Thursday, December 21, 2017

Teva’s Doctoral Defense

By Sister Cecelia and Brother Christopher

On November 29th two of the nuns and three of the monks traveled to Boston to be present at Boston College for our friend and Companion Teva Regule’s doctoral defense. Her dissertation, Identity, Formation, Transformation: The Liturgical Movement of the 20th Century and the Liturgical Reform Efforts of New Skete Monastery, was the culmination of several years of research, study, and writing that included a number of extended visits at New Skete to interview monastics and to clarify the many aspects of our liturgical practice.  When she first proposed the idea to us, we were both humbled and surprised: “Really? You’d like to do your dissertation on us?” but as the scope of her work grew we ourselves came to appreciate in a new way the cumulative efforts that have spanned the fifty-plus-year history of our community. We felt it was important to be present at this occasion as a sign of our support and appreciation of her hard work.

None of us had ever been to a doctoral defense, and since the defense was to take place on the morning of the 30th, we traveled to Boston the afternoon before. The three monks were graciously offered hospitality by the Jesuit community at Boston College, while two of the sisters stayed with friends in the vicinity.  All of us were impressed with the elegant beauty of the campus and to see hundreds of students moving from building to building took some of us back to our own days of university years ago. The biggest difference was seeing how many students were walking with ear pods and holding various devices in their hands!

Doctoral defenses are open to the public and when we arrived at the appropriate classroom we became part of about fifteen observers in addition to the examiners. The atmosphere was relaxed and expectant and Teva didn’t seem bothered by runaway nerves. The four examiners were Fr. John Baldovin, S.J., Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, Fr. Robert Daly, S.J., from Boston College, Fr. Alkiviadis Calivas from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and Rev. Karen Westerfield-Tucker of Boston University.  After Teva was invited to give an opening introduction of about twenty minutes that summarized her work, each examiner was given the opportunity to ask pertinent questions and follow-up Teva’s responses with further observations and queries. The questions put to her by the panel were insightful and stimulating and Teva’s answers showed how great is her grasp of all the various aspects of her research. She did a staggering amount of research and after looking at the Liturgical Movement of the 20th century, she was able to trace efforts at liturgical change in the Christian East more broadly, and specifically how they have been expressed at New Skete. She interviewed the monastics, chapel community members, and many who are familiar with the monastery. By studying the history of the many Traditions and traditions of liturgical practice, her study highlights positive directions that can edify, encourage, and renew the worshiping community.

One of the experiences that each of us commented on to each other afterward is what it was like to be observers listening to others talk about our community’s life work. Actually, it was inspiring, giving us encouragement to be faithful to the particular path we have been called to. It was also gratifying to hear the examiners commend Teva’s hard work and encourage her to make use of it in books, articles, and even video resources that enrich both academics as well as ordinary churchgoers (the rest of us). Finally, it was a joyful moment to share with Teva when her director, Fr Baldovin said at the end of the proceedings, “Teva it is my pleasure to be the first to be able to address you as ‘Dr. Regule’. Congratulations!” Indeed, Teva: Congratulations! Many Years!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Mentoring: Living in Faith

By Brother Luke

            Faith is not about assurances. It’s about moving into the unknown without the anchor of a desired predetermined outcome. The outcome is what it is supposed to be, not necessarily what I hope it will be. For cooks, and I am not one, following a recipe is supposed to lead to a known outcome: the dish you intend. Entering into monastic life is about entering into a life of faith in a unique and intensive way. When a person embarks on this journey, the initial stages of the journey include accompaniment by a professed member of the community. This is called mentoring. It usually continues right up to the time of profession, which could be 3 to 4 years after one begins the candidacy.

In our community someone entering this formation process could spend up to one year as a candidate. At the end of that period a decision is made as to whether or not the individual and the community think the candidate should continue on to the novitiate. The novitiate can then last up to 3 years, although it may end earlier for a variety of reasons. At any time during the novitiate the novice may decide that this is not the life for him or her, or the community may conclude that the individual is not suited to this life.

The formation process is a period of discernment. The mentor’s role is to help the novice negotiate the stormy waves that are an inevitable part of the journey. The novice faces major adjustments in virtually every aspect of his or her life. Long-held assumptions about proper living are challenged by the new reality of community. What may have worked for someone living alone may not be tenable in a community context where everything is shared and held in common, and nothing is owned or possessed by an individual; where a culture has evolved and a new person has to first come to understand it, then grow into it, and ultimately be a new element that will affect it and change it.  Moreover, how one spends one’s time is regulated in part by the structure of monastic life: corporate prayer; personal prayer, study, and meditation; work; and chores.

In monastic life one’s freedom of mobility is restricted. The novice needs permission to leave the monastery property. The novice has to set aside contacts with family and friends while in the process of setting down roots in the community. During the novitiate, personal possessions and money are held in trust for the novice by a person outside the community in whom the novice has confidence.

Learning about this life is a fulltime occupation. It’s both a lived experience and something transmitted through formation classes. The community needs to be careful not to overburden the novice with too many duties. Participating in and preparing for classes is an important part of the novice’s life and must be respected by the other members of the community. The novice has to prepare his or her own daily horarium, taking into account the community structure that is already in place. This is reviewed with the mentor and adjusted over time as duties and circumstances warrant.

Juggling all this and keeping one’s eye focused on why one was drawn to monastic life in the first place is the mentoring process. The mentor and novice will meet once a week throughout the novitiate. This is the time when the mentor will question the novice about weekly experiences with work, other community members (or staff), liturgical life, and most importantly the emotional stretch in dealing with separation from long-time friends and family, and all the issues surrounding those relationships. The novice will struggle with all these things and more. The mentor has to provide the answers to the relentless: why? Doing this in a way that both affirms and challenges set patterns from the past is the delicate dance.

