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.

Friday, December 25, 2015

I have a Name

"Where God also hath highly exalted Him, 
and given Him a Name which above every Name." -Phil. 2:9

During one of Seraphim's first visits to Sierra Leone during the war, he visited Grafton Camp - a displacement camp for those who lost their homes and limbs from the atrocities of war.   The RUF rebels were hacking off arms and legs with machetes in a cruel and inhumane effort to gain control of diamonds and power.  Notice in this photo that even the baby's hand has been hacked off. 

As Seraphim visited with the people in Grafton camp, he delivered food (rice) and clothing with James.  As he got ready to leave the camp they all wanted to know his name.  He told them his name and turned to board the transport only to hear the words that continue to haunt him to this day:

"I have a name." 

He turned and saw that food and clothing, etc; even love were not enough.  There was something called dignity - the recognition that this is a person and not just flesh to be covered and fed!  

A lifetime of repeating the Name of Jesus had suddenly gone super-nova, exploding with the blinding light of understanding.  It was God Himself crying out:  "I have a Name!" 

Rudy and Os lying on a prayer rug studying the Name of Jesus

"I have a name." 

God has a Name

The Mass of Christ-Mass is this Name.  "A Name which is above every Name" 

God has a Name

Matthew 1:18-25 
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Question Answered

The Gospel for the Third Sunday in Advent
St. Matthew xi. 2.
NOW when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 

Early 19th Century Icon enthroned at St. Simeon Skete, Taylorsville, Kentucky 

As we prepare for Christmas, today’s Gospel seems out of place - seeing that John is in prison and Jesus is an adult.  John is waiting to be executed.  He is in pain, suffering.  He is  the man who recognized his savior from the womb. Later as John Baptized Jesus, the Heavens open up,  he heard God exclaim his pleasure in His Son and he witnessed the Holy Spirit descending, leading into the desert.  And yet, he now sends his disciples to ask “Are you the one?”  Our troubles touch us, sometimes pain is so great it leads us to questions for which only Jesus is the answer.    A great answer doesn’t necessarily get you out of the question, the journey, or the pain but sends you back into it all to find Jesus to be that answer.  We must stay in the pain long enough to answer the questions that the pain is asking.  Make sure the answer is NOT a way of getting out of the pain (running away, denying, buying new shoes or taking a happy pill) but a real answer.  I can always tell more about a person by the questions they ask rather than the answers they give.  John was asking good questions that demanded only one answer: Jesus.    

Much of our religion these days leads us to living a prophylactic existence; preventing us from ever becoming pregnant with life and infected with what it brings - sorrows and difficulties.  They are a part of life.   Our purity must not be the result of NOT being touched by our troubles.  “In the world you will have troubles”.  That’s the truth.  Yet we hear so much from the world that uses belief in God as a shield from difficulty.  They hold that being with God means no loneliness, no hassles, no suffering.   I remember a lady years ago storming off after a sermon in which we were lead to examine ourselves.  The woman shouted as she left, “I don’t come to church to be instructed or made to critique my life.  I come to church to feel good, be happy and be comforted.”  Before you can be comforted you first have to be confronted.  John suffered, Jesus suffered, they had troubles and so do we.  I remember seeing the hand-written sign in a hermitage “Pain is the Kiss of Christ”.    God is in our pain with us, therefore, you might say our sorrows are a sign of the presence of God.   We are not alone.  

John sits confined in prison, alone, waiting to be executed.  His question really has three parts. 
  1. Are you the one?  (see also NHA Blog "Are you the one?")
  2. Is it real? 
  3. Is it enough? 

And Jesus answers  “Yes, Yes, Yes”  He is the one, He is real and He is enough. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Preparing to prepare...

Like the fallen Autumn Leaves, one month blows by after another.  One Season after the next. 

The Year 2015 is drawing to an end.  


Thanksgiving Day 2015 has come and gone and here we are on the second Sunday of Advent.   For many, Thanksgiving Day ignites the beginning of the Holiday Shopping Season.  Frenzied and determined crowds have hit the stores on Black Friday at the crack of dawn (or earlier) in order to find that perfect gift at the perfect price.   Stampedes and suffocation headline the news as the day unfolds. 

At St. Simeon Skete, we prepare for Christmas by making the preparations for Advent.  

We’ve dug out the Advent Candles, found our carefully stored away bells to pin up our sleeve 

 and cut up some yellow yarn.  

On Advent Sunday an empty creche & yarn (straw) is placed on table

Advent Sunday was last week, November 29.  It began a penitential time to prepare our souls - making room in the “Inn” of our hearts for Christ, the One who is the Perfect Gift that paid the Perfect price for us.   

