On January 30 of this year, the Village Times Herald, my local paper back home, published this article, titled “A quiet, prayerful presence”, which I wrote about the wonderful monks at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in my hometown of Setauket.
Here is a PDF file of that week’s newspaper edition in which my article features.
The Village Times Herald is owned by the Times Beacon Record newspapers which covers news on the North Shore of Long Island’s Suffolk County from Cold Spring Harbor to Wading River. You can access their Facebook page here.
Below is my original article, unabridged. Given the spatial constraints, I am very grateful to editor Rachel Shapiro for publishing the article in almost its entire original form.
A Quiet, Prayerful Presence
By Ryan Hunter
December 22, 2012
There is a small religious community here in Setauket which remains a mystery to many residents. Many do not even know it exists. When you are driving through town and turn off Route 25A onto Main Street, pass the Setauket United Methodist Church on your left and head north toward Emma S. Clark public library, the village green with its historic Caroline Church of Brookhaven and Setauket Presbyterian Church, you will pass, on your left, another white church right before Setauket Elementary School. This small, peculiar-looking building stands out: it is topped with a golden, Russian style onion dome and the cross of St. Olga.
Nestled here behind the tall, green juniper hedges lives the Russian Orthodox Brotherhood of the Holy Cross. The men who live here are monks, part of an Eastern Orthodox monastery under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). You may have seen some of the monks around town, perhaps shopping in the supermarket, clad in their long black robes. The sight of these men might make some of you wonder: Why do they wear those funny robes? And what about those long beards and head coverings? It may seem strange that these men, living in the 21st century, would choose to live as they do, in a religious brotherhood. You might be asking: what do they do?
The very kind abbot, or superior, of the monastery is the Archimandrite Father Maximos Weimar. He and several of the hieromonks (priest-monks) who assist him spend considerable time traveling to diocesan and regional church conferences, and visiting Orthodox parishes in the local area and region. They give spiritual talks at the invitation of bishops and church pastors, visit and pray with those who are ill in hospitals or suffering from the loss of loved ones, and serve beautiful liturgies where they offer prayers to God on behalf of everyone in the local community, New York, the United States, and throughout the world.
At the monastery, the monks dedicate themselves to a life of ceaseless prayer. Even while they are busy looking after visitors, keeping up the beautiful grounds, or restoring and expanding the monastery’s old buildings, they are always praying. Like Roman Catholic monks and nuns, they have taken vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. As Orthodox Christians, they fast every Wednesday and Friday, as well as observing several more rigorous fast periods during the year, including Great Lent and the pre-Nativity (Advent) period. The monks support each other in their efforts to, through lifelong repentance, spiritual growth, and renewal, become transformed in the image of God. This is a process called theosis, or divinization, about which the earliest Christian leaders and theologians wrote widely.
Worship is central to the monks’ daily lives. Every morning and evening they gather in the beautiful, recently renovated chapel dedicated to Saint Herman of Alaska (1756-1837), a peaceful Russian evangelist to the Yupik and Aleut native tribes. At every service, they pray to God and all the saints for those who have asked their prayers. They pray for the healing of the sick, peace for the grieving, and rest for the departed.
A vibrant, close-knit community of parishioners thrives here. Just like the monks, who come from a diverse array of ethnic and religious backgrounds and traditions, the parishioners are a diverse representation of Orthodoxy, which, though a small presence in North America, is the world’s second largest Christian faith. Greek, Russian and Georgian immigrants, and many Americans all worship here. Some were raised in the faith, but many, like myself, are converts. Every Sunday for the Eucharistic service (the Divine Liturgy), and on many major feast days of the Church, the chapel is filled with the monks, parishioners, and visitors all worshiping together.
Because the monks dedicate their life to serving in the Church, they offer the divine services even when only a few people show up to worship with them. The weeknight Vespers is a peaceful, beautiful candlelit service, sung in its entirety, as all Orthodox services are, and filled with the ethereal, ancient chants and hymns of Eastern Christianity. Always hospitable, the monks invite everyone to visit with them after service and enjoy some refreshments or a light meal. They are exceptionally kind.
This holiday season, when Christians celebrate the birth of the Savior and Jews recall with the Festival of Lights the miracle of the burning oil in the Temple, is a time of festive rejoicing for all. It is a time when, surrounded by loved ones, many of us rededicate ourselves to what—and who—matters most. In all the sorrows and challenges of life, we rely on the loving support, encouragement, and prayers of those dear to us. Wherever you are in your life, whatever your circumstances, whatever burdens you have weighing you down even now, know that there is, in this town, a warm-hearted community which remembers you every day in their prayers.
Ryan Hunter talked with the monks of the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross over many discussions and interviews. He is an active member of the Orthodox Church and a parishioner at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Washington, D.C. A senior pursuing his BA in History at American University, he attends services at the monastery whenever he is home in Setauket and studies with the monks.