+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
“What shall we call thee, O thou who art full of grace?” Our helper, our protector, our comfort, our joy, our guide, our Mother!
Fourteen years ago on this date, nine monks and one nun arrived at this site to begin the monumental task of building a monastery from nothing. There was only one building here and that was the home of our benefactors the Sills, so numerous cells for monks had to be built along with a church and workshops, and converting a double wide trailer into a trapeza.
There was very little infrastructure. All drinking water had to be hauled in by truck several times a week. The grossly inadequate septic system drained out on the lawn in front of the church and the electricity went out on a regular basis. It was a time of trial and struggle for our small monastic community.
But we grew through this and because of this. Gradually, the necessary buildings were constructed, although often built hastily and with inexpensive materials.
As the years went by, the community slowly began to grow as men joined us in our monastic struggles here in West Virginia. We grew to twelve men but couldn’t seem to grow beyond that number and stayed at that size for several years.
But in the year 2008 the holy Port Arthur Icon of the Triumph of the Mother of God came to us… and everything began to change. We built a shrine for this holy icon in the narthex of our little church, and kept a perpetual lamp burning before it, the monks all began to venerate the icon whenever they entered the church, and fresh flowers were always present as a thanksgiving offering.
Many blessings came to us and more men began to join us in the monastic life. So many men began to join us that we ran out of room and had to begin new construction to accommodate all the candidates. She even brought Bishop George here and countless pilgrims and visitors seeking refuge from a sick and increasingly godless society.
The normal place for this holy icon is in the entrance to this holy temple. She stands there with her arms outstretched welcoming each monk and each pilgrim who enter here seeking refuge from the burdens of life.
Like a mother hen spreading her wings to gather her chicks so she gathers all of us, her children under her protection.
And that is why she came here in this holy icon, to take us under her protection and to reveal to us the face of Christ.
With gratitude and love in our heart we all venerate her holy icon whenever we enter our church, asking her, “take me under your protection O Holy Lady, my true mother and lead me to Christ”.
There are no accidents, her icon stands here in the midst of us for a purpose, to protect us, to reveal Christ to us, to comfort us and encourage us in these dark times when so many so called Christian countries are falling away from the faith, rumors of war are everywhere and the rise of secularism and the pursuit of comfort are rivaled only by the rise of Islam. True Christian faith and morality are under attack all over the world and faithful Orthodox Christians can seem overwhelmed by all this.
It seems to be that the desire of the Mother of God is that her icon is to be present wherever Orthodox Christians are under attack, to grant them victory. Look at the history of the icon, it was to the battle of Port Arthur that she commanded her icon to be taken so that by this icon she could protect the Orthodox troops and grant them victory.
The Icon goes where Orthodox Christians are under attack from the enemy. And now she has come here to this small, humble American monastery in the hills of West Virginia.
Perhaps her icon is here because here in the midst of all the decadence and secularism of our country a small poor band of monks have gathered together to try to repent, to try to stem the tide of our increasingly godless society. Perhaps she is here to strengthen us in our battle with the enemy and to comfort the pilgrims who flock here seeking refuge and guidance.
Perhaps if we pray to her and honor her, the darkness in our country and the world will diminish, perhaps even the darkness within us will diminish and our hardened hearts will begin to heal and grow warm with faith and love.
So let us honor her who deigned to come into our midst, let us sing praises before her holy icon and beg her, “O thou who art above the angels, raise us above this world’s confusion”!
On this Sunday we celebrate the Synaxis of the Holy Unmercenary Healers, or, as they are also called, the “physicians without silver.” They are those saints who, out of pure love of God and neighbor, healed the sick and mended the souls of others while asking nothing in return. It was a pure self-sacrifice born out of love. Today we remember the great saints Cyrus and John, Tryphon, Artemius, and the others, as well as Cosmas and Damian, who lived and were martyred in Roman times. And of course, we also remember and honor our great patron, the martyr and healer Panteleimon.