The mentoring sessions will often start with general discussions about the activities of the week. But it will also delve into deeper issues that touch on the emotional turmoil that is brewing inside the heart. Questions include: “What is coming up in your prayer?” “What happened this week that you would describe as moments of grace or moments of challenge?” The conversation that follows can circle back to a discussion of what drew the person to this life in the first place. Is the attraction continuing to burn bright or to burn out? Clarity around that struggle can emerge from the answer to the question: “What is it about this life that feeds you?” How the answer to that question varies over time can reveal the trajectory the novitiate is taking for that person. 

Monastic life may produce a rhythm that is reassuring and fulfilling, or it may seem routine and debilitating. Wrestling with such feelings is natural to the process, but the outcome is not the same for each person. The mentor is there as a guide, constantly trying to explain and put into perspective the realities of the monastic culture the novice is experiencing. The mentor can also challenge the novice’s own preconceived notions that are now bumping into a new and unfamiliar reality. Working through all this is no easy task. It is how our faith is lived out in the monastic laboratory. “When the waves rush in on all sides,” as the psalmist says, are we able to affirm through faith our steadiness on the course, or will the unsettling crises we experience cause us to waver and turn back to the familiar? The process is intended to make us work through that. Working through it may not always lead to the same outcome. And that is as it should be. There is another “player” involved here and that is God. If we have allowed the process to do its work, then that final decision ideally comes out of that place where God is guiding the choice. Guiding, not making, the choice: is this the right place for that person to work out his or her salvation? For some it is. But not for all. Being at peace with that reality is the challenge both the individual and the community have to face. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Quiet Moments

by a friend of the monastery

What do a 9½-week-old German Shepherd puppy, a confessional, scripture passages, Mother Teresa, and Cardinal John Henry Newman have in common?

It was Saturday afternoon and I was in the confessional because of the puppy.  She had turned our lives upside down in the short 10 days we’d had her.  My husband and I had traveled to upstate New York and back by car in just 5 days to pick her up—a trip of over 3,000 miles—spending each night in a different hotel.  Although the puppy’s acquisition was a very conscious and much anticipated one, the drone of the drive, the sleepless nights, and working with her during her waking hours to housebreak her and to capture trainable moments were taking their toll on me. I played out the Martha and Mary story, heaping unspoken blame on my husband for what I perceived was not enough help. I was harboring unkind thoughts, the stress of keeping my angry thoughts to myself had me on the verge of a volcanic eruption, and, of course, in the midst of all this upheaval my prayer life was slowly circling the drain.

So there I sat in the confessional opposite the priest, sharing my frustrations, all the while sadly aware that in my attempt to be Puppy Super-Mom I not only had neglected my regular prayer life but had completely failed to call upon the Holy Spirit throughout this “ordeal.”  I saw Father’s lips offer the faintest hint of a smile, and for the first time I saw the humor in the whole situation.  This man of God must think I’ve lost my last semblance of sanity!  If this scenario is any example, then priests really have heard it all!

For my penance, Father asked me to read and meditate upon the Gospel account of Christ’s rescue of Peter when the Apostle attempted to walk on water (Matthew 14).  Isn’t Peter’s cry of “Lord, save me!” and Christ’s immediate stretching out of his hand what happens every time someone goes to Reconciliation?  As Father blessed me and I left the confessional I resolved to spend more time on the Gospel passage, but at the moment my sacristan duties called, and before I knew it, it was time for the Saturday vigil Mass to start.

As the Lector read the first reading from 1 Kings 19, I felt eerily as if verse 12 held some special message for me: “…there was a tiny whispering sound.”  What was the Holy Spirit trying to tell me?  I didn’t have long to wait.  As Father’s homily unfolded he drew the connection between Elijah’s trip to the desert cave and Christ’s trip up the mountain to pray after he’d sent the Apostles on their way in their boat.  Father convicted many of us that day of not praying as often as we should, not taking the time to quiet down our lives so that we could, indeed, hear the whisper. “OK,” I said to myself, “first thing tomorrow morning….”

“First thing tomorrow morning” became puppy’s first outing of the day.  Then came her breakfast and a short training session, after which I quickly got busy with kitchen chores.  Engrossed as I was in tending to kitchen cleanup, I almost missed it.  Quietly, very quietly, puppy nestled herself at my feet and whimpered once, then twice.  I realized that she’d been up past her nap time.  She was signaling her need for some quiet time in her crate.  What a subtle hint the Holy Spirit sent me: “If you can’t remember your own commitment to me, then I will send you a message in a language you are sure to understand.”

I settled puppy in her crate and then sat down in the morning quiet, intending to read my penance assignment.  First, though, I detoured to a book of Mother Teresa’s meditations (Jesus, the Word to be Spoken) and read the thought for the day, 13 August, which this year was the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time: “We are called upon every day to exercise our priestly ministry of handling the body of Christ in the form of a suffering humanity and of giving Holy Communion to all those with whom we come in contact by spreading the fragrance of his love wherever we go.”

Mother Teresa’s reference to spreading the fragrance of Christ’s love struck a chord.  Months ago, Father had handed out prayer cards for penance.  On the card was a prayer written by Cardinal Newman, which Mother Teresa had adopted as a daily prayer for her order.  The prayer has become one of my favorites.  The prayer card rests in my bible at Psalm 32, a Psalm I recite after Reconciliation.  Because it is the only prayer card in my bible, my bible often opens automatically to it, and I frequently recite the prayer before doing further reading in my bible.  How nice, I thought, as I read Mother Teresa’s meditaion, that I’m finally beginning to recognize some spiritual citations on my own without the benefit of footnotes!

