Monastery Complex Fire in Goldendale (September, 2011)

NOTE: The following article is taken from various newspaper and video reports:

Three sisters from the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner, about 10 miles east of Goldendale, race across Highway 97 on Wednesday. The nuns were bringing garden hoses across the highway to fight the fire. They also used rags to beat the flames down near their monastery. The Monastery Complex fire had grown to 5.300 acres by Thursday. (Roger Mullis/AP)
3 nuns from the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner, about 10 miles east of Goldendale, race across Highway 97 on Wednesday. The nuns were bringing garden hoses across the highway to fight the fire. They also used rags to beat the flames down near their monastery. The Monastery Complex fire had grown to 5.300 acres by Thursday.

Clark County firefighters help battle wildfire: Monastery Complex near Goldendale has grown to 5,300 acres

By Eric Florip
Columbian Staff Reporter
Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sister Ephraimia, a Greek Orthodox nun, shovels dirt onto small flames near Goldendale, Wash. on Thursday Sept. 8, 2011. The sister and other nuns helped firefighters battle a wildfire that threatened their monastery and has burned several homes.
Sister Ephraimia, a Greek Orthodox nun, shovels dirt onto small flames near Goldendale, Wash. on Thursday Sept. 8, 2011. The sister and other nuns helped firefighters battle a wildfire that threatened their monastery and has burned several homes.

A 17-member strike force from Clark County has joined the effort to battle the fast-moving Monastery Complex fire northeast of Goldendale.
The strike team, with members representing Clark County Fire & Rescue, Washougal Fire and fire districts 3, 10 and 13, was told to expect to spend at least a week fighting fires, Battalion Chief Gordon Brooks of Fire District 10 said.
The fire, which sparked around noon Wednesday, is spreading quickly.

Sister Katerina, right, hands a bucket of water to sister Prodromia, while they and other nuns at St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery, extinguish spot fires around their property, which was threatened the night before by a wildfire near Goldendale, Wash., Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011.
Sister Katerina, right, hands a bucket of water to sister Prodromia, while they and other nuns at St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery, extinguish spot fires around their property, which was threatened the night before by a wildfire near Goldendale, Wash., Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011.

As of 7 a.m. Thursday, the fire burned about 1,100 acres. By late Thursday afternoon, it had swelled to more than 5,300 acres, said Bryan Flint, communications director for the state Department of Natural Resources.
The fire is about 120 highway miles east of Vancouver.

Greek Orthodox sisters from Saint Johns Monastery help to fight the 250-acre Monastery Fire that threatened their home Wednesday.
Greek Orthodox sisters from Saint Johns Monastery help to fight the 250-acre Monastery Fire that threatened their home Wednesday.

As flames swallowed dense swaths of ponderosa pine in Klickitat County, the blaze dried out the air and fuel ahead of it, Flint said. Its energy also kicked up swift air movement on an otherwise calm day, he said.
“The fire is creating its own weather pattern that’s driving the fire,” said Flint, who spent Thursday at a fire managers’ operations center in Goldendale. “That’s why it’s spreading as fast as it is.”

Monastery Complex fire incinerates 64 structures in Goldendale
Monastery Complex fire incinerates 64 structures in Goldendale

The fire complex destroyed nine homes and 10 outbuildings as of Thursday afternoon, and threatened another 300 structures. Hundreds of people have been evacuated because of the fire, though no injuries have been reported. A large section of U.S. Highway 97 and other roads were disrupted throughout the day Thursday. Brooks Memorial State Park was also closed.

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“They’re going to have a busy day today,” Brooks said Thursday. Brooks has assisted with more wildfires than he can count. He wasn’t able to go this time because of a foot injury, but his department sent four firefighters.

Clark County Fire & Rescue sent five people and one truck to help, said Battalion Chief Dean Lange. This isn’t the first wildfire has crew has helped battle this year, he said, but a wet, cool spring and early summer delayed the arrival of this fire season.

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“It’s happened late before like this, but this is much later,” Lange said.
Sending staff to help with fires outside a district’s jurisdiction doesn’t have too big an effect on local response to fires, Brooks said. Each department will send a small number of people, he said.

