Princess Turned Nun

Princess Turned Nun: Life of Princess Ileana of Romania then Mother Alexandra
Ileana as a young woman

Princess Ileana

Ileana as a young woman

‘But I felt I had to stand on my own feet and learn the hard way, for the hard way is the only way. I know from bitter experience where it leads to, to lean on others. It is only when one has learned to stand on one’s own feet, when one has found a solid foundation, that it is wise or good to accept help.’ (I Live Again)

Here’s an unconventional life:  A princess, great-grand daughter of Queen Victoria of England and Czar Alexander II of Russia, twice divorced (!), founder of the European equivalent of the Girls’ Scouts, gives up her pampered princess life to found and direct the first English-language Orthodox monastery in rural Pennsylvania.  Although she passed away in 1982, her life still inspires, serving as a testament to the attractiveness of the ascetic life that Orthodox theology encourages.  Her worldly name was Princess Ileana of Romania, but her tonsured name was Alexandra, eventually she became known as Mother Alexandra as the igoumeni, Abbes, Mother Superior of the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pa.

Princess Ileana

    Princess Ileana of Roumania as a teen

a real beauty in body and soul Princess Ileana of Romania

A real beauty in body and soul Princess Ileana of Romania

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Ileana of Romania as a young child

Ileana of Romania as a young child

Princess Ileana Red Cross

Ileana with her work in the Red Cross during the War

In my opinion, Princess Ileana’s story is a A Blessed Life of Extremes on so many levels. I have personally found Bev. Cooke’s narrative chronicle Royal Monastic: Princess Ileana of Romania: The Story of Mother Alexandra, a most fascinating account of the life of one of the twentieth centuries most unheralded, yet fascinating, persons. Mother Alexandra, formerly Princess Ileana of Romania, lived through two world wars, the communist takeover of her country, and finally saw its liberation. She lived a life of royalty and privilege, yet knew poverty, encountered opulent materialism, yet lived as an Orthodox nun founding a monastery in Pennsylvania in the later years of her life, married twice (!), yet became nun! Mother Alexandra’s experiences were varied and deep to the extent few others can claim. She was, by birth, related to some of the most powerful and historically significant people in modern history, yet never sought celebrity status. If you seek an inspirational biography, read this thrilling tale of love and loss, danger and rescue, sacrifice and reward. For all her shortcomings and ‘falls’, Mother Alexandra’s life stands in so many ways as a beacon of faith and holiness for women of all times and nations to follow. 

Life & Adventures: Birth and early life

Ileana was born in Bucharest on 5 January 1909, the youngest daughter of Queen Marie of Romania and King Ferdinand I of Romania. Although it was rumored that Ileana’s true father was her mother’s lover, Prince Barbu Ştirbey, the king admitted paternity. Ileana had four older siblings: CarolElisabeth – later Crown Princess of Greece, Princess Maria – later Queen of Yugoslavia – and Nicholas. Her younger brother Mircea was also claimed to be the child of Prince Ştirbey even though the king also claimed to be his father.

Girl Guiding

Before her marriage, Ileana was the organizer and Chief of the Romanian Girl Guide MovementLater Princess Ileana was involved in Guiding in Austria and served as president of the Austrian Girl Guides[1][2] from 1935 until Girl Guiding and Scouting were banned in 1938 after the Anschluss.

Other achievements

Ileana was the organizer of the Girl Reserves of the Red Cross, and of the first school of Social Work in Romania.

She was an avid sailor: she earned her navigator’s papers, and owned and sailed the “Isprava” for many years.

Before King Michael’s abdication

Marriage

In Sinaia on 26 July 1931, Ileana married the Archduke Anton of Austria, Prince of Tuscany. This marriage was encouraged by Ileana’s brother, King Carol II, who was jealous of Ileana’s popularity in Romania and wanted to get her out of the country.[3] After the wedding, Carol claimed that the Romanian people would never tolerate a Habsburg living on Romanian soil, and on these grounds refused Ileana and Anton permission to live in Romania.[3]

After her husband was conscripted into the Luftwaffe, Ileana established a hospital for wounded Romanian soldiers at their castle, Sonneburg, outside Vienna, Austria. She was assisted in this task by her friend Sheila Kaul. In 1944, she and the children moved back to Romania, where they lived at Bran Castle, near Brasov.[4] Archduke Anton joined them but was placed under house arrest by the Red Army. Princess Ileana established and worked in another hospital in Bran village, which she named the Hospital of the Queen’s Heart in memory of her beloved mother Queen Maria of Romania.

