Monasteries are in short supply these days, but three out-of-country monks have now found peace, quiet and prayer nine times a day at a new haven on Cannon Street East.
These monks don’t mind if you stop by. Somebody did visit on behalf of an online review site called Mystery Worshippers. The guest complains about “a spate of sirens” during the service. But on comfort, he reports
“it was probably the best pew I’ve ever experienced.”
And how did the service make him feel?
“Ecstatic and, dare I say, a little envious of Orthodox Christians.”
So I’m off to Mass, on that struggling stretch of Cannon, just west of Wentworth, at Steven. For many years there was a coffee shop here, plus a hairdresser and an auto glass company.
But now the corner has been claimed by the new religious settlement. There’s fresh brick on the buildings. The sign by the oak double doors, royal blue and gold, declares this to be Our Lady of Glastonbury Orthodox Church. The sign by the steel door beside it, with the image of a robed monk, says Christminster. That’s the monastery. It’s 5 p.m. and a service is under way. There usually is.
There’s room here for about 30, but today there are five of us. It is a quiet service. Yes, you can hear the traffic, but somehow it seems a long way away.
The man at the front in the black habit — with the generous profile of Friar Tuck — is not in a hurry. There are long, quiet pauses. He sings, chants. And then it is over. There are individual bedside prayers at 5 each morning. More prayers, held in the church, are at 6:15 a.m., 7 a.m., 8:45 a.m., 9:15 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.
A lot of prayer.
“It’s a monastery,” says Father James Deschene, abbot of Christminster. “That’s what we do.”
Pray much, talk little. There is the Great Silence, which begins after the 8:15 evening service. Meals are consumed in silence, though there may be something on the CD player — classical music or James Earl Jones reading the New Testament.
“We don’t want just idle chatter,” Father James says. “We feed the mind.”
Yet he is a man of considerable humour and, when it’s OK to do so, quite the talker.
He is 66, grew up in Rhode Island, went to a Roman Catholic seminary for four years. But later he saw the light.
“I explored, and Orthodoxy won. I found truth, the real and original church as it was meant to be, no fiddling with the teachings.”
The church has small monasteries in Florida and Tasmania. And there was one in Providence, R.I., just Father James and Father Joseph in a little house, no room to grow.
Enter a local man of means, Bob Sherwood, who runs an operation called the White Rabbit Treatment Homes, owns property on Cannon and has a passion for Orthodox religion. He came to know of the cramped conditions in Rhode Island and offered to renovate the property here for the monks. He would charge no rent.
He spent $200,000 fixing the place up, because, he says,
“it seemed the right thing to do.”
Last spring, Fathers James and Joseph moved in. They were joined by Father Michael, a convert from California. Father James says there is still much about Hamilton unknown to him, though he has been to the Black Forest, the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Farmers’ Market. He often goes to Fortinos or Food Basics in his habit and black Crocs. The robe doesn’t create a stir.
“I imagine you could wear pretty much anything in Hamilton,” he says. “That’s not true back in Rhode Island.”…
The neighbours have not been hostile…The occasional person has come for a retreat of up to a week, discovering life minus the chatter, the iPod, the TV.
“I’m sure most people would think this doesn’t make much sense,” Father James says. “But God is real. Our lives are being wasted if He’s not.”
Their lives are not wasted. Their holy lives are examples for us all, and their holy intercessions open the ears of Heaven to our pleas delayed by our coldness of heart.
Please, never cease to pray for us.