Holy Transfiguration Monastery is a community of 10 Ukrainian Orthodox monks. Not all are from the Ukraine but they all are drawn to that particular Christian discipline. The monastery buildings come into view after rounding a final curve of the winding, gravel drive from Tomki Road. Mary and I arrived around 12:15 and no one was in sight. As we approached the monastery entrance, Abbot Damian came through the gate and greeted us. He explained that they were in the midst of their silent lunch and invited us to join them.
The monks sit on benches at long, thick wood tables. There is a table at the back of the refectory for guests. Lunch was simple — a hearty soup with delicious homemade bread and a choice of apples, pears and bananas. The beverage choices were water, tea or coffee. One of the monks was reading from the Lives of the Saints.
After lunch, Abbot Damian introduced us to each of the monks. Then we went out to the car for his first view of the icon we had brought for repairs. Damian helped me carry the icon into the refectory and said that we would examine it later. He then had Brother Simeon take us to the guest house. The guest house is up a gravel road from the main cluster of buildings. It has 12 guests rooms, a common area and a small kitchen. We had a studio room with a parlor, bedroom (with a queen size bed — one of the two rooms for couples) and a small bath. It was simple but nice, as were most other accommodations of the monastery. There was not much water in the bathroom and no hot water. It was December in the northern hills of California. The temperatures were brisk. We later found out that the hot water was turned off when no guests were occupying the guest house. When they turned it on, the simple apartment was even more comfortable. Brother Simeon left us to ourselves and invited us to explore the grounds with the exception of the cloister. We left our car up at the guest house and went to explore. We walked past a pond. The croaking frogs became silent as we rounded the turn and approached their pond. We checked out the gift shop filled with icons, candles and Orthodox Church literature. Then we went to the chapel.
The smell of incense enwraps you as you enter the chapel. There is a narthex, a monk’s choir area and the screened sanctuary that is in most Orthodox Christian churches and chapels. A simple chandelier provides a dim light and the chapel walls are covered with icons. The silence is holy and profound.
After our little self-tour, I hiked a road at the back of the property. Abbot Damian had told us that it was there and that it led to the property line with the Buddhist monastery. I hoped to make it that far but after a half-mile of hiking up and down some challenging hills, I turned back. Mary and I also walked back to our room after Vespers. It was dark but the sky was clear and we had a flashlight. We heard a kitten meow and one came out of the brush at the side of the path. I initially started toward it until I saw the pointy ears and small, curly tail. We realized it was a bobcat and that the mother might be close by. We also knew enough not to touch a young bobcat because its mother might abandon it if she smelled a human touch.
My heritage is Canadian French and Ukrainian. The Eastern Orthodox tradition calls to me. I have many icons and love the good incense that most orthodox faith communities use. Holy Transfiguration Monastery appeals to me but I am too worldly to be able to embrace that lifestyle. Mary and I joined the monks for Vespers that evening as well as Matins at 5:30 the next morning and the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy followed immediately after Morning Prayer so we were in the chapel for about 2 hours in the morning before breakfast. The liturgies are complex. We used three different books during the prayers: a hymnal, a Psalter and a Book of the Hours. There was a guide in the back of the Book of the Hours but it was cursory at best. A woman who joined the monks for morning and evening prayers helped us navigate, as did one of the monks. At times we were totally lost and at other times we found the liturgical path.
We also joined the monks for dinner (during which there was conversation), breakfast and lunch the next day, both of which were in silence with readings. After breakfast we joined Abbot Damian in his examination of the Trinity Icon [see the previous blog entry]. We learned a lot through his analysis and verbal commentary. I asked him to do a more extensive analysis and let me know the cost for the repairs.
We had time to walk past a pond that housed geese and ducks before lunch and admire the view of the valley. After lunch we took our leave, or thought we would. We had a flat tire. I had not changed one for decades but we knew that AAA would either not find us or it would take hours. I had my assigned chores for the afternoon.
Finally we drove down the hill to rocky and rough Tomki Road and through the beautiful scenery of the farms and the lake.