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089. August 10/23, 1971. St. Laurence the Archdeacon

Dear Brother in Christ, Laurence,

You have told us of your willingness to drop everything and come to join us here as a full-fledged brother; and you have expressed your doubts. Now it is for us to tell you what you can expect and what we expect of you when and if you join us, no longer as an honored guest and brother from far away, but as a full member of our community.

1. First of all, we welcome you as a full and organic member of our monastic-missionary body, fully sharing our common joys, sorrows, difficulties, and everyday life, and giving your maximum to the common work and responding to the common need without second thought. We will sacrifice ourselves to the utmost to make room for you in our common body, and we will expect the same of you. Under no circumstances will we allow you to live as a “bachelor” and adjust ourselves to your whims and eccentricities, nor as any kind of “guest,” paying or free, who gets room and board in exchange for work or money. You are a full member of us, or there is no point in your coming.

2. Our spiritual orientation is: devotion to St. Herman and discipleship to Vladika John and faithfulness to his testament and tradition to us, which includes in some degree being a “reflection of Valaam.” We have neither startsi nor great spiritual gifts to offer you; we can only invite you to be our fellow-orphan of St. Herman and Vladika John, asking together their help to make up our numerous deficiencies. Many from outside, as you already see, will judge us, will say we are in “prelest,” etc., and you will fall under the general condemnation. We cannot defend ourselves by pointing to any “spiritual” qualities which we do not have, but only by the fruits which God may bring forth from our common labors. We have sufficient testimony from outside to tell us that these fruits so far, even if small, are nonetheless real.

Vladika John divided his day into four parts of six hours each: rest, spiritual reading and reflection, work, and prayer. That is also the formula of our common life, only with the hours adapted to our weakness and needs. The active part of our day is devoted to work and prayer; no idleness. You will be given a chotki and a brief rule of cell prayer; besides this, you will carry the chotki with you everywhere and use it as your chief weapon against idleness and vain imaginings, fighting the devil with the Jesus Prayer.

3. As you know, we are experiencing difficulty with the local “authority,” whose ideas concerning our status and the idea that inspires us are totally opposed to our own. Therefore, you must know that we do not accept him as Head of our community, nor do we accept his Ukase concerning our monastery, concerning which we have reported in writing to the Secretary of the Synod. Sooner or later there will doubtless be an open battle with the “authority,” and you will be expected to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in this, fighting for the common idea that inspires us (without which we will not be faithful to Vladika John), and being counselled by responsible persons in the Church who know us and our work. We may well have to endure disgrace. But know that one bishop (N) has openly encouraged us to “disobedience,” if that be necessary, telling us to “treasure the blessing of Vladika John above everything,” and another (L) has said: “the fact that sorrows come to you testifies to the fact that you are doing a work of God… I think that you should be patient, undertake no dramatic moves, but by your conduct and your ‘line’ show that this (the behavior and ukase of V.A.) goes against your soul and is not suitable to you.” In the meantime we consider that our monastery does not yet have an official status and is in a state of “persecution” until such day as we shall be free to exercise our monastic right to present our own Rule to the Synod and elect our own Head. Until that time we take protection under the name of “Brotherhood” which Vladika John blessed.

4. Our rule being coenobitic, everything is held in common, and no one has anything of his “own” — except, for practical purposes, the personal effects, books, icons, etc., in his own cell. All needs are paid for out of the common treasury; you must come to us poor. We will ask you to put whatever money you have left from the world in a safe place outside and not touch it until you either leave (in which case the money becomes your adjustment money back to the world) or make your final decision to remain with us (in which case you distribute the money to whomever you please, or to the monastery). If you come with your car, you will put the keys in the common treasury and it will be used by the community as needed and with blessing and will not become “yours” again until you make your final decision on staying or leaving, when you will decide how to dispose of it. In other words, you will be entirely dependent on the community, which means also: you on us, and we on you. The worry that we cannot feed another mouth is real only if you do not intend to work; the additional income to be expected from the wholehearted addition of two hands to the work force will more than feed one extra mouth.

5. Authority, when necessary, is exercised by the eldest in our community, Fr. Herman, and after him by Fr. Seraphim. The obediences to be given form a part of the whole work and circumstances of the community, and their importance will generally be evident. If in particular cases you do not always see this, you will just have to trust us. So that the activity of community will proceed by common consent, and not according to the whim of individuals, nothing is undertaken without a blessing, no matter what one may “feel” or “think,” and all obediences are performed according to the rules and spirit of the community. Phrases such as “I insist, I demand, I refuse,” etc., are absolutely forbidden. General questions affecting the whole community will be decided “soborno,” by common consent (such as questions of stoves for winter). We do not acknowledge the right of any ecclesiastical authority outside the community to issue commands regarding our internal life, organization, or any individual member; any such attempt will be judged and acted on by the common consent of all members of the community. Our community is a monastery and not an episcopal dacha.

6. Worldly actions, conversation, manner, tone, objects, etc., are absolutely prohibited, as being utterly destructive of the monastic spirit. This includes:

a. Singing worldly songs, whistling, ostentatious spitting, littering.

b. Radio, newspapers, or magazines besides those received by the community, unless by special blessing for a definite purpose.

c. Crude or sexually oriented talk, reference to “urination,” etc.

d. Arguing, proving ones point, raising ones voice, idle comments, complaints, and in general everything that upsets the general peace and order.

e. Demanding of special treatment or privileges, such as bed pans, special foods or preparation, or other paraphernalia and habits of old maids and self-pampered bachelors. Sufficient allowance will be given in cases of illness, allergy, etc.

f. Demands to be placed in a position of authority, on a “Board of Directors,” etc. — these concepts are foreign to the nature of our community’s existence.

g. Nosiness, curiosity, idle questions.

h. Crossing the legs (for: Life of St. Arsenius the Great).

i. And free and easy, worldly manner with visitors. After visitors have been greeted one or more brothers will be assigned to them, and the others will continue their work.

j. No food is kept in kellias, and no eating between meals, unless with blessing (water is allowed between meals).

7. Finally, in everything the spirit of mutual love, trust, and respect must prevail. For infractions of the above rules, penances of pokloni may be given; but the severest punishment will be given to the brother who allows the sun to set on his anger against another brother. According to the rule of St. Cassian, such a one will not be allowed to pray with the brethren until he comes to repentance and begs forgiveness. For without mutual love, trust, and respect, nothing written above makes any sense, and there cannot be any community at all.

And so, dear brother in Christ, you have the picture. We expect much of you, and we will try to give you much in return. Only in principle you must agree with all that is written above; and if you fall, accept correction. As slaves of Christ we cannot offer to God and His Church great spirituality, wisdom, organization, or podvigs; but we can offer our absolute determination and strenuous effort to be faithful to the testament of Vladika John to us and to forge a community which in some way preserves his spirit, helping, encouraging and strengthening each other in our weaknesses and falls, and being open and honest with each other. The rules above are in accordance with the “Decree on Monasteries” of the Russian Church Abroad, which we shall read to you on your next visit.

Your brothers in Christ our Saviour,

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