Monday, March 23, 2015

Thanksgiving in the Time of Lent

by Diahann Hiser, New Skete Candidate

There is a beautiful Akathist called "Glory to God for All Things."* It was introduced to me by my parish priest during a particularly painful spiritual counseling session a few years ago.  That was a difficult time in my life, and I found myself falling into despair.  Father looked at me with deep compassion, understanding the pain, and asked me if I had ever prayed "Glory to God for All Things."  I had not heard of it, and shook my head no.  He handed a copy to me and I took it home and read it, with tears streaming down my face.

As Father instructed, I prayed the Akathist. But lying on the floor.  Face down.  Now, Akathists are supposed to be chanted while standing.  However, I could not stand.  The words of thanks poured forth from my soul, mixed with salty tears.  Giving thanks in times of trouble seems like something only holy people would do.  But truly something shifts in the spirit, when instead of moping, or worrying, we turn everything over to God and trust in his plan for us.  When we cultivate an "attitude of gratitude," the Lord transforms our grief into serenity.  The path to healing had begun.  Glory to God for All Things.

I prayed this Akathist through tears many, many times before arriving at New Skete.  Something remarkable happened on one visit as an Aspirant to the monastery.  I had a copy of the Akathist with me, and it was a beautiful chilly but sunny morning, so I went out on the guest sitting room deck and prayed.  I prayed Glory to God for All Things.  Standing.  Smiling.  Happy.  The first time ever without tears.  It was beautiful, and the experience was one of the most uplifting of my life.  I will never forget it.  Glory to God for All Things.

Tonight, as a Candidate of the Nuns' Monastery, and approximately two months away from starting the Novitiate, I prayed again Glory to God for All Things.  On the floor.  Face down.  Through tears.  The monastic journey is not without its struggles, even for beginners like me.  In fact, there are times when it seems everything in the world conspires against the call to this life.  But I invite you (and remind myself), to keep in mind a few of the words from the prayer during this Lenten season of repentance, and remain strong in faith:

"When You called me to serve my brothers and filled my soul with humility, one of Your deep, piercing rays shone into my heart; it became luminous, full of light like iron glowing in the furnace.  I have seen Your face, face of mystery and of unapproachable glory.
Glory to You, transfiguring our lives with deeds of love.
Glory to You, making wonderfully sweet the keeping of Your commandments.
Glory to You, making Yourself known where man shows mercy on his neighbor.
Glory to You, sending us failure and misfortune
That we may understand the sorrows of others.
Glory to You, rewarding us so well for the good we do.
Glory to You, welcoming the impulse of our heart's love.
Glory to You, raising to the heights of heaven every act of love in earth and sky.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age!"

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, may you have a blessed, peaceful, and spiritually beneficial Great Lent, leading you to the Bright Pascha of the Lord!

*The author was Metropolitan Tryphon (Prince Boris Petrovich Turkestanov). It contains biographical references to his childhood illness and family life, as well as other material. A copy of this hymn, in samizdat form, was amongst the belongings of the priest Grigori Petrov, who died in a Soviet prison camp in 1940, and has been sometimes attributed to him.

The title ["Glory to God for All Things"] is from the words of Saint John Chrysostom as he was dying in exile. Thanksgiving and prayer as a celebration is understood perhaps best by one from whom all beauty is seemingly denied; a song of praise from amidst the most terrible sufferings.

Legal Tangles: The Disappearing Roof

Reflections by Brother Luke

            There is an old proverb: “What you don’t know can’t [or won’t] hurt you.” One intention behind this statement is that by concealing something from someone you are protecting that person from being hurt by it. Another implication is that somehow ignorance protects us from harm. By bitter experience, many people have discovered that things don’t always turn out that way.
            The deterioration of the Transfiguration Temple roof reached a point in 2004 where we had to make a critical decision. If we did not at least fix the roof, leaks damaging the interior would begin to undermine the integrity of the building. So a crossroads was reached: if we wanted to keep the monks’ original worship temple, we had to replace the roof. Obviously, much more work remained to be done to restore the space, but that could be put off until we could raise the funds for the larger project. The new roof would give us time.

The brothers discussed this and agreed to invest in a new roof. Of course, to get to that decision the conversation ranged across a wide variety of related topics: should money be put into that church, which was not used all that often, rather than using the funds to repair the other monastery roofs; if we are fixing up the church, some brothers wanted to move the library into it, while others thought the gift shop should go there, and some quite frankly thought it would be best to simply tear the old temple down. Repair the roof and keep our options open for the future was what won the day. But then we had to find a competent and reliable roofer. From my days on the Board of Trustees at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, DC, I remembered that finding a good roofer was not so easy. 

Brother Marc took up the task to find a roofer. He found one with the necessary credentials, and we negotiated the price. During those discussions the roofer asked if we also planned to replace the roof on the Holy Wisdom Temple.  We knew that it also needed to be replaced and to get the best price for both we could wrap the two projects together. Even better, we were able to delay the Holy Wisdom project by a year, which made the whole project more manageable financially for us.

So in the summer of 2004, the roofing crew came and installed the new roof.  We made a switch from wood shingles to an asphalt material to control costs and enhance its durability. The crew members were hard workers, and the job was completed very efficiently. We were once again able to have services in that church without water dripping on our heads, although the rodents were still playing in the ceiling!