After exile

After Michael I of Romania abdicated, Ileana and her family were exiled from the newly Communist Romania. They escaped by train to the Russian sector of Vienna, then divided into three parts. After that they settled in Switzerland, then moved to Argentina and in 1950, she and the children moved to the United States, where she bought a house in Newton, Massachusetts.

The years from 1950 to 1961 were spent lecturing against communism, working with the Romanian Orthodox Church in the United States, writing two books: I Live Again, a memoir of her last years in Romania,[5] and Hospital of the Queen’s Heart, describing the establishment and running of the hospital. [For an introduction to her memoir go here and for the full text here.]

On 29 May 1954, Ileana and Anton officially divorced and she married secondly in NewtonMassachusetts, on 20 June 1954, to Dr. Stefan Nikolas Issarescu (Turnu-Severin, 5 October 1906 – Providence, 21 December 2002).

In 1961, Princess Ileana entered the Orthodox Monastery of the Protection of the Mother of God, in Bussy-en-OtheFrance. Her second marriage ended in divorce in 1965. On her tonsuring as a monastic, in 1967, Sister Ileana was given the name Mother Alexandra. She moved back to the United States and founded the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, the first English language Orthodox monastery in North America. She was the third female descendant of Queen Victoria to become a Mother Superior in a convent of her own foundation. She served as abbess until her retirement in 1981, remaining at the monastery until her death.

She visited Romania again in 1990, at the age of 81 in the company of her daughter, Sandi.

In January 1991, she suffered a broken hip in a fall on the evening before her eighty-second birthday, and while in hospital, suffered two major heart attacks. She died four days after the foundations had been laid for the expansion of the monastery.

book tour photo I live again

Ileana on book tour with memoir “I Live Again”

For more photographs about this extraordinary woman and her amazing story of courage and conviction go here.

An Associated Press article about Mother Alexandra

FORMER ROMANIAN PRINCESS FINDS LIFE IS RICHER AS A NUN

 

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“I did my duty as princess. And now I’m doing my duty as a nun.”
The Rev. Mother Alexandra

By Marcia Dunn
Associated Press Writer

ELLWOOD CITY—Her family jewels are gone and her castle is property of the Communist state, but Romania’s Princess Ileana believes her life is blessed in far greater, grander ways.

The princess, 79, has found peace as the Rev. Mother Alexandra, one of 12 nuns who share food, work and prayer at an Orthodox monastery in rural Western Pennsylvania.

“One’s objects stand in the way,” she said. “I’m freer and richer spiritually, and mentally, too, I hope.”

The nun of 27 years has long since buried her royal roots as founder of The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, the, first English-speaking Orthodox monastery in the United States.

But vestiges of those days remain, even at the monastery.

Portraits of her parents, Romania’s King Ferdinand and Queen Marie, hang in the living room of the A-frame house she shares with another nun.

Gold and silver icons dating back to the 15th century fill a corner of her bedroom. Antique icons also decorate the monastery’s small, candlelit chapel as do crosses and triptychs, some of which she brought from Europe.

A small, gold container on a bed stand holds her most precious possession, a handful of Romanian soil snatched during her escape from Russian Communism in World War II. She wants it buried with her.

“There’s a big gap between then and now. So much has happened in between,” Mother Alexandra said.

“It’s been different so many times over,” she said. “But you see, one lives day by day, doesn’t one? So that really it becomes a sequence of its own and you take it as it comes. Thank God, I always had a really strong faith that carried me through everything.”

She refuses to compare her regal and- religious lifestyles.

“There is no, point,” she said. “I did my duty as a princess. And now I’m doing my duty as a nun.”

Her superiors, nonetheless, are impressed by her example.

“As a person, as an individual, I have admiration because even not having a position, she could have had a social life, which would be much more in keeping with other people of her background,” said Bishop Nathaniel Popp, 47, head of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America.

