St. Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary: A Meeting of Heaven and Earth

Jesse Dominick for usareally.com 

Photo: pravoslavie.ru

“The Liturgy’s been celebrated here almost daily since 1905… It becomes a real source of power. There’s a kind of forward movement of strong, powerful spiritual energy that’s blessing and benefiting all America. This power and strength that comes from the prayers here is incalculable and inestimable. The value of it is hard to understand, but when we begin to understand it, we begin to tap into the mystery of the spiritual world, which is present among us, but the effects are not always seen immediately.”

Fr. Sergius (Bowyer), abbot of St. Tikhon’s Monastery

The Liturgy is the Orthodox service in which the holy Eucharist is celebrated, when the Holy Spirit descends upon simple bread and wine, changing them into the holy Body and Blood of Christ. It is through the Orthodox Church, in its celebration of the Divine Liturgy, that the Lord continues to be bodily present with us on earth even unto the end of the world (Mt. 28:20).

As Fr. Sergius, the abbot of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Orthodox Monastery in South Canaan, PA states, this Divine presence is a blessing to all of America, and really, the entire world, although we do not all have eyes to see it. Orthodox Christian do not hesitate to affirm that it is the grace of the Divine Liturgy that upholds the world.

St. Tikhon’s Monastery is the first Orthodox monastery in America, nestled in a small town of less than 2,000 in northeastern PA. It sits on a plot of over 300 acres that includes peaceful forests, quietly flowing streams, open fields, and two large ponds — a setting ideal for fostering prayer, humility and love for God. It was founded in 1905 by St. Tikhon, a Russian missionary to America, who later became the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and suffered under the Bolshevik yoke.

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He served as a missionary bishop in the burgeoning American mission. He was appointed as bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska in 1898, tending to the flock that grew out of the labors of St. Herman of Alaska, whom we discussed in the previous article, before being called back to Russia in 1907.

One of his great and lasting achievements in America is surely the founding of St. Tikhon’s Monastery, named for his own patron, St. Tikhon the Wonderworker of Zadonsk. Since 1938, there has also been a seminary under the same name operating on the grounds as well.

St. Tikhon’s, whether the monastery or seminary, is a place where men from around the world come to immerse themselves in the life of the Church and dedicate themselves to serving God, and a century of self-sacrifice, where man meets Christ, has certainly left its mark on the place. 

The monks take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; the seminarians, often married with children, give up the lives they know to live in the middle of nowhere and dedicate themselves to delving deeper into every aspect of their faith and Church. Such values, such sacrifices may seem like madness to an America where truth has become inherently offensive, but the reality of the Orthodox spiritual world is undeniable at this holy habitation.

I spent almost a year living in the monastery there and then finished the three-year seminary course. As I said during our graduation reflections, St. Tikhon’s is a place that gives you everything you need to become a saint — that is everything you need to unite yourself to Christ through His grace and be transfigured thereby. And St. Tikhon’s is indeed known as a place where saints have walked and where holy men have been molded.

Unlike places such as Greece, Romania, Serbia, or Russia, that have been immersed in Orthodoxy for a millennium or two and given a myriad of saints to the world, Orthodoxy is still small in America, and our land has as yet known but a few handful of saints. However, of the holy men and women who have blessed our land with their presence and prayers, a number of them have been associated precisely with St. Tikhon’s.

Along with St. Tikhon, who opened churches across America, credit for building the monastery belongs to Archbishop Arseny (Chagovtsev), who is locally venerated as a saint in Canada where he worked tirelessly and effectively and even suffered as a confessor of the faith when he was shot and wounded by radicals. He served as the first abbot of St. Tikhon’s before going to serve in Canada, Russia, and Serbia, and finally returning in retirement to St. Tikhon’s, where he founded the seminary in 1938.

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Archbishop Arseny’s simple grave next to the monastery’s cemetery chapel stands in stark contrast to modern American values as a reminder of the non-acquisitiveness and simplicity of the monastic life, of the humble beginnings of St. Tikhon’s Monastery, and of his continuing prayers before the throne of God for all who labor at St. Tikhon’s.

Among the main spiritual treasures at St. Tikhon’s are surely the grace-bearing relics of St. Alexis Toth, which are to be found inside the main monastery church. He was an Eastern Rite Catholic from the Austro-Hungarian Empire who, upon arrival in America, found his bishop hostile and himself without a parish. By God’s providence this led to his reception into the holy Orthodox Church, after which he worked tirelessly to bring thousands of Eastern Catholics into the true Church. He reposed in 1909, being laid to rest in the monastery cemetery at St. Tikhon’s. Today his relics lie in a reliquary in the monastery church, where all are welcome to venerate and pray to this faithful missionary of Orthodoxy in America.