I moved on to a second book of Mother Teresa’s meditations (The Joy in Loving) which I always read in concert with the first one.  I opened to the reading for the day, also 13 August, and encountered Cardinal Newman’s prayer yet again with further amplification in Mother Teresa’s own words: “The light, O Jesus, will be all thine; none of it will be mine; it will be you, shining on others through me.”

When I did read Matthew’s gospel—yes, I finally found my way to my penance assignment!—my heart and mind were full, amazed at the journey this “simple” penance exercise had led me on.  If a bolt of lightning had struck me that morning, the realization of what I had experienced over the past 12 hours since my trip into the confessional couldn’t have been clearer: Reconciliation, the scripture readings, Mother Teresa’s meditations, Cardinal Newman’s prayer—all helped me understand my sin and how to combat it.  It’s very simple, really.  Charity begins at home.  I needed to lighten up, reconnect with my sense of humor, and get a grip.  I needed to forgive myself for my anger.  And I needed to transform my anger into a peace that could become a conduit of love.  I had to first put myself and my own house in order so that I possessed the love of Christ.  Only then could I reflect that love and spread its fragrance to others.

And to think that this “revelation” came so quietly through the mere introduction of a tiny German Shepherd puppy into our household.  God truly does use all of His creation to speak to us.  Never should we take any of it for granted!

Shortly after I finished my meditation that Sunday morning, my husband offered to relieve me of puppy duty without any prompting from me.

Four Months and Counting!

by Brother Luke

            My two pups, Fintas and Iris, are heading towards their 5th month. It has been quite a ride. They are cute. They are lively. They are underfoot. They are all puppy! Kahn, now nine and a half years old, will play with them outside, but he wants nothing to do with them in my room! Although he is a bit more patient now that they are growing up, he lets them know the limits. The fact that Fintas is his son has no bearing on how they interact.

            The two pups are three weeks apart in age, born June 7th and 29th, Fintas being the elder of the two, but they play as equals. Fintas outweighs Iris, but she is not intimidated by him at all. They are both cautious around Kahn in my room, but they constantly test the limits. Iris might go up to Kahn and begin to paw at his paws, wagging her tail all the time. She inches closer and begins to lick his lips, and he will raise his lips and bare his teeth. If that doesn’t get through to her, and it seldom does, then he will growl. If that also doesn’t work he will do a sudden bark. That will usually get her to back off. But if not, then he will follow the bark by doing the full-mouth soft bite over her head. That always does the trick. Well, for a few minutes; but she may come back again.  Fintas plays the same game with Kahn, and it leads to the same result. If deterred, the pups return to playing with each other, oblivious of Kahn’s presence. In their tumbling around, they might roll right over on Kahn, but only because he is in the way. Usually, in that case, he gets up and finds a new resting spot in my room. Soon they will once again try to entice him into the game, but he’s not buying!  If the play never settles down, which is usually the case, then one pup goes into the crate. If the other pup still does not settle down, then that pup gets tethered to my bed, and we finally have a semblance of peace. Recently, Iris has been the one sent into the crate, and Fintas has remained loose in my room. Even if I have to tether him to my bed, I now undo the tether when I go to bed, and he has made it through the night without incident, either with Kahn or relieving himself on my floor. This is progress!  I will try this with Iris soon and see if we can finally get them to be quiet at night. The proof will be when the brothers nearby can also sleep through the night without hearing from my pups!

            We have a lot of stairs between the levels of our residence, and the bedroom area is upstairs.  At first, I took the trio around to the back of the residence to enter without going up the stairs. In the morning we would race down the hallway to the door that leads directly out onto the lawn, again avoiding the stairs. Now it is getting darker earlier and is still dark when we rise, so I have started taking them up the stairs at night, but we still go out the door to the lawn in the morning, me with flashlight in hand! Once outside, Kahn is on his own avoiding the little pests!  He’s been through this many times, and he knows the routine. Of course, they all roll around in the grass getting thoroughly wet before we get back into the dog run area, where they stay for a few minutes while I fix their morning meal. Once inside they eat in their crates, and I head off to do other morning chores before matins.

            One afternoon, recently, I was helping Br Marc clean our pool. I had brought the two pups out, and they were busy with their usual play on the lawn outside the fence that surrounds the pool. So, I left them to their antics and went back to the cleaning. Soon after that I heard a splash and saw Fintas swimming toward the deep end of the pool! He made it down there but could not figure out how to get out. Br Marc managed to get hold of him at the edge of the pool and pull him out. But by that time Iris had decided she wasn’t going to be left out of the fun, and she also jumped into the pool and swam around. She stayed in the shallow end but also could not get out, so we pulled her out too. So, my two little water moccasins let me know that swimming isn’t just reserved for the water bucket in their exercise pen! They want the real thing!

            When the occasion presents itself, I take one of them with me on errands, usually to the bank. The first time I took Iris, she was small enough to go right up on the counter. The tellers always love to see them. We are fortunate that the bank is dog-friendly. Iris decided she wanted to become the teller and take over the job, so she went back down to the floor.

            We also take our daily walks down the road. The distance at first was based on the age of the pups. Now it is determined more on the time available. They roll around on the grass, on the road, in the woods, and they are thoroughly drenched and dirty by the time they are in their exercise pens. They now play together out there in the morning. At mid-day mealtime, they have to be separated, since Fintas, taking after his dad, eats his food in seconds, whereas Iris eats a little and plays and may not finish until much later in the afternoon. So, she is not a food hound! But she gets her share. And of course, dog biscuits disappear in a flash with both of them. I suspect others have experienced this phenomenon too.

