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.

Important Notice: All writings, posts, graphics & photographs in this blog are the copyrighted property of (unless otherwise indicated) Nazareth House Media, a division of Nazareth House Apostolate and cannot be copied, printed or used without written permission from NHA Media, Taylorsville, KY.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

And so this is Advent

Today begins the preparatory Season of Advent.

Advent wreath at table in Holy Trinity Kellia, St. Simeon Skete

The Gospel for 1st Sunday of Advent
St. Matthew xxi. 1.
WHEN they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name 'of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. 
Jesus tells His disciples to go into the city  AND He tells them to find a tethered colt that no one had ridden.   

Think about that image:  "a tethered colt which no one has ridden..."
Young mule of Denny & JoanE Markwell,  members of St. Simeon Skete

Of course the people are waiting for a dominative, powerful, substantive image - a King, A Ruler who is going to change everything from the outside (the surface).  

But Jesus says "I'm not going to come in on a horse, in triumph but Zechariah 9:9 prophesied... I'm coming in on a donkey to redefine what power is, worth is, strength is, trust is...

This colt/donkey, THIS powerless image is a tethered colt, its been tied up in all of history.  No one's ever wanted to use it, no one's ridden this kind before but Jesus is going to ride it into the city to show the world a different way, a new way, the way of trust, the way of vulnerability, the way of powerlessness.  

When your generosity has been tied up, loosen it and when greed rises up and asks "what are you doing?", say, "The Lord has need of it"  When your humility is tied up, loosen it and when pride questions you, say "The Lord has need of it."  When your forgiveness is tied up, untie it and when mercilessness asks you "why?,  say "The Lord has need of it." 

As Jesus rides into the city in this "different way" the people wonder "Who is this?"  "What is this new way?"  Jesus upsets the system and says: "its prayer". 

Jeremy Lopez, in prayer before his Confirmation.  Nazareth House Apostolate, Athens, Georgia
Of all the battles that God has with human consciousness, the battle to get rid of those things (furniture) that keep us from making our souls a house of prayer must be God's most difficult battle.   Culture wants to rearrange the "furniture" by dominative power - the ability to influence others through coercion, hiring and firing, punishing, threatening, lawsuits, money, position.  This will rearrange the "furniture" and most will respond to it.  But at best, this is all we can do: re-arrange the "furniture".   But Jesus doesn't re-arrange the furniture, He pitches it - throws it out - opting for a House of Prayer!  Anything in your life that is keeping you from prayer needs to be pitched! 

As the Holiday Season approaches many will be re-arranging their living rooms to prepare for Holiday guests or give a new look but only PRAYER can change the living room into a LIVING room.  

Personal milagro of Seraphim, housed where he hangs his prayer beads

Advent Collect

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and ever. Amen. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

First We Must Love

It was a Thursday a few weeks ago,  and I rushed over to attend the weekly Stations of the Cross thinking it was Friday.  It wasn't Friday.  I don't need to rush time, weeks go by so fast on their own.  We celebrate Eucharist on Sunday,  wake up on Monday and next thing we know it's Saturday and we are preparing for the Sunday Eucharist again.  Where does the time go?

Our days are full here at St. Simeon Skete beginning with vigils at 4:30 AM, followed by Lauds and the daily Eucharist at 7 AM.

St. Simeon Skete.   Feb. 2015
 The Eleven Prayer Offices hold our day as the day's activities enter into that ongoing prayer.

There is so much going on right now - in Sierra Leone, at the skete and I hear, pray tell, that Christmas is just around the corner, with a brand New Year nipping right at our heels.   Christmas is a high holy day for us here at the Skete, of course, yet every day is holy in the Lord.  We are constantly reminded that every moment is special because God is in it - as Seraphim says "that's why He is the IAM, not the I WAS or the I WILL BE ... but the now, the present moment and if we try to escape what the moment holds we are escaping God in that moment."

Seraphim just fixed me some afternoon tea... I am sitting at my desk, ready to start back at the administrative work.  Seraphim is up in his prayer loft above me, there is a cd playing of Coptic chanting.  As I open the spreadsheet on the computer I begin...

"Be still and know that I AM God"

"Be still and know that I AM..."

"Be still and know..."

"Be still..."


Psalm 46:10

Sunrising in Morning Fog cast over the Knock Shrine

Its important that we realize that what we do, whatever it is, can be a prayer.   Sweeping the floor can be a very holy thing.  With Kadijah, in Sierra Leone, every sweep of the broom is a rhythmic moment of prayer, like the fingering of beads, one prayer after the other.  When we had a cherry tree, I used to say the the Jesus Prayer with every cherry I pitted.  For many of us, our computer keyboard can be a time of prayer if our heart and focus is in it.    