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The monastery is also home to a number of other smaller relics, including of its founder St. Tikhon, and most notably a piece of the True Cross of Christ—our weapon of salvation by which the world is redeemed and satan crushed.

St. Raphael (Hawaweeny) is another great saint who continues to bless St. Tikhon’s, and who unites the entire Orthodox world. He was born in Lebanon, studied in Turkey and Russia, and served with Orthodox of every ethnicity in America. He is the first Orthodox bishop to become a bishop in America and in 1905 he traveled to St. Tikhon’s to bless its 300 acres and kick off the monastery’s venerable tradition of daily services by celebrating its first Liturgy. He was canonized at St. Tikhon’s in 2000, and his relics currently in Bolivar, PA.

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St. Alexander Hotovitsky also visited St. Tikhon’s Monastery several times in its early years, leaving an intriguing account of its 1906 consecration. He later served as the rector of Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow and was arrested by communist authorities in 1937 which led to his martyric death.

Among the greatest of saints of the entire Orthodox world in the 20th century is the Serbian hierarch St. Nicholai (Velimirovic). He is renowned for his penetrating preaching, receiving the epithet of the “New Chrysostom,” after St. John Chrysostom,[1] the greatest preacher in Christian history after St. Paul. St. Nicholai brought much comfort to the suffering Serbian Church during the years of the Second World War. He too suffered, being imprisoned for two years at the Dachau concentration camp. St. Nicholai also served the Church in America, living at St. Tikhon’s Monastery from 1951 until 1956 and teaching at the seminary, for which he served as rector in the 1955-1956 school year. It was in the St. Tikhon’s Seminary building that this giant of Orthodoxy reposed on March 18, 1956 under suspect circumstances. The seminary chapel is dedicated to his memory.

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Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints, as the Psalmist tells us (Ps. 115:6/116:15), and it must not be underestimated that such a great hierarch and luminary of Christ gave up his soul to the Lord at St. Tikhon’s. Since ancient times, the death of a Christian has been celebrated as his birth into new life. It is at the place of a saint’s repose that he goes to forever be with the Lord, continuing to serve Him with his prayers from Heaven.

The great Orthodox spiritual center of St. Tikhon’s also gives us an opportunity acquaint the reader with the phenomenon of wonderworking icons. Orthodox Christians have traditionally preferred to venerate paintings, or icons, of the saints. We venerate — kiss, bow, and prostrate before — icons, because they are not mere art, but windows into Heaven, showing us the spiritual reality of a human being transfigured by the grace of God. The veneration given to an icon passes to its prototype in Heaven.

Accordingly, God often deigns to work miracles through these holy icons. Christ became man, taking on physical flesh, to redeem even the entire material cosmos: He delights in working through His creation.

The monastery church is home to a miraculous icon of the Mother of God “She Who is Quick to Hear” which hangs on the left side of the wall of icons at the front of the church. Upon its founding in 1905, the monastery was gifted with a copy of the miraculous icon of the same name of Dochariou Monastery on Mt. Athos.[2] This copy has also become known as a miraculous icon, through which the Mother of God especially deigns to help those couples who are unable to conceive. The icon, radiant in its beauty, travels throughout America to bring comfort, healing, and peace to the Orthodox faithful.

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I personally know a couple who attribute the birth of their child to the mother’s prayers before this miraculous icon.

St. Tikhon’s has also been home to a miraculous icon of St. Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary, since 2012. The icon was painted in the Holy Land and began to stream myrrh in 2004. Of course, to someone not familiar with Orthodox Tradition, this may sound absurd, but the Orthodox know many such icons that emit an inexplicable but sweet-smelling oil that reminds of the Paradise we lost and are striving to regain. Countless miracles have been known through these precious images of Christ and His saints.

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Though St. Anna is not currently streaming myrrh, she continues to emit a Heavenly fragrance and to answer prayers, especially for healing and conception, through her icon. Bottles of the miraculous myrrh are available from the monastery.

St. Tikhon’s is always open to guests. Hospitality is one of the main virtues in the Orthodox monastic tradition. Only God truly knows how many have come and been blessed by their time at this American “holy mountain,” this place where Heaven meets Earth. God is present there. His saints are alive and present there. Grace overflows there, and invites all to come and see.

For more information about St. Tikhon’s Monastery, visit their website at www.sttikhonsmonastery.org.

[1] “Chrysostom” means “golden-mouthed.”

[2] A semi-autonomous monastic republic in Greece. More will be said about Mt. Athos in a later article. 

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