By the dawn of the 20th century, Orthodox Christianity had been established on the North American continent for well over a century. Monasticism being indispensable for the healthy nourishing of an Orthodox Church, it was inevitable from the beginnings of Orthodoxy in America that a time would come when this form of spiritual endeavor would come into bloom.
The idea of founding a monastery in America was primarily that of the young Hieromonk Arseny (Chagovtsev), the future Archbishop Arseny of Winnipeg. Father Arseny had arrived in America only in 1902, and was rector of St. John the Baptist parish in Mayfield, Pa. His thought was that part of the monastery's function would be to serve as a "mother house" for the monastics serving as clergy in the Orthodox North American mission. He felt that the monks doing this work needed a monastery in which to be "acclimatized" to the American situation and where they could return periodically for spiritual renewal.
The prospect was promoted by Fr. Arseny at every opportunity. Others took up the idea and as early as 1903, there appeared in the church newspaper, Russian Orthodox American Messenger (Russian title, Amerikanskii Pravoslavnyi Vestnik) an article written by Fr. Alexander Nemolovsky (later Bishop Alexander) in which he not only endorsed the idea of the necessity of founding a monastery in Pennsylvania, but also the notion that a theological seminary should also be attached to such a monastery. With prophetic insight, Fr. Alexander wrote that "certainly a few monks with higher theological education could be found for this monastery, who would become professors of a pastoral seminary. For this, it seems, one could not find a more suitable place. Maintenance would be cheaper and the pupils would be shielded from temptations. Here the site itself of a seminary would find them immersed in studies and not distracted by exterior things."
The idea continued to gather substance, and an opportunity for more concrete action came on May 15, 1905, at the Sixth Convention of the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual-Aid Society (ROCMAS) in Cleveland, Ohio. Discussion centered on the necessity of opening an orphan's home for the orphaned children of Russian people in America. The consensus of the convention was that this be done and motions were made to that effect. Thus the origins of the monastery are to be found alike in love for God and and love for neighbor.
Hieromonk Arseny was a delegate to this convention, and he further moved that a monastery be founded in connection with the orphanage, on a farm not far from Mayfield, in an area of northeastern Pennsylvania where Orthodox Rusyns had begun to settle. A committee was formed, consisting of Archpriest (now canonized as Priest-martyr) Alexander Hotovitsky, Hieromonk Arseny, Fr. Jason Kappanadze, and the laymen Theodore Bachna from Mayfield and Luka Thier from Wilkes-Barre.
Eleven days after the convention, Archbishop Tikhon and Fr. Arseny visited prospective sites for the new monastery and orphanage. Fr. Arseny wrote about their mission in the Messenger.
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Both of the horse-and-carriage journeys just described by Fr. Arseny involved crossing the Moosic Mountains, a ridge marking the southern edge of the Lackawanna Valley, home to the Mayfield parish and other Orthodox parishes. The first journey took them over a well travelled road from Carbondale to where the farmers had their chapel; the second journey, undertaken from Mayfield to South Canaan was, as Fr. Arseny noted, a shorter, "more convenient commute" route, but it was a back road or path over the mountain, not shown on maps in its entirety either then or now. This was the route utilized by many early pilgrims to the monastery, including those coming for the July 31 dedication of the grounds; it also would be used by Fr. Arseny to commute from his rectory in Mayfield to the monastery and orphan home.
Immediately after the two journeys by St. Tikhon and Fr. Arseny, Fr. Arseny penned a memorandum to the Archbishop concerning their mission. The land they had decided to purchase was the farm of E. Wagner, located in South Canaan Township in western Wayne County, in the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania. St. Tikhon inserted his official resolution near the top of the report, dated May 31, 1905. He also donated $100 of his own funds to the project (this was in addition to $50 he had given at the convention in Cleveland toward the Orphan's Home) and appointed Fr. Arseny as project organizer. The combined Report appeared in the Messenger (Vestnik).
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Shortly thereafter St. Tikhon gave a further $1000 -- $500 for the monastery and $500 for the home. Fr. Arseny also donated $300, and four of his parishioners from Mayfield donated $700 -- Clement Buranich, $300; Kirill Kellichowa, $200; Kirill Stavitsky, $200; and Andrew Sisak, $100.
Not only for the purchase of the land, but for all their labors in bringing about the establishment of the holy monastery, the honor of being the cofounders belongs to them, to Father Arseny for generally conceiving the idea and promoting it, finding the land, and doing most of the on-site work; and to Archbishop Tikhon for providing the endeavor with the necessary episcopal oversight, embracing moral and spiritual leadership, vision, support, and guidance, along with financial support; later on, for crowning the work with the prayers of consecration and by appointing appropriate leadership to govern the holy community. Thus the two men -- their zeal and farsighted vision cooperating with divine grace at every step -- were able to turn dream into reality for the Orthodox Church in America.