            Yes, my three musketeers are an adventure. Fintas and Iris will soon be so big it will be hard to remember what they were like as puppies. There are the videos and the photos, but the daily experience will be completely different. That’s why I love raising puppies. I get a chance to see them develop through all the stages of their early lives. They keep me on my toes, which is a good thing!

To view videos of Kahn, Fintas, and Iris playing visit our Facebook page.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Story of My Tollie

by Brother Peter

She came from the motherland, Germany, and what a fine specimen she was. Tollie, a purebred German Shepherd, was purchased from a reputable kennel by the Monks of New Skete to become one of our widely known, well-bred German Shepherds. Upon Tollie’s arrival, I was asked to be her handler. Fortunately, although I had been diagnosed with an allergy to dogs when I was 10 years old, years of allergy shots enabled me to work with dogs by the time I reached the age of 25.

Tollie had already received obedience training in Germany, and she understood her commands only in the German language.  I had studied German in high school, so I quickly took to administering her commands, such as bleib/stay, com/come, and absleggen/by my side.  What a delightfully gregarious dog Tollie was. Whenever she saw people, her tail would go a-wagging! She became a great greeter at the monastery’s front door. She was so obedient; she would promptly lie down when I gave that command, and when I said “blieb” she would be careful not to get under people’s feet.

Tollie had a German Shepherd friend here named Bella. The two were sidekicks.  One day they traveled together an entire mile down our lane, romping and investigating the hillside. They swam in a pond and found a porcupine—OUCH!

Tollie traveled to Germany to be bred with another German Shepherd. She gave birth to eight puppies, and she and her pups spent many weeks in the birthing room, which had a Dutch door to keep Bella out. One day when I went to get feed for mother and pups, I noticed that Bella was no longer in the hallway. She had disobeyed my command to “downstay” and somehow snuck in to visit Tollie when I came out.  Any other mama dog would have chased the intruder out of that space and protected her pups—but this was Tollie’s friend Bella.

The time eventually came for Tollie at age 7 to leave New Skete, and it was up to me to find her a loving new home.  We received a call from a senior citizen, Betty, who was looking for a companion dog. So off Tollie went to Massachusetts with Betty. One condition of Tollie’s sale was that if Betty could no longer keep her, she must be returned to the monastery.

One year later Betty died, so Tollie returned to me—and she jumped with joy at seeing me!

            Months later another call came in for a spayed German Shepherd.  A family with five daughters needed a guardian dog, so Tollie now moved into this large family, where she had her very own doggie door to go through each day so she could greet the girls at the school bus.  She was well loved, and lived with them for another 8 years, giving her a long life of 16 years in all—an anomaly for that breed.

How I miss Tollie!

Monastic Life Is Not Being a Hermit

by Ida Williams, Director of Marketing and Communications

This weekend I was volunteering at an event, and in one of those “down time” conversations with another volunteer, the topic naturally turned to our jobs. People are often fascinated by my job: working for a monastery, those mysterious people on the mountain.

During this conversation, it became very apparent that the other person had a preconceived notion of monks, nuns, and monasteries. To put it bluntly, the person said that monks and nuns are hermits and do not live in the real world.


What an opportunity for me to share and educate someone about the monastery.
New Skete is a place to hide?

Are you kidding me?  There is more contact with the “public” or “outside world” than in many vocations.

The monastery hires staff. This means that the monks and nuns, in work situations, have co-workers. Bakery staff members work with the nuns. Laypeople work in the dog training and breeding kennel alongside the monks. Administrative and maintenance staff interact with the monastics to help keep the monasteries operating efficiently. Relationships, as found in any company, are formed. Stories and experiences are shared, jokes are told, and family woes are shared, as are prayers, laughter, and tears.

There are customers. The Monks and Nuns of New Skete earn a living with their own two hands. They bake cheesecakes, smoke cheeses for local farms, train dogs for people from throughout the United States and Canada. Puppy customers arrive at the door. Visitors come to the gift shop. Sister Patricia makes deliveries to cheesecake wholesalers. Brothers Christopher and Thomas meet, video, and Skype with dog training customers. Brother Luke introduces puppies to their new families. Brother Gregory not only rings up a sale in the gift shop but will put on his religious habit for a photo with the visitors in the church with his dog.

Construction projects like the current renovation of the small church require meetings with architects and contractors to gather bids, negotiate contracts, and work with builders. All aspects of ordinary life like heating oil delivery, recycling and trash pick-up, insurance, bakery supplies, and dog food companies require human contacts. There is grocery shopping. (Yes, the monks and nuns do their own shopping. Next time you are in the grocery store, remember the person in line in front of you may be a monk or a nun. Practice patience.) There are doctor and dentist appointments; no one makes house calls these days. There are trips to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the hardware store, and the pharmacy.

The monks and nuns host tours, events, concerts, and seminars. The monastery hosts approximately one to two group tours a week during the spring, summer, and fall. This week we have a tour scheduled for 75 children from an Albany middle school. Next week SUNY Adirondack will be at the monastery for a continuing education program they conduct twice a year. Open House, Pilgrimage, and Animal Blessing bring hundreds of people in attendance. This past weekend, the Konevets Quartet performed a concert in the Holy Wisdom Church to over 100 concert goers. During the Fall and Lenten Retreats, the monastics welcome 50 people into their home for conferences, a meal, and fellowship. In the spring and summer, an average of 40 people will attend the Art of Living with Your Dog seminar, and 20 people will attend the Force Free Method Dog Training Workshop for these multi-day seminars.

