Final Impressions of the First Monastery Pilgrimage Part 3 of 3
The Great Entrance was approaching momentarily, and truth be said, we had forgotten all about the weather when suddenly, the skies opened up and huge drops of rain began to fall. In the flash of an eye, we covered the antimins and the umbrellas popped up all around the altar and the table of oblation. The faithful, however, just stood where they were and no one even moved to get out from under the rain. Just as quickly as it began, the rain suddenly stopped and the skies above us cleared just as Vladyka was lifting up his hands during the Cherubic Hymn. And so, if even for a short while, the heavenly canopy that served as the roof of our outdoor temple was gilded with the golden rays of the shining sun!
Some of the faithful present had prepared themselves for communion on this most auspicious day, and after the liturgy, Archpriest A. Hotovitzky addressed the faithful with warm words of welcome. After the molieben to St. Tikhon of Zadonsk and the Many Years, His Grace St. Raphael made the following archpastoral comments:
"My Beloved Brethren,
"Let us worthily give due glory, honor and thanksgiving to our Lord and God, Who found us worthy to consecrate this place and to elevate the cross upon it.
"And so, in this place, which was once wild and barren, where perhaps the Name of God was never, ever even spoken, we have called upon Him with all glory and honor, and from this time forth, in like fashion, His Name shall be glorified here both day and night, and the names of the founder of this holy habitation, His Eminence, our Archbishop Tikhon, and its builder, the most honorable Hieromonk Arseny will be remembered forever, together with all those who labor and serve this holy habitation and helped make this day to come to pass.
"This monastery, with its orphanage, is the first monastic community to be established within the boundaries of our Mission in the American land, and is worthy, I must say, of the attention and support of every truly faithful Christian, for it will serve not only as a refuge for our poor, unfortunate orphans, for the sick and for the infirm, but it will ever serve as the cradle of Orthodoxy, the fountain of virtue, and the garden of the angelic life.
"Why should any of this have ever happened? Who would have ever thought it possible, some would say, even necessary, to build such a community for the unfortunate, no, the most pitiable among us, the orphaned children under our present turbulent and unstable conditions?
"God willed for this to happen! It was pleasing to God that this holy habitation be established right here, right now!
"We have made a good start and have accomplished a good beginning here. But as we all know, a 'good beginning' is only the first half of the job. 'But we have no resources,' some will say. 'Look at the economy, what about the situation in the world?' . . . Others will say, Yes, all of this might seem true, but talking like this does not do anything to further our cause. Let us not forget the words of Scripture that say, 'God's power is made perfect in weakness!' (2 Cor. 12:9). And let us not forget that whenever insurmountable hardships are overcome; whenever turmoil is replaced by tranquility; whenever persistent doubts are put to rest; whenever something comes to be out of nothing at all -- there we can clearly discern the indiscernible Right Hand of God, we witness firsthand the unmistakable Will of God!
"Yes, God's will directs the establishment of His holy monasteries -- these gardens of faith and virtue -- for wherever there is a monastic habitation, there God bestows His lovingkindness upon all who deserve His blessings and upon all those who do not. Beholding the glory of these habitations, even unbelievers discern God, and those who have forgotten Him and have fallen away from their faith return to their senses and feel His very presence.
"History and experience have proven that wherever there is a holy monastery, there faith and virtue multiply throughout the land and holiness and charity firmly root and bring forth their fruit.
"So let us pray again to our Lord God, that through His grace and lovingkindness, He will confirm the establishment of this holy habitation, and grant health and salvation to all its founders and benefactors. Amen."
In responding to Vladyka's beautiful and inspiring words, Fr. Arseny, as the monastery's "builder," was moved to express his profound gratitude to His Grace for adorning this day by coming here at the request of His Eminence, our Archbishop Tikhon, for serving the beautiful and inspiring hierarchical Divine Liturgy, and for adding his heartfelt and sincere joy to this mission-wide celebration. Fr. "Builder" also thanked the many individuals present who worked to make this celebration a reality.
Following this, the faithful returned, in a similar solemn procession, back to the house where Vladyka was introduced to several local resident farmers who had supported the idea of establishing the monastery, and had, through their good efforts, facilitated the purchase of the property for our new monastery and orphanage. In his remarks Vladyka expressed his most sincere thanks to them, stating that he hoped that in the future they continue to display their Christian spirit and work with their new neighbors for the benefit of all.
