Wine with a purpose: Monks get in the spirits at Original Greek Festival (Eric Sandler, 2015)

NOTE: This article is taken from Culture Map: Houston, October 1, 2015. It is interesting to see that the monastics under Geronda Ephraim do not have laypeople sell their products so they can avoid such a worldly and spiritually harmful environment. Instead, the monks rented a booth at this festival, attended it, and sold their alcoholic products.

Thousands of Houstonians will attend this weekend's Original Greek Festival.
Thousands of Houstonians will attend this weekend’s Original Greek Festival.

This weekend marks the return of the Original Greek Festival. Now in its 49th year, the formula should be familiar to most Houstonians: Thousands of people descend into Montrose for their fill of gyros, souvlaki, baklava, dancing and more.

And everyone has a good time.

The monks of the Holy Archangels Winery work with California winemaker John Kongsgaard on their product.
The monks of the Holy Archangels Winery work with California winemaker John Kongsgaard on their product.

Still, organizers are always looking for ways to expand their offerings. This year they’re bringing in the Holy Archangels Monastery and Winery. Based in Kendalia, Texas, the monastery is home to Greek Orthodox monks who make wine.

During the festival, the monks will be on hand at the festival’s gift shop to sell their wine to attendees. Prices are $30 for Chardonnay and $45 for Syrah (plus tax).

“One of the goals of the Original Greek Festival is to share all aspects of our culture and faith with our guests,” wrote festival co-chairs Ted and Pauline Koinis in an email. “Having wines from The Holy Archangels Winery represented this year presents our festival-goers with a unique opportunity to sample award-winning Texas wines made by monks, who in addition to their lifelong dedication to the Orthodox faith, have a passion for winemaking.”

Tending to the wine.
Tending to the wine.

The monastery began making wine in 2001. The process became more serious when Father Michael (the monks do not use surnames) joined in 2003 and brought experience as a professional chemist to the effort. Seeking to improve their product, the monks turned to Napa Valley winemaker John Kongsgaard, who helped them source grapes from California. By 2011, Holy Archangels had achieved commercial status.

“Modern wine making practices were developed by monastics,” Father Michael explained in a telephone interview. “All of the varieties we know and love were cultivated by monks.”

Grapes are grown in California and processed in Texas.
Grapes are grown in California and processed in Texas.

Under Kongsgaard’s guidance, the three-person winery committee led an effort to improve their skills that began to pay dividends in the forms of awards including gold medals at the Finger Lakes competition and TexSom. “We wanted to make sure the wine isn’t being purchased just because of the monastery. We want something someone would be proud to order in a restaurant,” Father Michael explained.

Asked about what makes their wine stand out, Father Michael cites the purpose they bring to their work. “I think, for us, because we’re not paid employees it’s more something we do with love. It’s for the glory of God and not for ourselves. We’re not buying Ferraris or vacations. We’re doing our duty here.”

If all goes according to plan, the monastery will begin construction of a facility that will allow it to produce more wine.

Stored product a2011 Chardonnay made in the Holy Archangels monastery a

“We want to get to 60 barrels of wine,” Father Michael explains. “Then we also plan to expand to around 10,000 square foot winery eventually, but you know, small steps. I think our goal is not just to get to 5 or 10,000 cases per year, but also to produce the highest quality we can. We think it will grow naturally on its own.”

The Original Greek Festival takes place October 1 through 4. For details about hours, tickets and parking, consult the festival’s website.

https://binghamfamilyvineyards.com/2015/09/07/texas-viognier-harvest-2015/

Winemaking @ Holy Archangels Monastery, TX (January 2013)
Winemaking @ Holy Archangels Monastery, TX (January 2013)

“We have sent Viognier grapes or juice this year to Lost Oak Winery, Duchman Winery, Landon Winery, Hye Meadow Winery, Spicewood Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars, Becker, McPherson Cellars, Whistling Duck Winery, Holy Archangels Monastery Winery, Houston Winery, Blue Lotus, Woodrose Winery, and even Dave Potter.

That is what we use all these micro bins and food grade totes for. To send wonderful grapes and juice to Texas Wineries around the state. Our proces is allowing us to meet the needs of large wineries such as Becker or Duchman, but also the smaller ones such as Holy Archangels Monastery.”

http://houston.culturemap.com/news/restaurants-bars/10-01-15-wine-with-a-purpose-monks-get-in-the-spirits-at-original-greek-festival/

What goes better with wine than souvlaki?
What goes better with wine than souvlaki?
Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery Merlot 2010.
Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery Merlot 2010.
Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery Chardonnay 2012,
Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery Chardonnay 2012,
Advertisements

Holy Archangels’ Monks Repeatedly Confused with Christ of the Hills Monastery in Texas

In a 2006 interview with Geronda Dositheos, journalist Michael J. Parker mentions the Christ of the Hills Monastery in Blanco, TX:

2006_12_15_Bloom_BlancoMonks_ph_Mary_Coppinger

“Founded in 1996, Holy Archangels is less known these days than the 25-year-old Christ of the Hills monastery 5 miles southwest of Blanco.