Each week, guests stay at New Skete on individual spiritual retreats. Friday night the monks had 23 guests for dinner, and on Saturday 30. I’ve only had this many guests in my home for dinner on a holiday or for a summer barbeque. Many of these guests assist the brothers and sisters in their daily chores during their stay. It is common to see a guest working alongside a monastic doing dishes after a meal, weeding the flower beds, cleaning the church, and helping with light maintenance. It is also common to see a guest and a monk lingering after dinner to enjoy a conversation.

The monks and nuns are up to date on current events. Newspapers, television (I think they only get one channel) and the internet provide a constant flow of information. They vote in elections. They follow politics, entertainment, arts, and science—and some even have Facebook pages. They are all avid readers, of both liturgical and secular works.

They participate in activities outside of the monastery. Some are members of the Battenkill Chorale, a 100-voice unauditioned chorus from six counties in New York and Vermont. Others volunteer at Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry in the town of Cambridge. While they do not purchase tickets to sports or entertainment venues, occasionally they receive a gift of admission. I have seen a couple of the brothers at a hockey game, though I believe their preference may be baseball. Once a year, they go out to dinner at a local restaurant. They travel to visit family and friends on the west coast, Colorado, and Maine. They appear as guest speakers at churches throughout the United States and Canada. Brother Christopher is a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and is frequently a speaker at their annual conference.

All these activities take place on a foundation of devotion.  During daily worship services, the monks and nuns share their dedication to God with chapel members and visitors.  This past year they formed a fellowship program, The Companions of New Skete. The 114 members of this program receive weekly reflections and guidance in their spiritual lives. Brother Christopher and Sister Rebecca provide individual spiritual direction for seeking a deeper relationship with God.

The dictionary defines a “hermit” as “a person living in solitude as a religious discipline,” but I would be hard pressed to define the monks and nuns by any of the synonyms listed with the definition. Recluse? Solitary? Loner? I would use words like reflective, contemplative, thoughtful, and hospitable.

Putting all this into words left me with another realization. No wonder the monastics need to take their own retreats every year!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Double Adventure is About to Begin!

by Brother Luke

A big thank you to all who responded last month with names beginning with F for my new puppy. I must admit that I was leaning towards Fritz, which several people mentioned. But in the end, I decided to name this boy Fintas. I picked the name for its sound, not for its meaning. In Arabic, it means water tank. If he ends up being a big boy, then maybe tank will fit. Of course, you can find meanings for Fintas beyond size, as one friend commented:

“Fintas!  It's an honorable name—after all, water tanks are sturdy, reliable, and often life giving! I look forward to getting to know him, and Mishka's little female.  Every new dog is a new adventure.” 

So, it’s Fintas. Finty or Finn for short. I often call my dogs by a variety of names, which is probably contrary to proper protocol. Even so, it’s how it works out for me. So, Shems is often Shemsi and Kahn is Kahn-man or Kahn-ster. Sometimes it’s just Mister Kahn. Well, you get the idea.

            And yes, there is another puppy in my near future. One of the females from the Mishka litter. Those pups are three weeks younger than Fintas, but soon that won’t matter. We haven’t decided which female puppy we will keep. There are five to choose from. The litter carried the letter “I” so the name for the girl will begin with an I. And I already have the name in mind: Iris. She will continue the line from Bella, through Raisa and Mishka. Years ago, I raised two pups from the same litter. That was also an "I" litter, and their names were Iris and Iraj. Neither one made the program in the end. I think Iris had a structural issue, and Iraj ended up with too many allergies. He just passed away a few months ago.

Four of the five of Mishka's girls

Taking on two new puppies means that my girls Jaci and Shems will go to others: Jaci to Sister Cecelia, whose dog Panja was retired, and Shems to Brother Thomas, whose girl Bora is being retired (she doesn’t produce sufficient milk). Bora just had a litter of four puppies, but with no milk we had to use another bitch to nurse them. We lost one Bora puppy because we didn't realize her milk was insufficient until too late. We normally weigh the pups on day three, but the puppy died during the night before day three. Jaci was nursing a litter of seven puppies, so in this emergency, we used her to help nurse Bora’s remaining three puppies. Fortunately, Jaci always produces plenty of milk. Raisa was also due to give birth, but as it turned out she had only one puppy, and it died of complications before birth. So, we transferred Bora's puppies to Raisa, who accepted them as her own. We were lucky she did. All those puppies are now doing fine.

In addition to raising the two puppies from the previous “I” litter, I also raised two puppies from two proximate litters: Raisa and Qamar. Qamar did not make the program; Raisa did, but she is now about to be retired. So, taking on new puppies also often means saying good-bye to other dogs. However, my Kahn remains the constant in my canine life. Even so, he is beginning to show his age. He's nine, and he is feeling the arthritis in his joints a bit. Otherwise he is doing OK. Soon he may not think so, however, when these puppies enter into his life. The book on Kahn is that he really doesn’t like puppies. The fact that Fintas is Kahn’s son means nothing to him. And of course, Iris will just be one more troublesome annoyance. Once they grow up a bit and can be playmates, then his attitude will change. As the months unfold I will give updates on how my two new charges are doing. I am already spending some personal time with Fintas and even introduced Kahn to his son. In a couple of weeks, when the boy moves in and the puppy crate appears in my room, the adventure will really begin.  If that doesn’t shake up Kahn, three weeks later Iris will! But Iris will also have Fintas to torment so Kahn may see Finty as his friend in this new troika. But we are getting ahead of ourselves….

