Report by Abbess Alexandra
August 15, 2013. Published in the Conference Proceedings, "ROCA in the contemporary world"
Report by Abbess Alexandra of the St John convent in Ukraine:
acquaintance] with monastic life. All my life I’ve been a faithful child of ROCOR. I grew up in the New Diveevo. While studying at the last, twelfth grade in school, I first came to Jordanville. Then, already a student, I was visiting with happiness that corner of “Holy Russ”. Already in adult age, I got to know the Lesnenski convent. Later, I had to visit the monasteries in the Holy Land. For several months I happened to live on the Mount of Olives, where I was carrying klirosnoe obedience [i.e. helping with the performance of the services, chanting, etc.], as well as other obediences. I also visited Gethsemane on several occasions, though not for such a long time, as at the Mount of Olives.
With the birth of our monastery, named in honor of St. John of Shanghai, I had to discuss the issue of the statute with our then-hierarchy: first with Vladyka [Bishop] Vitaly, then with Vladyka [Bishop] Laurus, Vladyka [Metropolitan] Hilarion, and finally, with Vladyka Eutyches. Accepted as the basis for our monastery was the Olives convent’s statute, with some modifications.
I should add that I also had to get acquainted with the statute of the Bulgarian Old Calendarist convent in Knyajevo which I had visited several times. Already living here in Ukraine, I got familiar with the statutes of the Greek monasteries, belonging [having a reference] to the Old Calendar Church of Greece, with which we have a canonical communion. Drawing the statute of our convent, I wanted to take [extract] – out of my own monastic life experience, as well as out of what I'd seen in other monasteries – the most useful and to drop out all [that is] unacceptable and harmful.
In the 1950’s – 1960’s all the monasteries of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad had a common spirit; there was a drive to go back to the ancient monastic tradition in the Russian way. As the spiritual successor to the pre-revolutionary Russia, Russian monks – even abroad – brought their traditions.
The brightest flower of all the ROCOR monasteries was the Holy Trinity Monastery. It was a nook of a paradise of old Russia. Originally this monastery was founded by Russian refugee-monks in Slovakia, in the village of Ladomirovo in the early 1920’s. It was named in honor of St. Job of Pochaev. Archimandrite Vitaly (Maximenko) gathered monks around himself, restored the Job-of-Pochaev typographical fraternity, where published were the magazine “Orthodox Russia”, liturgical and spiritual books for the parishes of the entire Russian diaspora [abroad].
In the early 1930’s, Archimandrite Panteleimon (Nizhnik) bought a large plot of land in New York State, near the village of Jordanville. The money for the purchase of land was earned by Fr. Panteleimon and his assistant – monk Jacob (Masharuk) -working on the Sikorsky helicopter plant. For a long time Father Panteleimon and Father Jacob lived in Jordanville just the two of them, they were later joined also by father Joseph. Working hard, they were able to build there a chapel, a farm and to lat the foundations of the Holy Trinity Church.
During World War II the Job-of-Pochaev brotherhood of Ladomirovo managed to move to Germany in Munich. They brought from Ladomirovo their own print shop. In Munich the monks were joined by Russian immigrants of the second wave.
After the end of World War II the bretheren moved out of Germany into Switzerland, to Geneva, they began their efforts to obtain visas to the United States. Only at the end of 1946 – through the efforts of Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) – the Job of Pochaev Brotherhood – amounting to thirteen people – were transported to the United States.
The monastery was located in the state of New York, near the village of Jordanville. It was a pretty secluded place, in the county there were no factories and enterprises. In a short time the monastery rose to the highest of spiritual, intellectual and cultural levels. At the beginning of 1947, printing of the "Orthodox Russia" magazine was resumed, which published theological articles as well as information about the life of the Russian diaspora. Also published was patristic literature, books by Russian spiritual writers, in particular by I. Shmelev.
Abbot of the Holy Trinity Monastery, founder of the seminary and its first Rector was Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko). He also supervised the construction of the Holy Trinity Church, organized the printing press, strengthened up the monastery by gathering monks from various places, bringing in result the number of inhabitants up to fifty people.
Teaching at the Holy Trinity Seminary were the best professors: N. Thalberg, I. Andreev, Archimandrite Konstantin Zaitsev, protopresbyter Mikhail Pomazansky. Lectures were given there by I. Ilyin. Archimandrite Konstantin Zaitsev gave courses of pastoral theology and Russian literature. Professor I. Andreev gave a course on psychology, taught moral theology. Professor N.Talberg was the author of numerous books on Russian history and history of the Church. Both teachers and seminarians understood the importance of preserving the spiritual heritage of the old Russia.
Thedy tried to allocate monastic obediences at the Holy Trinity Monastery so that everyone could attend worship services. Those who were engaged in urgent work, only came to morning prayers and to the midnight [service]. In the 1950’s – 1960's the monastery was poor and lived off their [own] labor. Russian immigrants, many of whom lived in misery, were unable to help the monastery. Brethrens grew fruits, worked in the cowshed, as well as at the printing press. Seminarians led a semi-monastic form of life, each one of them also had an obedience. In their regime, they only differed from monks with the facts that they were released to relatives and outside the monastery and that they could eat meat.