I could not resist the temptation of sampling the new monastery's apples. I left the house not paying much attention to the dampness and the slight drizzling rain that was falling and headed toward the orchard, where the trees were full of apples. I found a spot on a natural outcropping where I could sit and enjoy a beautiful view of the monastery and its bordering properties. Shortly thereafter, I was joined by both Fr. "Builder" and by Vladyka Raphael, who could not restrain his delight in the beauty of our surroundings, stating that he would like to build for himself a small cottage here, which would belong to the monastery, where he could come and spend two or three weeks during the summer every year. I know for a fact that many of us, too, would like to do the same if only we had the means to do so.
Fr. Arseny then took us on a tour of the property -- the meadows, the stream which was to be diverted into a pond, the berry patch, and on to the ancient grove where Fr. Arseny planned to build a skete. Then we went on to the newly cleared fields, saw the farm machinery and the barn. We visited the new building where the cells of the monastery's first brotherhood were located, where men who felt the calling of the monastic vocation would live. Yes, there is much to do here and much is in need of both willing and able hands. It's a wonder how Fr Arseny is able to handle everything here so competently while at the same time being responsible for the large parish in Mayfield. Undoubtedly he owes a great deal of thanks to his able assistant and co-pastor at the parish, Fr Bogoslavsky. Yes, it is a great undertaking to take upon yourself such an immense task, but like a true unmercenary, Fr Arseny devotes to it all of his resources and energy. But can he do this alone? Oh, benefactors, Where are you?
Our beloved Archpastor, His Grace Tikhon, already provides for the room and board of many students studying here in this country as well as back in Russia from his stipend as Bishop. From whatever he has left, he still finds the means to help support this holy place. The one thousand dollars he personally donated must have come at a very high cost to him, indeed!
Vespers concluded at 6 p.m. and the next morning [August 1 / July 19], we celebrated the holy memory of the Venerable St. Seraphim of Sarov with a Divine Liturgy and a molieben. I was honored and spiritually uplifted to serve as the main priest at this service and shall never forget the portion of joy this was allotted to me.
After the liturgy, we said our farewells to our host, Fr. "Builder" Arseny and made our way to Georgetown where we would take the train to Scranton. Having been witness to the talents and accomplishments of our host, I decided that it was time for me to show off some of my own prowess and volunteered to drive His Grace Vladyka Raphael in the one-horse monastery buggy myself. The others followed along in the wagon driven by a hired hand. Vladyka at first seemed to enjoy this arrangement, but I fear that he grew tired of this very quickly. It must have been the horse, American-bred, no doubt, who did not understand a single word of the commands and encouragements I was speaking to it in Russian. He just strolled along as slow as could be until someone in the wagon called to me and provided the appropriate command for the horse in the English language. When I gave this command he at once picked up his pace, and we made it to the train station with plenty of time to spare.
After the dedication ceremonies the task of operating an orphanage and monastery was begun by the handful of dedicated workers of the community. The early administration of the orphanage was under the direction of Mother Maria, who, in the fall of 1905, was replaced by Madam Anna Khlebtsevich. The financial operation of the orphanage was given to Nicolai Yablonsky, who acted as the builder and economic administrator of the entire complex. Father Hieromonk Arseny was appointed rector of the monastery by directive of His Eminence Archbishop Tikhon. However, he continued to reside in Mayfield where he remained in his capacity as rector of the parish.
The first novices to arrive at the newly consecrated monastery were two young men from the surrounding area, Constantine Chupik and Andrew Repella. The two novices were temporarily housed in a small structure located but a short distance from the orphanage building. Here they made their cells, beginning their preparation as novices.
At first there was no regular schedule or cycle of services at the monastery, due to the lack of a resident priest. However, morning and evening prayers were conducted every day in the tiny chapel in the orphanage for members of the monastery-orphanage community. Father Arseny was present as often as possible, traveling the long distance over the mountains from Mayfield as many as two or three times per week, in order to oversee the development of the community. Whenever possible, Father Arseny would conduct Divine services so that members of the community could partake of the sacraments of the Church.