Pittsburg Visit by Sitka Icon
- In a message dated 11/07/2005 10:55:49 PM Central Standard Time,
Local monastery invites guests to see icon
Historic icon on display Wednesday during first North American tour
Monday, November 07, 2005
Dan-Nicolae Tapalaga, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Sitka Icon, "Mother of God"
_The Sitka Icon of the Mother of God_
_Monastery of the Transfiguration, Ellwood City _
_More about Princess Ileana / Mother Alexandra _
_Orthodox Church in America_ (http://www.oca.org/)
ELLWOOD CITY, Pa. -- The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration sits
among the Lawrence County hills, a respite from a busy world, a place full of
quiet. Only the "toaca," a wooden bell that calls the faithful to prayer,
breaks the silence on most days.
On Wednesday, the toaca will sound a special call, inviting people from
throughout the region to venerate the Sitka icon calls "Mother of God."
"We expect hundreds of pilgrims to come here and pray," said Mother
Cristophora, the monastery's abbess.
The early 19th-century Sitka icon of Mary and Jesus is adorned with
magnificent halos of gold and silver. It has been attributed to Vladimir Borokovski,
one of Russia's most revered painters, and was commissioned by St. Innocent
Veniaminov, the first ruling bishop in North America. It is said to heal and
The icon has been enshrined at the Archangel Michael Cathedral in Sitka,
Alaska, since the mid-1800s, and is now completing its first tour of North
It will be on view at the Ellwood City monastery from 6:30 a.m. to 1:30
p.m. Wednesday, before being moved to North Canton, Ohio. The monastery has 12
guest rooms available at no charge, but donations will be accepted;
reservations are not needed.
The Monastery of the Transfiguration itself is something of a miracle. It
looks like a modest grey motel, which accentuates the natural beauty of the
surrounding hills that look much like the highlands of Romania, from which a
princess came to build it.
"This was one of the reasons why Mother Alexandra chose this place: It
reminded her of Romania," said Mother Cristophora.
Mother Alexandra was born in 1906 as Princess Ileana, sixth child of King
Ferdinand I and Queen Marie of Romania. In 1948, the communist takeover forced
her and other members of her family into exile.
Princess Ileana led a tumultuous life through the 1950s, moving from
Switzerland to Argentina to the United States, where she made her living by
lecturing about communism. Then-Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts sponsored a
bill to give her U.S. citizenship.
In 1961, the princess entered the Monastery of the Veil in France. Six year
later, she took her vows, was sent back to the United States to found an
English-speaking monastery and landed in Ellwood City, where she became Mother
Alexandra. She died in 1991.
Mother Cristophora told the story standing near a shelf of photos. One
showed a beautiful young woman of regal bearing wearing a jeweled crown and a Mona
Lisa smile. Another showed the same woman, older, shrouded in a nun's habit,
looking down with humility.
The Monastery of the Transfiguration now houses nine nuns, all Americans.
Sister Martha, 22, is the youngest; Mother Elisabeth, 78, the eldest.
Asked why she chose the life of a monastic nun in the age of the iPod, the
youthful Sister Martha smiled and said, "I didn't choose it, God did."
She was playing Bach on the flute that day, accompanied by a friend on
Mother Cristophora -- the name means "bearer of Christ" -- entered the
monastery in 1983 at age 20 after working for the Pennsylvania Department of
"We Americans don't have the tradition of monasticism. To leave the world
and enter the monastic life is very unusual for the Americans," she said.
The monastic life might often be quiet and contemplative, she said, but the
nuns in Ellwood City usually find themselves quite busy. They are on their
feet all day -- cooking, cleaning, shopping, taking care of guests and
pilgrims, working in the flower gardens. Some sisters do crafts, while others write
in journals titled "The Life Transfigured."
Orthodox Christians believe the transfiguration marks the day when Christ
revealed his divinity on a hilltop before his apostles. In the Pittsburgh
region, there are more than 100 Orthodox parishes, including Romanian, Russian,
Greek, Serbian and Antiochian.
Mother Alexandra, the former Romanian princess, remains in the Pittsburgh
region, as well. She is buried at the Ellwood City monastery, along with a
small gilded box of Romanian soil.
(Dan-Nicolae Tapalaga is a Romanian journalist currently visiting the
Post-Gazette on a Freedom House fellowship. He can be reached at
_dtapalaga@..._ (mailto:dtapalaga@...) or 412- 263-1884.)
St. George-the-Great-Martyr Orthodox Church
P.O. Box 667
Pharr, TX 78577-0667
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