Christ of the Hills has courted frequent publicity, with a “weeping” icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary that attracted thousands of visitors for years and with recent charges of sexual assault against several of its monks.

The Blanco monks’ only affiliation with any recognized ecclesiastical jurisdiction — the New York-based Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia — lasted from 1991 to 1999. A church spokesman said its recognition was revoked because the Blanco monks refused to abide by church discipline.

“People have always confused us with them, but we have no connection,” said Father Dositheos, 38, the Canadian-born abbot of Holy Archangels. The two groups of monks wear similar black robes and have long beards.”

“People have always confused us with them, but we have no connection,” Geronda Dositheos
“People have always confused us with them, but we have no connection,” Geronda Dositheos

[Note: In 1991, with the blessing of Bishop Hilarion (ROCOR), the Christ of the Hills Monastery/New Sarov Press published the English translation of Geronda Ephraim’s “A Call from the Holy Mountain”. In 1991, Geronda Ephraim joined ROCOR for almost a year and then went back to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Both actions were said to be done out of obedience to divine visions/voices.].

For quite awhile after this scandal broke out, Geronda Dositheos’ brotherhood in St. Antonios, TX was mistakenly assumed to be connected with Christ of the Hills Monastery. It is said that this scandal did a great disservice to Orthodox Monasticism in America:
• A confession received describes sex, drugs and deception at a former monastery in the Hill Country.
• Five monks were charged in molestation and fraud at the Christ of the Hills Monastery in Blanco County.
• Monk Hugh Fallon admitted on the day of the raid to smoking marijuana and having sex with other monks.
• Fallon also said the monastery’s weeping icon was a fake.
• Fallon wrote, “The money that came into the monastery was largely because of this hoax.”

Fallon said the monastery’s weeping icon was a fake: “The money that came into the monastery was largely because of this hoax.”
Fallon (Fr. Tikhon) said the monastery’s weeping icon was a fake: “The money that came into the monastery was largely because of this hoax.”

This scandal was used as a cautionary tale for monastics on why it is so important to go through obedience before taking on the role of a spiritual father, and why it is a huge blessing from God to have such a holy spiritual father [i.e. Geronda Ephraim]. The Abbot at Blanco literally walked off the street and appointed himself a leader without having the necessary spiritual experience. For lay people, it was used as a cautionary tale of why they shouldn’t assume that anyone with a long beard and rassa is holy or virtuous.

MonksArraignmentHandsrb

When this scandal was first breaking the news, many lay people had the question: “How is something like this even possible in a monastery? How can someone who has left the world and dedicated themselves to God capable of such impiety?” In the state of Texas where these horrendous crimes occurred, Geronda Dositheos and his brotherhood were constantly assumed to be associated with this monastery when they went out to do errands.

Hieromonk Ephraim Comits, Holy Archangels Monastery, going out for an errand.
Hieromonk Ephraim Comits, Holy Archangels Monastery, going out for an errand.

In the monasteries, when lay people asked about this scandal, they heard such responses as, “These types of things are unheard of in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. Geronda Ephraim did 12 years blind obedience to St. Joseph, became illumined and sanctified, and was given a blessing to take on spiritual children and monasteries. In turn, all of Geronda Ephraim’s abbots and abbesses have gone through a regime of blind obedience, became illumined, and were given the obedience to take on their leadership role. Abbot Alexander Greene never went through obedience or even lived in a monastery. He just walked off the street, threw on a rassa, and made a monastery.”

Monk at Blanco monastery.
Monk at Blanco monastery.

The homily would usually turn to the poor spiritual state of monasticism in America before Geronda Ephraim came, and how Geronda Ephraim brought an authentic monastic tradition here as opposed to the less authentic and less spiritual practices [i.e. no blind obedience, no Jesus Prayer, etc.] of the other monasteries here. “Before Geronda Ephraim came to America, the state of monasticism in this country was a sad state of affairs and somewhat spiritually sterile (other than Jordanville, of course). Two of the more ‘famous’ monasteries —St. Herman of Alaska and Holy Transfiguration — had abbots that fell into delusion, schism, and sexual improprieties. The list can go on and on. Since Geronda Ephraim started building monasteries here in 1989, the increase in spirituality among the orthodox faithful and the resuscitation of the spiritual pulse of the orthodox church has been witnessed. No longer is the Greek Orthodox Church in America a spiritually barren desert…”

In the monasteries, Geronda Ephraim is constantly compared to St. Kosmas Aitolos, Equal-to-the-Apostles.
In the monasteries, Geronda Ephraim is constantly compared to St. Kosmas Aitolos, Equal-to-the-Apostles.

