History of our Monastery
Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery was founded in 1977 with the first Divine Liturgy we celebrated as a community on the Sunday of the Holy Myrrhbearers. That service was celebrated by Father Tom Hopko in St. Sergius of Radonezh Chapel at the Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America, where we first lived and worked.
During those first five years at the OCA Chancery, we were blessed to experience the Church very intensely. We believe He put us there to teach us to pray with genuine compassion for those in positions of authority who must deal with so much in the churches.
In addition, we were able to form bonds of friendship that we cherish to this day with many people, both within the OCA and in other jurisdictions. During that period, Metropolitan Theodosius made possible visits to other monasteries in this country, and also to the Monastery of the Protection of the Mother of God in Bussy, France. We are truly grateful for the generosity, support and patience our fellow monastics have shown through these years as we feel our way into a traditional form of monastic prayer and life within our American setting.
Metropolitan Theodosius, along with clergy, choir directors, and others in and near the Chancery as well as friends at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, did much to educate and encourage us in developing a full cycle of monastic services. We were given the time and the resources to compile our service books: the Horologion, Octoechos, Triodion, Pentecostarion and Menaion. In the years since then we have continued to add to and revise our services as new translations have appeared and as our choir skills have improved.
When it became obvious that we would need our own home in order to grow into a fully monastic life-style, Metropolitan Theodosius blessed us to move into rented quarters near St. Vladimir’s Seminary for an interim period. During this time, we tested our ability to live on our own, to find our own sources of income and become incorporated so that we could purchase property. We found many more wonderful friends who gave good advice and the encouragement we needed to begin a mail-order business with our own greeting card designs, prayer books and other products. Through the years, this business has become an important means of support for the monastery. More recently, again with the help of generous friends, we have begun to publish our liturgical texts, sharing the wealth we have in our daily worship.
We began property-hunting on a shoe-string budget in 1982. By the summer of 1983, we were beginning to wonder if the Lord really did want us to have a permanent home. Then we found a Pennysaver ad for a bargain: 144 acres with farmhouse, two barns, mobile home and pond for $55,000. Still, that was eleven times the money we had so carefully saved. We believe it was a series of miracles that made it possible for us to move there the day after Thanksgiving in 1983, and be mortgage-free shortly after the death of Father Alexander Schmemann.
In 1986, not long after we moved here, parishioners from SS Peter & Paul Church in Herkimer, led by their priest, Father James Jadick, volunteered their services to build us a chapel. They were soon joined by members of St. Basil Church in Watervliet and Dormition Church in Binghamton. John Gala of SS Peter & Paul drew up the plans, and we were able to hire a contractor to put in a full-basement foundation the following fall. We had just enough funds to buy the materials for our volunteers to cap the basement in time for winter. By the next spring we were able to begin the next phase. There were several workdays when Orthodox men and women gathered from all over New York State and northern Pennsylvania to put up the framing and close in the shell of the new structure. Then our faithful crews from Herkimer, Watervliet, and Binghamton began the long work of finishing the interior as we were able to purchase the supplies.
Those who have been here know that the chapel is truly a beautiful labor of love, from the many windows and skylights to the French doors, oak parquet floors and knotty pine paneling. The only sad part was that the wonderful work parties ended! Fully 200 people were present for the consecration of the chapel by Metropolitan Theodosius, assisted by Bishop Job, Father Thomas Hopko, Father James Jadick, Father Steven Belonick, and other local area clergy. One of the most moving parts of the service came when the Metropolitan handed out certificates to those who had helped to build the chapel. Almost everyone present qualified, and he wisely thanked all the wives who had put up with their husbands’ long hours away and often had come themselves to help feed everyone.
Many of these people, together with new friends, soon gathered in the chapel to witness the monastery’s first life-profession, then the clothing of a sister in the monastic habit and the installation of Mother Raphaela as the monastery’s first abbess. These moving services were the seal and confirmation of all the faith and work that had gone on before.
There is no question that having our chapel consecrated was a major milestone for the monastery. Since then, through the generosity of friends, an iconostas with beautiful icons has been added, the main icons being gifts from St. Gregory the Theologian Church in Wappingers Falls, NY. Among the original icons donated to the monastery, perhaps most beautiful is a large processional icon of the Myrrhbearing Women.
Shortly after the chapel was finished, many friends from St. Michael’s in Geneva, NY, donated funds to create the memorial prayer garden that has been a source of joy to us and to our guests. Fifty small cedars were planted in a rectangle and have grown into walls for shelter and privacy, making a lovely outdoor chapel. During the summer this is a quiet place for prayer and reading, and on occasion, for vespers and memorial services.
In 1991, again through the generosity of friends, we were able to purchase a small piece of property adjoining our pond with an old house originally built for the families who ran the mills on our millpond. We have found documents dating the first commercial operation of those mills to 1803. Sadly, although it was a source of power into the 1950s, floods and the ravages of time have now left only the dam with its original laid-stone spillway and what we call the mill house. By 1995 we were able to begin the renovation of the mill house which was completed two years later, and is now available for the use of guests.
On the site of the old farmhouse, in 1998 we completed building the new monastery which is an inspiration, support, and encouragement for those of us who have answered the call to dedicate our lives to repentance and labor, the worship of God, prayer for His people and for His world. The new building provides the silence and privacy needed for the hidden life of a monastic while also providing reception rooms where guests and other pilgrims can find hospitality and God’s healing peace and beauty.
The initial renovation and construction were made possible by a Pan-Orthodox committee, the Friends of Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery, who helped us with fund-raising. Mr. Robert Carpenter, head of Carpenter Brothers Construction and also parish president of Dormition Church, Binghamton, donated the plans and headed the construction crew.
As funds have become available through our generous benefactors, work has continued, with a portico entry-way, tying together the chapel and monastery wings, a deck, a kiosk to hold the six beautiful bells specially cast for the monastery in Russia, and our continued paying down our mortgage. For our thirtieth Anniversary Year in 2007, friends donated a permanent monastery sign, fencing and a greenhouse for our vegetable garden. Still on our wish list is a privacy fence to secure an outdoor cloistered area for the nuns’ quiet and prayer.
Each woman who has tested a vocation to the monastery — whether she has stayed or has moved on — has brought her own unique gifts and abilities. As a result, now that we have room and more sisters, we are continuing to develop the farm as an integral part of our monastery. While it seems that we are unusual as farmers and monastics, until very modern times almost all monastics had farms and raised most of their own food, "working with their hands" as St. Paul admonishes us to do. In addition to giving us a sense of kinship with those who came before us, we find that the farm animals and chores help to keep us sane and grounded. Many of our guests ask to help out in the barns and fields and often discover real healing through this work as well as through their prayers with us. With some enthusiastic support from friends and some generous donations, we began by renovating the larger of the two barns, putting in fencing and acquiring sheep, goats, chickens and ducks. We sell yarn spun from the fine wool of our sheep, prayer ropes and other items made from this yarn, and eggs from our chickens and ducks. The milk and cheese from our goats are not yet for sale, but we and our friends enjoy them.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” We ask you to join us in our prayer that we may grow only as the Lord wills. We pray that those dreams which are simply desires for the glory and praise of men will not come to pass and that those which are for the glory of God, the salvation of souls and the hastening of His Kingdom will be blessed. May we continue to see the mighty works of God in the next thirty years of our monastic life.