On December 19, Abbess Elisabeth and the sisters of St. Elizabeth Skete celebrated another important milestone — the first Divine Liturgy in our new house chapel, served by Archimandrite Luke of Holy Trinity Monastery and Fr. Vladimir Tsurikov. What had previously been a tiny chapel without a separate altar comfortably accommodated thirty people, with plenty of room to spare. Morning sunlight streamed in through the new round window over the altar as Archimandrite Luke exclaimed, "Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit..."
Following the Liturgy, Archimandrite Luke served a moleben and delivered a sermon on St. Nicholas, whowas able to combine an inner life of watchfulness and prayer with the outer obligations of hierarchal service without a loss. Fr. Luke continued by saying that skete conditions are most conducive to achieve the goal of monastic spiritual labors, blessed silence or hesychia. He expressed his hope that the new chapel would inspire the sisters to persevere in their monastic struggle. (See the full text of Fr. Luke's sermon.)
Fr. Luke presented Abbess Elisabeth and the sisters with an icon of the Holy Protection in which was inserted a piece of the Holy Belt of the Theotokos recently discovered amongst other relics in Holy Trinity Monastery's archives. The loving protection of the Most Holy Mother of God was keenly felt by all in attendance.
After the services, Abbess Elisabeth and sisters welcomed Archimandrite Luke, Fr. Vladimir, and their other guests to a festal luncheon, a longtime St. Nicholas Day tradition at St. Elizabeth Skete.
Archimandrite Luke (Murianka)
December 19, 2012
Dear in Christ sisters, friends!
I want to congratulate you on your twenty-fifth anniversary today on the feast of St. Nicholas. Twenty five years ago today, Vladyka Lavr blessed Sister Natalia and Sister Maria to be novices, although for the time being secretly, not wearing black. This was the beginning of the history of St. Elizabeth's Skete. Now, twenty-five years later, you're celebrating the first liturgy in your newly refurbished chapel.
In the life of St. Nicholas, we read that he had strivings to lead a life of monastic seclusion. By the hand of God, he was sent back to the city to serve the Lord and his people as a hierarch. We, on the other hand, need to leave the city in our mind and soul and search out the desert, the cave in our heart. St. Nicholas was above all a well-experienced monastic, proficient in the spiritual life, and firmly grounded in inner prayer. Because of his spiritual strength, he was able to combine an inner life of watchfulness and prayer with the outer obligations of hierarchal service without a loss. In fact, with an enhancement of his sanctity, witnessed to by his numerous miracles.
You, our dear sisters, are blessed to live in skete conditions, which are most conducive to achieve the goal of monastic, Orthodox Christian spiritual labors. That goal being blessed silence, or hesychia. That state of soul where the heart and mind are united in perfect union with God and where otherworldly peace reigns alone. As we all know from experience, this is an arduous task. There are many obstacles to overcome, and the struggle is unending against our foes: the world, the flesh, and the devil. One great obstacle is our overinflated sense of self-importance, where we constantly need to draw attention to our person and our achievements, especially when those around us fail to do so. This egocentrism and search for pleasurable sensations is a form of spiritual illness which needs healing from above. St. Maximus writes, "Deceived at the beginning by the illusion of pleasure, we preferred death to life, pleasure is the mother of death." The result of self-seeking gratification and flattery is pain and suffering. St Maximus again writes, "Man learnt by experience that every pleasure, of a surety, has pain as its successor...Since pleasure disappears with the means that produce it and since suffering always succeeds the experience of pleasure, man threw himself all the more violently towards pleasure because he was trying to avoid suffering." As you know, dear sisters, there is no escape except in Christ from this vicious circle of pleasure, pain, and suffering. And you have chosen this, the "better part" for life. As St. Nicholas Cabasilas notes, "God has matched our soul, our desiring power, and our whole being with Himself...the human heart was created in function of Christ, as a large box, vast enough to contain God Himself."
And now, in the joy of your new church surroundings you can with renewed inspiration continue your monastic struggle for that peace of Christ which alone satisfies the human heart and which you prefer to any pleasure of self or the world. As St. John Chrysostomos teaches, "Pleasure is only a fleeting delight. Yes, pleasure quickly takes flight, and we cannot tie it down even for a few moments. For such is the destiny of human and sensible things: hardly do we possess them, and they escape us. They offer nothing solid or assured, nothing fixed or permanent...however, spiritual goods present us an altogether different character. They are firm, assured, constant, and eternal."
As as blessing and embellishment for your newly refurbished chapel, I would like to present Abbess Elizabeth and the sisters a relic, a portion of the belt of the Holy Mother of God, enshrined in an icon of the feast of Her Protection.