NEW YORK - This week, from November 3 - 5, His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America has been meeting at the Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery in Kendalia, Texas. The leaders and representatives of twelve recently founded monastic communities, whose witness continues the 1,100 year tradition of Mt. Athos, gathered in Kendalia for the festivities. In Kendalia, the Archbishop officiated at the Thyranoixia, the Opening of the Doors of the Monastic Church, which was constructed on the site of an abandoned mosque. He also enthroned the newly-elected Abbot of the Monastery, Father Dositheos. In services on Wednesday and Thursday, the Archbishop ordained two deacons and two priests. Finally, in a private meeting with the heads of the monastic communities, he presented the framework of a proposed charter that will serve to establish Orthodox Monastic practice in America in continuity with the ancient tradition of Mount Athos. Along with monastics from both male and female institutions, over 800 visitors and guests attended the three day festivities surrounding the official opening of the main church edifice.
That Orthodox Christianity can sustain a burgeoning monastic tradition, even as it struggles through a variety of evolutionary pains, is a testament to the flexibility of an ancient and rigorous practice. The diversity and multicultural cacophony of American religious and cultural life has become a most promising vineyard for the most traditional forms of Christian witness. It is about the accommodations that the spiritual life can make to the complexities of American culture, that make it possible for it to reside comfortably in the heart of American Protestant culture.
The Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery in Kendalia is a living reminder of the complexity and flexibility of American culture. The complex had been a Sufi Muslim retreat center which closed in 1983. Remaining behind is a Muslim cemetery which the monks have pledged to tend in reverence to the those buried there. Muslims of Turkish, Arabic, Iraqi and Iranian origin repose in peace and safety on the monastery grounds. Their relatives return from time to time to pay their respect to their relations and a debt of gratitude to the Monks who care for them.
Following in the footsteps of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who visited the Monastery of St. Anthony in the Desert in Florence, Arizona, Archbishop Spyridon admonished the monastics concerning their role in the Church and in the larger American Society.
Imagine, my brothers and sisters, just what is happening here. You are a model of life lived in the Lord. Monastic life is a search for God. Monastic life is being present to God. Monastic life is the anticipation of God - it is the eschatological life of the age to come lived out in the current age. Monks at peace with one another are a source of peace for the entire world. The peace and serenity of your communal life will impress upon the world the truth of Christ's love. The things you accomplish here are not the result of misguided choices by fanatics, nor are they the syncretistic eclecticism of arbitrary values, but they are grounded in the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.
The Archbishop also presented to the assembled abbots and abbesses of the monasteries around the United States, the Charter proposed by the Holy Eparchial Synod. This Charter would serve as a constitutional framework for the monasteries that exist now, and for any monasteries formed in the future. The Archbishop also affirmed that the tradition and Typikon of Mt. Athos, which has inspired monasticism throughout the Orthodox world for centuries, must remain the standard for American monasticism. This is all the more appropriate when one considers that Mt. Athos, like the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, is under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.