Seminarians’ Spiritual father was Fr. Cyprian (he was also involved in iconography). Father Cyprian followed for the order, suppressed mischieves of the seminarians. Moreover, he was also very caring and full of love. If someone fell ill, one was sent to the hospital, which in the conditions in America was not so easy. Since the monastery’s funds were scarce, usually the patient ended in the New York hospital for the poor. It had good professors of medicine who treated the monks for free. The problem was further complicated by the fact that the Russian monks did not know English. To talk with a doctor they needed a translator. I had to be an interpreter when father Sergius fell ill. I was visiting him at the New York hospital until he recovered.
In the 1950’s, America was at war with Korea. Some young people who did not want to go to war, joined the seminary. To them, the requirements for seminarians seemed very harsh. Of course, most of the seminarians went to study by their own inner beliefs and the desire to become a priest. But them were among them those who murmured against the unnecessarily harsh way of life, referring to the fact that at the Russian theological academies and seminaries there were no such requirements. The most frightening obedience to seminarians was the cowshed. Labnor there was not easy. Besides, it was impossible to get rid of the peculiar smell afterwards. After the cowshed the poor seminarian [fellow] could not possible happen to be in the choir: the terrible smell stood in the way of all singers. However, Bishop Vitaly (Maximenko) exempted none of obediences, and he often set an example by taking part in the common obedience (collection of fruits, digging potatoes). Vladyka Vitaly did not like Idle talks. On the places of obediences inscribed in big letters was: "Silence." Due to the fact that maintained at the monastery was an exploits’ spirit, many of the murmuring seminarians gradually changed. Some of them – by graduating the seminary – remained at the monastery and took monastic vows.
The daily routine at the Holy Trinity Monastery was like that. At 5 am – Morning Prayer, Midnight [service], pomyannik [name comemoration], hours, then at about 7 am – Liturgy. After the liturgy – breakfast, then – obedience. At 12:00 – lunch, after that two hours of silence and sleep, then –obedience. As they said in Jordanville: he who does not sleep after lunch is not a Russian man. At 4 pm there followed Compline with Canon, which was divided into two parts. At 5 pm – dinner, after which the necessary obediences. At 8 pm – Evening Prayers and the second part of Compline. At 9 pm – lights out.
I was lucky to come in my young years to Jordanville. The whole life there was built upon the patristic traditions. I remember, Bishop Vitaly (Ustinov) used to tell how he came to Jordanville from France a pomaded “Frenchman” with a fairly high opinion of his abilities. He was given a kitchen obedience. The food was very scarce. He lived in cold and hunger, he learned to cook, managing to boil [cook] food from virtually any crumbs. In addition, he was made the statute-superevisor [уставщик]. He did not succeed in anythiung at first, but with patience – he endured all.
To Russian emigrants, to arrive in Jordanville was always a great joy. Pilgrims huddled in a small monastery guest-house – 5-6 people in a room, but everyone was happy with that [even]. at the time they asked no payment [boards] from pilgrims. He who had the money, donated. With our questions we could turn to the old monks, whose obedience it was to communicate with pilgrims. We were forbidden to get acquainted and talk with the young monks.
We rejoiced at the opportunity to happen to attend the beautiful services – by the book. Services were held with great enthusiasm! In Jordanville I heard for the first time singing on two kliroses [2 choirs]. On the right kliros was the monks’ choir, and on the left – the choir of seminarians, which sang on Sundays and public holidays. Antiphonal singing, singing of all sticheras – all this created a festive mood. Regent [conductor?] was father Nectarios (he was also in charge of the kitchen garden). With excellent hearing, father Nectarios – with no music education – coped excellently with his obedience.
Both Vladika [Bishop] Vitaly (Maximenko) and Vladika [Averky] (Taushev), who have left many works on liturgy [studies], saw to it that both the singing and the course of the service were strictly statutory [according to the book]. In singing they were guided by “Cantors’ companion” [Спутник псаломщика], following the ancient monastic traditionс. Polyphonic [Партесное] singing, simplified melodies, simplified voices, Bahmetyev-type of voices and tunes [chants] – all that could often be heard in our parishes, but not in Jordanville. People from all over the world came to the Holy Trinity Monastery to learn the proper conduct of services and church singing. To all our overseas monasteries Jordanville was an example of preserving the traditions of Russian monasticism.
In iconography they also followed the ancient canons. Father Cyprian worked in the old Russian style, [which is] banning the painting [artistic style]. “So what, will you be praying to a portrait?” – he used to say severely in such cases. He handed down hisexperience and knowledge to his students. Icons by the hand of Father Cyprian can be seen in many churches of the Russian diaspora.
At Jordanville they took care of every parish having the necessary liturgical books, trebniki [missals], church books for the priesthood. If the parish was poor and could not pay, the monastery made a present of the books to this parish.
