Tuesday, May 15, 2007

On the Coast of Paradise

For the past ten days, Krista and I have been meandering. We went to BC, for my parents' 40th Anniversary, and then out to Victoria for the wedding of our close friends Mira and Matthew. It is a 12 hour drive, and every time I am amazed by the topography and the verdant green of the Fraser Valley. To me, it is what it means to be returning home. I drink in that green, so distinct from the beige prairies of Alberta.

We were honoured to serve as sponsors for the Bride and Groom, a deep and humbling task in the Orthodox Church, which entails not only holding the candles at their Crowning, but undertaking spiritually for their marriage from that day forever. They are really authentic people, and we got to share this immensely holy, harrowing week with them.

As part of our preparation, Matthew and I made a brief overnight trip to the Hermitage of the Holy Transfiguration on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. Founded by Father Gregory Papazian in Quebec in 1977, this community was relocated to the Sunshine Coast around 2000. This hermitage truly belongs to another realm, that of the eternal kingdom, and yet is entirely rooted in this world, in the Creation, the arena of the Incarnation. I won't attempt to capture anything that the monks told me there, because (as you can probably understand) they don't really like to have their words pasted all over the internet. I will say simply that we had many free and full conversations, and meeting Fr. Gregory, Fr. Deacon Samuel, and Brother Moses, was a like a sort of reunion for me. (Not in any sort of strange or mystical way, but simply in the warm, unassuming, and down-to-earth way they showed their hospitality). Matthew D. had been there several times before and was well known to the monks. But very quickly, I discovered that we knew so many people in common that meeting them felt like meeting family.

So I will simply show some pictures and share some of my experience of being there on their 'Mount Tabor.' Click on any image for a larger view.

The hermitage is located on the Sunshine Coast of BC, accessible only by ferry from the Vancouver area. We drove country roads for about ten minutes to reach the access path to the skete. The land was donated by an Orthodox couple, for whom the monks spent nearly a year constructing this beautiful home.

Below their benefactor's house is the hermitage itself, built of squared logs with dovetail joinery. In the foreground you can see the outdoor bread oven and the fence of the monastery garden. The entry porch on the left leads into the front hall and directly into the chapel.

Here are the monks themselves, from left to right: Fr. Deacon ("just call me 'brother') Samuel, Brother Moses (I understand according to his monastic vows he would normally also be called "father," but prefers "brother" too, and the Father of the house, Igumen Gregory, a monk of the Great Schema. I think this picture well captures their good humour.

As it turned out, Brother Samuel knew Krista's family from back in Saskatoon. He took a Ukrainian course with Krista's mom, and was encouraged in his vocation by a specific sermon of Fr. Phillip's. As well, Krista had met Brother Moses several years back, just before he decided to become a monk. Br. Samuel, from what I gather, runs the candle factory, and Br. Moses is a gifted iconographer and wood carver. Matthew and I brought several boxes of used beeswax candle stubs from St. Herman's in Edmonton, which the monks will recycle into new candles. (They made the originals too).

We arrived about 5:30pm on Wednesday evening, and Fr. Gregory invited us to sit down and relax for a while. Here you can see Tristan the cat, Matthew, and Fr. Gregory.

Another angle of the main sitting area. The interior of the hermitage is coated with a simple whitewash. Everything is very clean and simple. There is a slight fragrance of herbs. The night was bright and warm, with a refreshing breeze.
Br. Moses prepared supper while we visited. Actually, in this picture he's saying "oh, if you're going to take my picture I better pretend to be cooking."

After a while, we moved around the corner into the small chapel for Vespers, which began with the percussive call of the simandron and the bells. Matthew and I joined in the singing. It was ever-familiar Obikhod chant, led by Deacon Samuel's clear tenor voice. But somehow it sounded fresh. Beautiful. Then this amazing event. At the end of Vespers, while still singing, bread was brought out from the altar area, and was carried to the dining table - all carefully laden with our evening meal (their one main meal of the day). This act connecting the worship of the temple to the sustenance around the table struck me as being totally organic and deeply Christian. Our meal was a delicious soup, served with qinoa, the monastery bread, and some zesty feta. So good. We talked amiably over dinner, and many stories were shared. The monks asked me about my life and I shared my story. We drank some herbal tea, and soon, it was time for evening prayers, concluding with the beautiful setting of "Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride." Fr. Gregory anointed us, and we were bidden "a peaceful night."

It was 8:30pm. Deacon Samuel had given me his upstairs room for the night. I asked him what the schedule would be. He said that he would sound the simandron at 2am, which was usually the beginning of the quiet hours of prayer in the rooms. At four, he would sound it again for Matins. I took a few pictures, and tucked into the small bed which was prepared for me.

Brother Samuel's prayer corner at two-ish in the morning.

I came across this photo of Saint Olga of Alaska upstairs on the bookshelf.

Matins ended around 5:15am, and Fr. Gregory showed me around a little bit, including his cell, where he spends the first week of each month in quiet. The monks made Matthew and I some delicious porridge with butter and brown sugar, and we also drank some cocoa, which they drink bitter, but insisted upon sweetening for us. The conversation was inspiring, and very helpful to both Matthew and I. We boarded the 8:15am ferry back to Horseshoe Bay. Of course, this only skims the surface. Brother Moses had assured me that "this ain't Mt. Athos," and that I should feel free to bring Krista to visit next time. I am looking forward to it.


Blogger Eric said...

Sounds magnificent. I love the feel of a monastery.

God bless your friends and their marriage.

11:05 PM  
Blogger Jay and Milissa Ewing said...

What a beautiful experience Matt. I am happy you had a chance to go to the monastery. It was good to see you and Krista here in Vancouver.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

So good to see you guys too. I was telling Krista on our drive home what a blessing it was to get to spend that Sunday afternoon/evening at your place. Thanks!

8:48 AM  
Blogger Maximus Daniel said...

saw that youre still working through Bulgakov eh?

5:27 PM  
Blogger kimberley francis said...

thanks for your stories matt.

each trip there is certainly a personal one. i will never forget mine. ;) ha ha.

yeah it's a pretty special gift those monk pour into the lives of those who come (interrupting their quiet) they kind of pour peacefulness in.

i didn't meet tristan. i will look for him one time, many years down the road.

6:44 PM  
Blogger nehamashira said...

Those pictures of the hermitage are so neat...there is one with a menorah in it that reminds me of the great Synagogue in Jerusalem. Of course, that should not be at all surprising. It was such a pleasure to have you with us.

11:56 PM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

Thanks so much. It was so good to finally meet you.

7:21 AM  
Blogger matthew christopher davidson said...

Dear Matthew,

Thank you for posting these pictures and providing such a wonderful recap of our time at the hermitage, and of course for your kind words about the wedding. And of course once again thank you for your consummate presence in that "holy, harrowing week."

8:15 AM  

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