NOTE: The following article is taken from The Goldendale Sentinel, August 1995:
A small sign along State Route 97 hints at big possibilities for a piece of land along Timmer Lane. The sign identifies the Greek Orthodox convent of St. John the Forerunner at Happy Acres.
The idea of convents is not new to the Greek Orthodox Church. The Church has several monastic colonies in the Old World that have been established for hundreds, if not thousands of years. But the idea of monasticism is new to America. And the convent to be built north of Goldendale will be one of the few Orthodox convents in the New World.
His Grace Bishop Anthony, along with priests from Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Yakima and Spokane, traveled to Happy Acres (about 10 miles north of Goldendale), last weekend to celebrate the inauguration of this convent, the first in the Northwest. The bishop, priests and about 100 parishioners from around the Northwest, celebrated with a church service and reception on Friday, Aug. 4; and a divine liturgy and picnic on Saturday.
Bishop Anthony heads the Greek Orthodox Diocese of San Francisco, which oversees 65 Greek Orthodox parishes in seven Western states–Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington–with a membership estimated at half a million people.
As of yet, no additional buildings have been built at Happy Acres; there are only the two houses situated on 48 acres donated by retired Goldendale doctor Gerhard Johannis Timmer. Therefore, the bishop and priests conducted their church services outdoors. But the Church has big plans for Happy Acres.
“We plan to construct a permanent monastic convent,” Bishop Anthony said. “It will be an architectural jewel and a place of spirituality and prayer. It will be not just for the nuns, but for everyone.”
The purpose of monasticism is to be alone, “to totally dedicate one’s life to Christ,” Bishop Anthony explained. And to this end, the church chose the name St. John the Forerunner, referring to John the Baptist, who they believe to be the first monk.
The convent will be a monastery for women, Bishop Anthony explained. “It will be a retreat cente for anyone who wishes to come here and go through the cycle of prayer with the nuns.”
The Greek Orthodox Convent of St. John the Forerunner is one of the church’s “first attempts to establish these convents in America,” Bishop Anthony explained.
To date there are three monastic centers in Canada; three in the Diocese of Chicago; and Bishop Anthony is organizing three in the Diocese of San Francisco: one in Florence, Ariz., one near Fresno, Calif., and this one in Goldendale.
The convent is expected to be self supporting through the work of the nuns and monks, supplemented by the alms of the community, he said. “Each convent has its own gifts,” he said. One monastery in Canada produces bee’s wax candles that are used in church services; the churches reimburse the monastery for their work.
The monastery that is being organized in Fresno will find its livelihood in farming. The monastery is being organized around an orchard of 2,000 apple trees, pomegranates and olive trees.
The three nuns at the core of the Goldendale convent specialize in the painting of iconography, Bishop Anthony said. The iconography, often depicting Jesus Christ and the Mother Mary, is widely used in Greek Orthodox churches; and in parishioner’s homes.
Goldendale’s three nuns, Sisters Parthenia, Agne, and Spiritual Mother Efpraxia, arrived in Goldendale for the first time on May 15. They originally came from Portaria, a convent in Volos, Greece. They will be “the nucleus” of the convent in Goldendale, as the convent attracts additional nuns drawn from the United States.
“It’s a way of life,” explained Bishop Anthony. “You have to have someone to guide them. They will teach them the way of life; the way of prayer.”
As for the number of nuns that will eventually live at Goldendale’s new convent, Bishop Anthony says there will be “as many as the Lord will bless us with…to do the Lord’s work in the Northwest.”
But if 30 young women are drawn into the monastic lifestyle at Happy Acres, he said he would “move on” organizing convents in other parts of his Diocese.
The Holy Monastery Address
The Greek Orthodox Monastery Of St. John The Honorable Forerunner is located Off Highway 97 Between Goldendale and Toppenish (mile post markers 23 and 24). Their mailing address is 5 Timmer Lane, Goldendale, Washington 98620-2706. Visitors should dress modestly – shirts with sleeves, long pants and dresses or skirts. Call the Monastery at (509)773-7141 for a schedule of services. The Monastery’s Feast Day is June 24, The Nativity of St. John The Baptist. Nearby accommodations include the Far-Vue Motel (800)358-5881, Ponderosa Motel (509)773-5842, and Three Creeks Resort (509)773-3325.