At the end of April, I visited Holy Cross Monastery with over 30 of my fellow parishioners from St. George Orthodox Cathedral. The trip was organized by our Young Adult Fellowship and led by Fr. Andrew Damick.
We spent the better part of a sunny Saturday touring the monastery grounds, listening to Fr. Seraphim speak on spiritual topics, participating in a moleben where our suffering loved ones were brought before the Lord in prayer, and visiting the Monastery Gift Shop.
We also enjoyed a delicious lunch with the monks, in silence, as is their custom, while another monk read a spiritual book aloud. Fr. Segius, who graciously led the tour, showed us the bell tower, the chapel where we learned about their patron saint, St. Panteleimon, the room where incense is rolled by hand in the traditional Athonite style, and he pointed out the small cells that dotted the landscape where the monastics live.
As we made our way over to the beautiful outdoor chapel, Fr. Sergius spoke to us about the monastic life, their daily routine and answered various questions from our group. The weather could not have been more agreeable, with plenty of sunshine and gentle breezes to animate the flowering dogwoods.
Fr. Seraphim, the Abbot of Holy Cross, is such a warm and welcoming host. His face radiates with kindness and wisdom is in his eyes. He spoke to us about nourishing our spiritual life and used the verse from Revelation 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." to illustrate the fact that God is always present seeking us.
It was heartwarming to listen to Fr. Seraphim recount the early days of the monastery’s move to rural West Virginia from Missouri in 2000. He shared some humorous anecdotes from this mostly Baptist community curious about their new Russian Orthodox neighbors. He also talked about the kind deeds of these same neighbors who, after becoming acquainted with and embracing the hermitage, have helped wayward pilgrims to find the route to the monastery.
At the end of our visit, Fr. Seraphim spoke with us again regarding our prayer life. He shared with us a quote that I will paraphrase from one of the ; ‘If you pray and doubt God hears you or that He will answer your prayers, you aren’t really a Christian.’ Those are strong words which gave me pause to consider my own thoughts on the power of prayer. He encouraged us to make a daily habit of prayer, even if it is just saying the Jesus Prayer, “, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” before we begin our day.
I was thankful to have the time to linger at the close of our retreat. I walked the grounds, visiting the goat herd, taking photos and soaking up the serenity. I very much look forward to my next visit.