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The fire was believed to have started along Highway 97 north of Goldendale, just across the street from the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner. The 19 nuns and employees, who operate a well-known bakery there, saw flames and immediately ran outside with water, rakes and rags to beat back the fire.

Several customers in the bakery also joined in the effort until firefighters arrived, said Sister Parthenia, who has been at the monastery for 19 years.

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“We’re just so grateful to God and everyone’s efforts. The firefighters worked so hard, even opened up a line up there,” she said, pointing behind one of their buildings. “We thought that was sweet they wanted to save our barn.”
A total of 288 personnel were battling the fire late Thursday, Flint said. That includes crews from nearly every county in the state, he said.

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It was too early to tell late Thursday what percentage of the fire had been contained, Flint said. The fire was mostly moving southeast.
Warm, dry weather isn’t going to make fighting the fire any easier. Highs will be in the upper 80s and low 90s through Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

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Starting Tuesday, things will cool off. Highs in Goldendale are expected to be in the low 80s and high 70s next week.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Comments

Marie Eliades That’s our girls! Look at these photos on line and all over the press.. our girls fighting fire..both physical and spiritual! Glory to God…Today I’ve heard the monastery is totally safe but blackend…with love from another mom of a nun (Life Giving Spring) Hi Donna! Reply • 5 • Like • Follow Post • September 9, 2011 at 1:09am

• Donna Armstrong Young • Wasilla, Alaska This is the monastery where our daughter is a nun. She called earlier today and said they were all safe and had been evacuated. At that time the monastery buildings were still intact. I haven’t heard anything since then. My daughter is the one on the left in this picture.

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http://www.columbian.com/news/2011/sep/08/clark-county-firefighters-battling-monastery-compl/

“We’re just so grateful to God and everyone’s efforts. The firefighters worked so hard….We thought that was sweet they wanted to save our barn.” “It was very scary,” said Sister Theopisti. “Thanks to the blessings of God and prayer.”

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Fire Threatens Monastery In Goldendale, Washington (2013)

The Satus Pass fire, located in Goldendale, Washington has presently consumed nearly 9,000 acres, with over 800 firefighters working to control this fire. The Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner in Goldendale is in the vicinity of this fire. The sisters have been evacuated and are seeking refuge in nearby homes. His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos has been in contact with the sisters and they are all safe, and at the present time the Monastery has not sustained any damage.
“This has already been a devastating year of fires throughout the United States. Once again, we find ourselves facing yet another threat as the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner finds itself in a path of danger,” stated His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco. “We pray for the firefighters who are bravely working to save lives and structures, and we ask for the Lord to calm the fires and bring favorable weather so that no harm may come upon the people in this area.”
Two years ago, this same Monastery was threatened by fire and the sisters joined with the local residents and firefighters in working to protect their property and assist their neighbors and community. Thankfully, the Monastery was spared from damage in 2011 and it is the fervent prayer of the clergy and faithful of the Metropolis of San Francisco that this same outcome may be realized.
The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco will provide further updates as additional information becomes available.
Fr. Timothy Pavlatos, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at NW Counseling Associates, LLC (OR)
Fr. Timothy Pavlatos, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at NW Counseling Associates, LLC (OR)
nuns at the monastery preparing to fight the fire
nuns at the monastery preparing to fight the fire
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Greek Orthodox Nuns Live Life Of Prayer In Mountains Of Washington (Anna King, 2008)

Northwest Public Radio | May 28, 2008  | Goldendale, WA

The link has the interview recording: http://www.opb.org/news/article/greek-orthodox-nuns-live-life-prayer-mountains-washington/

 WA BELL

Did you know there’s a place in the Pacific Northwest where people only speak Greek, eat Greek food and pray all day for the salvation of the world?

In the pine-dotted mountains just north of Goldendale, Washington, 18 women live in a different time. It’s called St. John The Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery.

Correspondent Anna King lived in the monastery for two days to bring us this story.