The founders of Holy Trinity Monastery came out of the Carpatho-Russia, where they fought against Polish Catholic liturgical traditions: kneeling at the Sunday service, passion [passia] a custom when upon the Great Entry the Priest puts the chalice alternately on the heads of all parishioners. When the monastery came to America, the priests also always strictly adhered to the Typicon, preventing any local religious customs. The same was valid with regard to vestment. Black color was considered purely Catholic, so they avoided it. During Lent and on Sundays the vestments were dark red or maroon. With respect to communion in Jordanville there was no division between priests and parishioners, Holy Communion was welcomed. Many Russians came to Jordanville to pogovet [fast], confess, and take Holy Communion. No special permission by the confessor was required. The priests in the parishes were happy that their spiritual children can go and be fed with the spirit of Orthodoxy.
I remember that at our parish they used to strictly monitor that during Lent every parishioner would take Holy Communion at least once. There was a special book, where parishioners were recorded when they confessed and received Holy Communion for [during] Lent. In Jordanville they laughed over this book, saying, “What Orthodox are you, if you take Holy Communion [but] once a year, and even you have started a book, as in an accounting department”.
I knew a lot of Jordanville monks, and everyone has his inspirational story. All of these people have now died. In retrospect, one wonders why has a decline occurred in the spiritual life of the monastery and of the whole Church Abroad? In the 1950’s – 1960’s the Russian immigrants were very poor. They toiled in hard jobs, trying as best they can to provide for their children and to supply them with good education. As a result, 90% of the Russian young people have received higher education, and were able to get a good job and to start living in luxury apartments or private homes, surpassing many Americans by their [social] standing.
Such a striving after the material was choking – like thorns – the spiritual needs. Life in America is arranged very tough – there simply remains no strength or time or money to [go to] church and to read spiritual books. On the other hand, many overseas [parishioners] were optimistic, seeing that temples were being built in Russia, as it seemed to them – the faith was [as if] reviving. Behind the outward splendor they failed to dsicern the essence of what was taking place. They wanted to spiritually unite with their people. In result, as we know, there came that union of the majority of ROCOR with the Moscow Patriarchate.
Mountain /Upper/ convent
The history of that monastery, as well as almost all sites belonging to Russia, is connected with the name of Archimandrite Antonin Kapustin. Since 1865, for nearly thirty years he was the chief of the Russian Spiritual Mission to the Holy Land. The majority of Russian sites in the Holy Land were purchased and equipped thanks to his efforts primarily through donations by benefactors and pilgrims. In particular, father Antonin managed to acquire the Ain Karemsky hill where, as we know, the meeting took place between the Mother of God and the righteous Elizabeth.
At this place – called the “Mountain” [Upper], father Antonin set up a semi-monastic community. The women inhabitants of the Mountain [convent] were as a rule wealthy personages of the nobility or the merchant class. Widowed and left alone, they did not want to spend the rest of their days in the world, but the monastic [narrow] path was too harsh for them. Leading a pious life, they wanted to spend their last days in peace and prayer. On means of their own they bought a small plot of land where – to their own liking – they [used to] build a small house and plant a garden.
The community was directly subordinated to the Chief of Mission, there was no abbess no elder sister or treasurers. The inhabitants lived in their [own] houses, without delving into the life of each other, meeting only in the temple and on holidays for a common meal [table]. Liturgy was celebrated every day. Father Antonin – realizing that for the [lady] inhabitrants, who in theisr late years sought a quiet and peaceful life in God, monastic ascetsa would not be in their forces – arranged their lives in accordance with their capabilities.
After father Antonin’s death, the Mountain /Upper/ convent gradually became coenobitic. Original inhabitants of the Mountain /Upper/ convent died with time, and their heirs did not want to live in a monastic way. Their houses began to be occupied by nuns who had come from Russia. Many devout Russian women wished for monasticism in the Holy Land. Coming [over] and seeing the deserted buildings, they remained on the condition that a convent would be arranged at that place according to Russian traditions. The [great] number of Russian pilgrims coming every year to the Mountain /Upper/ convent, was enough for the convent to have everything it needed. Operating were the sewing and thbe iconography workshops. Chanting on two kliros [choirs] were up to forty nuns, polyphonic [Partesnoe] chanting prevailed.
After the revolution, the onvent could not exist as coenobitic. The flow of pilgrims from Russia ceased; sewing and icons customers were very few. The Mountain /Upper/ convent became a self-sustaining monastery. Nuns went to the monastic services, and the rest of their time they tried to earn [some money] (they got hired as maids in wealthy Jerusalem families). Those who were not healthy [enough], wove rosaries. Those working helped those not having [work].
