English services in the tradition of Elder Ephraim
There's a new 1 year old monastery in Elder Ephraim of Arizona's tradition. The services and everything else are in English. (The first and only one right now.) It's under the Russian Orthodox Church.
The name is St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Monastery. If you're interested please read below, because you'll learn more. (You'll learn both Elder Ephraim and the project.) If you're not interested, thank you very much for stopping by.
Yesterday's Vespers Service
What might this new monastery mean for you?
It might mean you being able to go to a monastery in Elder Ephraim's tradition. One where you and your children can understand the services.
It might mean spreading the Elder's tradition to people who would never know it otherwise.
It might mean making a place where you can recharge your spiritual batteries in a language you know. Especially with the more and more harsh storms of this world.
It might mean that Athonite spirituality can start to be something by and for Americans.
It might mean getting Elder Ephraim's tradition in a new jurisdiction. (He was actually a part of ROCOR at one point! See the photo above.)
We make icons. So it might mean you can choose from a selection of 2800+ icons from a monastery in Elder Ephraim's tradition. They last for 30+ years like new as long as you keep them out of direct sunlight.
Of course, you may have questions. But before that, here's a story.
The head of this monastery, Fr. Menas, once went to Mt. Athos. This was 30 or so years ago. (Fr. Menas is in the center in the first photo with the Kursk Root Icon. The photo is at the St. Paul's church.)
He stayed for a time in a cell with a hermit. The hermit only spoke Greek. Initially he treated Fr. Menas in a bit of a harsh way. He did that to test him. But he saw that Fr. Menas was not unduly affected. So the hermit asked Fr. Menas if he planned to stay on the Holy Mountain.
"If God wants," Fr. Menas said.
The hermit looked at him piercingly. "God wants what you want!"
(As Fr. Menas would later explain: "If you want the world, you get the world. If you want God, you get God.")
The (we hope) humble desire of this brotherhood is to make a new monastery in Elder Ephraim's tradition. It will be under someone in his lineage. It will be for the English speaking people. May God bless it!
An Oklahoma native, after living all over America Fr. Menas had the great blessing of spending 26 years at St. Anthony's Monastery in Arizona. He arrived just one year after it started. (Almost, but not quite, a founding monk of the monastery.) 23 of those years were when Elder Ephraim was in this life. This was the Elder's main monastery. When he wasn't traveling, it was also where he lived.
Back in the mid 1990s, conditions were nothing like what's there now. One reason is because they were just starting to build permanent structures. (One of Fr. Menas' first projects was building the woman's guesthouse.)
Before that, the monks had been living in trailers in the middle of the Arizona desert. (Fr. Menas' first thought after he arrived was "I've never seen so much dust in my life.")
The monks would use a big AC unit to try to keep cool in the day. But at night it was so loud they couldn't sleep. So it would have to go off. The night temperatures would get over 90 degrees. During the day it could hit 120.
More than once a week, monks would have to go into town to get water. (This was because there was no well drilled yet). They had a great deal from the town. The town pump gave out water for pennies on the dollar.
By the time Fr. Menas arrived things had improved slightly. But the work was 16 hours a day. This was on top of hours of prayer at night. There was also work at night. This was because the monks would clean and prep for the construction workers in the morning. Sleep barely existed. There was no improving the weather. (As Fr. Menas says, "Some people say I'm a half baked monk. I beg to differ. After 26 years in the Arizona desert, I'm fully baked!")
Why would any man put up with this?
Fr. Menas at an early construction project at St. Anthony's. The project was part of the winery.
Because of Elder Ephraim.
You can understand why a man would give 26 hard years for someone with so much love.
As Fr. Menas said, "I developed a long time ago the concept that nobody's perfect. You had to gauge where someone was against that perfect standard. He was the closest person I ever met."
(One story: on Mt. Athos, there was a monk in confession with Elder Ephraim. Elder Ephraim gave him a penance. The monk said "Elder, I can't do that." They went back and forth. The monk insisted he couldn't do it.
So after Liturgy one day, to save this monk, Elder Ephraim said what follows to all the monks.
"I will lie down in the entry way here. Every one of you will step on me on your way out, or you won't see me in eternal life."
Filled with horror, as you might imagine, the monks froze for some time. Finally one of the more senior monks dared to go up. He barely grazed him with his foot and got out the door. All the other monks followed his lead.)
