Monastery offers quiet life in Wayne
WAYNE -- There's a saying from Saint Seraphim, a renowned Russian Orthodox monk: "Acquire the peace of Christ in your heart, and a thousand souls around you will be saved."
What that means is this -- "You don't have to preach, you don't have to hand out pamphlets," said Father Seraphim Voepel, superior of Hermitage of the Holy Cross, a Russian Orthodox monastery in Wayne.
"If you really convert yourself and want peace and try to love God, the world will be a different place," Father Seraphim said. "... That's what a monk is doing. A monk is a person in the process of changing himself to make the world a better place."
As the monastery celebrates its 10th anniversary in Wayne County this month, that's a hope of the small monastic community, which has 14 monks and sits off Miller's Fork just outside Wayne.
Already there are a few signs that their presence is turning hearts.
Four families have relocated to the area to be near the monastery, Father Seraphim said. Also, a small Russian Orthodox parish has formed in the town, run by Father John Moses, who comes twice a month and pastors another parish in Virginia.
And the monks have had countless encounters with townspeople who have done everything from ask for prayers for loved ones, to one woman asking Father Seraphim if she could touch a cross around his neck to bring her spiritual healing.
"They ask us to pray for the sick when we're out at Lowe's, and we get a lot of e-mails from people asking for us to pray for the sick," Father Seraphim said.
While at first they may have been "polite but very cautious" -- which Father Seraphim said is understandable considering the monks' long, black robes and long beards -- they have warmed to the gentle neighbors.
"They've seen that monks are regular guys, but who are willing to give up everything to seek Christ," Father Seraphim said.
Building a community
Though they express gratitude for many blessings, it hasn't been a simple road for the monks over the past 10 years.
Their Russian Orthodox monastery was originally founded 24 years ago in Missouri, and their monastic community in Wayne was founded 10 years ago after the land was donated by the family of Maurice Sill, who had married Nadia, a Russian-American woman, and converted to her faith. It's 180 acres of land, mostly hilly.
"We came to look at the land, and we loved it," Father Seraphim said. It's one of five Russian Orthodox Monasteries of its type in the United States. The only other country that has monasteries of its type are in Russia.
At the time, it had one usable building, a log home with an addition. Because of the lack of roads and trails, it was very difficult to get around. They had to put boards down in the mud so as not to slip.
After 10 years, their community now has added gravel roads, as well as a church, bell tower, outdoor chapel and small convent, where their one woman on the grounds lives, Mother Theodora. There is now a house for Bishop George Schaeffer, who lives there and runs all the Russian Orthodox churches on the East Coast.
There also is a work building, which is a two-story, red-and-green building, with a gift shop and soap shop, and an incense-making shop on the second floor. The pole barn building is where there's a shipping room , where UPS comes to ship out their items they sell off their website, such as incense, soap, beeswax candles and honey. It also has a photography studio and four rooms for monks upstairs.
There's the dining room, a converted double-wide mobile home, a guest house, a goat barn, and one-room cottages where monks pray and sleep. Some of them don't have electricity, and are heated with wood-burning stoves.
There's a vegetable garden and fruit orchard on the lower portion of the property, and the goats and their cow, Myrtle, and newborn calf, Cocoa, reside up the hill.
The original log home is now an extension of what the monks use as a library and offices.
They've cleared a lot of woods, built many of the buildings themselves, which Father Seraphim described as "humble," and now have a water supply.
When they first came they added some walls to an old barn to make a side shed, said Father Alexander Frizzell, who is in charge of most of the business matters of the community.
"We put sides on it for a workshop," he said. "We needed to start making incense because it's our source of income."
The monks make incense that is used by orthodox and Catholic churches throughout the United States. They take frankincense, which is tree sap, add scented oils, bake it into a cake, and cut it. They make 20 different scents.
To sustain their community, monks sell that and a variety of items from their website (www.holycross-hermitage.com), including creamed honey and beeswax candles from their bee colony, and scented soap, some of which is made with milk from the goats on the property. The soap is made with the help of a neighbor to their monastery, Anna Long.
The community also sells religious icon artwork, CDs, DVDs, books and other spiritual items.
"We support ourselves primarily by the work of our own hands," Father Seraphim said.
The monks can't quite feed themselves entirely off the land at this point, he said. They have a garden -- which reaped almost too many tomatoes last year, some 2,000 a week, Father Seraphim said. Their chickens produce about 30 eggs a day, and they drink goat's milk and have their cow. But especially in the winter months, they find themselves heading into town for groceries to get by.