Formed in 1946 was the State of Israel, to which the victorious countries (UK, USA, USSR) rendered help. The Mountain /Upper/ convent was in a Jewish area. Israel transferred the convent under the jurisdiction of the USSR, that is, of the Moscow Patriarchate. [Ladies] Arabians, Romanians and all the other nuns, except the Russians, were deported into other convents (primarily to the Mount of Olives and the Gethsemane ones). Contact with the Mountain /Upper/ convent was interrupted. According to the tales by nuns from the Mount of Olives, within two years from the year 1946-48 sixty Russian nuns dies at the Mountain /Upper/ convent. This fact is being hidden by the Moscow Patriarchate. I saw these graves. After the union with the Moscow Patriarchate the cemetery was “landscaped [urbanized, improved!] and transformed” so that it is now impossible to find the graves.
The Lesna convent was founded in 1885 as a monastic community (in 1889 the community was renamed in First-Class Convent), on the territory of Belarus by Russian Abbess Ekaterina (Efimovska). The convent performed tasks of charity and helping the poor. The abode provided free education to children, taught them crafts. Those who were capable learned to sing and to manage the church choir. On the eve of the First World War, the convent had more than a thousand acres of land, a large farm, a mill. All the student were involved – to the best of their forces – in agricultural work.
The monastery was also providing free of charge help to the local population. A large hospital, an operation [surgeon] room, and a pharmacy were set up. The nuns were working everywhere [themselves]. Before the war, in 1914, the convent had more than four hundred nuns. The abode taught about seven hundred children. All of them were full orphans or [esle] children from very poor families.
With the outbreak of World War One, when the front began to get near, the nuns were forced to evacuate to inland Russia, to St. Petersburg. They were received by the Voskresensky Novodevichy Convent as well as by the St. John convent.
In the autumn of 1920, 62 nuns from Lesna moved to Serbia at the invitation of the ecclesiastic Serbian authorities, to Khopovo where it was their lot [destiny] to live for more than 20 years. Even behind the walls of the Khopovo convent the sisters continued to follow the traditions of charity: they fed the hungry, they broughjt up orphans, they helped the poor. For [a period of] 20 years, some 500 orphans passed through the loving hands of the convent nuns. Working at the Khopovo convent were also Serbian nuns.
With the outbreak of World War II the nuns of the Khopovo convent had [were forced] to move to Belgrade, where they lived until 1949 in the hardest conditions. In 1950, after much troubles, they obtained visas to France. The sisters settled in the suburbs of Paris, they rented a house in the village of Fourques. Russian expats – living in Paris, helped the convent, sacrificing furnitures, dishes, clothing. Catholic nuns from the neighborhood also helped the newly- arrived sisters as much as they could.
Near the house in Fourques there was a plot of land on which they grew a garden. Gradually, a small farm appeared: they started breeding chickens, goats and had apiary [beeshives]. The sisters sewed clothes, painted [wrote] icons, made candles from their own wax, baked communion bread, toiled a vegetable garden, took sewing orders – that way the convent lived. For the years in Fourques many old Lesna nuns died. At the new site the convent was unable to engage in charity work and raising children: there was neither power nor resources [for that].
When difficulties began with the rent for the house in Fourques, the ROCOR Synod blessed that all parishes raise funds to buy an own home. In 1967, the convent managed to buy their own estate in the locality of Provemont with a park [lot], a pond and a river. A great joy for the sisters was the fact that the estate was an old Catholic church. The nuns planted a large vegetable garden and orchard, transferred from Fourques the apiary [beehives].
My memories of the Lesna covent date back to the 1980s. I visited the convent several times and lived there for my entire holiday (over a month), assuming that in the future I would become a sister of the convent. The daily routine at the convent was like that. At 4-30 – morning prayers, Midnight [service], pomyannik [name comemoration] with bows [prostrations] and Akathists. All this came to an end at 6 am. Then there was an hour break for the necessary obediences. From 7 am (on weekdays) there began the hours, then the liturgy. On Sundays the hours reading began at 8 am. After the liturgy there was breakfast. During the meal, they read the lives of saints or the teachings of the Holy Fathers. During the meals, when the reading was over, the Abbess communicated with pilgrims, who were seated around her. Many were embarrassed by this. I have known three Lesna Abesses: Magdalene, Athanasia and Macrina. All of them followed this traditions. After breakfast the sisters went to their obediences, lunch was at 1 pm. During lunch – again after the reading, pilgrims were able to communicate with the Abbess. Usually, their conversation was not that long as after breakfast. After lunch, there also followed obediences. At 5 pm – by statute it is time for evening service, then dinner.
Traditionally, the liturgy at the convent was served daily. But in recent years – due to a lack of priests – the liturgy has been served when possible.
The Lesna convent traditionally kept in touch with Jordanville. They took over from there the[ir] chanting tradition, as well (singing according to “Cantor’s companion”, voices). The sisters were not involved in iconography, but all the icons at the convent were drawn in old-Russian style. As we know, brother Joseph painted isons for the convent, he painted there the winter[-time] temple.