All the monks at St. Anthony's spend their days in 6-8 hours of prayer a day. Obedience and silence. Frequent confession and Communion. No possessions. Trying to pray throughout the day. Long work hours and hard weather. Little comfort. Rarely leaving the monastery. Dealing with the same brothers every day for years. This is some of what it means to be a monk. This is the spiritual tradition of Mt. Athos. This is the tradition that Elder Ephraim sacrificed so much for to bring to North America. Thank you, Elder! It's inspiring to have such examples today.
This is the pure tradition that St. Paul's monastery is trying to have with services in English .
So Fr. Menas lived there for 26 years. At different times he ran the wood shop, the vineyard, the winery. He did the gardens. (Hydroponic lettuce is the easiest to grow). He did mechanical repairs. He was the canonarch. (The lead reader in Church services). He made hot sauce. He made icons at one point. Among other things too. He was one of the first monks there. So he had a good position at the largest Orthodox monastery in the western hemisphere.
So why are we here?
Because many times over those 26 years, people would come to St. Anthony's only once. The 3-5 hours of services every day are 100% in Greek. The readings at meals are all in Greek. Everything, really, is Greek. The situation is very similar at Elder Ephraim's other monasteries. Some Americans, like Fr. Menas, can take that. (Really it was because of Elder Ephraim that they were willing to.) But many simply can't.
Over the years, it became clear to Fr. Menas. Because of this issue, someone would have to translate Elder Ephraim's tradition into English.
To be 100% clear, this is not to disparage other monasteries in any way. They are our brothers and sisters. Not a few are Fr. Menas' friends.
There are many reasons why this language issue is there, and they're valid and from the heart. We respect them and the people who hold them.
But some Americans simply can't do it.
How much more fruit would this wealth of Athonite spirituality have if language was no issue? How many more converts? How many more zealots of prayer? How many more much-needed monks and nuns?
Many saints spent great effort bringing Orthodoxy to people in their own language. Examples would include St. Herman of Alaska. Sts. Cyril and Methodius from Byzantium, teachers of the Slavs. St. Clement of Ohrid. St. Gregory V, Patriarch of Constantinople. St. Paisius Velichkovsky. St. Nicolai Velimorovich. Sts. Ambrose and Macarius of Optina. St. Innocent of Alaska. Fr. Cosmas of Grigoriou. St. Nicholas of Japan. St. Paul the Apostle. Why?
If there was ever a time when Americans needed Elder Ephraim's tradition, isn't it now? Why not make it as easy as possible for them to learn it?
There is a tradition on Mt. Athos. When your Elder is alive, you serve him with all your heart. When you bury him, then you have freedom.
St. Joseph the Hesychast, Fr. Menas' spiritual grandfather, is one example out of many.
Fr. Menas is in the tradition of Mt. Athos. He lived with his Elder for 23 years and then buried him. (He made his casket.) Then spent another 3 years at St. Anthony's to make 26 years.
Now that Elder Ephraim is in the other life, and because Fr. Menas has buried his Elder, now is the time to do what someone needs to do.
Try to translate Elder Ephraim's tradition into English.
With each generation in America, English becomes more and more the main language.
How can this translation not happen at some point?
Isn't it better to do it while the living tradition is close to the source? Rather than another generation down the line.
Honestly, we aren't worthy to do this. But until someone more qualified comes along, someone must attempt it
Because of the unique mix of
many years under Elder Ephraim at his main monastery
unquestionable American roots
this monastery is in a unique position to (try to) do this.
(Fr. Menas grew up in Oklahoma, German on one side and Irish on the other. A classic American melting pot. Going to a normal American college, he realized that many were playing a kind of game, not serious about life. This pushed him to monasticism.
The men here were born and raised in Wisconsin, New York, Minnesota, etc.)
To tell you the truth, there are a few others who could try this. But not a lot.
And as far as we know, this is the only one right now. (If there was another one, we'd likely be there.)
So despite having nothing to gain from this, and much to lose, here we are out in the woods of Wisconsin.
The last year has not been perfect.
Many times it's felt like taking one step forward in the dark after the other. Not aware of the hazards in the way. (Perhaps you can relate.)
But somehow, on the other side of the first year, things have really moved forward, thank God.
We're at break even within 1 year, starting from losing money each week.
The brotherhood has gone from 2 to 6.
The first new construction project has been started. This wouldn't have even been thought of at the beginning. Too much else to do.
The testimony of professionals we've worked with is this place has a lot of potential. (A CPA, two lawyers, a businessman of 30+ years, a fundraiser).
In the summer we ran a fundraising campaign. Quite a few kind people donated. That money fully paid off two credit cards. It paid off a loan from a loyal friend of St. Paul's. It helped put down a $4350 deposit on the new building. And it prepaid a year's worth of property insurance for $18,673.90.