A warning for Kahn?

Monday, June 26, 2017

In Memoriam: Patriarch Lubomyr (Husar), Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, died on May 31 at age 84. +Memory Eternal

By Brother Stavros

Tragically, there are many crisis zones simmering or flaring around the globe. Ukraine at the moment is simmering: a young country, as nation-states go, with many centuries of border shifts and what we now term occupation. It has a proud history uncomfortably shared with Russia. Both nations emerged from 12th and 13th century Rus’ as a fusion of South Slavic and North Viking tribes. Kiev (Kyiv) is its capital on the banks of the Dnieper River.

The penetration of Christianity was a momentous pivot in European history. Kievan Rus’ quickly became a commonwealth of culture and commerce as well as a citadel of education and monastic spirituality. Western Europe, by comparison, was just emerging from the Dark Ages.

Some weeks ago at Pentecost this bruised nation mourned the passing of the “spiritual father of today’s Ukraine.”

We ourselves remember him. His Beatitude (also known as Cardinal Husar) was born in Lviv. It is important to remember him in this context. He lived as an exile in Austria and then in the United States. When he was appointed Major Archbishop, he was able to bring a democratic breeze to a country stricken by about 40 years of Soviet propaganda. When Cardinal Husar spoke, he was able to speak with the authority of those who have experience in the world. Everyone recognized it, whether they were believers or non-believers, Roman Catholics or Orthodox.

Taxi drivers, hipsters, the young and old, business persons and artists, practicing parishioners and those who were not members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church listened to Husar’s audio and video broadcasts. The cardinal contributed to rapprochement between Ukrainians, Poles, and Jews. He dreamed of the end of the war and peace with Russia.
But above all, he was a man of prayer, a monk thirsting for communion with God. As a priest, archimandrite, and hierarch, he prayed ceaselessly to be in union with the Lord and to lead others toward this communion. His prayer gave him the fortitude and peace necessary to endure many physical ailments. He was functionally blind for the last 12 years of his life. Most people were not fully aware of his handicap. He never complained.
He communicated with ease with the everyman, in many different languages, in different countries and continents. His conversation was embellished with pearls of self-effacing humor. Lubomyr knew how to laugh—and to laugh at himself. This humor reflected his intimacy with God, for humor and mystery are cousins of the sacred and the sacramental. His humor often carried a strong social and moral message. Asked how the oligarchs of Ukraine could be reformed, Husar replied, “They should attend more funerals.”
Thanks to his irenic spirit, the confrontation on the Kiev’s Euromaidan through the winter of 2013-2014, which gathered as many as 100,000 protesters, a spontaneous buffer between the people and government soldiers was established by Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Latin Rite clergy, and even Protestant  ministers all leading the people in prayer. Without their witness there might have been a bloodbath.
There is no space to sketch his biography, which traces the arc of the slow-motion martyrdom of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the mid-20th century and its resurrection in the 21st. I should, however briefly, note the highlights of his life in service to the Church, and a personal note of how our paths crossed.
From 1958 to 1969 he served as teacher and prefect at Saint Basil’s Seminary in Stamford, Connecticut, and ministered in Kerhonkson, New York, as the pastor of the Soyuzivka youth camp in Ellenville, New York. I spent the academic year of 1962-1963 at the Stamford seminary.

He returned to Europe in 1972, entering the Monastery of Saint Theodore (Studite monks) in Grottaferrata, Italy. A few years later he became Archimandrite.

On April 2, 1977, he was ordained a bishop, but in camera because of the adverse situation in the Soviet Union. On January 26, 2001, at an extraordinary Synod of Bishops, he was elected Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine and the diaspora; a month later, he was appointed by Pope John Paul II a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He transferred his primatial cathedral from Lviv in Western Ukraine to Kyiv on August 21, 2005.

On February 10, 2011, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted his resignation as head of the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church because of his blindness and his desire to hand over leadership to a younger man.

I had Father Husar (as he was then) as a professor and a volley-ball coach for my time at St. Basil’s. Brother Marc and the late Brother Elias also knew Vladyka from the seminary. I had great respect and fondness for him. In fact, he was the one priest on the faculty with whom all the students felt a special rapport.

He served the offices and Divine Liturgy with exceptional grace and attention and had an amazing baritone voice. His speaking voice sounded like a more mellow Henry Kissinger. He made recordings of the special music for Presanctified Liturgy in Lent that helped revive its use in parishes throughout the States.

At St. Basil’s Seminary, I was in my second year of college and my first away from home. I am not Ukrainian and had no connection to Slavs except for a year of Russian at Georgetown’s School of Languages and Linguistics. This proved more of a handicap, given the general hard feelings between Russians and Ukrainians culturally, politically, and ecclesially. Father Lubomyr helped me fit in, often with his characteristic good humor. When we had a volley-ball match, we had to make all the calls in Ukrainian. I had enough trouble concentrating on the ball; in addition, I am short at 5′5″. Once I meant to call out zminyti to indicate a change of serve, but cried zmiya instead: snake! to the merriment of my teammates and a beaming grin from Father Lubomyr.

