This summer the Lord vouchsafed my daughter and me to spend a striking week at Saint Silouan’s Monastery in Sonora, CA. This wonderful place is difficult to put into words: scenic mountains, forest, a wide stream with clear, cool water, horses ambling on the hills. The monastery is in the process of being built and this is a remarkable particularity. It is a great fortune to see with your own eyes and by the participation of your own hands how, to the beauty of God’s creation, beauty created by man is added.
The deputy abbot of the monastery, Father Ignatius, and Brother Andrew are men of incredible goodness and warmth, a few drops of which we took away with ourselves.
Our favorite time of day at the monastery was the morning. Rising early meant a chance to walk to the creek, pet the horses. After all it wasn’t hot, the sun not yet showing itself over the mountains. Every morning the Divine Liturgy was performed. It began at 7:00 am, and all the children attended the Liturgy everyday. The children woke up in a joyous spirit and tried to preserve the feeling throughout the day.
Our friends and we slept in tents; one more cause for joy! We offered our neighbors a good night’s sleep, spoke in whispers about the day that had past and fell into a sound sleep in the fresh air, while listening to the noises of the night forest. And the sounds were quite diverse. First the crickets chirped, and then the late birds. After them the frogs stepped in. Later, when the frogs quieted down, one could hear the light gurgle of the creek’s streams. In the morning the horses strolled up with interest. Perhaps some tasty morsels had appeared near the tents overnight. At five in the morning the simandron (a wooden instrument) beckons all to the early Divine Service. During the first night we could not figure out what it was. Later on we anticipated that mandatory sound, signifying the approach of dawn.
After Liturgy we would have breakfast. By this time the sun would start showing over the mountains and gently warm us up. Breakfast, just like lunch and dinner, was prepared by Sergei and Irina, who labored from the early morning until the evening. We were able to perform our duties, and attend the Divine Services, not needing to worry about food. Always, at the scheduled hour, delicious, healthy food was ready.
After breakfast each labored according to his strength and abilities: priests, monks, teenagers, parents and children. There are diverse tasks and a job could be found for each. There was a urge to do as much as possible, and we worked at that.
This camp was a marvelous combination of spiritual and physical labor for the humbling and overcoming of human passions.
The stay at such a camp, in my view, is very good for young people, teenagers. In the stage of life when they are forming their personality it is important for them not to lose spirituality, of which there is very little in this contemporary world. Where else can one strengthen, perfect and cultivate the spiritual life, if not in the monastery or in church. Every evening our spiritual fathers conducted talks with the youth. The subjects varied, and they were interesting and applicable.
In addition, what surely can be called a divine blessing was the fact that good, hospitable people live nearby the monastery. They help the monastery by their labors and invited the participants of the camp as guests into their home, so that after laboring in the hot sun they could be refreshed by the lake or by the pool. The girls slept at John and Olga’s house every night all week long.
We spent a wonderful week in this amazing and radiant place! The impressions cannot be fully expressed in words. We have folded into our hearts the warmth of Father Ignatius and Brother Andrew, their quaint little church, the quiet penetrating reading voice of Brother Andrew at prayer, the quiet joy of being far from the vanity of everyday life and the sense of belonging to a very important and useful mission. I thank God for the opportunity to have the experience of life in a monastery! I hope, God willing, that the workweek at Saint Silouan’s Monastery will become a good tradition being passed on from generation to generation.
Written by Elena Stepanova