“Instead of saying she was a princess who became a nun, I think it was more she was a nun coming through the life of a princess,” he said.

Although just a child during the German invasion of World War I, Princess Ileana accompanied her mother, the queen, from hospital to hospital, administering to Romania’s wounded and hungry. By World War II, her parents were dead, her older brother, Carol, had ascended the throne, one sister had become queen of Yugoslavia and another queen of Greece.

Princess Ileana lived in a castle near Vienna, wife of an archduke of Austria and mother of six.

Fearful of the Nazi regime, Princess Ileana and her family moved in 1944 to Romania. There, she set up hospitals and did what she could for her suffering compatriots despite Russia’s growing threat.

On Dec. 30, 1947, her nephew, King Michael, forced by the Communists to abdicate. The next week, Princess Ileana and the rest of the royal family were exiled.

Princess Ileana immigrated with her family to Switzerland then Argentina before settling in 1950 in the United States, a move that ultimately led to divorce. To support her children, she sold her diamond and sapphire tiara, lectured about life behind the Iron Curtain, and wrote the autobiography “I Live Again.”

In 1961, after her children were grown, the 52-year-old princess became a postulant. She ended a second marriage to do so.

“In my heart, I have always wanted to become a nun,” she said. “But there was so much to be done in Romania when I was young.”

Princess Ileana took the monastic vows of stability, obedience, poverty and chastity in 1967 and, with that profession, became Mother Alexandra. Later that year, she put up a trailer on 100 acres of farmland outside Ellwood City and began building an English-speaking monastery for Orthodox women of all ethnic backgrounds.

Even though she has stepped down as the monastery’s abbess, Mother Alexandra’s work goes on. She oversees construction of a new complex to accommodate more activities and the growing number of women drawn to the cluster of redwood buildings on a hill.

Her royal background, surprisingly, has helped her cope with the austerity of monastic life: two-hour prayer sessions three times a day, black habits and headdress, renunciation of the temporal world and ail its trappings.

“As a royal person, you have to be very disciplined,” she said. “From the beginning of your life, you are a public person. You belong to the country. Your own personal amusement does not play any part. Your duty comes first.

From that point of view… I’ve watched the other sisters, the struggles they have I don’t. For me, it isn’t difficult.

What is difficult for her is dealing with the strangers who periodically show up at monastery, hoping for a glimpse of a real-life princess.

“It’s my cross I have to bear,” she said, sighing.

To her sisters in spirit, she is just another nun.

“We live quite equally here,” said the Very Rev. Mother Christophora, the monastery’s abbess.

“Each of us has a background and a past. It’s there and you think about it occasionally,” said the 34-year-old abbess, a former alcoholism counselor from Lopez, Sullivan County. “But most of the time, we’re just getting along, surviving, loving our faith. Of course, that’s the way it should be. We should leave our past behind.”

“Mother Alexandra is a nun, sure. She’s in the garden, in the flowers, digging like everybody else,” said the Rev. Roman Braga, 65, the monastery’s chaplain.

Although she treasures her secular past, Mother Alexandra has no desire to resurrect it by visiting Romania, even if she could. Her passport, British because of her House of Hanover ancestry, is stamped: “You have no right to return.”

“I couldn’t bear to see everything that my parents did, we all did and worked for, destroyed,” she said.

Still, there are times, especially around Romania’s National Day on May 10, when her heart longs for the land she left behind.

“I’ll always be homesick,” she said. “I think that’s an illness of which one is never cured. You accept it like one accepts anything else.

“Besides, what I’m homesick for doesn’t exist anymore. That’s the tragedy.”

Source: Greek American Girl

Thin Places (I)

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SYNAXIS OF ALL SAINTS OF THE BRITISH ISLES & IRELAND    

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“The Church in The British Isles will only begin to grow

when She begins to again venerate Her own Saints

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(Saint Arsenios of Paros †1877)

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Celtic Monasticism, A Model of Sanctity By Hieromonk Ambrose (Father Alexey Young)

A Journey into Celtic Christianity — Part I of IV 

 

Prayer of St. Columban of Iona

Kindle in our hearts, O God, The flame of that love which never ceases,
That it may burn in us, giving light to others.
May we shine forever
in Thy holy temple,
Set on fire with Thy eternal light, Even Thy son, Jesus Christ,

Our Savior and Redeemer.

