Situated on a serene 80-acre estate the St. John Chrysostomos Monastery is a sight to behold. This Greek Orthodox monastery, located in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, echoes its Grecian roots with elegant, red-tile domes and roofing. However, while the tiled domes appear to be terra-cotta, they are actually architectural fiberglass, or GFRP.
GFRP Can Imitate Any Building Material
Architectural fiberglass is an extremely versatile building material. At the St. John Chrysostomos Monastery, architectural fiberglass is used to imitate terra-cotta tile, but that application barely scratches the surface of the many building materials that GFRP can emulate. Architectural fiberglass can be used to imitate granite, marble, brick, copper, gold or even wood. Many of these traditional building materials are expensive, heavy and difficult to work with. Architectural fiberglass looks just like the real thing, and comes pre-fabricated and ready to install.
Stromberg Architectural Project: Greek Orthodox Holy Monastery of St. John Chrysostom
The St John Chrysostomos Monastery, founded in 1994, is a monastery for nuns of the Greek Orthodox Church. It is under the Bishopric of the Diocese of Chicago, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. It is well known for the production of exquisite religious works of art, especially in the areas of ornaments, icons and plates.
The grounds of the monastery are a destination for religious pilgrims. Serenity, beauty and peace abound in this 80-acre estate. The site features a 9,000 square foot Byzantine Church and 18,000 square feet of support facilities. Of particular pride to its residents are the elegant tiled domes topped with crosses that create the monastery’s signature look. These pieces were built by Stromberg Architectural Products.
Stromberg built the domes using tiles composed of our Glass Fiber Reinforced Polymer (GFRP). GFRP has proven ideal for the replacement of terra cotta tiles in numerous past projects. As the monastery is blanketed in snow during winter months, GFRP is a much more prudent choice than true terra cotta for its ability to withstand widely changing temperature and weather conditions. In addition to enduring the change in temperature and conditions ranging from hot summers to cold winters, Stromberg GFRP was also passed the hurricane test, as elements created by Stromberg in the Bahamas have withstood the brunt of a Category 5 storm.
On Saturday, October 26th, the HRSOC Youth Group visited St. John Chrysostom, Greek Women’s Monastery, in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.
We have been warmly welcomed by gerontissa (abbess) Melanie who has also taken the time out of her active monastic life in order to have a conversation with the group. Among other topics, mother Melanie spoke about marriage and relationships between young people today. She has also mentioned that the young people need to start thinking about planning their family in future and, most importantly, choosing the right person for the marriage since the focus should not be based on outward appearance solely. She has also made a beautiful connection between the young people and the St. Demetrious who was very young when he confessed Christ and because of this confession was tortured and executed (since the Orthodox Christians were persecuted at that time in history). In addition, our orthodox church celebrates him as a Great-martyr. Also, the monastery was celebrating St. Demetrious on this day and we have all been blessed to venerate his relics.
The group also visited their main church built in the graceful but mysterious Byzantine style. The delicious and hearty lunch was served at the monastery’s lunch hall located next to their smaller church. Some of the teens had to go back early to Chicago but the once who stayed took a 10 minute drive to Scoops Ice Cream in downtown Kenosha for a taste of an array of delicious sweet treats. Soon after, the group was back for a vesper service at the Monastery. The perfect ending to a perfect day, contemplating the beauty of life in a small, only candle lit church, alongside the beautiful and uplifting chanting of the monastery nuns.
NOTE: The following article is taken from The Orthodox Messenger, June 28th, 2009, a publication of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese:
KENOSHA, WISCONSIN–On Saturday, May 9th, the Chicago Deanery Churches embarked on a pilgrimage to the Greek Orthodox Holy Monastery of St. John Chrysostomos located near Kenosha, Wisconsin. This pilgrimage was organized by the Diocesan Apostolate for Youth Ministry, continuing their desire to get our youth accustomed to the idea of taking pilgrimages. The event was attended by young people as well as adults. All told, more than 50 people participated. Those from Crawfordsville and Lafayette started their five-hour journey to the monastery before dawn! Parishioners also traveled from the Schererville and Hobart parishes. Faithful from Niles, Illinois traveled to the Pilgrimage on a school bus. They held morning prayers and then talked a little about monastic life on their way there.
The monastery is one of 17 founded by the Elder Father Ephraim. It is a women’s monastery. The community was founded in 1994 and serves to provide spiritual guidance and to help preserve the Holy Traditions of the Church through an exemplary Christian life and devotion to God.