Father Lubomyr and some of Brother Stavros' classmates

Patriarch Lobomyr and his successor Archbishop Svyatoslav,
Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyč
Eight or nine years ago, by now Metropolitan Lubomyr  (generally called “patriarch” in Eastern Europe and “cardinal” in the West) made one of his pastoral visits and was also raising funds to build a new cathedral in Kiev (where he is now buried in its crypt) and made a stop nearby at St. Nicholas in Watervliet, a 100-year-old parish on the west bank of the Hudson River. Brother Elias and I decided to attend the occasion. After the liturgical service of welcome for His Beatitude, there was a traditional program in the church auditorium. We happened to be seated just two rows behind him, so when the time came for refreshments, we went up and introduced ourselves and received his blessing. We were wearing our monastic riasa and skoufja; the Metropolitan was in a simple gray tunic, leather belt, and black skoufja. Naturally he would not recognize our monastic names, so he asked what our names were at Saint Basil’s, and I said “Harry.” “Oh yes, Haaary,” he repeated with a chuckle. We presented him with our edition of the Psalter and yielded to the crowd forming behind us waiting to greet the archbishop.

Thanks to the internet, our community was able to watch portions of the patriarch’s state funeral, starting in the medieval city of Lviv, with its narrow streets, then to the much larger boulevards of Kiev. It was very moving to hear again the funeral chants I had learned nearly 60 years ago.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine is fractured into three divisions: one subject to the Moscow  Patriarchate, an autocephalous group, and the self-styled Kievan Patriachate, which is seeking recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in Istanbul. The latter was represented at the funeral rites in the new Resurrection Cathedral by Patriarch Filaret (Denysenko).

As we pray for eternal memory for this humble and courageous man, may his example strengthen his country by Christian example, pastoral devotion, and personal integrity that blazed a way into the momentous uncertainty of the 21st century. And may the small steps in bridging the often bitter gaps confounding a shared history embolden us to make longer strides to love one another as Christ loves us.


More Puppies for Jaci

By Brother Luke

Jaci’s latest litter of 7 puppies was born overnight on June 7-8. This time the process started in the kennel, not in my room. That at least saved me some extra clean-up work. The first puppy was born just before midnight, and almost like clockwork they came out at 1-hour intervals. Only puppy number 6 was a little problematic. The sac was broken, and I saw the tail coming out, but before I could get hold of the puppy it went back up into the track. So, I decided to give Jaci a small dose of Oxytocin. It was at a time when that posed no danger to her or the pup. It worked, and the puppy came out alive. Number 7 followed 30 minutes later.

Jaci is a Mom on the move. If you have seen any of my videos of her playing, she is always the first of my dogs to retrieve the chuckit ball, and she can outrun all the other dogs. That characteristic doesn’t go away in the whelping pen. She often moves the whelping pool away from the wall so she can circulate around the outside of the pool in addition to nursing and cleaning the pups normally in the pool. After the whelping process is finished it takes her some time to settle down into calm Mom mode. This time she was moving the puppies around a little frantically, so we decided to mask her for a few hours to let her settle down.

By Thursday evening I thought she was doing fine, but to be sure we kept the mask on overnight. The next day we took it off, and I asked Dave Bentley to watch her and if he heard any puppies crying to check in on the situation and put the mask back on if needed. Dave is our kennel attendant, and he does a super job keeping the kennel clean. He helps out with many other tasks as well. What happened that morning was amazing. Unfortunately, we did not get it on video.

            While Dave was outside cleaning Jaci’s pen he heard a pup cry. Each pen has a small window to allow for observation either from the inside out or the outside in. So, he looked in the window and saw Jaci with a pup in her mouth, and she was circling around the outside of the pool, as she is wont to do. When the pup stopped crying, she got back into the pool and put the pup down. Another pup cried and she did the same thing. Picked up the pup in her mouth and circled around outside the pool until the pup stopped crying. When it stopped crying she put it back down in the pool. In both cases, the pups immediately began nursing when back in the pool. When Dave told me about this he remarked that humans do the same thing. They can take a crying child up and caress it, walk with it, or even take it for a ride in the car.  Jaci caused no injury to the pups at all.

            Now the pups are a couple of weeks old. They are all doing well and growing normally. I’m keeping a close eye on one of the boys. Jaci had two boys and five girls. The sire was Kahn, and we would love to have a male pup from this litter grow up to be the new Kahn.  Keep a good thought that this happens. My Kahn is now 9 years old, so we know we don’t have a lot of time to plan for his successor.

            I don’t usually do this, but maybe some of you have names you’d like to suggest for the new Kahn.  The only stipulation is that the name has to begin with an F, since this is litter F-22. Obviously, we make the final decision, but input would be great.

            Jaci spends the first 4 weeks with her pups, and then they are weaned from her. However, this time, rather than returning to me, she will become Sister Cecelia’s dog and so she will move down to the Nuns of New Skete Monastery. Her new pal there will be Jessie, and I am sure they will be great playmates and good companions for the sisters. Kahn, Shems, and the pup will be keeping me occupied

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How to Make Friends in Just Three Days

By Ida Williams, Director of Marketing and Communications

How do you make new friends in just three days? 

1. Use the enticement of dogs.

2. Engage with the mystique of the Monks of New Skete. 

3. Indulge with monastic hospitality.

That is what happened this past weekend at New Skete’s The Art of Living with Your Dog Seminar.   Twenty-eight guests, dubbed the Storm Troopers,* left on Sunday afternoon sharing hugs, email addresses, and a few tears.  (Oh, wait.  The tears were mine.)

The first thing we all had in common is dogs.  The guests love dogs, the brothers love dogs, the staff and volunteers love dogs.  What were we talking about?  Oh, yeah, DOGS.  Photos of dogs were shown on smartphones, and dog stories were shared.   There were dogs in the classroom, dogs being trained in the room next to the classroom, dogs lying next to our feet while we ate lunch under cover of a tent, and eight puppies in the puppy kennel.  So the dogs are definitely the ice breakers when making these new friends.