And then the homily would shift to how Geronda Ephraim is one of the greatest apostles and missionaries in the history of the church, following in the footsteps of St. Kosmas Aitolos. It would be explained that this is God’s will and Geronda Ephraim is doing God’s work and nothing can stop it. It was explained as if it was like a rushing river—the bishops, priests, Masons, Jews, etc. can try to put dams up to stop the flow, but Geronda’s work will just move around these dams and continue on its course—because it is God’s will.

Bishop Constantine Essensky lived at the Blanco monastery from 1991-1996.
Bishop Constantine Essensky lived at the Blanco monastery from 1991-1996.

[Note: Last month, Bishop Constantine (Essensky) (1907-96) who lived at the Blanco monastery from 1991 until his repose in 1996, was found incorrupt and reburied in Jordanville. Bishop Constantine was one of the bishops involved in conveying the correctional consecration (“Cherothesia”) to the two Matthewite Bishops in the early 1970s at Holy Transfiguration Monastery at Boston. http://eadiocese.org/News/2014/dec/bpconstantine.en.htm

Fr. Benedict Greene

Samuel A. Greene, Jr., founded the Christ of the Hills Monastery (COTH) in Blanco, Texas in 1972. In 2000 Fr. Benedict pleaded guilty to the sexual abuse - in 2007 he committed suicide while facing charges of parole violation.
Samuel A. Greene, Jr., founded the Christ of the Hills Monastery (COTH) in Blanco, Texas in 1972. In 2000 Fr. Benedict pleaded guilty to the sexual abuse – in 2007 he committed suicide while facing charges of parole violation.

Samuel A. Greene Jr. (63) founder of a monastery that closed amid scandal over the alleged sexual abuse of novice monks and a fraudulent weeping Virgin Mary painting. Greene, who founded the monastery in 1981, pleaded guilty in 2000 to indecency and was sentenced to 10 years’ probation. He was due in court Sept. 14, where prosecutors planned to seek to have his probation revoked. His death was being investigated as a suicide. His body was found in his home on the grounds of Christ of the Hills Monastery in Blanco, Texas on September 17, 2007.

Fake Priest, Fake Miracles in Texas http://www.unitypublishing.com/Apparitions/ChristTheHillsMonisary.htm

From ‘Land Man’ to monk, Father Benedict now charged with child abuse http://lubbockonline.com/stories/082006/sta_082006134.shtml

OBITUARIES Samuel Greene Jr., 63; Texas monk accused of abuse http://articles.latimes.com/2007/sep/20/local/me-greene20

For nearly two decades, Russian Orthodox monks accepted teenage novices at Christ of the Hills monastery in Blanco County.
For nearly two decades, Russian Orthodox monks accepted teenage novices at Christ of the Hills monastery in Blanco County.

OVERVIEW

Monk details sex, drugs, weeping icon at Texas monastery http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/local/article_80d5a4bc-d2de-554a-a694-401d2023765e.html

Blanco monks, church settle sex abuse case About $500,000 will be paid to man who said he was assaulted repeatedly at monastery. https://web.archive.org/web/20070121195504/http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/nation/12/15/15monks.html

CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS

The monastery gained national attention in 1985 over claims a picture of the Virgin Mary cried tears of myrrh, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors and more than $1 million in donations.
The monastery gained national attention in 1985 over claims a picture of the Virgin Mary cried tears of myrrh, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors and more than $1 million in donations.

1999: Felonious Monk? How Samuel Greene and his Blanco monastery fell from grace. http://www.texasmonthly.com/content/felonious-monk?fullpage=1

2001: Crying in the Chapel The Most Holy Theotokos Icon of New Sarov Sheds Tears of Myrrh at Blanco Monastery. http://www.austinchronicle.com/features/2001-06-22/82144/

Blanco Icon

2002: Sex case unsettles abbey — and cuts into profits http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/636326/posts

2006: State trying to seize property https://web.archive.org/web/20060813170938/http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA081206.05B.ART0.1bee368.html

Walter Christley
Walter Christley (Hierodeacon Pangratios)