The convent lived due to the fact that the sisters produced canned vegetables and fruits [buying the vegetables and fruits], of strawberry and also cooked fruit jam, and then all this was for sale. On their own land they had only a small vegetable garden. They had no barnyard, no bees at the convent. In autumn all the sisters worked hard for two months. The monastery all the tgime needed equipment for canning. By September 27 (for the feast of Holy Theotokos of Lesna) all work came to an end. The monastery has baked for sale scones and cakes [булочки и куличи]. There also orders souvenirs (ceramics, dishes) with views of the convent and sold [these] to pilgrims; they bought wax and paraffin, [and] made candles. The convent had elderly and sick sisters who were taken care of.
On the domes of the temples of the Lesna convent one would not see crosses. The French state does not allow Orthodox churches to attracted people’s attention. Wjat is most valuable there is the preaching of Orthodoxy on French soil. As we know, currently the Lesna convent does not belong to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Although it did not accept the 2007 union, still it moved into schism, by joining the RTOC.
Mount of Olives Convent. Traditions of Gethsemane and of the Mount of Olives
In 1870, Archimandrite Antonin Kapustin bought three closely adjacent to one another large plots of land on the Mount of Olives in the immediate vicinity of the place of the ascension of Jesus Christ. Through the efforts of Archimandrite Antonin and of hieromonk Parthenios built in 15 years was the Holy Ascension Church. In 1906 a women’s monastic community of 15 nuns was founded. A year later they were over 100. Many Russian women pilgrims were able to implemnent their wish – to live in the Holy Land. Gradually they started a subsistence farm: goats, chickens and cows. Workshops were functioning: metalwork, woodwork, icon painting, sewing. The monastery flourished. However, the First World War started, and then the Revolution completely stopped the flow of pilgrims from Russia. The convent became self-sustaining.
The assistant of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) Vladyka [Archbishop] Anastasios arrived in Jerusalem in 1924; by a decree of the Synod of Bishops he had been appointed as permanent observer of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Palestine with the right of full powers in the economic, administrative and ecclesiastical fields. Vladyka spent in tha role 11 years (until 1935). Vladyka Anastasius sought out new sources of revenue mainly through partial leasing of the buildings of the Mission and of some land plots. His special merit was that despite the many critical moments in the life of the Mission in the post-revolution years, the church property was preserved in the Holy Land.
In 1946, in Geneva, Metropolitan Anastasius (Gribanovsky) pereformed the monastic tonsuring of Tatiana Konstantinovna Bagration, the daughter of Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, with the name Tamara. Nun Tamara left for the Gethsemane convent, where she carried obediences until 1951. After that she was transferred to the Mount of Olives [convent], appointing her as abbess there. She was on the hegumenia post until 1975, and then went to rest; she died in 1979.
Unfortunately, I did not know Abbess Tamara. I’ve heard stories of the Arab sisters whom Matushka Tamara was bringing up. They talked of her as of a loving mother. Matushka Tamara herself taught them Russian and Church-Slavonic languages, [as well as] Russian literature. According to the Arab sisters’ stories, the Russian nuns treated them in a demanding way, but at the same time they always felt their love and care.
The convent survived the difficult postwar years largely thanks to the arrival of Arab sisters. Orthodox Arab population in the Holy Land is concentrated in three places: [namely] in Bethlehem and its vicinity, in Nazareth and its vicinity, as well as around Nablus. In poorer Arab families of many daughters, the father was unable not give a dowry for each. Usually – for a good dowry – one could marry only the two senior [sisters]. Life of the dowry-less [ones] promised nothing other than insults, so the other [remaining] daughters remained in the father’s house and took care for the children of her/their brothers.
One day visiting Matushka Tamara was an Orthodox Arab, former psalm-singer with the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. He came to Matushka [the Abbes] with a request to accept his two younger daughters for raising in the convent with the promise that he would annually donate to the monastery a certain amount of products [foods] (vegetables, fruits, cereals).
Mother Tamara forgot about his visit. And when he came in a year with his daughters she did not know what to do. She immediately sent a telegram to Metropolitan Anastasius, who gave a positive response. Many Orthodox Arabs started to give their daughters in the convent. Most of these girls later received monastic tonsure [took monastic vows].
In those years, and to this [very] day, the monasteries in the Holy Land were not heated (neither the temples, nor the housing for the sisters). Heated with coal were only the abbess’s room and the Head of Mission quarters. Because of this many sisters were sufffering from tuberculosis. Some had small stoves where they burned pine cones, twigs that they gathered at their sites. Very few could afford to buy firewood at the market.
There were problems with water (supply), too. According to the stories of Arab sisters, who at the time were kids, for a week they received only two buckets of water (one - for drinking, the other - for washing). The same amount of water was received also by the nuns. In the hot climatic conditions, this seems incredible, but both children and nuns learned to cope with little [such scarcity]. On Sundays and on public holidays the children had always to be in the temple with white starched collars and cuffs. All these difficulties, children and nuns endured patiently.