Then there are these mysterious monks who live and care for these dogs.  They have written books about dogs, raised hundreds of dogs, and trained thousands of them.

What is their deep connection to creation, demonstrated in their knowledge of dogs and how they live their lives with them?  What is the spiritual connection they seem to have with their canine companions?  Will they really share this information, their secrets?  Yes!

Brother Marc started the weekend with a talk about the beginning of New Skete and the introduction of their first German Shepherd to the monastery.   Brother Luke divulged that before coming to New Skete he had no interaction with dogs and was, in fact, a little afraid of them.  Today he is the director of the breeding program.  He then went on to describe how the monks socialize puppies so that when they go to their new families, they have been exposed to different experiences and stimuli.  Not only did the attendees hear about socializing puppies, there was a demonstration with two puppies with very different personalities, and handouts to take home.  Brother Christopher tied the entire seminar together with these topics: “How to Live Intentionally with Your Dog and Have the Dog of Your Dreams” and “The Spiritual Dimension in the Human/Dog Relationship.” 

In a round-table discussion dealing with dog behaviors, guests shared their problems and solutions.   Another round-table topic was balancing work, family, and dog.  In this forum, the guests exchanged information on finding a good doggie day care, whether dog parks are a good option, and setting boundaries within your life in order to strike the balance you need to have a great companion.   The conversation turned to the heartache of losing our beloved canine friends.  This is one topic we all have experience in.

To host a seminar at the monastery, the brothers must open their home.  Meals are shared, recipes exchanged.  Laughter is heard and conversations had.  Tours are given and selfies made.  Relationships are formed and relationships renewed.  Hugs and thanks are given and hugs and thanks received.  One new friend wrote this on Facebook:

DEEPENING OUR RELATIONSHIPS - We encourage individuals, couples and families to attend the 3-day program on "The Art of Living with Your Dog" with the Monks of New Skete. Highlights include a deep dive on meaningful relationships, proven training methods by the Monks of New Skete that will help you, your family, and pets become AMAZING companions that you can be for each other.
Deb and I departed better people, a better couple, and better listeners for our family and our furry friends.
Big thanks to my wife Deb for leading the way and to the Monks (and staff) of New Skete for the great work that you do for both people and our furry friends.”

*Thursday night a storm caused widespread power outages.  The monastery, guesthouse, and surrounding area were without power for over twenty hours.   

Ascension: A Crowning Glory

A homily by Brother Marc
Isaiah 2:1-5; Acts 1:1-12; Luke 24:36-53

When I try to feel what the followers of Jesus must have felt at the death of Jesus, I am thrown back onto my old memories of dispiriting situations.
When my mother’s father was living with us after my grandmother died in December 1950, he never spoke to us about his service as a soldier fighting with the Austro-Hungarian armies. Now he was particularly isolated with those experiences, living in the United States, no longer in his own home, with his wife gone, away from buddies who spoke the same language and could understand how it was fighting in North Africa. He spent a lot of time sitting outdoors gazing over the large meadows and broad horizons where we lived. Of course we tried to understand and were sympathetic; we were especially intrigued to learn of the bullet wound in his shoulder, physical proof he had really been there. He let me have his only souvenir from World War I: his old enamel-coated water canteen, shaped like a large flask, with its canvas carrying pouch.
My grandfather died peacefully as we stood around him waiting and praying.
I can just picture the gospel situation of the disciples, long after the original dislocation of being called to follow Jesus, having traveled back and forth on country roads with him for three years, being confronted with the trauma of the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial—but now receiving the unimaginable shock of the resurrection. I can hear them begin to come back to life themselves, babbling about the future, wondering when Israel’s time will come, and asking endless questions about what this all meant, barely waiting to hear the answers. I wonder how much they and Jesus were able to reflect on the recent past. Did they think or feel, as they might have a few months earlier, that these present moments might be the greatest moment of their lives? Or were they much more sober, scared but excited, self-conscious with guilt, but wiser? Amazingly, they were still all together, though some had to continue as fishermen.
Jesus must have told them what had happened to him. He instructed them and answered their questions. They would not have the time-line for a messianic restoration. He showed them his vision of the future. He blessed them. The he reassured them and left them once again, but on much different terms this time.
These apostles needed to reach a deeper self-respect and healing. Those forty days from the Resurrection to the Ascension seem to have been like an extended and intense retreat for them. It served as a preparation, but not quite a training, for what lay ahead.
This was a pivotal time for learning who they were, what they were, where they stood in the grand scheme of things. It was also a crucial time for Jesus, to fully demonstrate to them and to Israel, to those who heard the gospel and to the world, his true and eternal stature in the eyes of God.
They were to be the shoots of a new world, time, creation, humanity, relationship with God. Most importantly, they were assured that this was all in fulfillment of the Mosaic Law, the prophets, and the psalms. The scriptures would be a witness for them and continue to give them an authentic way to understand and talk about the reality of Christ and the true meaning of messiah.
Jesus told them to stay, pray, and wait. They were not yet able to appear in public. He promised soon to send the Advocate, counselor, and consoler to empower them for a new mission. They would be given the confidence and the authority they needed.
This Ascension, he said, and my physically leaving you, is the crucial moment to set things aright. You will inherit the 12 judgment seats of Israel, you will tell all about me to every nation starting here, and bring the message of survival and salvation in the face of what is coming. I am going to take up my position in heaven, and today is the authentic revelation and confirmation of who I am in eternity. My work was completed on the cross, and today this will all be fulfilled before your very eyes and in your hearing. Tell everyone what you see.

For now, first of all wait and pray together; that is where you will continue to find me, until I return as I am now.