Thanks to the generosity of a friend who offered to stay at the monastery, look after our dog and cat, welcome visitors and generally hold down the fort, the three of us were able to go on a short, ecumenical pilgrimage to local holy places. Our first stop was Dai Bosatsu, a Japanese Zen monastery in the Rinzai tradition, where we were warmly welcomed for lunch and given a tour of the monastery. Dai Bosatsu is near Livingston Manor as the crow flies, but quite remote, accessible by a long, narrow dirt road that runs along a spectacularly beautiful stream. Their guest house, which originally belonged to the Beecher family, may have been one of the stops on the Underground Railroad and the house in which Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written.
Our next stop was to have been the Zen monastery in Mt. Tremper, but navigation difficulties and time constraints forced us to push on to Holy Cross Monastery, a community of Episcopalian Benedictines overlooking the Hudson River, where we were expected for Vespers and supper. Sr. Donald had given a retreat there many years ago, and so knew many of the brothers.
After Matins and breakfast the following morning, we headed west to the shrines of St. Kateri Tekawitha and the Jesuit martyrs. We sensed an especially strong Presence in the ravine where one of the martyrs is buried.
Th Sisters of Mercy offered us hospitality for the night in their mother house in Albany, an imposing edifice that was recently completely refurbished, redecorated and upgraded to the latest assisted living standards, after a fire gutted the interior. The house is currently home to older sisters of several congregations, some of whom shared with us fascinating tales from their long and eventful lives.
Our final destination was the Russian Orthodox monastery at Jordanville, which also houses a thriving seminary. Classes are taught in both Russian and English, and Russian is a required part of the curriculum for non-Russian speakers. A young monk gave us a tour of the church, and after succumbing to temptation in the bookstore, we were invited to stay for lunch. The refectory has a separate wing for women, who are required to wear head scarves, long sleeves and skirts. The meal began and ended with beautiful, polyphonic Russian chant. Before heading home, we had a long visit with Nina, an elderly doctor from Moscow who raises bees near the monastery, together with Elena, a young American from Rochester, NY, who teaches Russian at the seminary and who acted as interpreter when necessary. Nina talked at length about the medicinal properties of beeswax and honey and gave us gifts of her beeswax and honeycomb. We discussed the fact that beehives are used as an image for monasteries in monastic literature and noted the similarities between the apian and human communities. We hope to return someday and meet the Orthodox nuns who live down the road.
The trip allowed Sr. Laura and Sr. Sheila to become more “inculturated” in this part of the world, which is now our home, but with which we were unfamiliar, and it gave all of us an opportunity to bond as a community, away from the daily routine and challenges at the monastery.