Anna King
Anna King

Anna King: So I am looking at my phone here and it’s about 8:38 p.m. and I am headed to bed because I’m getting up at four in the morning which is when the services start. Umm.

The only thing is that the sisters get up at like 2 a.m. and start doing their own prayers in their own room in prostration before they get up and do services at 4 a.m. so I feel kind of lazy getting up at 4 a.m. but I am going to go to bed now.

SOUND: Cell phone alarm

Anna King: When my cell phone alarm went off at 4 a.m. I was so sleepy I accidently used a tube of face cream as toothpaste. After washing my mouth out and pulling on a long dress and a headscarf, I headed through the dark woods to the chapel for morning prayers with the nuns.

SOUND: Nuns singing

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Anna King: These 18 women at St. John sing songs with words and melodies that haven’t changed since the Byzantine era. And they live a simple life of rigorous work and prayer. There’s no T.V., there’s no radio and there’s no idle talk. Even as they work or eat they pray to Jesus for their own salvation and that of everyone else.

Sister Iosiphia: I think the main thing that the monasteries have to offer is prayer for the world.

Anna King: This is Sister Iosiphia.

Sister Iosiphia: I don’t think there can be anything more powerful than monks and nuns — young men and women — staying up in the middle of the night sacrificing their sleep and their comforts to pray to God for all of the people in the world. Which there are so many various problems and so many various needs that everyone has. I don’t think there could be a greater offering to the people and the community than that.

Anna King: Many of the faces I saw peeking out from the black head wraps were young. Iosiphia wouldn’t say how old she is but appears to be in her late twenties.

SOUND: Sisters singing

Anna King: This monastery in the mountains is young too. It was started 13 years ago when a local doctor donated his property to the Greek Orthodox Church. Three nuns from Greece came to establish St. John. The rest of the sisters here are recruits. Many of them don’t have any Greek heritage, and some are even converted Protestants.

St. John is one of 18 Greek Orthodox monasteries overseen by a Greek priest named Elder Ephraim. The priest-monk has attracted some controversy.

Geronda Ephraim (2003)

In fact, several Web sites criticize his monasteries, likening them to a cult. But all of the women at St. John say they choose this life. It’s a choice generally made soon after high school.

Next to Sister Iosiphia sits Sister Ephraimia. She’s wearing nearly identical black clothing. The only bare skin sticking out are their faces and hands. Both say they found the monastery life by themselves.

Sister Ephraimia: Most people probably would say that it’s something that starts to grow in their heart little by little and it gets bigger and bigger until you just know that this is what you want to do. It’s like the love of Christ grows and grows until you are ready to make that decision.

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Sister Iosiphia: Just like how do you know when you want to get married or who you want to marry? It’s a mystery. There are millions of people in the world, but something draws you to that life and to that certain person. It’s the same thing for us. Something draws us to this life and to a certain monastery.

Anna King: The commitment to be a nun or a monk is life-long. And even Orthodox families can feel frightened or confused when a daughter or son decides to join up.

The nuns typically don’t visit their families, but they do have a guest house so the families can come visit them. One of the parents I met there is Donna Young from Wasilla, Alaska. She comes here at least twice a year to visit her daughter who is a nun. http://northstarbakery.com/

Donna Young: I was really nervous about having her go to take on a really different life than I was used to. I wondered how it would be or how we would relate to each other. But the sisters have made our family feel like this is our home. So we feel really close. When we come here to visit it’s just like coming to our second home.

Anna King: This home is a busy one. Visits with family are squeezed in amid chores and prayers.

SOUND: Kitchen noise, peeling onions

Anna King: The sisters receive some donations but they also work to support themselves. This day the nuns peeled tubs of onions to make traditional Greek food to sell in their cafe. They paint religious icons. And they make pastries, soaps and candles to sell on their Web site.

 WA St John's Bakery Interior & Nun (Winter)

Anna King: But I mean do you guys miss anything from the outside world like waterslides or pizza or you know movies?

Sister Ephraimia: No

Sister Iosiphia: You find the fulfillment here with everything. And like we said it’s heavenly joy. And that can’t be compared with anything to the joy on this earth which is very vain and temporal. And our joy, our goal is for the eternal joy which we start to feel from here.