2006: Derek “Fr. Aidan” Keller and Blanco’s Pedophile “Monastery” http://westernorthodox.blogspot.ca/2006/08/derek-fr-aidan-keller-and-blancos.html

William Edward Hughes
William Edward Hughes

2006: Sad or sinister? Trouble not new for monastery:  Self-styled monks face new charges after child-sex cases in ’99 http://www.religionnewsblog.com/15850/sad-or-sinister-trouble-not-new-for-monastery

2007: Monk’s final pill-popping is detailed.  https://web.archive.org/web/20070813022022/http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA092007.03B.monkdeath.305ba23.html

Alfonse Salazar of San Antonio passes the Ark-shaped school on the grounds of the former Christ of the Hills Monastery. Salazar bought the property in January & is in the process of cleaning out trash left behind & demolishing most of the buildings.
Alfonse Salazar of San Antonio passes the Ark-shaped school on the grounds of the former Christ of the Hills Monastery. Salazar bought the property in January & is in the process of cleaning out trash left behind & demolishing most of the buildings.

2009: Monastery with shady history to be sold. http://byztex.blogspot.ca/2009/12/monastery-with-shady-history-to-be-sold.html

2010: San Antonio man buys notorious monastery outside Blanco http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/San-Antonio-man-buys-notorious-monastery-outside-779379.php#photo-401880

Incorrupt relics of Bishop Constantine. He lived at the Blanco Monastery from 1991-1996.
Incorrupt relics of Bishop Constantine. He lived at the Blanco Monastery from 1991-1996.

2014: Bishop Constantine (Essensky) (1907-96) Found Incorrupt; Reburied in Jordanville http://nftu.net/bishop-constantine-essensky-1907-96-incorrupt-reburied-jordanville/

Ripoff Report: #217211 Complaint Review: Christ Of The Hills Monastery Aka Monastery Of Christ The Saviour Aka New Sarov http://www.ripoffreport.com/r/Christ-Of-The-Hills-Monastery-Aka-Monastery-Of-Christ-The-Saviour-Aka-New-Sarov/Blanco-Texas-78606/Christ-Of-The-Hills-Monastery-Aka-Monastery-Of-Christ-The-Saviour-Christ-Of-The-Hills-Mo-217211

Cemetery at the Blanco monastery.
Cemetery at the Blanco monastery.

Home for the Greek Orthodox faithful (Michael J. Parker, 2006)

NOTE: The following newspaper article is taken from My San Antonio, August 22, 2006.

L-R: Hieromonk Paul Comits, Geronda Dositheos Maroulis, Hieromonk Joseph.
L-R: Hieromonk Paul Comits, Geronda Dositheos Maroulis, Hieromonk Joseph.

KENDALIA — Off FM 473, 6 miles east of here near U.S. 281, a modest sign directs visitors down a meandering 3-mile road to an oasis of Greek Orthodox spirituality hidden in the middle of the Texas Hill Country.

Each Sunday, 80 to 100 visitors gather to attend a 9 a.m. Divine Liturgy at the Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery. Those who don’t live in San Antonio, Austin or the Hill Country rent nearby motel rooms.

Fr. Gabriel
Fr. Gabriel

Founded in 1996, Holy Archangels is less known these days than the 25-year-old Christ of the Hills monastery 5 miles southwest of Blanco.

Christ of the Hills has courted frequent publicity, with a “weeping” icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary that attracted thousands of visitors for years and with recent charges of sexual assault against several of its monks. [Note: For a detailed account of this hoax, see http://stnektariosmonastery.tumblr.com/post/102237272523/the-myrrh-weeping-icon-of-our-lady-of-new-sarov

The Blanco monks’ only affiliation with any recognized ecclesiastical jurisdiction — the New York-based Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia — lasted from 1991 to 1999. A church spokesman said its recognition was revoked because the Blanco monks refused to abide by church discipline.

Fr. Luke hitting the talanton.
Fr. Luke hitting the talanton.

But Holy Archangels is affiliated with the 1.5 million-member Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the largest nationwide Orthodox jurisdiction in the United States. The Greek Orthodox Bishop of Denver, Metropolitan Isaiah, is its regional superior.

“People have always confused us with them, but we have no connection,” said Father Dositheos, 38, the Canadian-born abbot of Holy Archangels. The two groups of monks wear similar black robes and have long beards.

Beginnings

The eight monks of Holy Archangels are veterans of monastic life on Mount Athos in Greece. They left the “holy mountain” to join other pioneers in establishing Greek Orthodox monasticism across the United States.

Holy Archangels is Texas’ first Greek Orthodox monastery and one of 15 built in this country since 1989. A monastery for women was recently dedicated in Washington County near Brenham.