The pilots affiliated with the Skete use their time in the air to broadcast prayer as they fly over the cities.  Praying the Name, which contains all things and therefore gathering all who are in the cities beneath them into The Name.   With James in Sierra Leone, every snap of the camera is a prayer.

People say, "its impossible! you can't 'pray without ceasing', especially not at your work"   But it is possible and its not as hard as you may think.  Its a matter of discipline and desire.  “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ― Mother Teresa

At the grocery store, when you place your bags of groceries in your car - be sure to put the cart up, don't leave it out in the parking lot.  As you place it in the corral pray for the person who will use it next.  Likewise, when you arrive and take your grocery cart - pray for the person who had the cart before you.   Notice the piece of paper in the parking lot and pick it up - doing little things well for the love of Him - St. Therese.   There are so many opportunities to keep the prayer ongoing.

 "Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God." -Brother Lawrence

The ISIS and Boko Haram terrorism is horrific -evil personified.  It is gutwrenchingly heartbreaking.  It revives in my heart the pain and anguish of the people of Sierra Leone, especially the children.  Hundreds of children lost their limbs to machete wielding madmen (RUF),  their eyes plucked out with knives, many forced to join the rebels were drugged and made to kill themselves.  These children survived and are still in the recovery process.   Hundreds of others were murdered.

Whenever I talked with these children from the war, they were quick to tell the stories of the war but they didn't focus on the horror instead they spoke of the hero that did this or the heroine the did that.  They talked of the doctor that stopped the bleeding or the person who hid them away.  They found the good in the midst of turmoil - and they focused on it.   And they were able to make life happen, they were able to go on, and they were able to smile (“Peace begins with a smile..” ― Mother Teresa).

Fred Rogers says it best:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world." 

It is important that we do the same.  The news media will concentrate on the evil, promote it,  and keep it festering.  They will highlight the phrases and thoughts that bring rise to heated arguments initiating blame on laws or no laws, security or no security and distract you from the fact that there is evil within the human heart.   Look for the helpers, even within the media - in the background - you will see the helpers, the good that still remains.  Search it out.

And before we go bashing one over another about fault, blame and evil itself, we must first look within our own hearts.  "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye".  Matthew 7:5 KJV (Cambridge) 

“Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed - but hate these things in yourself, not in another.” ― Thomas Merton


“Merely to resist evil with evil by hating those who hate us and seeking to destroy them, is actually no resistance at all. It is active and purposeful collaboration in evil that brings the Christian into direct and intimate contact with the same source of evil and hatred which inspires the acts of his enemy. It leads in practice to a denial of Christ and to the service of hatred rather than love.” 
― Thomas MertonPassion for Peace; Reflections on War and Nonviolence

Seraphim on Retreat in Thomas Merton's Hermitage, Jan. 2001

In all things, first we must love:

“Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing.” 


As we have been with our families for Thanksgiving, What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” ― Mother Teresa

Litany of Non-Violence
God, aware of my own brokenness,
I ask the gift of courage to identify how and where I am
in need of conversion in order to live
in solidarity with all people.

Deliver me from the violence of superiority and disdain.
Grant me the desire, and the humility,
to listen with special care to those whose experiences
and attitudes are different from my own.

Deliver me from the violence of greed and privilege.
Grant me the desire, and the will, to live simply
so others may have their just share of Earth’s resources.

Deliver me from the silence that gives
consent to abuse, war and evil.
Grant me the desire, and the courage, to risk
speaking and acting for the common good.

Deliver me from the violence of irreverence,
exploitation and control.
Grant me the desire, and the strength, to act
responsibly within the cycle of creation.

God of love, mercy and justice,
acknowledging my complicity in those attitudes,
action and words which perpetuate violence,
I beg the grace of a non-violent heart. Amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thy Name, Thy Kingdom, Thy Will

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

As most of you know, a few weeks ago, Seraphim and I were in Ireland visiting with Fr. Gabriel Harty, the Rosary Priest.  As always, Fr. Gabriel gave us special care and love  - a true Spiritual Father to us both.  

Seraphim has carried Fr. Gabriel’s books on the Rosary around the world.  In war zones he clung to the words from “The Healing Light of the Rosary”.  Fr. Gabriel has written many books including  - “The Riches of the Rosary; “A Celibate Way of Loving: Letters to the Beloved;" and one of his latest books - “Heaven Sent”.   They are all available via Amazon except “The Healing Light of the Rosary” and his newest book, "The Rosary, the History of My Heart".   The Lord’s Prayer has a prominent place in all of his books. 

Fr. Gabriel cannot speak without edifying you in some spiritual way or another. Every sentence declares his love for God.  