Upon arriving at the monastery, before being called to prayer, faithful were warmly greeted and welcomed by the Sisters of the monastery. In the monastery chapel (which is devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary), a Paraklesis was chanted in Greek by several of the Sisters. During this service, in the beautiful and poetic hymnography of Byzantine Chant, the Theotokos (Mother of God) is honored and esteemed for her unique role in the salvation of the human race. We beseech her to save us—just as those drowning reach out to those on dry land. Following the service, a presentation about the monastery and monastic life was then given by one of the Sisters. She explained that the monastery complex was recently completed and that 20 nuns from Greece and America now reside there.
A typical day in the life of a nun begins by rising very early in the morning for prayers. On several days during the week the Divine Liturgy is served. Following their breakfast, the nuns go about their jobs or chores. Many of them work outside in the gardens tending vegetables, herbs and flowers. Some make candles or do iconography. Some help prepare soaps and lotions. Some work in the monastery bookstore or visitor center. All of their meals are meatless, and several days each week are strict fasting days. At the conclusion of their day, with prayers, the nuns retire to their cells. The Sister told us how they believe St. John Chrysostomos watches over and protects the monastery.
Faithful were then invited to visit the bookstore, where various icons, books, jewelry, baked goods, etc. were available for sale. A delicious lunch of traditional Greek foods and fruit was served in the visitor’s refectory at the monastery.
After lunch, a walk up the hill took faithful to the main Church of St. John Chysostomos. It features a beautiful iconostasion, main chandelier (lighted by
candles), marble floor, and other furnishings made by traditional artisans in
Greece. Faithful were able to explore the magnificent Church and the two
adjoining chapels as the Sisters offered explanations and answered any questions.
At the conclusion of the day, the younger children and the clergy were presented with gift bags from the Sisters as a remembrance of the pilgrimage. The day provided an opportunity for faithful to travel to a holy and sacred place to glance at the simple yet peaceful life of monasticism. Even if it was for just a short time, Chicago Deanery faithful were able to separate them- selves from the world, leave their problems behind, and focus on learning more about our Heavenly Father and opening their hearts to His special grace.
Those who attended the Pilgrimage returned home transformed, renewed,
ROULA ASSOCIATES ARCHITECTS, Chtd. a leading Chicago based architectural firm, with an impressive list of clients and practice, and with a particular emphasis on large scale public sector projects. Established in 1980 by Roula Alakiotou, FAIA, a veteran in women-owned architectural firms. Over the years the firm has developed a reputation for innovative design in a variety of complex and diverse projects.
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Monastery (MI)
Completion Date: 1997
An addition of 5,543 square feet to an existing house that accommodates a temporary church and housing for the monks.
A master plan study of a 102,446 square feet for a monastery on a 100-acre site.
St. John Chrysostom Greek Orthodox Monastery (WI)
Religion meets science…faith meets art
New Monastic Nunnery Complex, a spiritual center for the Greek Orthodox community in the Midwest on an 80-acre site; includes a 9,000sf Byzantine church with eight domes, chapels, support buildings, housing, arts & crafts workshops, community public spaces and a cemetery. Natural Wisconsin stone clads the entire complex enhanced by clay tile roofs and fiberglass domes. Greek masons specializing in Byzantine masonry installation, solid wood custom doors handmade by Greek carpenters in Greece .
Area: 65,000 SF Completed: 2003
Owner: St. John Chrysostomos Monastery
Planning for a new church of 5,751 square feet and support facility of 9,218 square feet for the public were added to a rural 180-acre site in Roscoe, New York. The site was a summer golf retreat that is to be converted into a monastery in various phases.
The following is an excerpt from the book, Within The Warrior: There Lived A Broken Child, pp. 230-232. The author, though a Greek Protestant, has ties to the Greek Orthodox community of Illinois. He writes his observations and criticisms on how the appearance of St. John Chrysostom Monastery (and the monasteries in general) has affected the Greek community in Illinois.
There were those though who understood our commitment to God and were very supportive, far and few in-between as they were. One of those individuals was Irene’s Koubaro Peter, the father of the son who Irene and her sister baptized. In fact it was not only Peter but also his wife Caroline who understood, because they also had God as a spiritual priority in their family relationship. Peter was and is a very spiritual and God fearing man. Though we may have disagreed on some aspects of our religious beliefs (as he was committed to the Orthodox Church) he and I took time to understand each other, and appreciate where we both came from, and were both able to agree to disagree where there was no commonality. The only major difference we had, that was of any real issue for me, was his commitment to the spirituality of the monastic lifestyle.
