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Monastic humor

A couple of things I saw around the Monastery in Manton. These don’t fit into a regular post, but I thought they were cute and worth passing on.

On the coffee maker in the Holy Trinity room

And this from a shelf in the pantry.

Pantry label


Days 64-70, St John’s in Manton

Photos by Fr Michael Butler, Jul 20, 2011

Vodpod videos no longer available.

[20-24 July 2011] There is and there isn’t a lot I could write about the week I was at St John of Shanghai and San Francisco. Of all the time I’ve spent on my sabbatical, this week went by the fastest.

The brotherhood numbers some 22 monks, if I remember correctly, but not all of them are in residence at the monastery now. A few are manning the hermitage in New Mexico, a few are looking over a large plot of land north of Bozeman, MT, they expect to acquire, others are on assignment to various places and responsibilities.

There is a constantly changing assembly of visitors, which I sort of expected, but my impression was that this monastery is remote and I assumed not so many people would make the trek. I was wrong. There were priests who came with their families for a day or two, to confess to Fr Meletios, the Abbot. There were families from Washington and Oregon who stopped by en route to southern California for vacation, and southern Californians who stopped by heading north.

There was also a semi-stable population of young men, mostly 20-somethings, who were inquirers, catechumens and recently-minted Orthodox, who were staying at the monastery for a week, a couple of weeks, a month, or for the whole summer. These young men had obediences in the monastery and were basically living the life of the monks. I talked with them all, and everyone was enthusiastic about the change it had made in his life to spend time at the monastery, even if it was only for a few days.

I will say this: I hadn’t been here a whole day before I was wishing I had my boys with me. I think they would both have enjoyed it: the services (well, maybe not all the services), the work, the wooded environment, and especially the interaction with the monks and the other guests. And I will go further and say that if there is a man, young or old, who has the means to spend some time here, I would encourage him to do so. I think it is a healthy, wholesome, sober and inspiring place to be.

I had asked Fr Meletios if he could say why his monastery attracted young men the way it does and he flatly said no. But the brotherhood itself is a good mixture of men of all ages: some elderly retired or widowed clergy who have taken the veil, a few older monks, a few of middle age, and quite a number of younger men in their late 20’s and 30’s, many of them postulants just beginning their monastic life. The monastery also runs a “summer novice program,” which allows young men to stay the summer and live the monastic life and explore a monastic vocation or simply to deepen their faith in Christ.

The services here are a kind of combination of the usual Orthodox monastic office and the recitation of the Jesus Prayer that is practiced at the monastery in Essex. Most services begin with 20 minutes of silent prayer with the prayer rope, followed in the morning by Matins and in the evening by Vespers.  Liturgy is served on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Monday is set aside as a “desert day,” on which no services are held, but the day is spent in private prayer and solitary reading and meditation in one’s cell. I was asked to serve Vigil on Saturday evening (which was the first time I’ve stood in front of an altar since 15 May), and to concelebrate Liturgy and to preach on Sunday morning.

The music which they sing in church is a modified Kievan and Znammeny chant, one line of melody and one line of harmony, which is hauntingly beautiful, especially when sung by a male chorus. One of the monks has exceptional musical skills and has been arranging and composing music for their use. Here is a link to the monastery’s music page:

Meals are both formal (with the whole brotherhood together, eaten in silence to spiritual reading) and informal (meaning food is set out for an hour, most of it leftovers, and you stop by to eat when you want). This being a California monastery, we, of course, had Asian stuff, but their pantry was well-stocked with all kinds of things and boasted a large number of cookbooks, and the cooks here do an excellent job with variety and skill. In short, the food is fantastic. On wine and oil days (the Orthodox know what I mean), they actually set out a bunch of bottles of wine and beer half an hour before dinner. I found this to be a very popular practice.

Both the guesthouse and the main monastery building had common rooms, the one in the monastery being called the “Holy Trinity Room,” because of the Icon of the Trinity in it. If you wanted to see people or had free time, or simply wanted to chat, you went there to the Holy Trinity room, which is also where guests are received. Good coffee, tea, and a few snacks were always available, and there was a good ambience to the place: it encouraged sitting and talking. I did a lot of sitting and talking in the Holy Trinity room: people like to talk to the visiting Priest. As we got to know each other over the course of the week, I had very good conversations with the priests and young men who were staying around for a while.

It was because my days were taken up with praying, eating, and talking about spiritual stuff that I fell behind in my blogging.

Apart from daily walks about in the woods on the monastery grounds, I went on three excursions during the week. I attempted to find my way to the “butte,” an elevated place with great views of Mounts Shasta and Lessen, but I got lost on the logging roads and drove my Jeep rental over “roads” that I’m sure were never envisioned by the contract. I went on the usual Sunday afternoon wine-tasting with Fr Nectarios the Guest-master and a couple of the other guests, which, I found out, is a regular (and popular) weekend excursion. Fr Nectarios got to drive after our first stop—and we made four… And the third excursion was to visit St Herman’s Monastery in Platina, which I will write about in another post.

All in all, it was a fine week, and a fine conclusion to the set of monastery visits that made up the bulk of my sabbatical. Very early on Monday morning the 25th, I crept out of the guest house and drove 4 ½ hours south to the airport in San Francisco to pick up my family for vacation.

Day 63, on to St John’s, Manton

Photos by Fr Michael Butler, Jul 18, 2011

Vodpod videos no longer available.

[19 July 2011] Today was simply a day of travel. I left home at 7:30 am and discovered just how bad Cleveland Hopkins Airport could be. Security took me over an hour to get through. Barely made it to the gate before we started boarding the flight. There was a couple of hours layover in Denver, which was not bad, both because it gave me time to get some lunch, and there are good restaurants at the Denver airport, and also because it’s a pleasant airport to sit in, if you have to sit in an airport.