The formal purchase, concluded June 26, 1905 for the sum of $2580, was executed in the names of Archbishop Tikhon and Hieromonk Arseny. Shortly afterwards, in his joy at this milestone and realizing its significance, Fr. Arseny wrote to Fr. Alexander Hotovitsky, the editor of the Messenger
, reporting on the purchase of the land. His letter appeared in the Messenger
accompanied by an article about the new orphanage, which he had had printed in the newspaper Svet
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While Fr. Arseny wrote "Rejoice!" in his letter to St. Alexander, the achievement involved trials and obstacles as well, to be overcome by the combined efforts of God and his servants. Fr. Arseny told of both the joys and difficulties in an article titled "Beginning of Joy." In the article he relates how he had occasion to take a stroll through the grounds shortly before their dedication by St. Raphael of Brooklyn on July 31, 1905, and he describes his thoughts and musings regarding the purpose of the soon-to-be monastery and orphanage. His reflections reveal how he indeed rejoiced in the selected site, and also provide insights on monasticism as a milieu in which to recover the proper communion between man and the natural world that God created.
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Clearly Father Arseny envisioned a monastic community in the classical sense, embodying the highest monastic ideals of prayer and spiritual struggle, which could only be of supreme value to the fledgling Orthodox mission in America and its faithful. And quickly he began to see the realization of his hopes and aspirations: for very soon after the purchase of the land, the first monks took up residence on the property and instituted monastic life. An orphan's home (orphanage) was also opened. There being at first no monastery church or residence, an existing frame house was used as a residence for the orphans, with a hallway serving as a makeshift chapel.
The dedication of the new monastery/orphanage grounds and celebrating the first Divine Liturgy on the site were scheduled for Monday, July 31, 1905, which would be the first monastery pilgrimage. Since Father Arseny was the pastor of the St. John the Baptist parish in Mayfield, several of whose parishioners were generous in their support of the monastery project, it was natural for the parish to be involved in the proceedings. Accordingly, the festivities began two days earlier, on Saturday, July 29, with the arrival in Mayfield of Bishop (Saint) Raphael of Brooklyn, Auxiliary to Archbishop Tikhon. Bp. Raphael, only recently consecrated to the episcopacy, was to perform the services at the monastery as well. His arrival at Mayfield occasioned a warm welcome by Russians from area parishes: "It seemed that the population of the entire valley had gathered at St. John's parish for an unprecedented festive occasion."
"At the request of Fr. Hieromonk Arseny, the rector of the Mayfield parish, His Grace Raphael arrived at 8:00 p.m., on Saturday, July 29, in Mayfield, order to celebrate a hierarchical service on the eve of the festival. His Grace Vladika was met at the railroad station by Fr. Arseny and his parishioners while the Mayfield [parish] orchestra played stirring music as the train pulled into the station. Four brotherhoods stood in parade dress, and the captains of the brotherhoods stood with drawn sabres in two rows alongside the carriage in which sat His Grace Vladika, Fr. Arseny and Fr. Elias Klopotovsky who had met Vladika in Scranton and accompanied him to Mayfield. The festive procession proceeded to the church along the street which was lined with Russian people who, greeting him, received continual Archpastoral blessings. At the church the school children greeted Vladika along with the people carrying crosses and church banners. At the porch of the church Fr. Alexander Bogoslavsky [of Simpson] presented the holy cross for veneration. Having been vested in mantya, Vladika proceeded into the church, which was brightly illumined by candles and filled to overflowing with people." Having venerated the holy icons, St. Raphael listened to the complimentary greeting of Fr. Arseny, which began: "'Your Grace, Right Reverend Master! The flock in Mayfield is fortunate to greet you joyously this day of your arrival in our midst. We have not yet recovered from the feelings of joy we experienced at the recent visit of our first hierarch, Archbishop Tikhon, and now the Lord has given us this opportunity to receive and greet with proper festivity Your Grace, and once again to see a hierarch and to hear the celebration of the hierarchical service. You have come to us as the first hierarch of the Syro-Arab Church in America, in order to share with the Russian people the joy of the opening of the orphanage and the establishment of the holy community . . .'