Just over the border from Illinois into Wisconsin there was a Greek Orthodox monastery being built at that time, now it is completed. It was built on former Roman Catholic property in Kenosha, Wisconsin, about a fifty to sixty minute drive from Palos Hills. The building and creation of this monastery changed the whole mood of the Greek Orthodox community in and around Chicago and the Chicago land area. Many old world Greeks have the idea that monks are somehow intrinsically holier than your regular priest. The belief stems from the fact that monks spend their whole lives in denial of creature comforts, and money, because of their humbleness and humility, their attire, their beards and long hair. In the mid-east and in the Mediterranean, men who have beards are esteemed as wise and holy if applicable, as is the same with the long hair within the Orthodox Church. The laity believes that any action performed from one of these monks has more power, authority and holiness, than if performed by a priest. This is not my opinion. These are ideas that many within the Greek community have expressed to me and defended. Now the monastery in and of itself, as well as the monks or nuns who run it, or any other monastery, are not the problem. The problem stems when the laity starts to treat these monks and nuns as though they are infallible, all holy and have complete knowledge over all things spiritual. This kind of belief can create many problems, as it did, for a variety of people. What follows are not stories that I have heard second hand; rather, I was there to see them or hear them, and see the consequences unfold before me.
One of the problems that occurred, at least a problem as some of the priests saw it was the fact that many of the laity would go to the monastery for the sacraments that their local priest would provide; such as confession and communion to name two. The reason that this created problems was the fact that the monks would hear confessions, and then would prescribe a Canona (a Greek term for a Canon, and stands for a religious pronouncement of due penance that the person was to follow). The Canona, according to many priests, was way too severe. For instance, I know of two people whose cases the priests were furious over their respective penances.
One person, who confessed to a monk that she went gambling on a riverboat, was told she could no longer participate in the church choir, for life. Another person was told they could not commune for twenty years. This is a big problem because within the Orthodox Church, communion is seen as a sacrament that takes away your sins, it is not a symbolic act, or viewed as a memorial, it is serious business. Thus for twenty years, logically, this persons sins cannot be washed away. One priest explained to me that although technically once a penance has been pronounced it cannot be absolved, he stated that he was looking into receiving authority from the Archbishop to release this person from her Canona.
Another problem that surfaced, and one that had consequences on the everyday practical level was a new form of legalism, one that I call Pseudo-monasticism. Many of these Greeks who started to visit the monastery, all of a sudden believed themselves to be monks and nuns, and many tried to look, act and live like them. Of course, only monks and nuns are monks and nuns, and not those who suppose they are. A monastic lifestyle is for monastics, not for the everyday person. Certainly you can emulate their devotion to prayer, humbleness, humility and caring (these are the ideal monastic qualities, not necessarily the qualities one sees in actual monks and nuns), but that is as far as one could go. However, these Greeks thought they can go further, and many did. Such as sleeping in separate beds from their husbands, because now they were past the child-bearing years or were not having any more children. Why was this happening? Because many believe, (and at times the belief is re-enforced by some within the Orthodox Church, such as monks and nuns) that sex is an activity of the flesh, meaning bad or evil, and should be engaged in only procreation and not for pleasure. You would see many of the husbands of these women (the unwilling participants) walking around with the sourest demeanors you would ever see on a person. I know that some of these men did not agree to this celibacy, which makes it unbiblical to begin with, as I will explain in a minute.
However, that was within their home-life. The problem and irritation for me was when it hit too close to home, with my next-door neighbors, my Koubari. Spiro and Helen next door was a relatively young couple in age. Spiro1 is about four or five years older than I am (around forty-four as of 2005) and Helen I believe is about two years younger than I am. At the time of this incident Spiro was about thirty-five and Helen around twenty-seven. She was told by some of these pseudo-monastic church ladies that now that she had two children and would not be having anymore, that she and her husband should stop engaging in sexual intimacy. When I heard that I nearly lost my head. I remember telling Helen not to take them seriously, and that it was not a sin to be intimate with your husband.
On the contrary, it would be a sin for one partner to withhold sex from another, a biblical principle, which many within the pseudo-monastic community cannot fathom. I know a few men who expressed their frustration and anger when they suggested to their wives to be intimate with them, and their wives’ responses were more or less “your mind is always on the flesh.” Imagine that a husband or wife has to beg his or her partner to fulfill his or her innate God given sexual desire, within the proper and blessed confines of marriage, and the response in effect is it’s of the flesh, i.e., Dirty, sinful, and shameful.