The head of Mission, Archimandrite Demetrios (Biakay), rendered great help to Matushka Tamara. He passed away in 1968. Appointed in his place was Archimandrite Anthony (Grabbe). At the time, there the inflow of pilgrims was small, the convent was living in poverty, remaining as before self-sustaining. The sick and old nuns who were unable to work lived half-starving [from hand to mouth?]. Common meal at the convent was laid out [offered] only on major holidays. Father Anthony, seeing the plight of many of the nuns, achieved a resumption of tghe common meal (at first once a day, and later – twice [a day]). Father Anthony also organized a gathering in America of warm clothes for the nuns. In all the ROCOR parishes collections were made for the monasteries of the Holy Land; gradually the flow of pilgrims began to increase.
In the late 1980’s – early 1990’s the Mount of Olives and the Gethsemane [convents] became better arranged: the number of donors increased, interest of pilgrims in the Holy Land was on the rise. In that period new nuns from the [Russian diocese] abroad began to come [in]. The opportunity appeared to arrange three meals, and that was done at the Gethsemane [convent]. The Mount of Olives nuns – who were used to live in the old way – left [as] common the breakfast and the lunch, in the evening they had dinner in the cells. As a result, on the Mount of Olives there appeared several national groupings: Russians, Romanians, Arabs.
The permit to have food in the cells led to the fact that the Mount of Olives nuns – gathering in groups, had meals in their cells, discussing the problems of the convent and voicing their personal grievances [insults]. Such practice was detrimental to the convent: the monastic statute prohibit visiting cells.
When I was at the Mount of Olives [convent], I was curious to inquire the Arab sisters about those years, when the convent lived in poverty. It was from the alone that I could find out about this. Naturally, I accepted their invitation to a dinner. I was very pleased that the Arabs spoke well Russian. I saw that they know the patristic literature. I was annoyed that after the discoursed with the Arabs the Russian sisters immediately took offense on me.
Of the Romanian sisters I recall a lot of good things. They were very generous, kind-hearted, God-fearing, but they kept to themselves and did not fit in at the Russian convent. In church, most Romanians were sitting on the floor, with legs bent, buried [deep] in their books that lay before them on little chairs. The Mount of Olives convent attracted the majority of Romanians not because it was a Russian convent, but because it was in the Holy Land. Therefore, they had no interest in Russian and Church Slavonic languages.
My longest stay at the Mount of Olives [convent], which lasted several months, was associated with the need for me to look after my elderly aunt who lived as a pilgrim at the convent. I was asked to work with the Arab sisters in English [lessons], and with the Romanian [sisters] – in Russian language. The Arabs came to the classes, but the Romanians said they also wanted to learn English. They were not interested in Russian language and so they did not come to the classes.
Traditionally at the Mount of Olives [convent] there were two choirs [klyroses]. Initially it was just a polyphonic [PARTESNOE] singing in own voices [tones]. The sisters did not know PODOBNOV, they were not familiar with singing by the statute of the Russian monasteries. Gradually, through the influence of Jordanville, the Mount of Olives sisters began to sing [using] the ZNAMENNIY chanting by the “Psalm-chanter’s aid”. At the Gethsemane [convent], thanks to the efforts of Matushka Anna (Karypova) polyphonic [PARTESNOE] singing was abolished in the early 1990’s. Unfortunately, shortly before the unia in 2007 at the Mount of Olives [convent] there remained just one choir.
The daily routine at the Mount of Olives convent was like that. At 5:30 am – Morning rule, followed by the hours, liturgy, and breakfast. After breakfast – obediences, at 1 pm – lunch, after which the sisters once again engaged in obediences. At 4 pm – statute’s evening service [compline], which lasted – say, until about 7 pm, and after that – dinner at the cells.
The daily routine was very slightly differed at the Gethsemane [convent]. The morning rule started at 5 am followed by the hours, liturgy, and breakfast. Lunch was at 12:00 or sometimes at 1 pm. At 5 pm there started the statute’s evening service [compline]. At 8 pm – common dinner.
Both at the Gethsemane and at the Mount of Olives [convents] sisters’ obediences were changed weekly. The sisters worked in the kitchen, cleaned the yard, the temple. Large workshops operated in sewing vestments and clothing for those of monastic vows [nuns and monks]. Sisters in both monasteries also engaged in embroidery (either by hand, or on special machines).
Picking olives began every year in October, after the holiday of the Holy Theotokos, both at the Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives convents; it lasted for about a week. That was a [very] busy time for the convent, all the sisters worked from morning to evening. Pilgrims also took part in the harvesting. Even the refectory was closed for the period, usually there was only one meal in the evening. Services went on as usual, two or three sisters read and sang in church.
Gathering olives is quite a hard work. Tarpaulin was spread around the trees, after which they shook the trees. The fruits that remained on the tree were collected by hand. The harvest was taken to the refectory for sorting, which was done by the older sisters. The best olives were put aside for salting to utilize in food, the rest were taken to the oil-refining plant in Bethlehem. Each year, each of the convents received several hundred liters of olive oil.
Candle obedience at the Gethsemane and at the Mount of Olives convents was performed two or three times a year in the cold months (November-February). For weeks all the convent was making paraffin candles for their own needs only. This process was quite time-consuming, demanding strength and endurance, so engaged in candle-making were only the young and healthy nuns. The rest joined in auxiliary activities: making wicks, cutting the ready candles, packaging.