Bishop Raphael's reply, delivered in Russian, expressed his joy and gratitude that so soon after joining the episcopal rank, he was given the opportunity to be the representative of Archbishop Tikhon at such a great moment in the life of the Orthodox Church in America, to "'bless the ground on which shall be built a holy monastery, which land was acquired by your efforts, which deserve the highest praise, and the generous donations of your pious parishioners.' . . ."
"After this vespers began, during which Bishop Raphael prayed in the altar. After vespers, having given his archpastoral blessing with the veneration of the cross, Vladiko retired to the parish house for the night." The next day, Bishop Raphael presided at the Sunday matins and Divine Liturgy in the Mayfield Church, assisted by Fr. Arseny, who preached a sermon on the theme of the Paralytic, and spoke of the great Christian spirit of charity which prompted the organization of the new monastery and orphan's home. After a meal in the parish home, His Grace Bishop Raphael and Hieromonk Arseny left for South Canaan and the scene of the upcoming festivities. They journed from Mayfield to the monastery/orphanage grounds by horse and carriage, crossing over the mountain, just as St. Tikhon and Fr. Arseny had two months earlier. And, like them, St. Raphael felt similarly captivated by the natural beauty he observed, as Fr. Arseny later related in his account of their journey that afternoon and the subsequent events:
"At three o'clock [we] left in a carriage for the farm which from this day on receives the name of 'monastery.' Along the way, taking no regard for the falling rain, Vladika, with delight, fell in love with the wonders of nature and the fruit orchards, extending his archpastoral blessing, not just on the people living there, who were found to be greeting him, but also the soulless nature. At six o'clock in the evening we arrived at the Orphan's Home. At the home flags were waving and garlands made of living blossoms had been woven by the zealous neighboring Russians. On the porch of the home, the Nun Maria, who was administering the Orphanage, greeted His Grace Vladika, and led the orphans to him for his blessing. Having examined the Home and resting a while after the journey, Vladika made preparations for the vigil, which was celebrated in a hallway which had been prepared into a chapel and adapted for the celebration of services. This was at about eight o'clock in the evening. In the hallway-chapel a gathering of Russian farmers and a few Americans began to come in. I vested in mantiya and klobuk and went out to Vladika to announce that the time [to begin] had arrived. Vladika entered into our modest little church, made a reverence before the icons and took his place in the tiny sanctuary. The bishop gave the blessing for the celebration of the service.
"Standing before the holy table with the censer in my hands, I exclaimed, 'Arise.' My heart trembled with unspeakable joy. 'To whom,' I thought, 'is this exclamation, "arise," directed? The few people here are already standing. To whom is my exclamation directed? To the forest and the leafy trees,' I answered mentally, 'to the animals and feathered birds, inhabitants of the nature which surrounds us; that they, together with all the people and the future inhabitants of the holy monastery, might offer up 'Glory to the Holy Consubstantial, and undivided Trinity.'" Trembling seized my body anew when my lips, instead of the usual, 'for this holy temple,' uttered 'for this holy habitation.' The service being celebrated was for St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. Vladika came out for the blessing of the loaves, and at the end of the vigil, all those who were praying there were anointed with holy oil.
"On the next day [July 31], at eight o'clock in the morning, matins was celebrated for the sake of the first people arriving from Mayfield, and after the matins, the order for the blessing of a home was performed. Then, something remarkable occurred. When they sang the troparion [for the blessing of a home], 'As salvation came to the house of Zacchaeus at your entrance, O Christ,' the carriage arrived from the train station carrying Fr. Alexander Hotovitsky, Fr. Elias Zotikoff, Fr. Elias Klopotovsky and Fr. Basil Rubinsky, who entered the home at the words of the troparion, 'likewise now by the entrance of your sacred ministers, and your holy angels with them, grant your peace to this house . . .' "
With the arrival of Archpriest Alexander Hotovitsky, the editor of the church newspaper and future holy hieromartyr, Fr. Arseny ends his reporting of the day's events, leaving it to Fr. Alexander to finish the account. He closes by mentioning that St. (Archbishop) Tikhon sent a telegram to mark the joyful occasion: "I congratulate [you] with this celebration. May God, who has begun this holy work, bring it to completion."
In his article in the Messenger titled "At St. Tikhon's Monastery," St. Alexander describes the journey to South Canaan of himself and fellow priests, and, beginning from where Fr. Arseny had left off, recounts the events he witnessed on the historic and holy day, including the first pilgrimage to St. Tikhon's Monastery, the dedication of the grounds, and celebration of the first Divine Liturgy on the site of the future monastery church. About 100 pilgrims came for this first pilgrimage, most of them arriving from Mayfield, a walk of over ten miles.
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