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The Holy Hierarch Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland   ( 493)

[This week I went on a pilgrimage to the Celtic sacred sites and pilgrim routes of North England. ] With the imagery of fire and light contained in this wonderful prayer I want to move immediately to a recorded incident in the life of St. Columban, a description which shows how he himself personally experienced this “light”–which of course Orthodox Christians recognize as a vision of the Uncreated Light spoken of in Scripture and in the Holy Fathers. Here is the account:

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The Holy Virgin-Martyr Saint Winifred of Wales ( 650)

“One winter’s night a monk named Virgnous, burning with the love of God, entered the church alone to pray. The others were asleep. He prayed fervently in a little side chamber attached to the walls of the oratory. After about an hour, the venerable Columban entered the same sacred house. Along with him, at the same time, a golden light came down from the highest heavens and filled that part of the church. Even the separate alcove, where Virgnous was attempting to hide himself as much as he could, was also filled, to his great alarm, with some of the brilliance of that heavenly light. As no one can look directly at or gaze with steady eye on the summer sun in its midday splendor, so Virgnous could not at all bear the heavenly brightness he saw because the brilliant and unspeakable radiance overpowered his sight. This brother, in fact, was so terrified by the splendor, almost as dreadful as lightning, that no strength remained in him. Finally, after a short prayer, St. Columban left the church.

The next day he sent for Virgnous, who was very much alarmed, and spoke to him these consoling words: ‘You are crying to good purpose, my child, for last night you were very pleasing in the sight of God by keeping your eyes fixed on the ground when you were overwhelmed with fear at the brightness. If you had not done that, son, the bright light would have blinded your eyes. You must never, however, disclose this great manifestation of light while I live.’”

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The Holy Hierarch Saint Brannoc, Abbot of Braunton, Devonshire  ( 6th c.)
 
It’s no wonder, then, that ancient writers said that, on the faces of Celtic monks who had advanced in spiritual life, there rested the glow of caeleste lumen, heavenly light.

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The Holy Hierarch Saint Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne  (651)

In the life of St. Adomnan we read about the following incident:

“At another time when the holy man was living in the island of Hinba, the Grace of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon him abundantly and in an incomparable manner, and continued marvelously for the space of three days, so that for three days and as many nights, remaining with a house barred, and filled with heavenly light, he allowed no one to go to him, and he neither ate nor drank. From that house streams of immeasurable brightness were visible in the night, escaping through chinks of the door leaves, and through the key-holes. And spiritual songs, unheard before, were heard being sung by him. Moreover, as he afterwards admitted in the presence of a very few men, he saw, openly revealed, many of the secret things that have been hidden since before the world began. Also everything that in the Sacred Scriptures is dark and most difficult became plain, and was shown more clearly than the day to the eyes of his purest heart. And he lamented that his foster-son Baithene was not there, who if he had chance to be present during those three days, would have written down from the mouth of the blessed man very many mysteries, both of past ages and of ages still to come, mysteries unknown to other men…”(Fr. Gorazd Vorpatrny, “Celts and Orthodoxy,” http://www.orthodoxireland.com/history/celtsandorthodox y/view)

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The Holy Hierarch Saint Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne († 687)

In the Introduction to his translation of the Vita Patrum: The Life of the Fathers, the Righteous Fr. Seraphim of Platina wrote appreciatively about the Orthodox saints of the pre-schism West in Gaul, but of course he could have been writing about the Celtic saints of the British Isles from exactly the same period of time.

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Saint Aristobulus, Apostle of Britain  (1st c)

“A touchstone of true Orthodoxy,” Fr. Seraphim wrote, “is the love for Christ’s saints. From the earliest Christian centuries the Church has celebrated her saints–first the Apostles and martyrs who died for Christ, then the desert- dwellers who crucified themselves for the love of Christ, and the hierarchs and shepherds who gave their lives for the salvation of their flocks. From the beginning the Church has treasured the written Lives of these her saints and has celebrated their memory in her Divine services.