Of course, scripture states that such ideas are far from the truth of God’s design of sex, especially since God created sex and gave it to our first parents as a gift. A gift that is supposed to bring two people together and make them one physically, spiritually and emotionally. Far from married partners withholding sex from each other (or using it as a weapon or a bargaining tool), the Bible states that each person does not control his or her body, but rather, that both the man and the woman turn themselves over to his or her spouse for mutual satisfaction, gratification and fulfillment. A married couple can continue to have sex, and should do so, if their bodies can provide the desire to do so. The Bible states that the marriage bed is a good thing. Paul says that you should enjoy your wife and vice versa. Proverbs are replete with verses about the sexual love of young couples. The Song of Solomon extols the virtues of true blessed love and physical expression of such love. But hey, why should the pseudo-monastics care what God has to say within His Holy book? The pseudo-monastics have their monks and nuns to tell them how they should treat their spouses. I am glad that, as far as I know, Helen and Spiro did not fall for that un-biblical advice.
Another problem that occurred was the fact that a lot of needed funds, in the form of donations, meant for church programs and the maintenance and care of the church, were all of a sudden being re-diverted to the monastery. Many of these pseudo-monastics started to give a large portion of the money, once given to their local church, to the monastery. And they convinced others to do the same. This truly irritated many of the priests because those actions placed may of the churches in financial stress. Now that the monastery has been built, I do not believe that this problem still exists, at least not to the extent it did a few years back.
This pseudo-monastic community, along with the religious beliefs of Irene’s parents, I knew would inevitably bring us problems. Although it was a concern for us in the first few years that we dated, it did not become a real world problem until much later.
NOTES 1. Spiros is the owner of Pete’s II, on 1515 West Roosevelt Ave. in Broadview. Pete’s I is on Ridgeland and Roosevelt and owned by his Best man/Koubaro Vasili Haralambos. If you have the opportunity, I would suggest that you visit these places, the food there is incredible. http://www.amazon.com/Within-The-Warrior-There-Broken/dp/141209383X
Note: Fanny Pappa’s daughter is Sister Chrysostomi at St. John Chrysostom Greek Orthodox Monastery in Wisconsin.
I am a lonely voice crying out for change to these injustices in our monasteries. I’m sure nothing will come of my outcry, but someone has to speak out.
Let these young people live the monastic life, if they choose, but don’t deny them any contact with the families for baptisms, weddings and funerals or a holiday. I know my daughter will never leave the monastery because of her seven years of indoctrination and guidance by her monastic spiritual father. Her every move was guided by him. The nuns and monks are kept in complete isolation from the outside world and priests are not allowed to speak to the novices or even look directly into the eyes of the nuns.
Are we living in the dark ages or the 21st century? We have been very upset and losing faith with our Orthodox religion, and one of the priests I know told me, “the monastery is not the Orthodox religion. It is a cult with an ‘issue’ of strong control over all who have entered the monastic life.” Is this what St. Basil wanted his monasteries to become? A place of isolation from the world and control over a few individuals who serve there just to pray 24 hours a day and collect donations for themselves and their monastery?
The Orthodox have to know how my daughter and others are treated in the monasteries and the money being donated into these places of worship.
One of the many questions that need to be answered is:
Why do all the nuns from St. John’s in Pleasant Prairie fly to Father Ephraim’s monastery in Florence, AZ, for the feast day of St. Anthony, but they can’t visit their families? Are we not worthy enough?
I ask every parent, is this the kind of life their son or daughter should follow with such strict obedience? Was this the plan St. Basil had when he started his monasteries?
In the same forum thread, a certain Fr. Michael also gave an opinion on Fanny Pappa’s Open Letter:
After reading this post I thought I’d like to make a few comments on the article itself and on Monasticism in general.
There are a number of points the author makes about the way her daughter went into monastic life that are indeed bad, superstitious, inconsiderate and suspect. BUT there are some points which I believe the author needs to be educated on with regards to the monastic way of life.
The author states that everything was done in secrecy and her daughter was not told to inform her family about her decision. This is bad for a number of reasons: Entering the monastic life should be a celebration for everyone. Secrecy is absurd when making the decision to enter the monastic way of life. It’s like being baptized in secret without the celebration which comes from it – or making your first Communion.
The author says she was never told of the strict rules of monastic life and the complete isolation from family life. The fact of monastic rules and isolation, to some degree, is true. Monasticism entails the giving up your entire life for the sake of Christ. This means everything – family, friends, money, status, career, etc. I find it hard to understand that the author didn’t realize at least some of the sacrifice involved when her daughter entered the monastic life. BUT, the part where her daughter was denied permission to attend a funeral for a close family member was cold, unChrist-like, and hard hearted. And the response from the Gerontessa, “I receive my orders from God”, was flippant, disrespectful and out and out mean.
