NOTE: The following newspaper article is taken from the Yakima Herald-Republic, November 6th, 2006, p. 6.
STATUS PASS, Wash—On a pine-covered patch off U.S. Highway 97, the Pacific Northwest meets the Byzantine Empire.
Evergreens shelter a collection of structures that look more like typical Northwest cabins than a Greek Orthodox monastery. In the wee hours, the woods are dark. So still, so quiet, so peaceful. Elsewhere, bars are closing, truckers are making the long haul, children have been asleep for hours.
At the roadside monastery at the edge of a forest, Greek Orthodox sisters are praying for them all. From this remote sylvan setting 10 miles north of Goldendale, more than a dozen nuns pray for the world. Their prayers continue until the stars disappear from the sky, the sun rises and shines, and darkness sets in again.
Life—a tranquil cycle of work and prayer—goes largely uninterrupted at St. John the Forerunner, the only Greek Orthodox monastery in Central Washington. Tucked under the trees and named in honor of St. John the Baptist, it’s a small version of monasteries in Greece that have been running for hundreds of years, and it’s growing. New sisters, most from the western United States, arrive almost every year.
The monastery is home to 16 sisters, including four novices. Most are in their 20s.
They pledge to live their lives among the pines of Status Pass, at an elevation of just over 3,000 feet, on the north side of the Horse Heaven Hills in Klickitat County. Nearly 60 miles from Yakima and thousands of miles from Greece, it’s arguably the middle of nowhere.
While other young women are going to college and on dates, getting jobs, getting married and raising families—the sisters are giving their lives to God, living in solitude together—and praying for the world.
“It’s a calling from God,” says 33-year-old Sister Ephraimia. “It grows in your heart. It’s like a fire inside you.”
Originally from Santa Barbara, Calif., Sister Ephraimia was the first American to live at the monastery, founded by three Greek nuns in 1995. She’s been here 11 years.
“I had no idea what the monastic life was before I came here,” she says. “The draw was Christ. Lots of people say it’s like you’re in prison or something. It’s not. It’s the opposite. It’s like you’re free.”
The sisters lead contemplative, quiet lives, largely secluded—save for medical appointments, shopping trips and other errands, and the occasional journey to another monastery—from the outside world. Unlike Catholic nuns, who are usually active in their communities, Orthodox nuns center their lives on a desire to come closer to God through prayer.
“It is hard to understand the depth of this life,” says 30-year-old Sister Iosiphia, originally from Scottsdale, Ariz. She’s lived at the monastery nearly 10 years. “It’s a beautiful life. You’re doing it for God.”
Sisters go through a novice, or trial, period that can last years before becoming tonsured nuns. It is extremely rare for a sister to give up monastic life after that point.
“You come here with the goal to die here,” Sister Iosiphia says. “It’s a very serious commitment.”