Sister Ephraimia: You get a little taste of paradise then what would you want with the world after that. It’s like it’s nothing. The world is our exile and it’s just our journey home to paradise here.

Anna King: The sisters are praying that they will earn enough money to build more spacious housing and a bigger chapel soon. That would create more room for more sisters to join them in their life of solitary work and prayer.

SOUND: Sisters singing second song

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Nuns live life of seclusion at remote Wash. Monastery (Adriana Janovich, 2006)

NOTE: The following newspaper article is taken from the Yakima Herald-Republic, November 6th, 2006, p. 6.

WA Moscow-Pullman Daily News November 6, 2006, p. 6A

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.

WA Moscow-Pullman Daily News - Nov 6, 2006 (Sister Arsenia)

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.”

WA Winter

St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery (Arielle Juliana, 2006)

I spent the past few days at the St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery, out in southeastern Washington. I may do a few updates with little stories, but first I wanted to post this article. I read this article (which was originally accompanied by a beautiful series of photographs, which are unfortunately no longer online) just before I went to the visit the monastery last year, and I think the reporter did a wonderful job at capturing the spirit of this place. A couple updates on the article – there are now 17 nuns and novices, and a priest has recently moved near the monastery from Alaska to serve the liturgy. Also, behind the cuts are a few of the stories I learned of how a few of the young nuns came to the monastery.

Nuns hold a candlelight procession outside St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery in Goldendale, Wash., in preparation for Easter.
Nuns hold a candlelight procession outside St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery in Goldendale, Wash., in preparation for Easter.
One of the nuns mentioned in the article, Sister Ephraimia, was one I especially wanted to be able to speak with while I was there. I always been interested in her journey. She was the maid of honor in the wedding of my friends Fr. David and Kh. Heather before she became a nun, and their daughter Ephraimia was named after her tonsured name.
Kh Heather and Fr. David Sommer, Pastor of St. Thomas Antiochian Church (Brier, WA)
Kh Heather and Fr. David Sommer, Pastor of St. Thomas Antiochian Church (Brier, WA)
All I knew is that she was the first of the American women to come after the three nuns from Greece came. When I see her, she just radiates peace and grace, and I have always wanted to know how she made the journey from being a friend of many people I know up in Alaska, a costmetology student who jumped from one thing to the next with little direction, to being this gracious, mature nun that I see now, who obviously very well respected by the sisters and has been given quite a bit of responsibility by the abbess. I finally got the opportunity to speak to her when Kh. Heather and I took the children over to see the goats, and Kh. Miriam told me more later.
Sister Ephraimia shovels dirt onto small flames near Goldendale, Wash. on Thursday Sept. 8, 2011.
Sister Ephraimia shovels dirt onto small flames near Goldendale, Wash. on Thursday Sept. 8, 2011.
She went on a pilgrimage with her priest to the Holy Land when she was about 20 years old, and spent time at St. Catherine’s on Mt. Sinai and several other monasteries in the Holy Land. She wanted to stay so badly that it was all her priest could do to make her come home to take care of her responsibilities and possessions at home. He was worried he would really have to leave her there. But he talked her into leaving, and she came home and got rid of all her stuff and began visiting monasteries in America, still planning to ultimately become a nun in Greece or the Holy Land. But then someone told her about these three Greek nuns who had arrived in Washington to set up a monastery. She went to visit, and even though she couldn’t speak to them, even though it wasn’t the Old Country monastery she had dreamed of, even though it was at that time just a manufactured home in the woods in dry, lonely Eastern Washington, she loved it. I asked her about how hard it must have been, not being able to talk to the three older nuns, who were unhappy to be sent there from their beloved monastery in the first place, and she got this faraway look in her eyes and said, “It was hard, but there was so much grace for me here.” She met with Elder Ephraim soon after coming and made her wishes to become a nun known, and asked for a blessing to learn Greek. Elder Ephraim actually blessed her lips, making the sign of the Cross over her mouth. She was completely fluent within a year, and was translating for the Gerontissa by the time the next novice arrived. It’s very clear that after nearly 11 years, this life is a source of deep peace and joy for her.
st-johns-feast-day-2012
Also while we were visiting the goats, Kh. Heather introduced me to Sister Ioanna, a sweet, friendly young nun that is always smiling. Kh. Heather put her arm around her and said, “I have known Sister Ioanna since she was a little girl, and she knew she wanted to become a nun by the time she was eight.” Kh. Miriam was present when she was tonsured (and the novices don’t know when they will be tonsured until it happens – it’s a total surprise), and she said that after she was tonsured, veiled, and given her new name, she couldn’t stop smiling. Years later, I’m not sure she ever has stopped smiling 🙂
WA Sister Makrina 2
Sister Macrina, a priest’s daughter, first came to visit and work with the nuns for a week or two, like many of the young girls in my church, when she was about 11. When she was there for another visit at the age of 14, she was supposed to leave just before the nuns departed to St. Anthony’s in Arizona. She called her mother and begged in tears to be allowed to go with the nuns to St. Anthony’s, with the Gerontissa’s blessing. Her mother decided to let her, and she planned to meet the nuns in Portland on their way back up and get her daughter then. Before they got to Portland, the mother got another tearful phone call from her daughter, who begged and begged to be able to go back to the monastery with the nuns. Her mother relented, and Sister Macrina has been there ever since. Because she was so young, she was not made an official novice for several years, but stayed clothed in blue (the Gerontissa has girls who want to become nuns first become a kind of sub-novice, and clothes them in a blue habit, usually for about a year before they become an official novice clothed in black. She also prefers that they don’t come until after they finish high school, but a few extremely determined girls have been exceptions. Sister Macrina finished high school by correspondence). Now, she is one of the most beautiful chanters at the monastery, and her chanting and Greek is so beautiful and confident, I though she might be one of the nuns that came from Greece. Like most of the nuns, she didn’t know any Greek until she came to the monastery.