These two sources–the Lives and services–are extremely important to us today for the preservation of the authentic Orthodox tradition of faith and piety.

The false ‘enlightenment’ of our modern age is so all-pervasive that it draws many Orthodox Christians into its puffed up ‘wisdom,’ and without their even knowing it they are taken away from the true spirit of Orthodox and left only with the shell of Orthodox rites, formulas, and customs.. To have a seminary education, even to have the ‘right views’ about Orthodox history and theology–is not enough. A typical modern ‘Orthodox’ education produces, more often than not, merely Orthodox rationalists capable of debating intellectual positions with Catholic and Protestant rationalists, but lacking the true spirit and feeling of Orthodoxy. This spirit and feeling are communicated most effectively in the Lives of saints and in similar sources which speak less of the outward side of correct dogma and rite than of the essential inward side of proper Orthodox attitude, spirit, piety.”

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Holy Martyr Saint Nectan, Celt Hermit, Devonshire ( 6th c.)

With this principle in mind–that the lives of the saints are of critical importance if we are to understand and pass on true Orthodox Christianity to the next generation–I want to continue by defining two important terms: “Celtic” (or “Celt”) and “spirituality.”

It may come as a surprise to learn that the Celts actually never called themselves “Celts.” This word comes from the Greek Keltos, and means something like “the other” or “a stranger.” The Greeks also called these people Keltoi, which was a word the Celts did adopt because it means “the hidden ones” or the “hidden people.” In fact, the Old Irish word ceilid means “to hide or conceal.” So these people were called “Celts” by those who came into contact with them and saw them as being quite different than other tribes and peoples. And they were. In their long, pre- Christian period they were a ferocious war-loving lot who fought just for the sheer joy of fighting. “One Roman writer described Celtic men as ‘terrible from the sternness of their eyes, very quarrelsome, and of great pride and insolence’. Nor, to his dismay, did these qualities stop with the men. ‘A whole troop of foreigners [he wrote] would not be able to withstand a single one if he called to his assistance his wife, who is usually very strong.’ The Greek historian Strabo was more blunt in his assessment. ‘The whole race,’ he concluded, ‘is war mad.’” (No author given; Heroes of the Dawn: Celtic Myth)

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The Venerable Hilda, Abbess of Whitby († 680)

Monasticism appeared attractive to a warrior people who were drawn to an ascetic lifestyle. … It appealed to a marginalized people who saw the monk as one who lived on the edge of things, on the very margins of life.

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[To Be Continued …]

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Source: http://www.asna.ca/angloceltic/celtic-monasticism.pdf

Also, listen to Hiermonk Ambrose (Father Alexey Young) about THE UNIQUENESS OF CELTIC MONASTICISM at http://www.asna.ca/angloceltic/

For Part II go to https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/10/31/thin-places-a-journey-into-celtic-christianity-part-ii/

To follow an alternate route at our pilgrimage to the Celtic sacred sites and pilgrim routes of England, you may go to https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/11/05/scilly-pilgrimage/ and visit Scilly –pronounced “silly”–Islands! (/ˈsɪli/Cornish: Syllan or Enesek Syllan) (Introduction of the “c” may be to prevent references to “silly” men or saints!) Yet another look at Christian faith from a Celtic perspective. The Isles of Scilly  are an archipelago off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula of Great Britain, comprising  5 Major, inhabited islands,St Mary’sTrescoSt Martin’sBryherSt Agnes and 140 others. 

In and Out of this World 

“One Day in the Life of a Men’s Monastery” is an acclaimed documentary directed by Sergei Yazvinsky featuring a typical day at the Monastery of St Simon in Novy Afon or “New Athos” in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, Georgia. …

Here is a link to the documentary. Enjoy!

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Dawn appears on the horizon at the monastery, which is dedicated to St Simon the Canaanite, one of Christ’s apostles who legendarily preached in Georgia and the surrounding regions. The monastery was built in the 1880s with donations from Russian Emperor Alexander III as a refuge for overflow monks. Russia’s Monastery of St Panteleimon on Mount Athos in Thessaly, Greece was overflowing with monks, so the Tsar assisted in the construction of this beautiful monastery to accommodate them.