The Novo Diveyevo Convent
As I’ve said (already), my childhood and youth passed in the New Diveyevo convent. Spiritual father of the monastery was Fr. Adrian Rymarenko. Through the efforts of FR. Adrian, his flock and donors in a New York suburb, there emerged a convent that collected behind its walls Russian emigrants of the first and second waves. These were mostly elderly nuns. In addition, the monastery took upon itself the care of several elderly patients, of Russian immigrants who were willing to be within the walls of the convent.
Arriving to America in 1948, Father Adrian initially settled in the town of Nayack, in an old rented villa. As such an abode it had no statute. Rules were erad in the mornings and in the evenings. Fr. Adrian served Liturgy on holidays and on Sundays, the choir was composed of lay people.
In late 1950 – early 1951, the owner of the Nayack villa demanded that it either be bought out, or else vacatede entirely. The price he asked was very high, so the nuns of the convent needed another harbor [shelter].
In 1951, the convent moved to Spring-valley. Hilly wooded land was around, bearing the name of Ramapoll hills, located approximately ten miles north of Nayack. At the new location Father Adrian tried to introduce a more rigorous monastic statute [regulations]. Waking up was at 6:30 am. After reading [reciting] the morning prayers (at 8 am) everyone could do the necessary things. The monastery had also sick people who needed care. Some of the sisters went to them, others – to other required obediences. At 8:00 reading the third hour started, then the sixth hour, there was no midnight service. Then followed the liturgy, which was served daily. After the liturgy at 12 am there was a (common) meal, during which the lives of the saints or the teachings of the Holy Fathers were always read. Nuns of the convent had food separately in their waed. Outsiders were not allowed to enter there. Sometimes lady pilgrims visited the monastery. They were carrying certain obedience and lived in the convent for a longer time than guests. Pilgrims had food together with the nuns.
Nuns had common meal with the guests arranged only on major holidays (Christmas, Pascha, Assumption, on the feast of St. Seraphim of Sarov). After the meal, some went to obediences, some rested. At 5 pm there was dinner, followed at 6 pm by compline (evening service). It began with Vespers, and continued into the morning service; read for the end was the first hour.
The small monastic church, consecrated in honor of the Assumption of Theotokos, could accommodate only the nuns. For pilgrims and laity was a church was later built in honor of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Services in it were held on Saturdays, Sundays and also on feast days. The choir consisted only of laity – Russian immigrants, nuns did not participate in it. The monastic choir sang only at the Assumption church on weekdays.
In Spring-valley, where the convent possessed its own land, they first tried to plant a vegetable garden. However, soon they had to give it up: toiling the soil did not pay out and engaged too much efforts. In addition, from time to time, the monks from Jordanville began bringing vegetables (around that time).
Having given up gardening theyt began to look for another source of income. This proved much easier by making paraffin candles. They sold the candles to local churches, obtaining a small but steady income. They also sold communion bread, all the sisters participating in turn in their making (PROSPHORA). Those of the sisters who could not do it were quick to learn.
Since the monastery had no young sisters, the whole way of life was designed for the elderly. Everyone was constantly performing a feasible obedience. Fr. Adrian tried as best as he could to keep the monastic way of life, to ensure a calm peaceful life and repose. How muich all they who have suffered persecution by the theomachist regime, then – deprivations of war and emigration, needed that! Long-suffered Russian people, they did not happen to be in the American reality, but in a Russian monastery, a small Russian island. Here they were able to keep their faith, traditions, culture – the eternal values.
As the only Russian convent on the east coast of North America, a that in the vicinity of New York, the New Diveyevo (convent) attracted many Russians, who sought, having stayed amidst compatriots, to find solace in prayer within the walls of the convent. To a Russian Orthodox person, even if one was not in poverty financially in America, it was spiritually hard to live on without a church. To get to the Holy Trinity monastery, quite far away from New York, one had to make transfers, the trip took five hours. Russian emigrants at the time did not have cars, so that monastery was not as accessible as the Novo-Diveyevo (convent).
In 1952 a cemetery opened with the monastery. Those who have buried in Novo-Diveyevo friends and relatives came to pray and comemorate their loved ones. Panikhida (funeral prayers) and prayers were often served. Fr. Adrian took an active part in the lives of immigrants, trying to help in every possible way. Understanding how many live in (dire) poverty, he did not impose any fees for religious rites and cemetery services. People paid as much as they could. It happened that one could not give anything. Still the same, all who came to the monastery knew that regardless of their means (availability), they would always warmly received. For many, many suffering Russians the Novo Diveyevo (convent) was that place where they obtained peace and spiritual rest.
Father Adrian certainly did a lot for the convent and the nuns. He provided them with a decent life in prayer and feasible labor so that at the end of life they can quietly repose in the Lord. But no young people came to the convent arranged after such a model, as they sought austerity (exploits) and monastic asceticism. The cemetery was the only place for applying the sinews of the Novo Diveyevo nuns. So, unfortunately, there was no turnover of generations, and hence – no further development of the convent.