The flight to Sacramento wasn’t too long. We flew over mountains still covered with snow, which surprised me, but there they were. Got my mid-sized Jeep rental from Alamo Rental and headed north on I-5 to Manton, which was about 2.5 hours away.

There are a lot of nut groves north of Sacramento, and fields of sunflowers, as well as fields of I don’t know what. But there was a whole lot of I don’t know what being grown. And there were mountains, too, off to the distance to the east, and off to the distance to the west. (Maybe it’s why this is called the “central valley”?)

En route, once I got off the interstate in Red Bluff and headed to Manton along the country road, the scenery got really pretty. There were mountains, some with snow off in the distance, and rolling fields up close. These fields were a nice light brown color, but they were all covered with black rocks, like God had made a valley full of brown gravy and seasoned it with pepper. I found out later that Mount Lessen, which is one of the snow-covered mountains many miles away, is volcanic and had exploded in 1915 and strewn all of this black rock, causing tremendous damage. There were vineyards, too, which surprised me that there should be vineyards this far north, but there they were.

Miss Moneypenny (my Garmin GPS unit) did me right, and I got to the Monastery of St John not long after Vespers had begun. Another guest saw me drive up and directed me to the guest house, where I figured out which room was mine. I changed into my cassock and sat on the front porch of the monastery with the bull mastiff until the brotherhood came out of church for dinner.  Being expected, there was a place for me at the table. After the meal, which was taken formally (meaning it began and ended with prayer and was eaten in silence while a monk read spiritual literature), I met a few of the other guests. We talked a long time before we all turned in. Morning prayer here starts at 6 am…

Trip 3, to St John of Shanghai, Manton, CA

My third trip, per the original proposal to the Lilly Foundation, was to be to New Camaldoli Catholic Hermitage in Big Sur, California. The thought was that, after time at Lebh Shomea, St John the Baptist in Essex, and on Mt Athos, I would take a week all by myself to synthesize everything I had been through and learned. The more I thought about this, the less I liked the idea.

First, I wasn’t sure I wanted another week at a Catholic institution. The issues were about being in another strange environment — more strange than being in an unknown Orthodox monastery —, one in which I was unfamiliar with the liturgical cycle, and one in which I could not participate fully in the liturgical life. Admittedly, the thought of a week of solitude on the mountainous shoreline of California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, still has its appeal.

Second, I learned that Fr Meletios Webber, the abbot of St John of Shanghai Monastery, the one which His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, had founded, would be available during the week I was planning on being in California. He has a reputation as a good abbot and spiritual father, and I saw here an opportunity to ask for his counsel and direction. (You can see Fr Meletios’s books here.) Being an Orthodox monastery, I would be comfortable with the liturgical life, could receive Communion, and would know my place in the scheme of things. Besides, if I wanted more solitude while I was there, I could always close my door and I’m sure it would be respected. So, I opted for St John of Shanghai instead of the Camaldolese hermits.

So, this will be the last of my trips away by myself, leaving my family at home. I will have spent 4+ weeks at Catholic and Orthodox monasteries both here and abroad and (God willing) have found good counsel for my heart and some advice on how to be a better spiritual father to those who come to me. I will also have spent nearly 4 weeks at home between trips, too, resting (as much as a man can get with a “honey do” list in his  hand).

After my time in Manton, I will not be coming directly home. Instead, I will drive down to the airport in San Francisco and pick up my family. Then, we’ll begin the vacation part of the sabbatical.

Sabbatical destinations

For those not familiar with Google maps: click and hold your mouse button to move the map around in its frame.

Use the plus (+) and minus (-) buttons on the left to zoom in and out. Or just double-click on the map itself, near the spot you want to zoom in on, and you’ll zoom in there. You can zoom in really, really close and see some interesting details.

Double click on the blue place markers for a brief description of the location.

If you click on the “View larger map” link that’s directly underneath the map, it will take you to the Google map page, where you’ll get a really big map to play around with, and use some really cool features. E.g., switching between satellite and map views (and Google Earth views, if you have Google Earth installed), and clicking on the “photos” option in the upper right corner, which will call up any pictures people have taken at that location; click on them to get a ground-level picture taken at that spot (the pictures taken at St Panteleimon’s Monastery on Mt Athos are really spectacular; check ’em out!)

Itinerary (T minus 19 days)

The itinerary for the sabbatical.

15 May. Last Liturgy at St Innocent’s. After Liturgy, the sabbatical officially begins.

16-24 May — Fly to San Antonio, TX. Week at Lebh Shomea House of Prayer near Sarita, TX.

24-26 May — Time with family & friends in Clute, TX, my home town.

26-28 May — Time with my parents in Comfort, TX.

29 June – 19 July — Home with my family.

(14-17 June, attending Acton Institute’s Acton University in Grand Rapids, MI, where I will be lecturing on an Orthodox approach to environmentalism. This is not part of the sabbatical, but it is something of significance that I’ll be doing.)

19 June — Fly to London.

20-28 June — Week at St John the Baptist Monastery in Tolleshunt Knights by Maldon, Essex,  England.

29-30 June — Thessalonica & Ouranoupolis, Greece.

1-7 July — Xeropotamou & St Panteleimon Monasteries, Mount Athos.

8-11 July — Thessalonica & London.

11-17 July — Home with my family.

18-25 July — Week at St John of Shanghai Monastery, Manton, CA.

25 July – 18 August — Vacation with my family in CA, NV, UT, WY, MT, and WA.

19 August — Return home.

21 August — Back at St Innocent’s, the sabbatical finished.