At St. Simeon Skete, we follow The Nativity Fast, a period of abstinence and penance in preparation for the Nativity of Christ (December 25).  The fast is similar to the Western Advent, except that it runs for 40 days instead of four weeks and is observed from November 15th until December 24, inclusively. 

We live in a fast paced world in which our wants and goals are best defined by the words:  "bigger and better".  Small things are overlooked as we strive for super size, super stars, super heroes.  Little things don't seem to have much potential but, in fact, it is those "small things", "small beginnings"  and "impossible situations" that God uses to do His best work.  (Zechariah 4:10). 

At Nazareth House Apostolate we are daily reminded of God doing big with little.  

When we look back over the years of NHA in Sierra Leone we find one man with a prayer as its beginning.  

A decade and a half  later, we have a school with 300 students, a compound, a farm and are reaching more and more in the villages.  

Our accomplishments in Sierra Leone stand up along side many NGO's that have far more resources than us.  Never underestimate the potential in small things, especially when they depend entirely on God.  

Secretly,  a strand of straw (yarn) is placed in the creche representing a good deed

God could have chosen better people to do the great things of the Old  and New Testament; but he didn't.  He chose souls like Abraham - afraid to believe in the promise, Jacob, the cheat who struggles with everyone, Moses- an impatient murderer, unable to wait for God.  David, an adulterer, abusing position, perk, and power.  There was Hezekiah, the reforming king who could not quite go far enough, Peter who denied Christ - all these guys messed up - they were real, like us - bungled and botched, impossible situations... but God saw fit to use them.... and then there was a very young, unassuming, unnoticed Jewish girl from a small village that didn't do anything wrong ....    God did what He did in them and He can do it in us. 

by Christmas Morning, our good deeds will have lined the creche for the Christ Child 

So when you find yourself tempted to buy that expensive gift you really can't afford, or you find yourself adding more decorations because your neighbor's yard looks better than yours, or you just knocked someone out of the way so you'd be the one of the first ten in line to get that "hot item" ... think about the capacity in small,

 think about what we are really celebrating ... think about Love. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Throw Back Thursday: Advent Reflection

In the light of this being the Advent Season and in the wake of the ending of ebola in Sierra Leone I was brought to think of this following post on our NHA Blog.  The Terrorism, Ebola, Greed  and evil rising in the world today all bring to mind the suffering.  And as it often does, this young man's plight, pierces my heart.   He is only one of many many people suffering today.  

And so, on this Throw Back Thursday, I repeat this blog post from 2007:

Advent Reflection

This morning I woke up thinking about Mohamed.  Its been a good while since I last saw him in Freetown.  I remember the first time I saw him and others like him. Their wounds fresh.  I was stunned by the capability of one human being to inflict such horrific pain on another.  I couldn't image how his life would be and how he would survive... but I had no idea the magnitude of suffering he would endure until I was made aware of it through James' eyes and words from the heart.

Especially in the early days after the war,  we would see people in Sierra Leone with amputated arms and legs everywhere.  The streets were bare because so many had fled, the amputees were left behind to suffer their radically altered life in Amputation Camps.  They were with others suffering the same situation but yet they were alone.  Now days, Freetown streets are packed and busy.  The amputation victims are still there but less noticeable in the crowds.

I've been with, attended to and befriended many amputees in Sierra Leone .  But until the day I received the following email from James (June 2007) telling me of Mohamed's plight, I hadn't realized the extreme trauma and the continued turmoil they are forced to live.  And the reason I hadn't realized the depth of it all was because the people themselves handled their misfortunes with such dignity.  No one shared with me the fact that they often soiled their clothes because they didn't have the hands to unsnap/pull down their jeans and relieve themselves.  Instead they were busy welcoming me to Sierra Leone and thanking NHA for any assistance we could give them. They were making sure I was comfortable in a foreign country.   Their life was now very limited but they were alive and they adapted  the best they could to make life happen in the midst of great turmoil.   Of course they told me their stories and lamented their inability to live a normal life - but they also told me they could either give up and allow self pity to run their life ....or.... they could carry on with dignity. For the most part, the majority of the amputees set out to overcome their disadvantages and live their life.  I think Thomas Merton described the attitude of the Sierra Leone War victims in this quote: "You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going.  What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope."

And so this Penitential Season of Advent as I work to make room for Christ to abide within me, I will make every attempt to try and embrace the present moment, whatever it may hold with courage, faith and hope.    ...and I will think of Mohamed and the many like him as I do so. ...

(The following is a reprint of a post of 2007.  Since this post in 2007, NHA has built the school and it is fully operational with 300 students.    We've purchased and built a compound in Kabala, we've added a toilet area for the school and provided for and saved many lives.  Still the need goes on...     Mohamed's story reminds how much more we must do for those in Sierra Leone, please read on.)