A nursing home (for elderly people) was built later. In social terms, its construction was quite a good idea. The elderly sick people who lived there had the opportunity to daily go to church, to confess and take communion. But for a number of reasons over time the nursing home “swallowed up” the convent, which became but its appendage.
Unfortunately, the abbesses at the Novo-Diveyevo (convent) could not influence the course of the monastic life. Such practice has led to the fact that the convent eventually lost the predominant position it originally had. Gradually, the convent property was transferred into the hold of a corporation, consisting of secular clergy and laity. After Father Adrain's death in 1978, (then already Archbishop Andrey of Rockland) members of the corporation engaged in the running of the convent affairs began to engage. I know these people well. These are good, honest and conscientious lay persons. But is it necessary to explain that a layman, no matter how good a man one could be, cannot run the affairs of a monastery. A monastery in that case becomes an institution of charity and nothing more.
I recall with sadness my visit to the New Diveyevo (convent) in the 1990’s. I saw that the nursing home (for elderly people) was served by staff hired for this, who took care of the sick, prepared meals – in general, took all cares of everything on themselves. The non-functioning convent refectory had been converted into a warehouse. The nuns had meals at the nursing home, where one room had been allocated to them. On fasting days lenten fare was prepared for the nuns; on non-fasting days – non-fasting food. The old Abbess Irene saw to it that the lives of saints were read at the table. The only thing that remained for the elderly nuns of the Novo Diveyevo (convent) – was the opportunity to go to services, sing and read at the klyris (choir). Matushka Irene, despite her advanced age, made exploits at the klyros (choir), following the implementation of the statute.
Over many years I have talked to and consulted on any spiritual matters that arose – first with Vladyka John of Shanghai, then with Vladyka Filaret. And although at the time I was a man of the world (lay person), still I saw how they treated the monastics. Both Vladyka John and Vladyka Filaret were true devotees (in exploits) and ascetics who believed that a monk must perform the monastic statute. But at the same time in ROCOR monasteries there has never been oppression of the individual.
If for any reason a monk wanted to transfer to another monastery, this was not impeded or one was not treated with bias. Some monks transferred from the Jordanville monastery into a skete in Canada. Others, on the contrary, from the skete into the Jordanville monastery. And no one ever had a tensed up attitude to those who was on a transfer. It was all in a good manner, quietly.
Neither at the monasteries nor in the parishes of the (Russian Orthodox) Church Abroad there was (any) suppression of the individual by the confessor; one was not required to obey him unconditionally. I can recall just one such case of pseudo-eldership. Hieromonk Adam came in some way from Canada to the Novo-Diveyevo convent, and he pretended to be himself an elder. He spoke (out) “truths” that his spiritual children were to follow unconditionally. He managed to lure some of them into his pseudo-spiritual network. The Novo Diveyevo confessor Father Adrian Rymarenko reported this to his hierarchy (priesthead?), and (so) father Adam was forbidden to come to the Novo-Diveyevo (convent).
I remember the case of the Novo Diveyevo nun, mother Eupraxia. She suffered a severe temptation. She was slandered in appropriation of monastery money. Seeking support, she went to Vladyka Anastasius, her spiritual father, who (had) blessed her on monasticism. Realizing how hard it was for her, Vladyka Anastasius nevertheless judged in a monastic way: he replied he would not interfere in monastic affairs, (thus) giving mother Eupraxia the right to choose. She could go to the Lesna convent or (else) to one of the monasteries in the Holy Land. Mother Evpraksiya decided to endure the temptation and stayed on at the Novo-Diveyevo (convent).
Having just arrived to Russia, I faced with the fact that a parish spiritual father had boundless power over man. If, for example, one wants to go to a monastery, the confessor may (well) forbid one to. Or, on the contrary, one wants to get married, and the priest does not bless (one to): you are to be a monastic. Some spiritual children like a state of this kind. One is totally released of any responsibility, one’s spiritual father decides all in one’s stead. Today, one can sometimes hear from pilgrims: “There, I have come to you for three weeks. My Father (Batyushka) blessed me to take communion three times”. In the Rocor diocese there has never been such a pernicious practice that confessors may turn to be (as if) the owners of souls, that their spiritual children would turn into zombies. In such rigid frameworks it is no longer necessary for people (even) to think. They have stuck even their conscience to their confessor. Both Vladyka John and Vladyka Filaret could well give spiritual advice to their spiritual children, but – never denying them the freedom of choice.
It happened so that sisters came to monastery because of such a spiritual father – and difficulties began immediately. Each and every move of theirs had to be (made) known to their spiritual father, on each and every issue they phoned him looking for advice. Eventually, these sisters left the convent and returned to their elders. All this very much complicates monastic life, and I am struggling against this kind of practice.
Vladimir Djambov, Eng
00359.885.455.189 - M/cell
00359.2.855.62.62 - H
En <> Bg translation, interpreting
Metropolitan Agafangel's report here: