St. John’s Monastery near Goldendale expands its kitchen (Savannah Tranchell, 2013)

NOTE: The following article is from the Yakima Herald, March 7th, 2013:

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

For nearly 20 years, St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery has sat just off the highway near Goldendale.

Enclosed in woods, the complex is home to 22 nuns and novices who have devoted themselves to a life of worship.

But monastic life is far from the quiet solitude some may imagine — the sisters are a growing bunch of entrepreneurs who stay busy running their own business.

Sister Makaria, left, makes spanakopita, a spinich and cheese pastry, while sister Makrina, right, strains cheese that will be used in the filling of tyropita, a cheese pie at St. John's Monastery in Goldendale on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. The monastery is expanding it's kitchens, giving the sisters more room to create the foods that are for sale in the monastery's shop as well as creating a dedicated area for milk processing and cheese production from the monastery's goats.
Sister Makaria, left, makes spanakopita, a spinich and cheese pastry, while sister Makrina, right, strains cheese that will be used in the filling of tyropita, a cheese pie at St. John’s Monastery in Goldendale on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. The monastery is expanding it’s kitchens, giving the sisters more room to create the foods that are for sale in the monastery’s shop as well as creating a dedicated area for milk processing and cheese production from the monastery’s goats.

St. John’s Bakery, Coffee & Gifts is the most public face of the monastery. The shop is located on the roadside of U.S. 97 and offers tourists and locals alike an opportunity to interact with the sisters and enjoy the fruits of their labor: traditional gourmet Greek pastries and other treats, Greek food, beeswax candles, hand-painted icons, jams and, new to the shop, goat milk and cheeses.

Items sold at the shop are all created by the sisters at the monastery and proceeds support their life there. The store, which opened in May 2002, has been so popular that the sisters are in the process of expanding their kitchen in order to accommodate their growing line of products.

“We felt like it was just too small what we’re trying to work in,” said Sister Myrophora, who has lived at St. John’s since 2001. “It felt like we couldn’t really keep up with our menu.”

Sister Makaria, left, makes spanakopita, a spinich and cheese pastry, while sister Makrina, right, strains cheese that will be used in the filling of tyropita, a cheese pie at St. John's Monastery in Goldendale on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. The monastery is expanding it's kitchens, giving the sisters more room to create the foods that are for sale in the monastery's shop as well as creating a dedicated area for milk processing and cheese production from the monastery's goats.
Sister Makaria, left, makes spanakopita, a spinich and cheese pastry, while sister Makrina, right, strains cheese that will be used in the filling of tyropita, a cheese pie at St. John’s Monastery in Goldendale on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. The monastery is expanding it’s kitchens, giving the sisters more room to create the foods that are for sale in the monastery’s shop as well as creating a dedicated area for milk processing and cheese production from the monastery’s goats.

The monastery was recently certified as a Grade A Dairy Farm and is raising a small herd of goats for milk and cheese. In order to sell those products to the public, the sisters found they needed more space.

The construction work, which is funded by a foundation created to support the monastery, is more than doubling the available kitchen space, adding new commercial freezers and refrigerators and creating a separate building for milk and cheese. The work should be finished this spring.

In the existing space, the sisters have to stop using the kitchen for making pastries and other foods on cheese-making day because of the risk of cross-contamination. The expansion will allow both activities to occur simultaneously.

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

All of the items created at the monastery — including sweets such as baklava, biscotti, chocolates, and other Greek cookies, breads and cakes — come from recipes brought to the monastery from Greece by its original three sisters, who still live there and oversee the work. The sisters also have been learning about cheese making from other Greek monasteries. “Greek cooking is very time-consuming,” said Sister Iosiphia. “We do it just like the ladies do at home — from scratch.” She said it can be fun for those sisters who grew up in a Greek Orthodox home, because “we’re doing the same things as our moms and grandmas.”

One part of the newly expanded kitchen area at the St. John's Monastery is a room that will be dedicated to dairy processing and cheese production from the monastery's goats.
One part of the newly expanded kitchen area at the St. John’s Monastery is a room that will be dedicated to dairy processing and cheese production from the monastery’s goats.

The interaction with the original sisters helps keep the recipes authentic.

“We’ve really tried to perfect the foods and give them the most authentic taste, so people really get a good taste of what Greek tastes like,” said Sister Myrophora.

About four sisters are permanent bakery cooks, and the rest take turns helping in the bakery, milking goats, working in the shop and creating the other products sold at the shop. And while there is more than enough work to keep them busy around the clock, they are careful to maintain their focus on God.

The kitchens at the St. John's monastery have been expanded twice -- the older expansion, in the foreground, houses ovens and gives additional kitchen space while the new area expands the back of the building, and in addition to adding work room, holds an area dedicated to dairy production
The kitchens at the St. John’s monastery have been expanded twice — the older expansion, in the foreground, houses ovens and gives additional kitchen space while the new area expands the back of the building, and in addition to adding work room, holds an area dedicated to dairy production

“We try to keep a balance,” said Sister Iosiphia, who has lived at the monastery for nearly 16 years. “Our main goal is we’re here for the monastic calling.”

The sisters have turned down catering opportunities or other orders in order to preserve their spiritual lives, said Sister Myrophora.

“We do what we can with the hands we have,” Sister Iosiphia said.

A pan on baklava waits to be packaged at St. John's Monastery in Goldendale. The monastery is in the process of another kitchen expansion that includes both a separate dairy processing area as well as additional kitchen space.
A pan on baklava waits to be packaged at St. John’s Monastery in Goldendale. The monastery is in the process of another kitchen expansion that includes both a separate dairy processing area as well as additional kitchen space.

She noted many people comment on how good the food at the monastery is, and said she reminds them that “the blood of Christ sanctifies all.” Our food is “made with prayer,” she said.

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

The deli-style shop is remaining open during the kitchen remodel, and visitors can still pick up lunch items and frozen, family-sized meals there from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. There is limited seating available inside the shop, and in the warmer months the sisters put tables outside as well.

Among the most popular food items sold are the gyros, which is available with lamb and beef or vegetarian. The mousakas — an eggplant and potato casserole — is also very popular, Sister Myrophora said.

WA FOOD

“We hope maybe someday to expand the store more to give more seating. It’s really pretty packed full,” she said. “We didn’t think it would get this full.”

WA St. John's Jam WA St. John's Strawberry Jam

If you go St. John’s Bakery, Coffee & Gifts

2378 U.S. 97, Goldendale

509-773-6650

stjohnmonastery.org

Store hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed for Greek Orthodox holidays

WA St John's Bakery Food (2013) WA St John's Bakery Glyka (2013)

Read more here: http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2013/03/07/2303456/st-johns-monastery-near-goldendale.html#storylink=cpy

WA St John's Bakery (2) WA St. John's Bakery 2

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.

DSC08278