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The monastery crowns the eastern edge of the Black Sea near the Abkhazian capital Sukhumi, which was an ancient Greek port in antiquity and a center of the medieval Georgian kingdom (საქართველო Sak’art’velo).

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Local villagers volunteer at the monastery to help the monks sweep the floors and courtyard, cook and prepare meals, and maintain the stunning grounds.

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Early morning: a monk lights the oil lamps which hang before the icons of Christ and the Theotokos on the iconostasis in the monastery chapel.

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A monk holds a Russian-language liturgical book for the chanting of the First Hour (06:00am) dawn prayers.

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A life of prayer: many people are amazed that locals come daily to help the monks cook and clean, but the monks ‘repay’ these services not only with their thanks and loving kindness, but with their constant prayer on behalf of the villagers, their country, and the world. The monk here is reading through names of villagers for whom he will pray in the daily services.

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Dawn breaks at the monastery.

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The Russian-style golden cupolas glimmer in the morning sunlight.

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The monks practice the Athonite discipline of hesychia, a Greek term meaning “stillness” or inner silence which developed most clearly from the writings of St Gregory Palamas. The goal is to cultivate a subconscious dedication to prayer so that one enters into transcendent prayer of the heart, through which one strives to become what St Peter called a “partaker of the divine nature”. Prayer is not “all the monks do”, however. This Russian monk is carving a cross which will be blessed and given to someone outside the monastery.

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A baker monk?: These freshly baked loaves will be consumed by visitors as well as the monks. Prosphora bread used for the Eucharist is baked separately using a simple ancient formula and then it is set apart and blessed (prior to the Liturgy) before its consecration begins during the Liturgy.

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The monastery’s central church dominates the courtyard, which is surrounded by the yellow-painted loggias in which the monks live in sparse cells. This part of Abkhazia, Georgia has a Mediterranean climate. You can see the cypress trees by the Black Sea.

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In the Russian tradition, the monastery’s bell-tower is a separate edifice from the central Neo-Byzantine church.

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Bells sound at different points of the Liturgy, bringing worshipers into a deeper spiritual frame and alerting those not present to specific points in the service. Bells also announce births or deaths and call the monks and the faithful to prayer. Bell-ringing is an ancient art in Russian lands, and the skills of the bell-ringer are highly prized because complicated poly-rhythmic, mechanical rotations are used rather than Western mathematically-determined melodies and “ringing” (turning the bell so that it rotates fully around). Bells serve as “singing icons” and just as people are chrismated into the Church, a unique chrismation ceremony brings new bell towers (kampan, from the Italian ‘campanile’) into the life of the Church.

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The pealing of the bells summons the faithful to prayer as the Divine Liturgy begins. Here is an example of Russian bell-ringing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzGbMWEl0Ys

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The Georgian priest proceeds toward the altar at the east end of the monastery church holding the Gospel aloft. Orthodox Christians consider the books of the Bible inspired of God and an icon of Christ. Only recently in the United States have some Orthodox communities introduced pews into their churches. Traditionally, the faithful consider it disrespectful to sit in a holy place, and so they stand attentively before God.

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All music in Orthodox churches is performed a capella without instrumental accompaniment. Russian chant incorporates polyphonic harmonies and often uses Western musical notation (influenced by sixteenth century Italian composers), whereas Byzantine chant maintains its own distinctive ancient notation.

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Orthodox clergy wear beautiful liturgical vestments which change throughout the seasons of the liturgical year. This tradition evokes the high priests in the Temple of Jerusalem who wore prescribed arrays of garments and vestry when serving in the temple sanctuary. Similar to the ancient Temple, every Orthodox church- especially so at monasteries- diligently tends an ‘eternal flame’ in the sanctuary which burns before the altar. Here the Tabernacle is kept (in which the elements used in the Eucharistic offering are stored) and the Gospel book rests.

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Look carefully and you will notice the sunlight playing across the gold leaf mosaics of the saints’ halos. . . these images took my breath away.

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In the Orthodox tradition, the monastery marks the end of the liturgical day at sunset.

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Source: https://ryanphunter.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/images-from-another-world/