Category Archives: monasteries

We shake the monastery olives.

The nuns at a nearby monastery needed some help with their yard work. We didn’t know anything more specific, or that there would be some sadness involved, when Mr. Glad and I signed up to be on the crew for a Saturday work session. I had gardened here one spring day a couple of years ago and was looking forward to another chance to visit, this time doing fallish tasks.

What a bright and shining day it was, too, as we drove over the hill. Recent rains had washed all the earth and air, and high winds pretty much shook them out to dry. The humidity was only 10%.

When the head gardener Sister Xenia led our team of five to the clump of olive trees we saw that they were loaded with black fruit.

Then came the bad news: All of this harvest could not be used in any way, because it was infested with Mediterranean fruit flies. The trees needed to be stripped of olives, and the fruit that had fallen on the ground must be raked and swept up, and all of it taken to the dump.

In a month or two an arborist will prune the trees and some kind of spray will be used to inhibit the growth the the flies next spring. Whether there is hope of them being controlled in one year’s time I don’t know.

The olives were no good, not even the fat and shiny ones that were hanging on these lovely silvery trees with the light shimmering through.

So the men shook the trees and brought showers of fruit down on our heads. Mr. Glad climbed on the roof of a little house to reach higher branches of one tree, and then he climbed into the tree itself.

You can see olives on the ground in the shade.

Rosebushes that had grown leggy in the shade were snagging the guys when they were stretching up to shake and pick, so I ended up spending the first hour pruning the canes out of the way.

Bright orange fruit hung from the nearly bare branches of a Fuyu persimmon tree, the variety that is crunchy when ripe, and never puckery. At least this tree was healthy, and that was some consolation for the olive disaster.

We picked and pruned that tree, and Sister Xenia encouraged us to take some persimmons home, so I tucked a few into my gardening tote and am planning to use them like apples in baking.

Before we knew it, our work party was coming to an end, and we had been invited to eat the midday meal with the sisters.

Dining room all ready

But first there were prayers of the Sixth Hour, in the monastery chapel, and a few minutes of leisure for walking around the grounds.

I had been anticipating seeing the elegant koi again, and they did not disappoint. We found them gliding soundlessly in their long deep pond, swimming close for a few moments when I leaned over with my camera, until they sensed they weren’t getting any food from us. A father and son were visiting them too, and happily chatting in Russian.

The monastery has a nice set of bells under a shake roof, with benches to sit on when the bells aren’t being rung. They were used to announce the hour of prayer, but for the call to dinner Sister Marguerite walked all around the property shaking a little hand bell to ring a daintier and less commanding message.

The small amount of work we did seemed a puny offering considering all that we received by spending a few hours at the monastery. We were well fed with the most delicious fasting meal I’ve ever had, and we went home with armfuls of persimmons, having soaked up quite a lot of love and peace.

Of course I want to go back soon.

Feasting in Time and Timelessness

Seeing as how I was determined to bask restfully in the light of Christmas for another week or so, attending the local monastery for a midweek communion service seemed the perfect sort of activity. The Body and Blood of the Savior is the best food, one of the limitless Holy Mysteries God has given for our life and salvation.

At the monastery they are on the Old Calendar, so the Nativity Feast is still more than a week in the future. But our parish church, to which they are attached, is New Calendar, and we are all used to the differing dates for these feasts and commemorations. The nuns are happy to greet us general parish folk with “Christ is born!” even though they are waiting a bit longer to say it among themselves. And we are happy to step back thirteen days and be with them in the Lord who is timeless.

My godmother sent me an online Advent calendar, which I opened on December 24th or so. She said the Nativity is timeless. And I got that feeling during my visit among the mixed calendarists. As Father Stephen says here, “He is the Feast of Feasts,” and the substance of our faith, no matter what age we live in. I’m glad I happened to see Fr. Stephen’s blog before publishing my little report on the monastery visit, because he says so many things clearly that I barely grasp with my mind, but am experiencing in the Church.

Like this:

To speak of ourselves as living “in-between” [the Resurrection and the Second Coming] is to place history in the primary position, relegating the Kingdom of God to a lower status. It is the essence of secularism. The Kingdom of God is not denied – it is simply placed beyond our reach (as we are placed beyond its reach). The Kingdom, like God Himself, is reduced to an idea.

Living “in-between” is part of the loneliness and alienation of the modern Christian. Things are merely things, time is inexorable and impenetrable. There is an anxiety that accompanies all of this that is marked by doubt, argument and opinion. Faith is directed towards things past or things that have not yet happened.

….

In earlier postings on faith, I have noted that faith is more than an intellectual or volitional exercise. It is an actual participation (koinonia) with the object (or subject) of faith.

In the Eucharist we all were partaking of Him Who is our Faith, and were experiencing in Him the Nativity, the Cross, the Resurrection, the Second Coming — our whole salvation history — even as we know that at the level of earthly time, the Second Coming is still ahead. That is definitely a Mystery.

After the service many of us pilgrims stayed for a lenten lunch. I remarked about some bright orange squash on the sideboard and the nuns told me how it volunteered itself in service to them last summer. Ordinarily they like to have a big garden, but not many young women live there and it is increasingly hard for the community to do the physical work; this year they didn’t get much planted, though they have plenty of space.

Behold, a squash plant sprouted and spread its vines vast and wide, bearing several giant fruits, which we agreed look like a cross between a Hubbard and a Butternut. For the meal they cooked part of one, and then split another open to send pieces home with several of us. I started this blog post mostly to tell about the amazing squash, but I got carried away as is common.

Last week Kate made a wonderful Curried Butternut Squash Bisque the day after she flew in for the holidays. I might cook it again with this blessed squash — it was very tasty served plain — and if I do, I’ll post the recipe.

Christ is born!