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With the blessing of their diocesan bishops, superiors of monasteries of the Orthodox Church in America gathered at the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration here October 25-27, 2016 for their third annual Synaxis for the purpose of strengthening monastic life in the OCA while providing a forum for the superiors to meet and share their respective communities’ joys and challenges.

The Synaxis opened with the celebration of the Vigil and Divine Liturgy for the feast of the Great Marty Demetrius.  His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, who oversees the stavropegial monasteries, and His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel, in whose diocese the Monastery of the Transfiguration is located, were present for this year’s meeting.

SynaxisSuperiors listen to presentation by Mr. Sidway.

The OCA counts some 25 men’s and women’s monastic communities in the US, Canada and Mexico, twelve of which were represented by their superiors, including

  • Mother Capitolina, Superior of the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos Community, Anchorage, AK.
  • Mother Cassiana, Superior of the Holy Protection Monastery, Lake George, CO.
  • Sister Cecelia, Prioress of the Nuns of New Skete, Cambridge, NY.
  • Brother Christopher, Prior of the Monks of New Skete, Cambridge, NY.
  • Mother Christophora, Abbess of the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration, Ellwood City, PA.
  • Igumen Gabriel, representing Archimandrite Sergius, Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, South Canaan, PA.
  • Mother Gabriella, Abbess of the Holy Dormition Monastery, Rives Junction, MI.
  • Archimandrite Gerasim, Abbot of Saint Elias Hermitage, Smoky Lake County, AB, Canada.
  • Hieromonk Innocent, Superior of the Monastery of Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco, Manton, CA.
  • Mother Melania, Superior of Holy Assumption Monastery, Calistoga, CA.
  • Mother Sergia, Abbess of the Presentation of the Theotokos Monastery, Marshfield, MO.
  • Mother Thekla, Abbess of the Mary and Martha Monastery, Wagener, NC.

SynaxisMonastics attended services in the monastery chapel.

In three days of wide-ranging discussions, the superiors addressed several issues central to monastic life.  One session was devoted to an in-depth discussion of Metropolitan Tikhon’s proposed Guiding Framework, with its focus on the four pillars—the spiritual life, stewardship, evangelism and outreach and external relations.  Particular attention was given to the spiritual life, with each superior sharing the many ways in which their monasteries nurture their internal spiritual life and provide witness and encouragement for pilgrims, visitors and their local community.  Another session was devoted to a discussion of modern technology and its impact within the monasteries and on society as a whole.

On Wednesday evening, Ralph Sidway introduced the North American Thebaid photographic project that will document the life of monastic communities in North America.  On Thursday, Metropolitan Tikhon and Archbishop Nathaniel met separately with the superiors of the male and female communities to discuss issues that uniquely affect them.

At the conclusion of the Synaxis, the superiors reaffirmed the statement they had issued at their first gathering, which reads as follows.

SynaxisMetropolitan Tikhon addresses the gathering.

“As the Synaxis of abbots and abbesses, we were grateful to be together for these days and rejoiced at our intuitive sharing with each other in the church services, at meals and in conversations about our common monastic life.  While recognizing our shared challenges, especially in forming monasticism in North America, we can affirm the general health of monasteries in the OCA.  We are committed

  • to struggle to pray unceasingly;
  • to live the values of the desert in the 21st century;
  • to be witnesses and missionaries of the kingdom ‘that is not of this world;’
  • to intercede for all creation: for the Church and especially for the sick, the suffering and the departed;
  • to be welcoming places of spiritual retreat and hospitality whenever possible, especially for clergy and their families;
  • to continue the effort to establish a truly indigenous and organic monastic presence in North America; and
  • to encourage the Church-at-large to celebrate the diversity of monastic communities.”

The superiors were grateful for this opportunity to meet and pray together and agreed that such meetings would be helpful on a yearly basis.  The next Synaxis will take place October 24-26, 2017 at a location yet to be determined.