Word Magazine October 1980 Page 11-12
AMERICAN ORTHODOX MONASTICISM
by Fr. Anthony Scott
Long-haired, black-robed, grey-bearded, spiritually-withdrawn: these are the typical images that monks produce in the average mind. Now, try these: normal-haired, levi-clothed, young-faced, and spiritually-present and you have a beginning idea of New Skete, an Orthodox monastic community located in Cambridge, New York.
A visit to New Skete is a visit into the future of American Orthodoxy. The community numbers approximately 30 people — both nuns and monks. All of them are converts to Orthodoxy. They are mostly young, very dedicated, talented, and engaged in serious spiritual warfare, struggling to draw closer to Jesus Christ. English is the only language used in the church services. They exhibit absolutely no traces of any ethnicism and do not concern themselves with jurisdictional quarrels. Canonically, they are under the Omophorion of Metropolitan Theodosius of the Orthodox Church in America.
Upon entering the monastery property one is immediately impressed with the beautiful grounds, the new wooden buildings, a breath-taking church, and friendly, hospitable people. Nestled half-way up mountainous terrain, the monastery is surrounded by trees. It commands a wide vista of the Hudson River Valley and continually directs one’s attention to the wonders and beauties of God’s Creation.
The monastery is completely self-supporting and relies on multiple enterprises to meet its financial needs. Seven different types of cheese spread, sausage, ham, maple syrup, hand-crafted jewelry and cheese cake made by the nuns for commercial distribution all contribute to the general fund. The main livelihood however, has resulted in a great deal of publicity for the monastery. For this particular activity they have published a best-selling book, were written up in Life Magazine, Adirondack Life, the New York Times, People Magazine, Family Weekly, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.
They breed and raise German Shepherds! The title of their book is How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend. They are rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the finest breeding kennels in the world. Each puppy currently sells for $300.00. Their dogs are performing police work, helping the blind, security work and just being good household pets all over the country.
All of this did not come easy, however. Each building was constructed with their own hands. (The nuns built their own facility themselves! It’s located several miles from the monastery but they join the monks in daily worship.) In the first few years they suffered financial hardship until they developed dog breeding and training. They have a guest house, a truly beautiful Church, the monks’ quarters which includes dining and meeting facilities, a gift shop and the nuns’ facilities.
All of this however, remains as an external, visual description. One must attend church services in the Chapel to experience the depth and true purpose of the community. Seventeen bells, rung precisely and beautifully before and after each service set the tone. Thirty voices join in very pleasing harmony singing ancient chants of the Orthodox Church completely in English. Entire walls are painted with traditional iconography. One senses the presence of the angelic hosts very clearly.
If you are visiting New York or the Archdiocese or live within driving distance, you should definitely plan a trip to New Skete.
The guest house is a three room section of the work building, about 1/8 of a mile from the church and main building. There is a comfortable lounge and small library. It is best to bring your own reading material, although the monks may be able to loan you books from the monastic library during your stay. They ask that there be no radios, tape recorders or alcoholic beverages in the guesthouse. Clothing should be appropriate to a monastic setting. Casual clothes and slacks are fine, and clergy often bring religious garb for services.
Retreats, unless otherwise arranged, are private and informal. The guest sets his/her own pace. Because the guesthouse is small, they usually limit retreats to three or four days, because of the number of people who wish to visit. If the guesthouse is full, as it often is on great feast days, the guestmaster can arrange for you to stay in Cambridge (6 miles away) in one of two area motels. Rates in this area run from $18-$25 per night. They are currently in the process of building a new guesthouse to be of greater service to their friends.
They try to provide a quiet, restful, spiritually uplifting environment for their friends. Meals are
with the monks in the main dining room. Coffee and a refrigerator are provided in the guesthouse, but there are no full cooking facilities. You are welcome to take walks on the long road that leads to the monastery or in the woods. Many guests ask for work to do, and work may involve general cleaning, walking puppies or older dogs, or helping in the church.
Spiritual direction is available for those who desire it. The church is always open for prayer. All services are open to the guests. The sacrament of Confession is available for those who seek it. The community has two priests. Simply inform the guestmaster or one of the priests. New Skete is a monastic community within the Orthodox Church in America. In the Orthodox Churches, communion is restricted to those of the Orthodox faith. We ask you to keep this in mind should you be here for Divine Liturgy.
Matins is said at 7 A.M. weekdays (except Monday) and at 8 A.M. weekends. Vespers is each evening at 7:30 P.M. in the Spring and Summer and at 5:15 P.M. in the Fall and Winter. Divine Liturgy is celebrated at 8:45 A.M. Saturday and at 10A.M. Sunday. The Little Hours are said throughout the day.