St. Simeon Skete, Taylorsville Kentucky USA

With St. Simeon, the God receiver, as our patron, the skete seeks to practice the ideals found in our Rule, The Thousand Day Nazareth. In simplicity and poverty, the skete embraces the struggle of inner life through the practice of the Prayer Rope.

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Donations should be addressed to: Nazareth House Apostolate, 185 Captains Cove Drive, Taylorsville, Kentucky 40071.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

So What is This Skete Thing?

The move from Louisville to Spencer County in order to bring St. Simeon Skete to life has been and remains an adventure.  

In a world filled with self-indulging, flash and unending stimulation, the skete’s peaceful, disciplined and sacrificial life makes it a target for inquisitiveness.  

From time to time curiosity seekers drive onto the grounds to check us out. 

 Most don’t stay to ask questions, they simply want a quick view of  “what’s going on” here. 


 There are those who do come in order to understand the Skete life lived, others only want to see what “changes” we have made and then there are those who simply come to see if we “really got rid of the pool!”.  

A swimming pool is not conducive to life at the skete and it was our first priority to do away with it.

 (During the recent 90 degree weather we noticed several who drove in hoping to sneak a dip in the pool.)  

pool removal

the grassland where the pool once was 

Today, I again heard the crackling of rolling tires on gravel.  As I peered out the window, I noticed a car drive down behind the Chapel to a hidden area where the pool once was.   Most viewers drive around the circle and back out.   

I decided I should make myself visible.  As I walked onto the parking lot, the car is backing up the hill from behind the Chapel, it turned around and headed right to me.   In times past, and I must admit that I’ve become weary of this, people come here looking for a vacation rental house or a reception hall. 

Some people aren’t aware of the transfer of ownership and I understand this, but what I don’t quite understand is when I explain that Nazareth House Apostolate owns the property and what it is being used for people still say “well, will you guys rent it to us?”  As if we’d stop the prayer, move out and let them stay for a couple of days. The most puzzling to me is when they realize there are no more vacation rental houses, the people then look around and see that the lodge is now a chapel complete with Altar, pews, etc. Seeing the transformation, they say “well can we rent this out for a party?”   Amazing.   

As the car approached me, I thought to myself “here we go again, can I book a party here?”   As they drove a little closer I could see it was a car full of teenage girls, maybe 16 - 18 years old, although they looked even younger.   The driver gestures towards the chapel and says “Is that the restaurant?” just as a girl in the backseat pops her head out of the window and says “Where are the monks?”.   The other girl sitting next to her, swats her and says very strongly,  “you can’t see monks, they hide!”  In the meantime the front seat passenger is repeating “I want to see a monk, I want to see a monk”.  I want to laugh at the scene, but I don’t want to offend them so I answer, “the former lodge (pointing to the Meeting of the Lord Chapel) is now a chapel and this is now a skete, a place where people come to live the life of prayer.”   Another girl asked “what do the monks do all day?”  “They pray”, I replied.  The driver looked around, all wide-eyed, her eyes look towards the lake and she says, “ boy, they are gonna love this place.” 

Recently St. Simeon Skete welcomed a (planned) visitor, Fr. Gabriel Harty OP of Ireland.  Fr. Gabriel and Seraphim met for a personal Rosary Retreat.  

Fr. Gabriel came all the way from Ireland for the retreat.

Fr. Gabriel had these words to say about his visit:

What a surprise it was to receive an email from Kentucky to come to St. Simeon Skete to share on the subject of the Rosary. 

I had heard of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky chicken and of their famous Bourbon whiskey. But Simeon Skete, what was that? 

 I couldn’t find the term Skete in any dictionary.    It was explained to me that the Skete-life combines the best of community and solitary life.  Members of a Skete have their own separate dwelling place but come together for an evening meal each day.

I was a few months short of ninety years of age and most of my colleagues thought I was mad to attempt the 4,000 mile flight on my own.  I have long ago learned that if God is in the venture it will be an adventure in grace. And so it proved to be. They spoke to me about jet-lag, but all I could say was,  what jet-lag?  The adventure did not knock a feather out of me, thank God.The invitation had come from Fr. Seraphim who has lived the life of a desert Father for many years, most recently in a small room in Louisville.  He had led the solitary life of prayer also in Sierra Leone and in India where he was influenced by some holy men.  

Seraphim with children in Sierra Leone

He met up with Sufis and Muslims and together they shared in the use of prayer beads and meditation.  He describes himself not as Protestant, nor as Roman Catholic, but simply as Catholic. Resulting from his ministry in Sierra Leone, Seraphim was drawn to his co-worker, Vicki, a grace-filled lady, and sought advice from his bishop about getting married to her.  She is the information technology person that keeps information and administration flowing. When Fr. Seraphim gets up around 4am to begin his round of prayer-watch, Vicki finds it is the ideal time for her to be in touch by phone and email with her co-missionary friends in Africa. At that early hour in Kentucky, the African day is in already in full swing.
Fr. Gabriel and Vicki

I would have thought of a hermit as one who lived alone, and wondered how he could be at the same time a married man. But everything seems to work out according to a well-tuned Divine plan.  Grace and nature walk hand in hand under the inspiration of Simeon and Anna who are the Patron Saints of the Skete.   Seraphim looks to Simeon who moved only in the Holy Spirit as he watched and waited for the Messiah. Watching and waiting are at the heart of this blessed venture.  The large and comfortable the Guest House is named after the Prophetess who is part of the same Fourth mystery of the Rosary. 

