Almost Heaven, West Virginia

Pilgrimage to the Hermitage of the Holy Cross, Wayne, WV

Week of the Prodigal Son, 2011

Part 1

As we think, so we live.


I traveled to the Hermitage of the Holy Cross in West Virginia right after theSunday of the Publican and Pharisee[1] in order to get myself ready for Great Lent. I needed what they call in the world an “attitude adjustment” – in the Christian faith this is accomplished by repentance, prayer and (good) activity. I was also going to see Hierodeacon Sergius for the first time since he came to the “monastery of his repentance”[2], not long he was baptized at St Nicholas, and also old friends Igumen Seraphim, Hieromonk Andrew, and Mother Theodora, whom I knew in St Louis before the Hermitage began.


Left to right, Priest Seraphim Holland, Igumen Seraphim, Hierodeacon Sergius in the Monastery Trapeza.

Left  to right, Priest Seraphim Holland, Igumen Seraphim, Hierodeacon Sergius in the Monastery Trapeza.

More Pictures here:


I had been feeling a little run down – not physically, but mentally. Ironically, I became VERY run down physically, but have been refreshed spiritually. The visit has not been all that I expected because I got sick, but the spirit blows where it wills, and what I wanted most was to work on adjusting my thoughts to always be good, and all the things in this monastery, especially the compunctionate monastic worship, the good friends I have seen again after too long an interval, and the incredible beauty of the West Virginia countryside and bucolic farm[3] work have helped me in this.


I wish to state something that should be obvious to us, but oftentimes is not. Our thoughts determine how we live our lives, good or bad.


I have been recently reading materials that have made this simple, (it should be!) obvious point very clear, including a recent book about Elder Thaddeus of Serbia, and several books in the incredible spiritual honey pot of “anything related to Staretz Siluan, Archimandrite Sophrony and Archimandrite Zacharias”.


By bad thoughts I do not mean lust, envy, jealousy, anger, bitterness and the like. No, those are well beyond bad thoughts – those are thoughts which put us on the precipice of hell.


I am talking about the kinds of thoughts that hinder us greatly, those “whisperings in the ear”, that, if listened to and acted upon can certainly progress to the most dangerous thoughts. Sometimes they are not acted upon – we end up doing the right thing anyway – but because of their presence our inner peace and tranquility is disturbed and over time we reach a point of spiritual exhaustion where we are prone to many temptations, like a stressed person becomes immune suppressed and more likely to get sick. I fight them often, (at least the ones I know about) and they are like a swarm of black flies, oppressive, biting, and not constantly present and somewhat predictable in their times of appearance. 


These thoughts are things like being weary of doing things, crabbiness, and my personal nemesis, and kind of diffuse, unfocused pessimism. There are many more, and they are so subtle that they are often not discrete thoughts at all, but rather our disposition, attitude, hidden prejudices, passions, etc.


I serve 5 days a week, work 2 long days in that week, and get way too disappointed about low attendance (sometimes justified (the services talk of absence for honorable cause[4])) and also low participation in the mysteries of confession, the Eucharist, reading of scripture, personal prayer, which is usually not because of “honorable cause”, but then, I am the shepherd and a good shepherd knows that his rational sheep are at all different stages in the spiritual life, and , “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”[5]


The best solution for negative thoughts is prayer and activity. You must give a lot of effort, internally you must grunt and strain! The Holy Fathers are really clear about this. Of course, all must be combined with humility and ardent desire to follow the commandments, and all this because of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, or everything comes to nothing.


The best thing that has ever happened in our parish life is the regular weekday liturgy where we commemorate aloud everyone on our parish family by name in the fervent ectenia[6], and a good more besides, since we have a public commemoration list that anyone can ask to be added to.


The next best thing is the weekly Moleben where we also commemorate the same list. With these prayers has come substantial increased vitality in our parish in many ways, visible (such as a new temple), and invisible. I have increased private prayer for everyone, and I dare to think, that others in the parish have been moved to pray for everyone in the parish daily (so far, two have asked for the parish dyptichs for this purpose – I am glad to send them to anyone I know, with all address, and other contact information deleted).

At the goat barn, facing, l-r, Princess, Priest Seraphim,

At the goat barn, facing, l-r, Princess, Priest Seraphim, Tulip


To be continued.



Priest Seraphim Holland 2011.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] Arrival Sunday evening  Jan 31/Feb 13. Departure Saturday morning , Feb 6/19, 2011. Homilies on this Sunday are at:


[2] This is the way monks refer to the monastery in which they were tonsured..

[3] The monks have goats, cows, and chickens. And I dug in the earth, shoveled  gravel, fed animals and baled hay. It don’t get no better than that!

[4] “Be mindful, O Lord, of the people here present and also those who are absent for honorable reasons, and have mercy upon them and upon us, according to the multitude of Thy mercies” – from the priest’s silent prayer after the Epiclesis, Liturgy of Saint Basil

[5] 1  Corinthians 3:6 

[6] Fervent Ectenia (Litany of Fervent Supplication) – Intoned after the Gospel is read in the Liturgy. There is a place where general petitions for specific people, the sick, traveling, etc, can be inserted.

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St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas