St. Herman’s Spiritual Daughters: St. Nilus Skete, Alaska

Living in solitude, I occupy myself with searching the spiritual writings: above all I search the Lord’s commandments and their commentaries, and the Apostolic traditions; then the Lives and Instructions of the Holy Fathers. I reflect on all this, and whatever I find after reflection to be God-pleasing and useful for my soul, I copy out for myself. In this is my life and breath.

St. Nilus of Sora

Photo: www.stnilus.org/ Photo: www.stnilus.org/
    

Nestled between Kodiak Island and St. Herman’s Spruce Island, amidst cold Alaskan waters, lies an emerald islet, forested by towering spruce trees, buffeted by powerful winds. A myriad of birds—eagles, swallows, warblers, seagulls—find refuge here, and colorful tufted puffins nest each summer in its craggy black cliffs. A large Orthodox cross stands above the main shore as one approaches the island by boat. Behind the trees is a wooden church modeled after the fifteenth-century Russian church of St. Nilus of Sora. On this tiny island live women who have dedicated their lives to God and seek to have a living communion with Him apart from distractions. Nearby is Monk’s Lagoon on Spruce Island where St. Herman of Alaska lived at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This beloved saint brought Holy Orthodox Christianity and monasticism to America in 1794 from Valaam Monastery in Northern Russia. Surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation and often cut off completely from the world by violent winter storms, conditions here are ideal for solitude. One is able to free oneself from the distractions of modern life and to cast the heart’s gaze inward, striving to seek God alone and to love Him above all.

The Monastic Way of Life

Photo: photos1.blogger.com Photo: photos1.blogger.com
    

With St. Nilus as guide and patron, the nuns seek to emulate the monastic ideals of poverty, asceticism and interior prayer. Known for his extreme simplicity and voluntary poverty, St. Nilus emphasized the inner life of the monastic—the inward self-trial and practice of the Jesus Prayer. St. Nilus’ rule of life consists of two to twelve monastics living in cells clustered around the church—the skete form of monastic life. Called the royal path, it avoids both the trials of the large coenobitic monastery and the dangers inherent in the solitary life of the hermit. Each nun engages in her own intense inner warfare. The most necessary weapon is the unceasing repetition of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” She is striving, through prayer and spiritual reading, to imprint upon her soul an image of paradisal beauty and attain purity of heart. Monastic common life is based on the Lord’s commandments and the monastic principles of obedience, humility, love, and the cutting off of one’s own will, striving always to respond with “forgive me” and “bless.”

The skete sisters (Abbess Nina at far left) and pilgrims. Photo: twohandstofeet.blogspot.com The skete sisters (Abbess Nina at far left) and pilgrims. Photo: twohandstofeet.blogspot.com
    

Rhythm of Life on St. Nilus Island

Life at St. Nilus Skete is ordered around the church services, the feasts and fasts, and a life of prayer. The sisters arise in the middle of the night for their solitary prayer vigil and then gather in church for Matins. Mornings are usually occupied with quiet activity, such as handwork. According to ancient monastic practice, the nuns strive to support themselves by the labor of their own hands—primarily through making prayer ropes. At noon, the main meal is served, followed by common obediences. After the service of Ninth Hour, Vespers and Compline, the nuns silently retire to their cells for spiritual reading, prayer and rest.

Photo: myocn.net Photo: myocn.net
    

A rhythm of life has emerged in accordance with the seasons of the year, as well as with the physical demands of living in a remote wilderness. During Great Lent, the sisters devote themselves to prayer and fasting with few distractions. The welcome return of many forest songbirds heralds spring. Garden preparations begin, and in May carefully tended seedlings are transplanted. At the end of spring red salmon begin returning to their spawning grounds, and the fishing net is set. All are busy cleaning, filleting, smoking and canning the yearly supply of fish.

    

The sisters pick salmonberries, blueberries and currants in the summer months and gather edible wild mushrooms for drying. In late summer, the big silver salmon return and the attention is once again on fishing. This is also the time to be sure that the wood shed is full of a winter supply of wood.

