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North America's oldest Orthodox monastery celebrates its centennial

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  • Nina Dimas
    The Daily News, Thursday, May 26, 2005 North America s oldest Orthodox monastery celebrates its centennial SOUTH CANAAN (AP) -- The monks living at North
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 3, 2005
      The Daily News, Thursday, May 26, 2005

      North America's oldest Orthodox monastery celebrates its centennial

      SOUTH CANAAN (AP) -- The monks living at North America's oldest Orthodox Christian monastery rise early, meet in their icon-filled church at 5 a.m. for three hours of prayer, and again at 5 p.m. for another service. In between, they do chores, take meals together, study, pray, reflect.

      Same as it ever was.

      The monastic life has remained largely unchanged at St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery since its founding in 1905 near this rural village in northeastern Pennsylvania.

      The spiritual center of American Orthodoxy, it has been the site of annual Memorial Day pilgrimages since eastern European coal miners and their families first came here from nearby Scranton and Wilkes-Barre a century ago. The Syosset, N.Y.-based Orthodox Church in America, formed in 1970 from the Russian Orthodox church, counts between 750,000 and 1 million members.

      Beginning Friday, the monastery celebrates its 100th anniversary with a series of events expected to draw at least 10,000 pilgrims over the long holiday weekend.

      Church leader Metropolitan Herman, who came to St. Tikhon as a seminarian in 1959 and will preside over this weekend's celebration, said the experience is an emotional one for pilgrims.

      "People can go on vacation, but when you come to a monastery it's spiritually uplifting and even better when a lot of people are praying together," he said.

      In addition to the onion-domed monastery church, there are numerous tiny chapels dotting the 325-acre campus. Today about a dozen monks, who take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, life in a dormitory steps away from the main church. The longest-serving among them has lived there about 40 years; the newest one joined a year ago.

      Father Juvenal, who got a bachelor's degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale before becoming a monk in 1982, said St. Tikhon is a "spiritual fortress" that helps him get closer to God.

      "The idea of monasticism is, we try to pray at all hours of the day," he said. Maybe we'll even be praying when Christ returns -- hopefully."

      The monastery owns perhaps the continent's largest collection of icons -- a multimillion-dollar trove that includes pieces from Russia, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Syria and other nations, some dating to the 15th century. Orthodox Christians use icons -- religious paintings or sculptures -- as aids to worship. They are "theology in color, prayers in visual form," said Father Nicodemus, who oversees the collection.

      Monasticism, he said, "is considered the art of arts and science of sciences. it takes all you have and more to live this sort of life ... Everything you have, you are offering God."

      Nina Tkachuk Dimas

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