Novice Thomas (ca. 2005)
Novice Thomas (ca. 2005)

Metropolitan Isaiah said Orthodoxy itself remains unfamiliar to many Western Christians. They widely assume it’s “foreign” because of its ethnically based divisions, which include Greek, Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Coptic, Antiochan, Romanian and Bulgarian, to name a few.

They share one faith, but each division has its own hierarchy. Each still uses its own language to varying degrees, feeding the “foreign” perception, Metropolitan Isaiah said.

In parts of the United States with large Orthodox populations, the monks are readily recognized by non-Orthodox neighbors, said Father Ephraim, 36, a Galveston-born priest-monk at Holy Archangels. “But there aren’t many monasteries in the Texas Hill Country.”

Metropolitan Isaiah said early Greek immigrants in the United States didn’t build monasteries because “they expected to make a quick fortune and return to the old country.”

Geronda Ephraim in the altar at Holy Archangels Monastery.
Geronda Ephraim in the altar at Holy Archangels Monastery.

That changed in 1989, when a monk from Mount Athos, known as Elder Ephraim, began founding a series of monasteries across the United States. Holy Archangels was the 10th in less than a decade.

Looking ahead

It’s a huge blessing to Texas’ Orthodox faithful, said Andrew Constantinou, a member of St. Basil the Great Parish in Houston.

Andrew Constantinou Chairman & CEO of Direct Resources
Andrew Constantinou Chairman & CEO of Direct Resources

He drives 250 miles at least biweekly to help clear brush, paint walls, tend the vineyard below the monks’ house and even fill potholes in the dilapidated road that connects the monastery with the outside world.

“For me, it’s a labor of love. A monastery gives us a place to recharge our spiritual batteries. Having a monastery to go to is almost like being in the old country. In Greece and Cyprus, there are monasteries everywhere,” Constantinou said.

The monks at Holy Archangels describe their vocation as a continuation of the early Christian custom of living, eating, praying at different hours each day and working in community as described in the Acts of the Apostles.

“I love it here. If I’d heard about monastic life at a younger age, I’d have come earlier,” said Father Joseph, a 31-year-old South African.

“On Mount Athos, I was touched to see the monks in their black robes. They had a peace about them that was otherworldly.”

He and the others, like bees painstakingly making a hive, are building a spiritual legacy that could far outlast their own earthly lives.

The monastery’s centerpiece is a strikingly beautiful Byzantine-style church built of Texas limestone with a red-brick finish and an arched facade, dedicated in 1998.

Everything in it comes from Greece, Father Dositheos said. Its intricately detailed iconostasis, an oaken wall bearing colorful icons of Jesus and numerous Eastern saints, was hand-carved. So were the rows of seats on both sides of the church that all face the building’s central axis. [NOTE: The company in Serres, Greece that does all the wood work for Elder Ephraim’s monasteries in North America (chairs in the church, iconostasis’, etc.) http://www.eleftheriadi.gr/

Beautiful Gates
Beautiful Gates

Matching the church’s architecture is a modern, spacious dining hall that’s much too big for just eight monks.

But perhaps the monks’ boldest statement of confidence in the future is a building still perhaps two years short of completion: a three-story, 40,000-square-foot dormitory designed to accommodate not eight monks but 50.

Father Dositheos said progress on the building depends on continuing donations, the complex’s only source of funding.

“We don’t collect a certain level of funds and then say, ‘Let’s begin,'” he said. “We just keep moving forward. People appreciate seeing progress each time they come, and they keep helping.”

View from the bell tower.
View from the bell tower.

jparker@express-news.net

https://web.archive.org/web/20060827183258/http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA082206.01B.ORTHDOXY0822.2f2723f.html

State official finds peace at Central Texas monastery (Gary Scharrer, 2009)

NOTE: The following newspaper article was taken from the Houston Chronicle, December 30, 2009:

Archon-candidate Thomas Suehs presents Metropolitan Isaiah with the official, signed Texas State House and Senate Religious Freedom Resolutions (2011).
Archon-candidate Thomas Suehs presents Metropolitan Isaiah with the official, signed Texas State House and Senate Religious Freedom Resolutions (2011).

AUSTIN — About twice a month Tom Suehs finds the perfect place to get away from the pressures facing anyone who runs the state’s largest agency with 54,000 employees under his watch and millions of Texans who depend on vital services including Medicaid, food stamps and health insurance for low-income children.

Suehs, the Texas Health and Human Services chief, heads out to the Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox monastery in the Texas Hill Country, where he cooks for the monks, repairs broken toilets and generally volunteers wherever they need help.

