Skip to comments.A Freeper Odyssey: New Skete Monastery
Posted on 12/15/2008 5:17:42 PM PST by Joe 6-pack
The contents of this thread will already be familiar to the members of the Free Republic Doggie Ping list, and it is only at the insistence of some members of that coterie that I post this for all. I was hesitant to do so at first, thinking that, having already shared it with members of that group on another thread, the interest level among the Freeper population at large would be somewhat limited. Upon further consideration however, my experiences of this Saturday past filled me with a sense of joy, peace and total happiness that I suspect few are ever fortunate enough to experience, and in this Holiday season, I am compelled to believe that its not only proper, but incumbent upon me, to share these feelings of cheer and good will with all.
As Ive written elsewhere, regardless of how long I remain on this earth, one of the most enriching, and rewarding aspects of my life will always be the bond I established with a German Shepherd puppy upon my return to the states from Korea in the fall of 1998. Timber, as he was to be known, became my constant sidekick, best friend, roommate, and quite literally, my guardian angel. Not only was he, by any definition, simply a great dog, but also became my unflagging companion through some of the very worst times of my life. Through it all I was grateful for the bond we had, and that bond was in large part, if not exclusively the result of a small community of men, the Monks of New Skete in Cambridge, NY.
Many monasteries seek perfection in specific endeavors not for vanity or profit, but simply to gather glory to God and to, in their own small way, close the gap between heaven and earth. In some monasteries this means the crafting of wines or ales; in others, icons or manuscripts. At New Skete, the monks dedicate themselves to breeding the very best German Shepherds, and running an all breeds obedience school. Timber was the dog that he was because of the love, dedication and devotion that the New Skete Monks invest in breeding these excellent animals and in their books that espouse a training methodology that deeply involves the master as well as the dog, introducing a spiritual element to the nexus between the two. I have long yearned to travel to New Skete, if for no other reason than to extend my gratitude to these men whose efforts had so greatly enhanced and blessed my life. My urge to travel there had increased since Timber's passing in 2007, and being in the northeast for work, I had the opportunity on Saturday to realize this ambition.
New Skete is located in upstate NY, just a few short miles west of the Vermont border. As the week drew to a close, I watched the news reports as severe weather cudgeled the New England area. I gave a passing thought to contacting the monastery to see if they were even accessible, but decided against it. This trip was as much for Timbers memory as it was for me. Even if the roads were closed, I had to make the attempt on Timbers behalf for the dog who would have done anything for me without any second thoughts or feasibility study. I owed his memory that much.
According to the Monastery website, the gift shop is open from 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p. m. - 4:00 p.m., so I had to time my arrival carefully. My GPS said it would take about four hours to get there from my Piscataway, NJ hotel where I was working, so I left NJ around 9:00 a.m. hoping to make it there for the afternoon hours and allowing an hour for road detours, accidents and other delays. The website also explicitly states that kennel tours cannot be given for liability reasons, so my expectations were limited...get there, do some Christmas shopping in the gift shop, grab some photos of the grounds and maybe talk to some of the monks.
As I went north there was some frost on the ground, and the temperature steadily dropped. The sky was clear, but the landscape was bleak with frost until I cleared Albany. As I entered Troy, NY, it was like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia, and the landscape instantly became a winter wonderland. Snow covered the ground and the trees were glistening in ice, but the roads were miraculously clear. As I pushed onward it seemed as though time rolled back a few years with each passing mile. My route to New Skete wound through some beautiful little towns, over rushing creeks and rivers, past quiet farmland resting under its winter blanket of white, and through thick forests, no less dense for their absence of leaves.
The further north I traveled, the colder it became
even the cattle were dressed for the weather...
The trip went smoothly and at 12:45 p.m. I turned onto New Skete Road
As I climbed the mountain, something told me I was in the right place
I made my way up the entry road and located the gift shop parking area. Even though Id arrived an hour before their posted business hours, an Open banner flapped in the sun. I entered the shop and was welcomed by New Skete Brother Ambrose and his dog James. I spoke with Br. Ambrose as James gave me the once over, decided I was a dog lover and teased me with his tennis ball. The shop was filled not only with the Monks well known tomes on dog behavior and training, but religious texts, prints of icons, religious memorabilia, clothing items and produce from the farm administered by the Monks, Nuns and lay community of New Skete. Although Br. Ambrose had to field numerous calls for Christmas orders from the excellent New Skete Catalog. James made for perfectly suitable company as I browsed the shelves and did some gift shopping of my own. As time allowed, Br. Ambrose gave me an overview of the Monastery, and told me I was basically free to walk the grounds, which I did, but not before Br. Ambrose graciously agreed to take a photo of James with yours truly .
Due to the weather, there were no other visitors, and the dogs (and monks) were pretty much indoors, but I didn't mind; the scenery was absolutely beautiful!
The deceased members of the New Skete community are interred on-site, and I couldnt help but notice there were a number of veterans among them.
