, that they from this time forward together with all the people and the future inhabitants of this holy habitation might offer up songs of “Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial and undivided Trinity.” Just then I trembled again when my lips uttered for the first time instead of the usual “for this temple” the words, “for this holy habitation.” This service was in memory of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. At the Litya, His Grace blessed the five loaves of bread, wheat, wine and oil….
The following day, the Matins service was celebrated at 8:00 A.M. for the first pilgrims who had arrived from Mayfield on foot, this service was immediately followed by the blessing of the orphanage building. The celebration of the Divine Liturgy was held outdoors on the site where the new monastery building and church were to be constructed the following year.
"On the next day [July 31], at eight o'clock in the morning, matins was celebrated for the sake of the first people arriving from Mayfield, and after the matins, the order for the blessing of a home was performed. Then, something remarkable occurred. When they sang the troparion [for the blessing of a home], 'As salvation came to the house of Zacchaeus at your entrance, O Christ,' the carriage arrived from the train station carrying Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky, Fr. Elias Zotikoff, Fr. Elias Klopotovsky and Fr. Basil Rubinsky, who entered the home at the words of the troparion, 'likewise now by the entrance of your sacred ministers, and your holy angels with them, grant your peace to this house ...'"
In the time that afterwards remained till the holy liturgy, we familiarized ourselves with the arrangement of the house. On the ground floor, the left half of the house was happily divided into two rooms, which presented the possibility of a temporary chapel-church in that space; while the intervening wall offered a possible iconostasis -- it was now abundantly adorned with small icons and crosses; the small front room had become an altar area with a temporary holy table; and the large one, a place for pilgrims. As for the other half of the same floor, it was arranged as a sleeping room for the orphan-children, who, in the home founded here, were presently being supported through Fr. Arseny's personal means. A kitchen was set up in a special outbuilding, behind which also there was some construction of offices. On the upper floor were residential rooms.
The first Hierarchal Divine Liturgy on the monastery site was celebrated by His Grace St. Raphael, assisted by Fathers Alexander Hotovitzky, Elias Klopotovsky, Elias Zotikoff and Alexander Boguslavsky. Over one hundred Orthodox pilgrims traveled the long and tiresome route through the mountains from Mayfield to witness the first pilgrimage to the monastery orphanage site.
Those reporting these events mention that on the evening of Sunday, July 30/17, the service of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk was performed, and the same saint was again invoked at a prayer service after the liturgy the next day, Monday, July 31/18. They give no explanation or reason for this, and it was not a date when that saint was normally commemorated. This apparently was done in anticipation of the request and decision a few days later to dedicate the monastery to the patronage of St Tikhon of Zadonsk. Most likely this would have been done with Archbishop Tikhon’s blessing. By commemorating St. Tikhon of Zadonsk in the first liturgical service on the site of the future monastery and temple, the founders anticipated, from the outset, the dedication of the monastery to that saint’s patronal care, and asked for his intercessory prayers and invoked his spiritual aid and protection.
We went out of the house with Vladiko and Fr. Superior, to the appointed place where a cross had been erected and [where] the liturgy would be performed. It was an open, elevated forest glade, arranged in the best possible way for the future construction here of the main monastery temple and dormitory. Already gathered here were tables for the holy throne [altar table] and for the preparation table. At the head of appointed place where the temple was to be built, a holy Cross was prepared, and the approximate corners of the temple were marked off by small green firs planted for this day.
"What a pity" said Fr. Arseny, pointing up at the sky, "that ceiling of our Church is not decorated in blue for this day."
"Who knows, perhaps by the time the liturgy begins the skies may clear, and they may even be adorned with the golden rays of the sun."
"It's going to rain. No question about it, and we don't even have a canopy for protection. Are we really going to go ahead and serve here?"
"It's a risk, but we're going to go on," said Fr. Arseny firmly, "God will not put us to shame. Look!" he grabbed my arm, "There, you see that bright line moving down along the side of the mountain? Those are my parishioners from Mayfield and the surrounding area coming in procession for the celebration. The weather did not scare them off! They left their work and chores behind and are walking tens of miles together with their families just to come here. Do you think we can fit all of them into that tiny little room? No, we will serve here!
"Bless, Master!" said Fr. Arseny, turning to St. Raphael. Vladyka gave his blessing and we all returned to the house no longer worrying about anything, but making sure, still, that we had some umbrellas ready to protect the Holy Altar and the Holy Gifts just in case it did rain.
After vesting in the house, the clergy, preceded by a cross and accompanied by banners and a choir of the faithful, left for the site of the future church singing hymns and prayers. There St. Raphael first erected the cross and blessed the ground for the new temple. Then the Divine Liturgy began.