There have been 50 new 5-star reviews for the icon business in the last 5 months.
A community of 20-30+ parishioners and lay helpers has grown around the monastery.
The Kursk Root Icon came to visit us.
Matins at St. Paul's
Elder Ephraim with Fr. Menas and others
The Kursk Root Icon with some of St. Paul's community
Outside of the Church
Glory to God!
Last but not least, a daily cycle of services is done at the monastery in English. Liturgies are done on the weekends and sometimes on feast days.
So, that's St. Paul's after one year.
If you would like to keep in touch, you can put in your email here. (We send out newsletters and similar things.)
If you're thinking to yourself, "I'd love to hear those services in English. I want to make Elder Ephraim in English a reality," there is something you can do.
To repeat, if and only if you're wanting, from the heart, to make this a reality, there is something you can do.
We want there to be absolutely no pressure. Although there may be another story or two.
(And if you want to make a donation right now, you can do it here.)
$4350 of the money from this summer's campaign went to a down payment on the first building project.
Architect's drawing of the building
(Again, that money also went to prepaying a year's worth of property insurance for $18,673.90. To paying off a loan from a friend of the monastery. To fully paying off two credit cards, and to monastery expenses. No "administrative overhead" taken.)
There are five goals for the 4,000 square foot building:
St. Paul's can't yet have women overnight visitors. This would have space for them to do so. Then they could more easily experience Elder Ephraim's tradition in English.
It would also let more male overnight visitors stay and experience the same thing.
A man donated hundreds of thousands of dollars of woodworking equipment. This would be a place where this equipment can be housed and used for icon production. (Right now it's housed unused in an Amish barn next door.) Adding this will help build up the monastery for the future.
It would allow us to get rid of 3-4 unsightly mobile homes. They're inappropriate to have in a monastery of Elder Ephraim's, but they're what we've had to work with up to now. But adding this new building will help St. Paul's have more of the right environment for his tradition.
One of the mobile homes that would be removed by this project.
Finally, it would be the first new building of St. Paul's. The beginning of the future of Elder Ephraim's tradition and services in English.
There was a time before Elder Ephraim began bringing new life to Mt. Athos' main monasteries. To start, he was at a small skete that was very run down when he first moved in. But a lot of disciples gathered. In less than a year they got it clean. It was to the point where pilgrims would be afraid to step inside it with their shoes on. (They would walk a long ways through Mt. Athos to get there.)
So, we're hoping to get there too. As you can see from the mobile home above, there's some work to do.
But it's work that's in progress and you can be a part of it. As soon as all the funds are raised, the building should be done in less than a year. It should be ready to house people who want to come see Elder Ephraim in English well before that.
And since it is work in progress
because we have women who want to stay here and can't
because we can't house as many men as we'd like
because these trailers are inappropriate to Elder Ephraim's monastery
because the equipment can't be used for making icons right now
because momentum needs to be kept up
because winter's coming, and may shut down work.
if you would like to be a part of building the monastery, now is the time to do so. Because building the monastery will only happen once. It's the ground floor!
Another image from the architect
Where the building will go
So if you'd like
to be able to go to the services in English for the first time
to help build up Elder Ephraim in English
to build on the foundation that's been laid the last year
you can help by going to this link.
Again, there's no pressure to do so. We would like a donation from the heart.
Once the money is raised, this page will be taken down and there won't be more donations to this first building project.
But, we can say:
If you donate to this project
And if all the needed funds are raised
Then the building will be ready for visitors in 1 year, from the date the funds are raised
Or we will give your money back to you.
You're unlikely to find that sort of statement elsewhere. But we want you to be confident that your money will be used responsibly. Not siphoned off for other things. Not caught up in endless delays. But used with responsibility, care, and respect. Here is the link, for the last time. Please, only if you're interested.
Before you go, here's one last story.
One of the main ways the monasteries on Mt. Athos support themselves is by logging.
Elder Ephraim's monastery at the time was Philotheou. It owned some very good logging land.
Some monks from a nearby monastery came to the Elder. They had all kinds of reasons why the land belonged to them. They had planned out all the responses he could say. They planned what they'd say back.
They met the Elder and began to give all their reasons.
He listened, nodding.
"Fr. Joseph, please go upstairs to my office and get the deed."
He kept listening to them.
Then, when Fr. Joseph came back, Elder Ephraim signed it. Then he handed it to the monks. Looking them in the eyes he said,
"Here, take it! Just let nothing come between our monastic brotherly love."
The monks walked out abashed. They later said, "We were prepared for everything except that."
"He really is an Elder."