Kennedy's 'Postcards from
Longing for the monastery
Friday, July 8, 2005
The monastery "need" I perceive is one I've read about in novels by Dostoyevsky set in 19th century Russia and nonfiction biographies of monastic "elders" (spiritual advisors) in contemporary Greece and Cyprus. In Dostoyevesky's The Brothers Karamazov, the monastery is just a short walk outside town, and people go there as they would to a park, to picnic, meet other seekers, converse about matters both mundane and weighty, and perhaps have confession with a spiritual elder, or at least talk or listen-in on a spiritually uplifting talk by such a man or woman. In Doetoyevsky's world, there were monasteries near many towns and even inside cities, which served this need, and there was no charge for dropping in. It was a part of the church that was always open, at least for meditating, lighting candles and praying in the chapel, and most times having at least brief conversation with a resident or two.
In my favorite recent book, The Mountain of Silence, monasteries still fill somewhat comparable needs in towns and cities in Cyprus (a Mediterranean island-nation between Israel and Greece), and I've read in magazines that they do so again in Russia as part of the church's restoration after 75 years of Communist rule. In my life in Silicon Valley, the closest thing I can think of is a Christian (evangelical) camp in the mountains. Since this camp has both adult and youth camps running simultaneously all summer, I think you can visit there and probably even buy lunch and meet other people to talk to. It's not "geared" for that, but I've seen it happen. In Western Pennsylvania, where this is going to be published, the best approximation is probably Antiochian Village, a combination youth camp, adult conference center, museum, and library under Orthodox Church jurisdiction a few miles out of Ligonier. It also has a book and souvenir store and a chapel that are open for drop-ins, if my experience of several years ago still holds.
There aren't many Orthodox monasteries in America and the Catholic one my Pennsylvania readers are aware of, at Loretto, allows visits for meditation on the beautifully cultivated grounds, but is a cloistered community not offering interaction with the residents. California has a handful of Orthodox monastic communities, but most are not close to town. And both Orthodox and Catholic monasteries in this country seem to have more of a conception of planned weekend retreats with prices for rooms and meals comparable with those found in three-star hotels, so it's not quite the same as the monastic experience I'd been longing for.
But I wonder if I'm onto something. I usually find that when I perceive a need, others have also been doing so and usually they're ahead of me on doing something about it..
Webmaster Jon Kennedy