The skete refectory. Photo: twohandstofeet.blogspot.com The skete refectory. Photo: twohandstofeet.blogspot.com
    

Pilgrims come throughout the warmer months—when the seas are calmer and daylight hours are longer—to venerate St. Herman, praying at his grave and drinking from his holy spring on Spruce Island. Hospitality is offered by the sisters, and St. Sergius guesthouse, a large one-room cabin, is available for women pilgrims desiring to stay longer and who are undaunted by the rustic conditions.

Photo: www.clairewolfe.com Photo: www.clairewolfe.com
    

Travel by sea becomes more difficult as early as September due to stormy weather. The focus turns inward as outdoor activity becomes more limited. Winter brings the opportunity for quiet, indoor obediences and treasured time for prayer, study and contemplation.

St. Nilus Skete is under the jurisdiction of His Grace Bishop Maxim of the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

See also
The Light of St. Herman The Light of St. Herman The Light of St. Herman The Light of St. Herman
So, whenever we feel that the darkness is compassing us all about and there is no healing for our flesh, let us always remember the Lord’s light-bearing promises to us; let us also remember our holy father St. Herman of Alaska, whose very soul was light, and let these thoughts be as a flood of radiant, gladsome light in our own souls.
Two Alaskan Monastic Communities on Spruce and Nilus Islands, Part 2 Two Alaskan Monastic Communities on Spruce and Nilus Islands, Part 2
Alexei Krindatch
Two Alaskan Monastic Communities on Spruce and Nilus Islands, Part 2 Two Alaskan Monastic Communities on Spruce and Nilus Islands, Part 2
Alexei Krindatch
Being Orthodox monastics does not mean that the monks and nuns at St. Michael and St. Nilus separate themselves from the local wider non-Orthodox community. This is, after all, Alaska—the place where neighbors must be able to rely on each other’s help and support.
Women’s Empowerment in Alaska: Bible Studies at The St. Herman Theological Seminary Women’s Empowerment in Alaska: Bible Studies at The St. Herman Theological Seminary Women’s Empowerment in Alaska: Bible Studies at The St. Herman Theological Seminary Women’s Empowerment in Alaska: Bible Studies at The St. Herman Theological Seminary
St. Herman of Alaska, whose repose we commemorate today, would be proud. In the seminary named after him in Kodiak, Alaska, native women from tribes throughout the state gather to gain the knowledge and experience they need to contribute to the spiritual health of their villages.
Two Alaskan Monastic Communities on Spruce and Nilus Islands, Part 1 Two Alaskan Monastic Communities on Spruce and Nilus Islands, Part 1
Alexei Krindatch
Two Alaskan Monastic Communities on Spruce and Nilus Islands, Part 1 Two Alaskan Monastic Communities on Spruce and Nilus Islands, Part 1
Alexei Krindatch
A footpath at the south end of the beach leads to the Meeting of the Lord Chapel. Fr. Herman’s favorite feast was the Meeting of the Lord, and it was to this event that he chose to dedicate his chapel. Time and nature have left nothing of the original building, but on the site of the first chapel is a small church, modeled after the original drawings. The chapel’s walls are covered with beautiful frescoes depicting the life of St. Herman.
St. Herman of Alaska: A Pre-Christmas Gift to America St. Herman of Alaska: A Pre-Christmas Gift to America
Fr. Herman (Podmoshensky)
St. Herman of Alaska: A Pre-Christmas Gift to America St. Herman of Alaska: A Pre-Christmas Gift to America
Fr. Herman (Podmoshensky)
And here, in the midst of this pre-Christmas joy so filled with impressions, there enters into the American consciousness a Russian monk from Valaam who was also connected with children, coziness, spice-cake, pretzels, covered by the Alaskan snow—St. Herman the Wonderworker of America.
A Life of St. Herman from 1919 A Life of St. Herman from 1919
Vera Johnston
A Life of St. Herman from 1919 A Life of St. Herman from 1919
Vera Johnston
A Russian missionary to America! Yes, indeed, a servant of God, lowly and simple of heart, who attained to such perfection of spirit that in our day and generation there are many in Alaska and throughout the Orthodox parishes in the United States who think that Herman, the humble monk, should be and will be canonized—a saint of the Church.[1]
Comments
Noelle Angelus8/12/2018 7:44 pm
i know how difficult this life is, we lived beside Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Gibsons,BC for 19 yrs.I offer my deepest appreciation and prayers to you all. Please pray for Fr. Gregory Papazian, and his 2 monks.
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