The original temple was built by the brothers after their founding in 1967. Apart from a few power lines, I felt as though Id stepped into the 19th Century, and in every direction, I turned, a near perfect Christmas card unfolded in the landscape around me.
I also drove across the valley to the Nuns of New Skete who also play an integral role in the community and are actively involved in the operation of the farm and raising of the dogs. I had planned attending the scheduled vigil at 5:00 p.m. and about 4:00 p.m. (when the bookstore does close) I found myself sitting alone, meditating in the darkened Church...I was at peace, and it had already been a wonderful day. I was approached by Br. Stavros who introduced himself...He invited me to the cloisters for a cup of tea, and I happily accepted....but first, he needed me to accompany him to get his dog...He took me to the Puppy Kennel.
Normally, this is a building accessible only to the monks and prospective owners who have spent several years on a waiting list, met the monks' screening criterion and been willing to pay the going rate for these Ferraris of the dog world...now I, Joe 6-pack, was getting exclusive access!!! Br. Stavros gave me tour of the facility then picked up his puppy, Walla...
"Not at all!" says I. The last thing one expects at a monastery is a smooch from a cute young female! After tea with Walla and Br. Stavros, it was time for Vigil, and the main church was gorgeous in the dimming light...
After the small, intimate and utterly beautiful service, Br. Stavros asked if I'd like to stay for dinner with the monks!! I told Br. Stavros that was like asking a nine-year-old little leaguer if he'd like dinner with the '27 Yankees! I was honored...and I dined with the monks on inch thick pork chops, sweet potatoes and mixed vegetables...and here I was, a neophyte amongst some of the very best people at what they do on the face of the earth!! I was simply in awe, but even more unbelievable was their utter humility and sincerity. Imagine Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig taking an honest interest in a nine-year-old's hitting techniques and swapping dugout stories...I can think of no more accurate analogy. During dinner we talked. We talked about our dogs, past and present. We talked about religion, and spirituality. We talked about the meal. Several brothers were also from Western PA and we talked about home.
But mostly we talked about dogs, and I thanked them with all the gratitude in my heart while the dogs of New Skete lay around the outside of the monks' table, in perfect obedience to their masters.
Following the meal and a beautifully sung compline, I mingled briefly with the brothers and their dogs, namely Petra, a six-month old whose perfect obedience belied an apparent ebullience that will be hers all her life, and Ziko God bless Ziko. He had Timber's size and suffer-no-fools demeanor. I was drawn immediately to this magnificent animal and crouched next to him. He snuggled his powerful head against me. Everything about him was like my Timber. I closed my eyes and caressed his head with my fingers. The texture of his hair, the shape of his skull, the musculature of his jaws, his ruler-straight nose that shot forward from his face, then dropped in a perfect, planar wedge to the tip of his cool moist muzzle. I was transported immediately to a thousand distant days and places when I'd held that head, and before I opened my eyes, a tear rolled down my cheek. I was home.
Dedicated to the Brothers and Sisters of New Skete who welcomed a wayfaring stranger.
Enjoy your pup (if you're getting one). I used to raise Romanian White Shepherds, but the bloodlines were getting so poor, I gave up trying to get new stock.
The Monks provided a wealth of information and technique, for which I will be forever grateful.
LOL. This *gifted* writer corrected a lot of his inital errors, and in doing so probably unleashed a whole pack of new ones.
NYer, ping the Catholics please!
Thank you for sharing!
Dogs make life much sweeter!
Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing.
A great story, Joe. Too bad you couldn’t have taken a puppy with you.
Great story and great pictures! It made me think about the time I visited my son at college. He had a boxer. While sitting at the table I noticed a book that was severely chewed up. I can’t remember the title but it had something to do with dog training. Needless to say it didn’t work.
Beautiful imagery; earnest writing... very cool
You were called there in more ways than one.
Had it not been for the winter storm your experience would have been different. You were blessed.
You’re not the only one who’s made that observation, and it’s one with which I can’t disagree.
I’m just in awe, everything from the etheral quality of the day to having the place to yourself with the Monks and the dogs.
I’m praying that the “hole in your heart” where a dog used to be is healing.
I can not thank you enough for what you have done.
Our society has lost sight of the virtuosity of humility, which simply means a groundedness and ability to observe and accept one's proper place in the big picture...Timber was a big part of me, but as the monks write:
"Do the bonds of relationship extend beyond this life? We have no proof, one way or another. But there is a depth to our experience that awakens faith, faith that in the mysterious character of life ultimately nothing of real value will ever be lost. Our closest relationships, both with humans and with dogs, somehow point beyond themselves, leading us to hope that there is indeed something of the eternal present in them."
I think there's a good chance I'll be seeing my Timber again :-)
This is THE most beautiful thing I’ve read in a long time...
(Monks are awesome. Dogs are awesome. Monks and dogs....must be heaven. ;-) )
THANKS for the wonderful thread!
People that cannot love a pet have something lacking.
My best friend as a kid was a GS. I told her secrets that I'd never tell a human and she just looked at me with those warm accepting eyes.
