I’m finally back home, after wandering about slack jawed around parts of California. It was a very fine trip. I’m happy that I managed to maintain my focus, more or less. If I wasn’t out strolling about, I steadfastly kept the television off, and spent my spare time reading. I was, of course, utterly shameless in that department. I returned with so many books that the airplane almost did not get off the ground. The economy of San Francisco took a major boost from my visit, I’m here to tell you.
I could post all of my pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge, but I suspect everyone already has a few of that kind of thing. But I did get some nice pictures of St. Herman’s Monastery near Platina. Even accounting for the plywood and foam eggcrate beds, I wish I had another day or two to spend up there. The monks were serious yet personable. Seeing my frantic gulping of coffee after five hours in services, Father Nicodemus slid down the bench to sit next to me and whispered that he sympathized entirely, that he had been drinking coffee since he was eleven. The Abbot, Father Gerasim, took time out of a very busy day to sit and talk with me and later, after the evening meal, we took a walk down the road.
At the present time, there seemed to be eight monks at the monastery. They have another four on Spruce Island off the Alaska coast, and have a skete for nuns, St. Xenia, about eight miles away from St. Herman. For those unfamiliar with these monastics, their avowed purpose is to live a desert life. By that, they mean that they are following in the footsteps of the first great monastic movement, in the deserts of Egypt in the fourth century. This tradition has continued in the Orthodox Church ever since, the latest significant flowering being in the vast wilderness of Northern Russia from the 17th century until the Revolution. As such, there is no electricity, no telephone, no modern conveniences to speak of at Platina or at St. Xenia’s. The surrounding woods are home to rattlesnakes, bear, mountain lions and the odd scorpion. The cells are tiny, consisting of little more than a board bed, a desk and an icon corner. They are up for services starting at 4:30 a.m. and then are more or less constantly active, either with physical labor, obediences or prayer, until compline ends around 8:30 p.m. While I was there, it was brutally hot, probably close to 100 degrees there on top of the mountain. The monks, wearing cassocks and cowls, were suffering terribly, but without complaint. They are, for all intents and purposes, dead to the world.
In any event, these are some pictures from the monastery.
Entrance to St. Herman’s Monastery
Some of the original buildings. The part with the high roof was all that was there when the first monastics moved on the property, and it was nothing more than a hunter’s lean to. The other parts were built on over the years, including the small chapel dedicated to the Royal Martyrs of Russia, which is the portion to the right of the original building.
The interior of the Chapel of the Royal Martyrs.
The exterior of the main church and the refectory, glimpsed through the woods. They are fairly impressive structures, and were built by the monks.
The interior of the main church. It is very beautiful inside.
The interior of what the monks call the winter chapel. It is below the main church, and is partly underground. It is very small, and easier to warm in the cold of winter.
Additional photographs may be found here.