“I’m out here as ‘Tom the volunteer,’ ” Suehs, 58, said recently while chopping vegetables for a Sunday meal.

“It’s relaxing. Nobody’s out here to bother me. Nobody’s asking questions — ‘What do you think about this? Can you make this decision?’ It’s tranquil. It’s reinvigorating, and I like cooking,” the commissioner said while preparing paella, a meal of rice, vegetables and seafood. “There’s no pressures, no stress.”

The monastery is in the hills near Kendalia, about 45 miles north of downtown San Antonio. The main church (Kathlikon) is a basilica-style building, with the interior featuring traditional hand-painted iconography, woodcarvings and a large chandelier with candles that is lit and swung during church feasts.

Construction of the monastery is ongoing, with residences and an infirmary in progress. Ask when the construction projects will be finished, and the monks laughingly give a perpetual projection of “two years.”

In his day job, Suehs oversees an agency with a $30 billion-a-year budget and about 1,000 health and human services offices across Texas.

The eight monks who make their home in the monastery initially were not aware their volunteer friend occupied such an influential job in state government.

“It was a shock for us,” said Father Joseph. “I just saw him as a brother in Christ. That’s all he is. That’s how we knew him. ”

Hieromonk Joseph (South Africa) with the Chefs (Feast Day, 2013)
Hieromonk Joseph (South Africa) with the Chefs (Feast Day, 2013)

No TV, no Internet

Rank and status don’t mean much for anyone entering the quiet grounds of the monastery, where there is no television or Internet access.

“You don’t bring your day job. You don’t bring your position or degrees. All of that falls away at the gate,” said Father Joseph, who entered the monastery 12 years ago after a career in the restaurant business in South Africa. “People come here, and everybody is equal. It’s an honor to have somebody like (Suehs) because you have to humble yourself to be able to do that.”

For someone like Suehs to perform routine chores, including road repair and crushing grapes for winemaking “means there’s something sweet about you,” Father Joseph said. “You come to a place where your pull has no pull here.”

About twice a year, Suehs pulls volunteer duty at the Holy Monastery of St. Paraskevi in Washington, Texas

About twice a year, Suehs pulls volunteer duty at the Holy Monastery of St. Paraskevi in Washington, Texas
About twice a year, Suehs pulls volunteer duty at the Holy Monastery of St. Paraskevi in Washington, Texas

Suehs grew up as a Roman Catholic in Castroville. His parents instilled in him the value of public service. Both were mayors of the town.

The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church split over church doctrine in 1054. Suehs decided to make the transition to Greek Orthodox after his marriage 24 years ago.

“You marry a Greek, you marry everybody,” he said.

His dinner menus for the monks and a dozen or so Sunday evening visitors often include gumbo and chicken fried tuna.

“He makes good Southern dishes. Everything he makes is delicious,” Father Michael said.

Forget the rat race

Through Suehs, the monks found a supplier of California grapes they use to make wine. Their first attempt a few years ago turned into wine hardly worth drinking. The monks hope to eventually get a license to sell their wine. Their own modest vineyard remains a work in progress.

Suehs’ world as commissioner revolves around paperwork, contracts and evaluations. Part of the job requires him to create a vision for health and human services for Texans and to make a case for legislative support.

“You don’t have time in the day-to-day (routine). When I come out here, I’m relaxed. There’s no rat race,” he said of the ideas that strike him while at the monastery. “I’m more focused when I get back.

“I can’t imagine doing the commissioner’s job at the pace seven days a week, and it’s pretty much a seven days a week job,” Suehs said. “Here, there’s a respite.”

gscharrer@express-news.net

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/State-official-finds-peace-at-Central-Texas-1733250.php

New wings under construction
New wings under construction

Kendalia monastery to be consecrated (2009)

NOTE: The following newspaper article is taken from My San Antonio, October 30, 2009:

Metropolitan Isaiah, Geronda Ephraim & Hieromonk Nektarios Arvanitakis
Metropolitan Isaiah, Geronda Ephraim & Hieromonk Nektarios Arvanitakis

The Greek Orthodox bishop of Denver, Metropolitan Isaiah, will preside over the consecration of a monastery in Kendalia as part of services to celebrate the annual Feast of the Archangels next weekend.

The Greek Orthodox bishop of Denver, Metropolitan Isaiah, will preside over the consecration of a monastery in Kendalia as part of services to celebrate the annual Feast of the Archangels next weekend.

Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery, at the end of Twin Sisters Drive in Kendalia north of Spring Branch, will have vespers at 4 p.m. Nov. 7 with a meal afterward and then a vigil service from 6 to 11 p.m.