One reason for the need for extra food is because they often have a feast after Sunday services that might involve feeding 30 people, Father Seraphim said.
Another aspect of their life is taking in guests who come for some days of quiet and prayer. In fact, a retired woman from New York is building a cottage on the property and will live on the land and help care for guests of the monks.
"We have a guest house -- that's where pilgrims come who just want to get away for a while, be quiet, pray and talk to a priest. That's what they do," Father Seraphim said.
The community often gets a large crowd for its annual Patronal Feast, which for their monastery is the Feast of the Holy Cross. Parishoners from other regions -- as many as 250 last year -- come for the weekend celebration.
The monastery also has a small cemetery with four graves, where monks have buried those of the Russian Orthodox faith who wanted to be at the site. The dead are buried facing east, with crosses at their feet rather than at their heads. It's an important part of the orthodox faith to pray for the dead, Father Alexander said.
Keeping the faith
The monks work very hard, but they strike a balance, he said.
"We work very hard, but the object of a monk's life is union with Christ, and we can do that through work, prayer and looking after guests," Father Seraphim said.
"Our day is balanced -- public and private prayer, work and looking after guests. And in that balance there is peace and consolation," he said. "That's what a monk seeks is to work and pray and be in a peaceful environment and keep his eyes fixed on Christ."
The monks have a half hour of prayer and a half hour of spiritual readings, in addition to their regular services.
Daily church begins at 5 a.m. and often continues to 8 a.m. There's a break for breakfast, which is optional, and then work starts at 8:30 a.m. At noon, there's a break for lunch, during which the monks sit quietly and listen to spiritual readings while they eat. Dinner is at 5 p.m., and the evening service lasts from 5:30 until 8 p.m.
At 9 p.m., monks ring the bell for bed.
While they do have computers and cell phones, the monks don't have televisions or newspapers, which they believe offer up too many distractions from the way of life they've chosen.
Men must apply to join the monastery, which has grown from nine to 14 brothers in the past 10 years.
The monastery in fact has a couple of openings and three men who have applied. Once a man is accepted, he is a novice for a few years before becoming a monk.
The monks have come from all over the country, with the most common native state being Texas, said Father Alexander, who was a geologist before becoming a monk. Father Seraphim was a registered nurse. There are cooks, computer whizzes, one who makes documentaries and a variety of talents among them, Father Seraphim said.
Since the founding of the monastery, one monk has been trained as a firefighter. The monks have had two fires since they've been there, and the fire department couldn't make it out that far, Father Seraphim said.
So Father Anthony Marquette received training from the Wayne Volunteer Fire Department.
"The fire chief brought him in and put him through a whole training program," Father Seraphim said. "Now we have a water buffalo. ... a professional nozzle and firefighting hose so we can fight fires ourselves."
That is one example of many kindnesses from people in the community, Father Seraphim said. Some folks from the Wayne County Farmers Market helped them in getting property cleared for their pasture, and others have helped in a variety of ways. Their neighbors, Toots and Herb Adkins, invited them down the hill to listen to a musical jam session with friends, which Father Seraphim said was very enjoyable.
Herb enjoyed it, too.
"Six or eight of them came down and while we were jamming, some of them sang with us and some of them played instruments," Herb Adkins said. "We drank two or three pots of coffee."
You couldn't find better neighbors, Herb Adkins said.
"If you need something done, they come and do it," he said, adding that when his granddaughter died in a car accident, monks visited the hospital and helped with the funeral.
Being a Baptist, Adkins wasn't sure what to make of them at first, he said. He's decided, "They're the finest people you could ever meet."
The monks return the sentiment.
"It's wonderful living in Wayne County," Father Seraphim said. "Our neighbors are so kind and good and helpful. People in this area are good practicing Christians and take their religion very seriously, more so than in big cities. Where you go to church and how you live your life is important to people out here."
The Herald-Dispatch welcomes your comments on this article, but please be civil. Avoid profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, accusations of criminal activity, name-calling or insults to the other posters. Herald-dispatch.com does not control or monitor comments as they are posted, but if you find a comment offensive or uncivil, hover your mouse over the comment and click the X that appears in the upper right of the comment. If you do not want your comment to post to your personal Facebook page, uncheck the box below the comment.