After a beautiful time praying the Rosary with Fr. Gabriel and our dear friend, Sheila (a true Rosarian) at St. Mary’s Convent in Knock, Ireland, the subject of the Lord’s Prayer came up.   

Fr. Gabriel explained that there is one word in the Lord’s Prayer that is the focus.  With his back towards me, he raised his hands to the sky and said, "... that word is  “Thy”."  Looking back at me he said,  "Its not about about us(me) or our wants - God takes care of our needs- the focus is on God.”  Then he dropped his left hand from the sky, his back still towards me, and with his right hand stretched out,  he slowly pronounced,  "Thy Name,  Thy Kingdom, Thy Will”. 

In a quick summary, I will attempt to share with you some of Fr. Gabriel's teachings on the Lord's Prayer.

We ask, “Why do we say ten Hail Mary's or ten Jesus Life Prayers and only one “Our Father” to each decade of the Rosary?” 

The answer is that The “Our Father” is the foundation prayer and we lay only one Foundation (“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” - 1 Cor. 3:11).  The prayer contains everything we need to ask for and in the proper order of asking.  It shows us how to seek first the Kingdom of God (Mt. 6:33), and only then, the things we need for everyday earthly living.  It puts a priority on the praise of God and the accomplishment of His Sovereign Will. It lets the cares of the body and the concerns of bread and butter fall naturally into their own place. 

  1. “Thy Name” 
  2. “Thy Kingdom”
  3. “Thy Will” 

This should be the set of a soul seeking the Divine Assistance

-and then- 

  1. “Give us”
  2. “Forgive us” 
  3. “Lead us”
  4. “Deliver us"

As we learn first to Invoke His Name, trust that His Kingdom is enough and say “yes” to His Will, The Lord’s Prayer has a progression to it, we begin: 

  1. “Your Name”, -Father, we are His children
  2. “Your Kingdom”, -We come into His Kingdom and that is enough to do
  3. “Thy Will”,  -and then with full confidence we can slip quietly into the way of opening our hands to say “give us,” “forgive us”, “lead us” and deliver us” and we can do this because it is His will. 
This week I learned that in Britain the Lord’s Prayer has been banned from cinemas.  I’m aware that here in America it is banned from many public and governmental places.  

“The Church of England has produced a sixty second commercial. The only words are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, said by children, the bereaved, people at work and so on. It’s a beautiful film. The ad is to promote a new website, Just The plan was (and is) to show the film before Christmas at screenings of the new Seasonal Blockbuster film to help everyone think about prayer and to pray. What could be more simple?

The distributors have declared the Lord’s Prayer unsuitable for screening. They believe it carries the risk of upsetting or offending audiences.” 

In addition to Fr. Harty's words concerning the Lord's Prayer, I also recommend the following article at this link, It details why commercialism, etc. do not wish to have the Lord’s Prayer pronounced or acknowledged.  I found it to be a very good article and one I highly recommend, especially homeschool and Sunday School teachers. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Are You The One?

I’ve taken many photographs of cows over the years.  

There is something about cows that fascinate me.  

It is not so much their bodies or the interesting way they lumber about … 

it's their face that draws me - they stare deep into your eyes - it's almost mystical.   

While in Ireland earlier this month, I had Seraphim stop the car so that I could take a picture of this cow.  

As I approached her, she turned toward me and stared.  

Fr. Gabriel Harty, the Rosary Priest (and our dearest friend), looked at the photo and said,

 “the Cows in the field are part of that creation waiting in expectation.  It is a bit fanciful, but I heard a preacher once use it to express the profound truth that Paul expounds in the Letter to the Romans, chapter 8. Here is the text:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Scripture scholars say that the sin of Adam and Eve, brought a curse on all the earth---even the beasts of the field,---  thorns and thistles to be brought forth.  The blood of Christ flowed out to wash not only human nature but to restore all creation.  

The children of God, the text says, have to reveal the new creation to all waiting in expectation.  The preacher I listened to said that is why the cows come up and look into our faces and wonder if we might not be the one to set them free from the bondage of decay.  They look at you wondering, “Are you the one?” 

At the Offertory of the Roman Mass it is said: “Blessed are you Lord of all creation, we not only lift up the bread and wine for transformation, but we lift up the whole realm of nature that it may share in the freedom and the glory of the children of God.”

In that sense we are all a priestly people. When I walk through the fields or pray the Rosary in our garden, I look around me at the splendour of nature and make an offering of it all to the Father in heaven.”   I was deeply touched by Fr. Gabriel's teaching. 

Later in the week, I was taking a photo of the Holy Mountain, Croagh Patrick, from the road.  

As I began to take the photo, this donkey began to come closer and closer.  

Finally he was right in front of me.  

He pensively stared at me so I said to him “What? Do you think I am the one?”  
The donkey began to bray at me!