I also would like to comment on the part about the collecting of the daughter’s property. Yes, when you enter monastic life, you are expected to liquidate your assets and give them to the poor. What does this mean in a physical sense? Should the daughter have liquidated her assets and then given them to another body or organization for distribution to the poor? Who is more poor in physical needs than a monastery (and I’m not talking about Chartes, France either!)? There is nothing wrong when entering into the monastic life to give your physical assets to the particular monastery or convent you’re entering. BUT, again, the way this was accomplished was crass, rude and again un-Christ like.
I feel greatly for the author with regards to the horrible way she was treated . She felt betrayed and hurt which I don’t blame her in the least. The way her daughter’s entry into monastic life was cheapened by the actions of her fellow nuns. BUT most of the points made by the author in which she felt are not needed or antiquated are indeed part of the monastic life today.
I treasure our Benedictine apostolate for it’s sincerety, compassion and humility. My our holy Father Benedict pray for us always!
Reprinted from the Greek Star, Opinion October 30, 2003
NOTE: Fanny Pappa’s daughter is Sister Chrysostomi [Pappas].
I would like to inform the Orthodox Faithful about the strict control the monasteries have over our children who enter into this life. And I still do not understand, what is the purpose of a monastery?
At age 37, my daughter suddenly announced to us she was leaving to live at St. John Chrysostomos Monastery, in Pleasant Prairie, WI. Needless to say, we were not prepared for this decision. It was done all in secrecy, and she was not counseled to inform the family either by her spiritual father in Stroudsburg, PA., or by the Gerontissa in Pleasant Prairie, WI. We were never told of the strict rules of monastic life and the complete isolation from family life. I don’t blame her love of the Orthodox religion. I blame her spiritual father, who always preaches the monastic life, (that I was not aware of) as do some of our other priests. When saying her good-byes to the family members, she was told the family would be saved for eight generations. This is only one example of false Orthodox teaching, what else is being told to the novices, nuns, monks, and worst of all, Orthodox laypeople. In fact, all the heresy in church history started with only one false teaching. These priests who favor the monastic life, have a way of counseling our children, making them think it was all their own ideas and preying on their weaknesses to send them off to monastic life.
I was reading a book by Father Stanley Harakas, who was a professor for many years at Holy Cross Seminary, Boston, 455 Questions and Answers of the Orthodox Faith. He said that nuns and monks devote their life to Christ. They assume poverty, chastity and obedience. They have round the clock worship, fasting and denying themselves ownership of property. Then I wish to enlighten the Orthodox faithful who support this and other monasteries, that my daughter came with three other nuns, when we were not home, during the period of the Great Lent, and took as much of her possessions from her apartment that they could stuff in their van. End tables, crystal lamps, coffee table, icons, pictures, towels, pots and pans, vacuum cleaner, video camera, jewelry, radio-tape player, etc. Also my daughter went to the bank and closed all her accounts and had them transferred to the monastery in Kenosha, WI, which amounted to thousands and thousands of dollars. They also have her car.
Please explain to me, how does this set an example of denying yourself — ownership of property and entering in poverty — as Father Harakas tells us in his book on Orthodoxy? How can this be accepted by the Gerontissa, when my daughter has not been tonsured? I was told by one of our priests, yet another young woman transferred all her wealth to the monastery, before her father could close the accounts. Does this show us an example of entering with poverty and humility? The Gerontissa also asked me if I would like to have a moving van come and get the rest of her things.
Another fact of monastic life that I would like to bring to your attention, her aunt, my sister, recently passed away. I called the Gerontissa to allow my daughter to come to the funeral (another fact of which we were not informed), and her response was, “she is not allowed to leave the monastery, and for what reason did she need to go, when we will pray for her here.” I was told several times, “for what reason did she need to go.” I was stunned at the cavalier attitude for the departed. Then I asked when I and her father die, can she come to the funeral for an hour, even escorted by a nun, to be with her grieving siblings? Again, the same answer. And when I said, I will call Metropolitan Iakovos, the response was, “I receive my orders from God.” Of course we were never informed she could not leave for this sacrament.
Why do the Metropolitans and Archbishop of this country, let Father Ephraim hold such a tight reign on the monastic life of our children? Is there no compromise? Is this really Christ’s plan to keep our children in such strict servitude? She has not been tonsured, and yet she has no right, but they can accept all her wealth and property. Is this the purpose of a monastery — money?
As I was told by her monastic spiritual father, of Stroudsburg, PA, “She is dead to the outside world.” But he also told me the monastery is “a spiritual intensive care unit for the priests and Orthodox faithful.” Our bishops do not listen. The advice and counseling their parishioners have been getting from these priests with monastic tendencies, has been frustrating to our local priests. These stories have been brought back to the priests by their parishioners who are getting misguided counseling at the monasteries.