June 14, 2007
Dear Friends,
Today I received this report from James in Freetown, Sierra Leone. I cried all through it. James and his family at St. Laurence House are doing the work of Nazareth, day in and day out. Who, what and how they help depends entirely on the tools we provide for them, spiritually, financially, physically. This is why it is so vitally important that we give them all the support we can. We have yet to complete the goal to begin building the school building, the rainy season has already begun. There isn't a way for these people to help themselves, some can't even dress themselves...please read on... And to James, I love are a hero to me...

Report from James Mansaray to Vicki Hicks: re Nazareth House, Freetown:

It has been said through the media, press, internet, cnn tv, the world as a whole etc. that the ten years brutal rebel war in my beloved Country Sierra Leone waged by the Revolutionary United Front sponsored by the then President Charles Taylor of Liberia was basically aimed at seeking control of diamond mines of this poor nation.

Though it is ten years away now, we still feel, see and experience the pain of it. It has been said by many, Churches, the UN, and other religious bodies that we should forgive and forget. Yet, put your self in these poor man's shoes. Yes, as Christians, we should forgive but i see it very difficult to forget this odd past more especially as i see more victims of this said war still suffering.

From my own point of view, and as a victim of this fierce ten years of brutal murder, humiliation and carnage, I still see the trouble continue. Reasons for this I will explain below.
If you take a walk down the streets of Freetown where I presently resided, you must catch a glimpse of either a one footed man or a young graduate with both hands being chopped off for no just cause. Sometimes it is hard to believe but this is true. A whole lot has been shown by the United Nations Peace keeping force helping us out but I must confess that little has been done for those living in the cracks, by this I mean those poor boys and girls roaming around the city with one eye, one ear, one leg, one limb or both limbs missing.

Now take a close look at this young Man called Mohamed Kargbo who is among those still struggling the results of this war and whose physical figures was wickedly transformed by few wicked men out of greed and selfishness. I had seen men in pain and frustration but what I saw in this young man this Thursday morning set me into tears.
Mohamed on the steps of St Laurence House 
It happened in front of our little St. Laurence prayer house when my wife Kadijah noticed this young man with no limbs struggling with something. As a Woman she knew it was something that only a man can deal with so she called my attention to help this guy. At first I thought he was in need of food or something but as I get closer to him I realized that he needs something more than food. Poor Mohamed I guess had a bad meal or sick with Diarrhea was in desperate need of using the bath room but was too late or shy to say so, tell me how can you take off your pants off with no hands in the middle of a crowded old City like Freetown when you know the after math of what will follow. Poor mohamed had no option instead he decided to use the nearest gutter to help himself where he got stock and could not move. The gutter was so deep that he alone can't get out. With my help and a good Samaritan who was passing by we both gave him a bath inside this gutter before we later took him to the back tap at St. Laurence house where we bath him proper with soap. I had to get new clothes for him to put on and some Loperamide Anti- Diarrhea pill that we recently received from our sponsors at Grace Church thru Nazareth House Apostolate to help ease his stomach problem.
James washing out Mohamed's clothes 
After the odd part of this mornings event, I mean the cleaning up, I saw great need in this man and it was clear to me that I should not let him go empty. In my agenda this morning, I was to take rice for distribution to some of the poor and needy people here in Freetown so I thought it wise to also help Mohamed out but he sadly told me that he has no dwelling place, he sleeps where ever the night finds him. But Mohamed desperately needs help for he is just a human being like us. My wife and I agreed that if he so desired, he could come for food everyday at St. Laurence house to keep himself going. To save his present trouble, we provide him enough for a week and also gave him a handful of medication for his diarrhea.
Kadijah with Mohamed in his new clean clothes and diarrhea preventative medication 
Following the story that lead to the amputation of both of his hands, Mohamed said he was caught by the rebels in Makeni Town. He was in his farm together with his mother, father and four years old sister. The rebels place his whole family in their farm hut and set it on fire and then forced him to join them in the fight. Two days later he tried to escape together with a police officer when they were caught. Both of their hands were chopped before they sent them away to report to the other villages that they are on their way. The poor police officer could not bare the pain and shame and forced the rebels to kill him. Having walked the bushes for a whole week with no food, Mohamed found him self in Lunsar.
Mohamed giving us a view of the hands he lost at the hands  of the RUF Rebels. 

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” -Merton

Please remember those who silently struggle day to day in abject poverty struggling  simply to provide a daily meal for their family, for those handicapped, for those in pain.    Pray for them and pray for NHA as we strive to serve them in Sierra Leone.  

Donations can be sent to NHA; 185 Captains Cove Drive, Taylorsville, KY 40071 or be processed through our Paypal donation link on our website: