Sports do not reach everywhere: Faith in play (Bethany Bradsher, 2001)

NOTE: The following article is taken from the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, April 8, 2001, p. D8. The Father Symeon mentioned in this article is not the same monk who is currently at St. Anthony’s Monastery. The Fr. Symeon speaking in this article was the novice Vladimir who came with Hieromonk Gregory from St. Tikhon’s Monastery in 1997. Geronda Ephraim tonsured him in 1998 and gave him the name Symeon. He left the monastery in the mid-2000s. Generally names get recycled in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, so when tonsured rassaphore monks or nuns leave (or in some cases, die), then the next batch of novices tonsured might be given some of those names.

Spartanburg Herald-Journal, April 8, 2001, p. D8.
Spartanburg Herald-Journal, April 8, 2001, p. D8.

Lately it seems that no sector of society is untouched by America’s passion for sports. Corporate executives inspire their work forces with football analogies.

ESPN anchorman Stuart Scott is the featured speaker for the University of North Carolina’s commencement next month.

But in our nation’s most isolated spiritual communities, proof exists that professional sports fanaticism is not stampeding unchecked through our culture.

I conducted an informal survey of some orthodox monasteries, seeking just one monk who was a diehard Yankees or Trailblazers fan.

I struck out. The fathers in the orders I contacted ranged from complete apathy towards sports to mild interest, but none admitted to harboring a true adherent in his cloistered community.

St. Anthony's Monastery plates.
St. Anthony’s Monastery plates.

At St. Anthony’s Monastery, a Greek Orthodox home in Florence, Ariz., all forms of secular entertainment are considered antithetical to the monastery’s ascetic lifestyle, in which prayer, reflection and service fill each day.

One priest, Father Symeon, said that there is no place or time to follow sports within the walls of St. Anthony’s.

“You walk into the gates of the monastery, you leave your previous life behind,” he said. [Note: Fr. Symeon was never ordained to the priesthood, he was only a rassaphore monk.]

“You walk into the gates of the monastery, you leave your previous life behind,” Fr. Symeon said.
“You walk into the gates of the monastery, you leave your previous life behind,” Fr. Symeon said.

A monk at St. Tikhon’s, a Russian Orthodox monastery in South Canaan, Pa., said that members of his community are peripherally interested in athletics, in part because of their work in the adjoining seminary. The students at the seminary are more connected with the world, and they frequently make small talk about games like Monday’s NCAA Championship, he said.

But the older priests, who have embraced the isolation of what he calls a “contemplative community” were probably unaware of the advent of the baseball season.

The leader of one inner-city monastery, who did not want his monastery named in this article, was emphatic about professional sports’ capability to deteriorate the most sacred philosophy of a monastic community.

Mainstream athletics, he said, rob society of the creative energy that should be devoted to academics.

St. Theodore House, Galion, OH.
St. Theodore House, Galion, OH.

[Note: The St. Theodore House closed down in 2012 after the abbot was arrested for sexually soliciting minors–boys aged 9 and 14. Archimandrite Nicholas Hughes pleaded guilty to charges of attempted rape and attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and was given a 6 year sentence:

In the rural Ohio community surrounding St. Theodore House, not all men of the cloth have been traditionally disinterested in sports. The priest who preceded Father Nathanael in this Greek Orthodox parish kept a television in the church office, and on football Sundays he was known to delete the sermon from mass so that he could finish in time for kickoff.

But the priests at St. Theodore’s today don’t have television or radio, Father Nathanael said, which makes it hard to keep tabs on sporting events. Orthodox monasteries are more isolated from the media than most Roman catholic communities, he said.

One Roman Catholic monastery and its adjoining college, St. Vincent’s in Latrobe, Pa., even hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp each summer.

“In Orthodox monasteries, it’s very rare,” for sports to be part of the daily interaction, it’s not unusual.

“In Greek monasteries, it’s not sports, it’s politics. That’s the cutting thing that goes through the contemplative wall of the community.”

Father Nathanael believes that we are living in a “post-Christian” society, in which many Americans are finding the sense of community in sporting venues instead of sanctuaries and creating their own liturgies in secular pursuits like computers.

Monasteries are one of the few purely spiritual environments left, where men and women realize that the things of heaven are enough to satisfy.

[Note: Fr. Panteleimon Metropoulos has also had numerous accusations over the last few decades of being a sexual predator. Here is an account from the time period this article was written:

Consider part of the day’s schedule at the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, Mass., as outlined on its web site:

“The Midnight Liturgy, which may be called the heart of the entire monastic day, lasts until 2:30 or 3 a.m. Each father then rests in his cell until 6:30 or 7 a.m., when a new day begins.” St-Anthonys-Monastery-7685