A South Canaan Marvel: St. Tikhon's Monastery
By Steve McConnell
GateHouse News Service
Wed Dec 31, 2008, 01:29 PM EST
South Canaan -
One hundred and three years ago, religious pilgrims walked up and
over the 1,900-foot Moosic Mountains, a 10-mile arduous journey from
the Mayfield area, Lackawanna County, to South Canaan Township, Wayne
On July 29, 1905, these Orthodox Church members embarked upon a
pilgrimage to Saint Tikhon's Monastery for its dedication ceremony as
the first monastery of their faith in the U.S.
A few years prior, Father Arseny Chagovtsev, an Orthodox rector at
Saint John the Baptist Church in Mayfield, thought it would be
appropriate to create a home for monastics who were spreading the
faith throughout the continent from its traditional geographic
centers - eastern Europe and Russia.
Father Arseny and Archbishop Tikhon, the latter would become the
Patriarch, or leader, of the entire Orthodox Church, traveled by
horse and carriage over the Moosic Mountains scouting sites.
On their second trip to Wayne County, they located suitable land
owned by a South Canaan farmer, which was purchased for $2,580 in
June 1905, according to a monastery history.
The opening and consecration of the monastery's church took place on
May 30, 1906, which would also commemorate the second pilgrimage to
And this place of holy worship and reflection spawned long ago still
resides today, a living example of devout faith in an century - and
country - of wide-spread secularism.
The brotherhood within awakens early around sunrise, traversing the
pine-tree filled grounds to the monastery church, a dedicated
celebration of the rituals of their faith, a strong following of
Jesus Christ as the savior and redeemer.
And they rejoice in this life of independence away from a world
largely different than the turn of the 20th century when people would
walk miles to uphold their convictions.
Father Nicodemeus, a monk at St. Tikhon's since 1983, provided a tour
of the monastery to the Wayne Independent.
He described its location in South Canaan as "isolated ... a part
from the world," lending "a contemplative life of prayer and
The Appalachian Mountain chain arises in the west and there is a
clear view of the eastern sunrise. The area is sparsely populated -
farmland and an occasional isolated home along the drive off Route
296 on St. Tikhons Road.
The monastery church is modest compared to its flaring European
counterparts, like Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, but it
has the distinctive onion domes - golden and topped by the Russian
In the late 1940s, a brick facade was placed around the original
clapboard of the church, according to the history.
The otherworldly, metaphysical experience, however, is inside.
Dressed entirely in black with a long black-and-gray beard exuding
the contemplative life, Nicodemeus patiently explained the numerous
theological icons painted throughout the church by a Ukrainian
iconographer in the mid-1960s - a period of extensive renovations.
Religious iconography is an Eastern Orthodox Church tradition.
Icon comes from the Greek word, eikona, meaning "image."
Many scenes at the monastery church depict the life and resurrection
of Jesus Christ in a dazzling spectrum of colors, evoking a Christian
Other powerful, religious images array throughout the sacred place -
Old Testament prophets, the 12 apostles of Jesus, the four
Evangelists of the New Testament, and contemporary church saints.
It is said that Luke the Evangelist, the believed author of the
Gospel of Luke, painted the first icons of Christ.
"You can analyze the icon and tell the theological truths," said
Nicodemeus. "And that's a major source of the faith - theology in
Elements of the Old Testament and the New Testament intersect within
bridging thousands of years of Judeo-Christian religious tradition:
the prophets Elijah and Daniel, and Moses, alongside John the
Baptist, Saint Joseph and Mary, the mother of Jesus.
"There's ... centuries of Christianity" in here, he said.
The summa representation of this is the "Iconostasis" - a three-
tiered, ornate red-oak wall stretching to the church's ceiling,
adorned with dozens of colorfully painted Judeo-Christian icons, side
by side, on each tier.
Archangel Michael, in a red robe, angel wings protrude outward,
mediates beside a portrait of Jesus Christ.
The Iconostasis, a common Orthodox element, separates the body of the
church, where the faithful worship, from a clergy sanctuary area,
Visitors have devoutly frequented the monastery's grounds since that
summer when about 100 pilgrims, by best estimates, crossed the
mountain into Wayne County.
There has been a religious pilgrimage every year.
"We have people from all over the world come," said Nicodemeus.
The church's saints have also walked and prayed here: Saint Tikhon of
Moscow, Saint Raphael of Brooklyn, Saint Nicholai of Zhicha, Saint
Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, and Saint Alexander Hotovitsky.
Saint Alexis is entombed inside the monastery church - near the
"His body was uncorrupted; it hadn't decayed" when it was removed in
1994 from the monastery's cemetery, said Nicodemeus. "The martyrs and
saints who loved God more than they loved themselves are the
foundation of the church."
Saint Alexis died in 1909.
He is said to have converted 29,000 people to the Orthodox faith.