WA Sister Makrina packages pieces of baklava in one of the kitchen areas at St. John's Monastery in Goldendale.

I’m still a little afraid of Gerontissa (abbess) Efpraxia. I’ve never gone to speak with her. I go up to get her blessing at the beginning of every service, but that’s about the extent of it. But I know the nuns love her, and a huge amount of people from all around Washington and the Northwest revere her and go to her for advice and direction regularly. She is the person the other abbesses all over the country call for advice. I was asking Kh. Miriam why all these young women have come here of all places, to a monastery where the first thing they have to do is learn a whole new language, and Kh. Miriam just shrugged and said, “It’s the Gerontissa, she’s wonderful. She is simply a very holy woman, who knows the human soul.” She went on to tell me story after story of people coming to the Gerontissa, and her praying and guiding people through the hardest situations. There are many stories of barren women coming to her and asking for her prayers. Kh. Miriam told of one woman she knows who came to the Gerontissa for just that reason one Dormition. The Gerontissa is very humble, and said, “I will pray, and you will pray too, and together, we will wait and see what God does.” The woman came the following Dormition to introduce her baby to the Gerontissa.
WA Bickleton Shortcut

The monastery also has a dry creekbed that runs behind the monastery. The chapel is in the lower level of the building, with the nuns quarters above it. This creek flooded each year, and sometimes the water got dangerously close to the chapel. One year, there was a serious rainstrom, and the water kept rising and rising, with no sign of abating. The Gerontissa is older, with bad arthritis, and is not supposed to be outside too long because of it. But the water kept rising. So the Gerontissa went out with an icon of the Theotokos, and held it there and prayed all night long. By dawn, the water has begun to recede, and soon was back down to its normal level. That was years ago, and the creek has not flooded again since. My roommate was a mother of three, soon to be four, and she often comes to the Gerontissa for advice in childrearing. Her mother in law thinks this is silly, and asked her, “Why on earth would you ask a nun about raising children? What could she possible know about children?” This woman replied, “She doesn’t have children, but she knows the depths of the human soul.” I think I may need to get over my fear and go speak to her next time.

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