Pam and I visited her parents in the upstate Sunday night, and on the way back home yesterday made a detour through Abbeville. I had read of the opening of a new religious-type establishment and wanted to check it out for myself. The establishment, if you want to call it that, was actually a monastery and somehow had been built over the last couple of years in the backwoods of South Carolina, in as much a blue-collar agricultural district as you can find anywhere. You just drive down these country roads, with pastures and cows and soybean fields stretching out in the distance and then, there it is, the Paracletos ("Holy Spirit") Greek Orthodox Monastery, resting there in the middle of a corn field.
So anyway, Pam and I went in to check the place out. When a middle-aged sister came out to greet us, we realized that even though it was called a “monastery” those who lived there were women not men. Three of them, in fact. Sister Miriam told us that the three of them had been brought over by the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox archdiocese of Atlanta, to begin the monastery a few years ago. To date, they’ve constructed a small and beautiful chapel, a dining hall for guests, their own residence, and a workshop where they make icons for their income needs. We spent a while talking with Sister Miriam and the Abbess, Sister Pauline (who didn’t speak English; Sister Miriam translated). A strange and unexpected conversation, to be sure. But one that was eye-opening for us:
Me: Sister Miriam, this place is so peaceful. So quite.
Sister Miriam: Yes, this is because we pray so much. Much prayer leads to much sanctity. What you’re feeling here is the holiness that comes to a place when we pray.
Pam: What’s your daily schedule like?
Sister Miriam: We arise every morning at 4:00AM for our first worship service of the day. We worship from the time we wake up until 7:30AM. Then we have breakfast. We work until 1:00PM—praying as we work!—then have lunch. After lunch we have our second worship service. Then we return to work, with a worship service later in the afternoon. We don’t eat supper and instead have a last worship service prior to retiring to our rooms for personal prayer and reading.
Me: What are your greatest challenges here?
Sister Miriam: There’s so much for us to pray for! We believe we’re called here to pray, and we want to see more sisters join our community so we can pray even more.
That’s a taste of our conversation. Needless to say, I was so deeply impressed by their commitment to pray! I don’t get much of their theology, or even of their lifestyle, but I was blown away by their prayer life. Wherever there’s a sense of the presence of God, you can rest assured that prayer has preceded it. I came away from there with a renewed commitment to prayer, to seeking the face of God more than anything else. “Our place is sanctified through prayer,” Sister Miriam said. And she was right: you could feel it as soon as you walked around the grounds. I’m covetous (in a good way) of that same thing: in my heart, in my home, in my church.