Anna House

They call it Anna House.  I will treasure the lovely icon of St. Simeon with the child in his arms, which Vicki gave me. 

 I may even be tempted to put aside, the two names Seraphim and Vicki and think of them as Simeon and Anna.  And I will remember how each night at Compline, they would ask me to sing Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis, Now you can dismiss your servant in peace, O Lord, for my eyes of seen the salvation you have prepared for us. 

This Mystery of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple will forever bring me back to Kentucky and to the serene Taylorsville lake that lies below this blessed sanctuary of peace and prayer.

Taylorsville Lake

Fr. Seraphim speaks of combining the spirituality of East and West.  While they celebrate Mass and believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament which is reserved in an Upper Room shrine, their chapel is adorned with Russian style icons.  Beads and meditation and the recitation of the Jesus Prayer are part and parcel of the day and the night.

Their attachment to the Rosary was high-lighted by the custom of placing the beads on a gilded plate and bringing them by way of gifts to the altar at the Offertory. Only one who had plumbed the Christo-centred depths of the Rosary, would have the temerity to do as Fr. Seraphim does as he lifted up the blessed beads in the awesome context of the Mass.  It brought to mind what Lucy of Fatima said about the Hail Mary: “It is a Eucharistic prayer with the name of Jesus at its centre and giving expression to the greeting that is at the heart of the Mass: The Lord is with you.”

Seraphim has steeped himself in the traditions of our own Marian Rosary. Although I have been involved in the preaching of the Rosary all over Ireland and abroad, never in my whole life have I seen such a vast collection of Rosary literature. For over twenty years he has been reading every book and article I myself have done on this subject. He was able to give me a copy of one book of my own long out of print, He had two copies.  

Fr. Gabriel signing copies of his book "Riches of the Rosary" that he brought to the Skete

All through Sierra Leone he has used my small work: The Healing Light of the Rosary.

I mention this simply to bring out the fact, that this strange hermit has a deeply Catholic and Marian heart.

During the week, I never saw Seraphim without the beads in his hands, and with another hanging from his belt.
One of the most moving and humbling moments of my stay at the Skete was went this gracious man when down on his knees and took hold of my beads and asked that the Rosary-grace given to me might pass into his own person. He saw this gesture in the line of an older man passing on his gift to a younger one. I have no doubt but that this gesture was two-way flow of grace, for the fragrance of that week with Vicki and Seraphim will linger for long in my soul.
Fr. Seraphim’s most earnest desire is to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes and spend time alone in the Grotto, as did the French Dominican Saintourens (1835—1920),  who went on to found so many Convents of the Perpetual Rosary in North America. He gave me a large volume from his collection detailing the fortunes of all these foundations—many now extinct.  Judging by way Fr. Seraphim had marked and underlined so many passages in the book, and by his desire to follow in the footsteps Fr.Saintorurens to Lourdes, it became clear to me that he was wishing for some re-flowering of this Dominican of Perpetual Rosary at the Skete.  On returning to Ireland, I wrote a report of all this to the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Louisville, saying how much I impressed I was by all that I had seen and heard and been touched by.

Fr. Seraphim and his wife Vicki met with me for about ten sessions over and eagerly drank in all that I had to say about the Dominican tradition of the Rosary as L’Evangile a genoux as Lacordaire called it, as well as the original thrust of the Rosary as more a method of preaching than of praying.  Rosarium magis est modus praedicandi quam orandi as the Latin so neatly puts it. However, it was far from being a one-way traffic. I could not fail to be moved by the commitment of my hosts to the continual Rosary-meditation on the life of Jesus and their profound reverence for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I came away from St. Simeon Skete with renewed devotion to the Rosary as an instrument of  evangelisation and as a grace-filled means of contemplative prayer. From an ecumenical point of view I am glad of having had the experience, though it was not easy coping with the Divine Office of Morning and Evening Prayer plus Compline each day– much longer than ours and chanted chorally with the King James version of the Psalms and Readings.
St. Simeon Skete has given me a new Old Kentucky Home, for everything there confirmed my long established appreciation of the Gospel-value that underlies our traditional Marian Rosary. Fr.Seraphim and his beloved wife brought me back to the words of the Prophet Jeremiah: 6,16 Halt at the cross-roads, look well and ask yourselves which path it was that stood you in good stead long ago. That path follow, and you shall find rest for your souls.


It is the practice at St. Simeon Skete to do manual labor every day.

Although he was on Retreat, Fr. Gabriel was willing and ready for any chore the Skete might have!  

It was a great pleasure to have Fr. Gabriel among us and
 we hope that the chance will come for him to return