The total acceptance and trust that a dog gives back to you is golden.
Pretty close, as far as I can tell 8-)
Thanks so much for the great story and pictures.
The only question I have is why the monks were eating pork chops during the Nativity Fast. Not that they don't deserve them.
You know...as a Roman Catholic that question hadn’t occurred to me.
Beautiful text, gorgeous pictures. Or maybe, beautiful picture, gorgeous text. I can’t decide.
“picture” should have been “pictures.”
I knew what ya’ meant ;-) Glad you enjoyed them :-)
Wow, wow, wow. Thank you so much for sharing this. Great writing, incredible pictures, a blessed day.
This just begs to be published. I don’t read magazines at all so don’t have any suggestions for marketing this, but with a bit of research with the latest Writer’s Market you might be able to pin down five or ten suitable periodicals for submission, if, indeed, you’re into that.
In any event, thank you for publishing it here.
These are Orthodox monks, so their fasts are different than Catholic rules (as is their calendar). As I recall from Grandma, it's an escalating fast, and different rules for different weeks. I never could keep her rules straight.
Until last week we were allowed fish. I think we are currently allowed olive oil and wine (my wife keeps track for us). Starting the 20th, it's just vegan fare. The 24th is no food or water at all, for those who are able.
That said, we are warned against being "Holier than thou." I have no idea what disciplines the monks follow and it is really not my business.
I have heard stories of monks eating meat whenever visitors arrived, both to show hospitality and so it does not appear they are showing off their ascetic practices.
Thomas Merton mentions this practice in "Wisdom of the Desert".
Please freepmail me if you want on/off this list
You won't be disappointed in the least.
Thanks Martin for explaining the complexity of the fast rules. I’m not sure about New Skete, but my grandmother observes the Gregorian calendar too ... so her Nativity fast starts later and goes to January 6. I thought I read somewhere that they (like Grandma) were Russian as well ... at least the roots of their monastery.
I further recall that they are OCA, so that would make them "Russian."
I am at a loss to understand, let alone explain, the differences between Old Calendar and New Calendar notation, who follows what, etc. I've only been Orthodox for three years. I am learning to be quiet and simply obey!
New Skete is a very interesting place (never been there myself, but I've read a couple of their books). In addition to the convent, there is a place for married couples, "Companions of New Skete." Some days that sounds very attractive to my wife and me.
During my visit I didn't have the opportunity to discuss their organization at length. Of course I'd read extensively about the monks and the community in the years prior to my journey. There are a number of what appeared to be private residences along "New Skete Road" on the way up to the Monastery. I assumed these were the houses of the companions.
Thanks Joe! This kind of post is right up my alley! The only complaint I have is that there weren’t more pictures! Seriously, I did not want those great pix to end. The one of the snow-covered chapel is especially nice, and I think it will make a great wallpaper for my desktop. Seeing the snow really makes me miss my Hoosier home, especially since it is 80 degrees (AGAIN) down here in the Sunshine State. MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and yours.
As a native Pennsylvanian who now resides in Louisiana, I feel your pain regarding green Christmases, although folks back at the office in LA tell me we did get a few inches of snow last week. Just for you, here's some more of the white stuff....
Outstanding! Thanks again!
I decided long ago that when my whippet moves on to ‘doggy heaven’, I would get a German Shepherd. Sadly, I’m sure one of the New Skete residents would be out of my price range!
I didn't refer to them as the "Ferrari's of the dog world," loosely. Actually, I believe the wait for a new Ferrari is shorter than the wait for a New Skete pup.
A wonderful story and great photos. Thanks.
Do they breed dogs for sale on the market, and do they only breed German Shepherds? From the pictures, they look like beautiful animals.
Bumping a beautiful thread.
Dog lover bump.
That was by far one of the best things I’ve read on FR.
Thanks for telling your tale (or is it tail?).
P.S. Will you add me to your doggieping list please?
In the dim recesses of my memory I am pulling up bits of this story — I must have read a synopsis from the thread where you originally posted some of this story.
This is a beautifully written thread, and I felt like I was there spying on your adventure. What a treat! Did you get another dog from them?
Thank you for the link and for sharing your adventure.
In the meantime, Ranger keeps my hands full...
Those Belgians are nice too.
My daughter lives in the Albany/Saratoga area of NY, so maybe one day I’ll get to visit, if just to browse the gift shop. Cambridge is a little out of the way.
That chapel is certainly beautiful architecture. It looks Russian. Even the walls remind me of the chapel at Ft. Ross in CA (now burned to the ground by vandals) that dated from when the Russians had outposts almost as far south as San Francisco. Ft. Ross and the chapel were built of weathered redwood. Do you know what the Monks of New Skete used to build theirs?
If you’re in Albany, you’re not too far; well worth the drive from there. No, I’m not aware where the wood came from for the chapel, although the plaque on the door indicates that local slate was used for the floor...
Well, we’ll have to try it on our next visit. Thanks for the info.