How can I possibly describe to you my feelings during this service? Fr. Arseny correctly predicted that it would be impossible for me to do so.
Have you ever been a participant, a worshipper at a Divine Liturgy in an open air, where the ceiling of the temple is the canopy of the sky? Where its walls are the trees of the surrounding forest and the distant fields? Where the foundation itself is mother earth covered with green grass; where every living and breathing soul, as in the psalm, unites itself to the choir of mankind in praise of the Almighty? Our sacred prayers were not confined in any way by any boundaries as they arose to the Throne of Heaven; the eyes of our hearts saw clear to that Holy Place, far, far away beyond the clouds. Left behind were all the cares of the world, and all its sorrows.
And what does the celebrant feel at such a service, whose prayers are joined by the multitude of worshippers, and "in the heights, beholding God"?
And yes, this was our prayer -- the prayer of a handful of Orthodox Russian people, abroad in a foreign land separated by oceans and continents from their homeland -- witnessing the founding moments of the first monastic community of our Mission! A serene, quiet feeling took hold of our souls, a tranquil stillness penetrated our hearts. We believe, O God, that you will hearken to our feeble prayers and will cause this newly planted tree of salvation to blossom and prosper here!
This great feeling of joy was raised to an even higher plane by the sermon given by Fr. Arseny. At the very moment after the reading of the gospel, he turned toward the faithful and began to speak, "How shall I begin to lament?" Oh, what extraordinary words he chose to begin a sermon with, on such a festive day! But these words were his personal cry of humility. In his sermon Fr Arseny related to us not only the hardships he endured to establish this new monastic community and orphanage, but he recounted the millions of tears shed by the Russian faithful and the sufferings they endured as they struggled in their supreme effort to establish the Orthodox Way here in America. Before the spiritual eyes of those present, there turned the pages of the history of the first Russian immigrants to come to these shores, their loneliness; the humiliations they endured as others laughed and scorned their beloved traditions; how they were often beaten, tormented. Gradually, their life improved. Gradually, the Orthodox faith found its scattered children who were lost amidst the masses of other immigrants from the old country. Gradually, new churches, parishes and brotherhoods were established. But as in all things, every new task brought its own new hardship and pain! And so we arrived at the place where we had all gathered to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. A place that not long ago was barren, now will be the place for the cornerstone of that most needed by Russian America -- a monastic community dedicated to the enlightenment and spiritual awakening of these lands; and an orphanage, a haven dedicated to comfort the deep sorrow of poor and homeless children. Truly a place of boundless joy! But what awaits this Holy Habitation in the future? Will we find the strength to finish that which we have begun here? Will we not tire and weaken when we face our adversities? Will we not be crushed, and will not the hatred and the slander of the enemy destroy everything that we have accomplished so far?
"O, God forbid that any of this take place! And if I, to whom our gracious Archpastor has entrusted this great task -- if I, who might appear to you to be in good health, but am in fact under threat of a sudden and untimely death -- should leave this life before my time, then you, my friends and brothers, you, my dear parishioners must not allow this great task to also die an untimely death. You must not allow this seedling to perish. Nurture it. Look after it. Save it. Do not let the sneers of those who hate us stop you from completing this good task. May the prayers of the generations to come that will find comfort, peace, love, welcome and safety here count to us as a blessing from God! Right over here is my place! When I die, bury me right there, by the door of the Holy Temple! And my soul shall be a witness and a participant in all her joys! And a little sparrow will chirp happily over my grave! And an orphan who had found a warm corner here shall say a simple child's prayer with a tear in his eye, beseeching God that he forget the failings and shortcomings of him who may have failed, but at least tried with all his heart to do some good for him and the other children left all alone! And the elderly monk who had found himself a corner in this holy habitation, will not forget me in his prayers as he passes by my grave! For so long as God suffers to bear our sins and transgressions we will continue to courageously bear our own burdens and will earnestly and lovingly seek to accomplish the salvific task that has been set before us all."
This sermon was interrupted several times by weeping -- both by those present, listening, and by the tears of Fr. Arseny himself. Being touched by his emotions and his fervent admonitions, everyone present made a solemn vow in their heart not ever to forget his words. It was obvious to us all that Fr. Arseny had completely merged himself with this, his life's work. But oh, how much more needs to be done! How much more strength will this require! How many more trials will come our way! Oh, why are we all so poor that we cannot put this holy project on a solid footing right now? Why is it that we never have the resources we need? O Benefactors! O Patrons! Where are you? Help us! Help!
To Be Continued…