The consecration from 7-9 a.m. Nov. 8 will be followed by Divine Liturgy from 9-11 a.m. and a meal.

TX Monastic Procession

Expected at the weekend services are several hundred lay members and clergy from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the nation’s largest Eastern Orthodox group. The Denver bishop oversees a 14-state region from Texas to Montana.

The monastery was completed in 1998, but by custom such holy buildings are not necessarily consecrated immediately, officials said. Five monks and three novices live at the monastery and conduct prayer and liturgical services daily.

For more information, including the monastery dress code and directions, call (830) 833-2793 or visit www.holyarchangels.org.

Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Kendalia-monastery-to-be-consecrated-845340.php#ixzz2JLUnkDuC

L-R: Hieromonks Joseph, Paisios, Ephraim, Met. Isaiah, Heiromonks Dositheos & Pavlos
L-R: Hieromonks Joseph, Paisios, Ephraim, Met. Isaiah, Heiromonks Dositheos & Pavlos

Monks turn former Muslim school into monastery (Holy Archangels Monastery, 1997)

Note: The following newspaper article is taken from the Victoria Advocate October 12, 1997 11.

TX Victoria Advocate Photo (Oct 12, 1997)

TWIN SISTERS (AP) — The worker painting the sign felt a presence behind him. he turned to see two young men of extraordinary height twice his own dressed in white and smiling. In an instant they were gone.

Unsettled but unfrightened the worker ran to his boss, who took him to the Rev. Dositheos, head of Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery, which was being built in Twin Sisters.

Dositheos assured the worker, a day laborer who could neither speak nor read English, that all was well.

TX Sign (Close-up)

The visitors were Archangels Michael and Gabriel, who were merely showing their approval of the monastery founded in their honor July 17, 1996, the monk priest said.

Though the story fascinates guests, Dositheos believes the real miracle is the work already accomplished at the monastery, most of which was done by nine monks who are turning a former Muslim boarding school and mosque into an Orthodox holy place.

Though building a Greek Orthodox monastery in the sparsely populated Hill Country seems almost whimsical, Dositheos said it is a fulfilment of a vision of the Rev. Ephraim, elder monk in the Philotheou Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece, the holiest site in Orthodoxy.

Though building a Greek Orthodox monastery in the sparsely populated Hill Country seems almost whimsical, Dositheos said it is a fulfilment of a vision of the Rev. Ephraim
Though building a Greek Orthodox monastery in the sparsely populated Hill Country seems almost whimsical, Dositheos said it is a fulfilment of a vision of the Rev. Ephraim

Holy Archangels is the 10th monastery built in North America on Ephraim’s instructions. The work is funded entirely through donations. Two more are planned.

The fact that few Greeks live in South Texas doesn’t matter.

The monastery supports both the church and Greek culture in North America.

And, Dositheos said, Ephraim sees America on the verge of spiritual transformation, and the monastery will help foster that change.

As Dositheos put it, “Jesus is light for archangels, archangels are light for monks, monks are light for men.”

Fr. Luke
Fr. Luke

For project manager Eusebios at the monastery (all are called by their baptismal names only) turning the Zahra Foundation Sufi Muslim mosque into an Orthodox basilica is a labor of love, not of design.

“The architecture for basilicas was done by Justinian,” Eusebios said, referring to the Byzantine emperor who ruled 1,500 years ago. “We’re just copying what he did.”

As the design goes back more than 1,000 years, said Dositheos, so does the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is still read in New Testament Greek.

TX Construction 3

That Greek Orthodoxy is an unchanged tradition that goes back a millennium, he said. That is one reason it is gaining converts, who see it as “genuine.”

The work of turning the Zahra mosque into a basilica isn’t as complicated as it seems, said Eusebios.

The Muslim architect, whose hand the monks believe was guided by the archangels, built the mosque in a Roman not Arabic style, which simplifies the conversion.

Here, as in all basilicas, the wooden trusses supporting the roof will remain exposed, symbolizing the inside of an ark.

Next to the basilica, a row of cells will provide separate living quarters for up to 36 monks. Each cell will have a private bath, bed, desk, bookshelf, prayer corner and icons.

TX Construction 2

The monks live communally, sharing meals and work in common.

Once assigned to the monastery, monks live and die there. They will be buried in the former Muslim cemetery, which will be maintained.

Cemetery (early 2000s)
Cemetery (early 2000s)

At Holy Archangels, women are welcome as guests, though following Athonite tradition, they worship in a separate room in the chapel and cannot eat meals with the monks.

The two-room chapel is adorned with icons, especially those of Archangels Michael and Gabriel, and the Glykophilousa, or the Virgin sweetly kissing the Christ child.