In May 2005 we decided to go ahead with the second phase of the roofing project: the Holy Wisdom Temple roof. So we contacted the roofer and set a date for the project to begin. We made a good-faith down payment of half the cost. However, the date was missed. We re-scheduled; again it was missed. Finally a date was agreed to, and when the day arrived, so did the delivery truck with the roofing materials.  Our roofer was also there, and he wrote out a check for the shingles. The driver called his company to make sure the check was OK. It wasn’t. The roofer assured us that he would solve the problem by the next day. Meanwhile, we watched as the shingles disappeared with the truck. The next day came, but the problem was not solved. As it turned out, the roofer had financial problems connected with personal problems, so our money was gone. There was no money to pay for the shingles. We asked for a refund of the advance, but none came. When we finally had to arrange for the debt to be collected, the roofer had left the state.

So we at that point had just lost $11,000 and realized that the roof project was not going to be completed under our original agreement. We waited, hoping that the roofer would finally return the advance. While waiting we decided to find another way to finish the Holy Wisdom roof. We turned to our maintenance man, and he bid on the project. We accepted his bid, and the roof project was completed.

A few years later our original roofer returned to New York and was arrested. Several brothers had to testify at the court proceedings here in Cambridge, New York. The ultimate outcome: our $11,000 was returned. We understood that a member of his family made the restitution, since he still did not have the funds.

When we originally engaged him to do the work, we had no idea about his personal problems. What we didn’t know did hurt us, but this time we ended up being lucky: a lesson we tried to keep in mind as we engaged other contractors in the future. It was only later that we learned about the business concept of “best practices.” 

In a future reflection I will write about the project to re-gild the church domes. It might be more correct to say “finally gild the domes,” since that was supposed to have been done when they were installed, but it wasn’t done. What little hair I had left at the time was gone by the end of that escapade! 

Adventures of an Office Dog

By New Skete’s Kahn Von Schloss Rugland

Assistant Director of Marketing and Communication

         After years of working in the puppy kennel, I needed a challenge and opted to try my paw at a new job.  A part-time position had opened up in the marketing and communications office, and with all the puppy mouths I need to feed, I thought, “Hey, why not; I’m pretty good at communicating.  I bark when I want attention, whine when I don’t get it, and when I stare at someone long enough, they let me outside to answer nature’s call.”

The first few weeks were a little slow.  Before going into my office I would make my rounds to say hello to my co-workers; Karen in advancement and stewardship, Carey in finance, Robin in IT, and Anastacia in purchasing.  Each person would ask if I was given a cookie that day, and I would use the “sad eyes” and “drooling” communication tools to relay that I had not, wink - wink.  This tactic worked for a short time.  Now I am limited to one or two cookies a day.

By the third week, things picked up a little.  Ida, the director of marketing and communications, asked me to collaborate on a video.  What is a video?   Explaining something to a dog really does not work.  We are more doers than listeners.  She decided to show me an example.  We watched the YouTube sensation “Kitty Fight Song,” a family-friendly, hip-hop story of four kittens strutting their fluffy stuff.  WHOA!!  What are those strange, furry little things, and how did they get on the desk without me seeing them come into the room?  They look a little like puppies, but different in a way that I find befuddling.  They communicate with mews and hisses, nothing I have heard before.   I walked around the desk to determine how these cats were able to get into the flat box sitting there, but lost sight of them.  The strange noises continued to emit from the other side, and when I returned to the front of the desk, they were still there.  I watched this “video” several times and decided I did not want anything to do with creating videos if it meant working with cats. It was revealed to me that I had already been the subject of several videos posted on Facebook.  I had no idea that all the time Brother Luke been following me and my friends in the snow, with the little black device in his hands, he was making videos.  This was mind-boggling as there were no cats in the snow.  You can have a video with no cats?  No wonder people who work in offices get so tired.  I was mentally exhausted.  Luckily, there is a nice rug in the office for me to nap on.

Lunch time is my favorite part of the workday. Some of my co-workers eat in their offices.  To maximize their time, I have helped them to devise an “eat and exercise” plan that is beneficial for all, but mostly for me.  In this game of keep away, I have discovered that leaning against an office chair will send it and its occupant rolling across the floor, leaving the desired food momentarily unattended.  Any unattended food is fair game.  Like the day that Karen left her turkey sandwich in a handbag on the floor.  I’m a dog, for goodness sakes; if I find food on the floor I am going to eat it.  Ida has tried to distract me with people foods she says are good for me.  Baby carrots are good for dog’s teeth, low in calories and high in fiber and vitamin A.  I do not like baby carrots.  Apple slices, good for my teeth and a good source of vitamin A and C.  Apple slices are not my preference.  Peanut butter is a good source of protein, heart-healthy fats, and vitamin B.  It must be unsalted, preferably raw.  I LIKE peanut butter!  She will only give me a spoonful in a Kong at a time, but if I had thumbs I would figure out how to get the lid off the peanut butter jar.

Raising puppies and being the office dog is fine and fun, but my favorite job is being Brother Luke’s companion dog.  My office co-workers say I must sense when he is near.  I cannot settle down but pace, look out the window, and nudge elbows with my nose, causing interruption to typing fingers.  Given the option between cat videos, peanut butter, and Brother Luke, I will pick Brother Luke every time.