Holy Archangels Icon in Church
Holy Archangels Icon in Church

In true monastery tradition, Holy Archangels practices the rule of hospitality, a tradition going back to Abraham. There are no visitors here, all guests.

Meals are simple beans, onion and tomato salad with olive oil vinaigrette, fresh fruit and bread.

Men sit at a table separate from the monks and must maintain silence during the 20-minute meal as Bible passages are read in Greek.

When the signal is given the meal ends. The monks rise for prayer, then file silently out of the building, followed by their guests.

In the afternoon, thick Greek coffee and kumi, a delicate pastry, are served.

Each Sunday, 60 to 70 worshippers from Houston, Dallas, even Greece come to worship. Others drop by during the week, some bringing gifts or donations.

Monks begin their day at 3 a.m. with cell rule, or private prayers. At 6, they meet in the chapel for divine liturgy, which ends at 8:30 a.m., or 10:30 on Sunday.

Then it’s time to work.

TX Construction 1

Nicholas works in the basilica, doing any number of construction jobs such as sanding doors.

As visitors leave, he quickly and quietly starts reciting a prayer as if it were a mantra.

“It’s the Jesus Prayer,” said Dositheos. “’Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ We pray without ceasing, as we are commanded to do in Scripture.”

At afternoon coffee, conversation turns to the monastic life and to Mount Athos and the miracles that have occurred there.

Ed Dryden, who helped broker the real estate purchase for the monastery, knows first-hand of such miracles.

Like project manager Eusebios, Dryden converted to Orthodoxy from Catholicism.

After suffering severe head trauma in automobile accident, Dryden said he was “basically vegged out.”

He suffered memory loss, mood swings, extreme frustration, sudden rages, outbursts of unprovoked profanity and disorientation for two years one year past the “plateau” or medical point of no further cure.

Distraught and on the verge of divorce, Dryden said, he visited Mount Athos with his son and the Rev. Tom Zaferes, former pastor of St. Sophia’s in San Antonio.

Fr. Tom Zaferes, Proistamenos of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension in Oakland, California.
Fr. Tom Zaferes, Proistamenos of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension in Oakland, California.

On the way to St. Ann’s monastery they ran into Father Eusebios, a 92-year-old monk and former abbot of St. Paul’s monastery, who began speaking to Zaferes in Greek.

As he spoke, Dryden said, the monk reached over and started rubbing his head at the exact spot where the brain injury occurred, saying, “The Holy Virgin loves you.”

“How did he know the left side of my head was injured? How did he even know I had a head injury?” Dryden asked, still perplexed.

Before they reached St. Ann’s, Dryden said, his mind started clearing. The next day the first time in two years he noticed he could actually follow a complicated conversation. In two weeks, he was healed.

Though Dryden’s miracle story impresses, and although at least one cure is associated with Holy Archangels, Dositheos makes it clear that monastic life is not really centered on miracles, but on holy living and obedience to God.

That’s why the sign painter was questioned about whether he feared the vision.

Talanton resting on wall near chapel.
Talanton resting on wall near chapel.

McMurray University Excursion to Holy Archangels Monastery, TX (Dr. Philip LeMasters, 2007)

The Rev. Fr. Philip LeMasters, Ph.D., is the pastor of St. Luke Orthodox Church, Abilene, TX. He also serves as Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Religion, Professor of Religion, and Director of the Honors Program at McMurry University. In addition, Fr. Philip is the Corporate Secretary of the Board of Trustees of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York. http://www.mcm.edu/newsite/web/academics/ssr/religion/faculty.htm

Dr. Philip LeMasters, Professor of Religion and Director of the Honors Program
Dr. Philip LeMasters, Professor of Religion and Director of the Honors Program

Religion 3310: Eastern Orthodox Theology

Dr. Philip LeMasters decided that the best way to give his students the full flavor of Orthodox Christianity was not just to have them read about it in class, but to actually experience it.  So, on November 30, 2007, members of his course on Eastern Orthodox Theology took a field trip to the Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox monastery in Kendalia, Texas.  Above: what they saw when they arrived outside the monastery compound.

The courtyard of the monastery.  Women are required to cover their heads on the monastery grounds.
The courtyard of the monastery. Women are required to cover their heads on the monastery grounds.
Dr. LeMasters on the left, with Hieromonk Ephraim and two members of the group.
Dr. LeMasters on the left, with Hieromonk Ephraim Comits and two members of the group.
The candelabra in the sanctuary.
The candelabra in the sanctuary.
A moment of quiet contemplation.
A moment of quiet contemplation.

http://www.mcm.edu/newsite/web/academics/ssr/religion/orthodox.htm