The Island of My Salvation

Continuing my struggle where God has placed me

Following the foundation of the monastery in 1986, we chose to dedicate it to Christ Our All-Merciful God and Saviour. Thus began a journey that would lead Father Paul and me to a deeper commitment to Christ, even though it proved to be a difficult path, with many trials and hardships along the way. I remember a night when I sat up crying, and in the depths of despair, because our former bishop had turned against us, and as a result, we’d lost all financial and spiritual support from most of those we loved, and depended on. Father Paul, my co-struggler, stood by me when others could find no good in me. We, together, suffered greatly during those early years. These were times when we were misunderstood, and ostracized by most. This was also a period of extreme poverty, when we knew not where the next meal was coming from, or how we were going to pay the rent.

At one of the lowest points in my monastic struggle, I remember going to Father Dimitry, and asking his blessing to leave for the Holy Mountain of Athos, feeling that I’d totally failed in establishing a monastery. He told me that my salvation was on Vashon Island, and that I should continue my struggle where God had planted me. The passing of time proved my Spiritual Father to be correct, and that this monastery exists is proof that Father Dimitry knew God’s plan for Father Paul and me. This beautiful monastery, in a forested setting, and on an island in the Salish Sea, is truly a miracle, and I am grateful that God has blessed me to be a part of it, however small and insignificant I have proven to be.

When Father Dimitry told me that my “salvation was on Vashon Island”, I found myself thinking that this was utter nonsense. How could this possibly be true, living as we were in a rental house, with no prospects of owning property, and seemingly no viable way of building a new monastery in the Puget Sound region. However, I knew as a monk that I was bound by my vows of obedience to my spiritual father. I also believed, as did many, that Father Dimitry had been blessed with the gift of clairvoyance, and that he undoubtedly saw something in the future that was hidden from me. So I withdrew my request to depart for the Holy Mountain,  and renewed my commitment to Vashon Island as the place God had chosen for me to work out my salvation.

Once we were gifted with the original five acres, I suffered a physical attack by a neighbor who did not want a monastery next to his property. Yet the Lord, in His great mercy, allowed us to eventually purchase this neighbor’s land, so we now have sixteen acres, bordered on two sides by a forty acre water shed. Giving up and walking away was never an option, even though we were hated, for we knew our monastic struggle must continue. My spiritual father, Blessed Archimandrite Dimitry, had suffered great humiliation and slander during his many years as a monk, and counseled me to keep my eyes focused on Christ, and not to put my trust in any person. His loving counsel gave me strength during a time when I did not receive support from those in authority over me. It was the Elder Dimitry’s holiness, and his unwavering joy, that served as a beacon to me.

The freedom a monk experiences in being obedient to his Elder can not be exaggerated, for such obedience is as unto Christ Himself. There is no other way that is more time tested as monastic obedience, for the crushing down of the ego and the taming of self-will, has to be the ultimate goal of every Christian. My saintly Elder was himself schooled in such obedience, for he had been formed by the thousand year old Monastery of Valaam in Russia, before being forced by the invading Soviet Army to flee for Finland, and finally, Paris and the United States. My Elder’s own spiritual father had been none other than the Abbot of Valaam, Chariton, himself renowned as a great elder and spiritual father. And I, as the spiritual son of Archimandrite Dimitry, and the spiritual grandson of Abbot Chariton, have been blessed by God to have their example of holiness and monastic commitment, as my guiding light in world of confusion and darkness.

In June of 1991, my elder reposed, and the loss for all of us who were his spiritual children, was devastating. Following the funeral service, which took place in the small chapel of the Kazan Skete in Santa Rosa, where Mother Susanna, my spiritual sister, is abbess, we all drove to Healdsburg, for the burial. Northern California had been suffering under a severe drought, with the usual rainy season having passed, and the whole region parched for lack of rain. Yet on the morning of the funeral the skies opened, and we were hit with torrential rains that lasted all day. During the drive to Healdsburg, where the Elder’s holy relics where to be laid to rest, it poured so hard we could hardly see the pavement ahead. For Russians, it has always been seen a sign of God’s blessings for it to rain on the day of one’s burial, as though the heavens themselves were weeping. The very next day, the region was returned to full drought conditions. Since those days, I have always felt the prayerful support of my Elder, and I am comforted with the knowledge that one day, if God permit it, I will be sharing, once again, the joy I felt whenever I was in the presence of Father Dimitry.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

Abbot Chariton


The Future of the Church

How do we keep our youth in the Church?

We are living in an age that has witnessed changes on a massive scale as never before. The way we communicate has changed with the coming of the internet, with information available that would have required a library and advanced degrees to access in the past. Ideas and information are available that leave our youth with choices that were never available a generation ago.

Moral norms have changed, with values and lifestyles that would have never been seen as acceptable in the past becoming part of mainstream. Gay marriage, the high divorce rate, children being raise by unwed parents, and profane music that sounds like it came from the underworld (which inspired it, I’m sure). Child sexual abuse is reaching shocking numbers, with clergy, boy scout leaders, coaches and police officers under arrest. With the environmental crisis increasing and political unrest spreading, hope is fading. Our world is polarized in ways that are mind boggling, and the economy has lowered the hopes and expectations of a whole generation.

With all that has changed in our world, is it any wonder young people are abandoning the Christian faith in droves? With the youthful questioning of authority, it is not enough to simply expect them to accept the authority of bishops, priests, and the traditions and teachings of the Church. There needs to be a change in the way we of the older generations communicate with our youth.

In this age of information we must demonstrate to our youth the difference between information and wisdom. Wisdom is that which is passed down from the past and which imparts substance and enlightenment. Wisdom is not about information, and does not compete with worldly knowledge. Wisdom need not be in conflict with science, nor be linked to narrow mindedness. Wisdom is that which not only connects us to the best of human knowledge and experience, but links us to that which is eternal. Wisdom gives us the ability to relate to our Creator, to our culture and to others. The urgency of imparting this message is great, for we have a whole generation that is in danger of losing faith in God.

It is not enough to expect our young people to attend services if we do not listen to them, respect them, and try to understand the world that is confronting them. They are growing up in a different world than people of my generation experienced, and this important difference must be acknowledged and respected. We can’t simply teach the truth to our youth, we must live it in a way that makes it real for them. We must be patient with them, be open to their struggles and non-confrontational when they disagree with us, or we will lose them forever to Christ.

Today’s young people have the same hopes and dreams that previous generations held, but this fast changing world is depriving them of hope. Nihilism has become the religion of countless numbers of our youth, with the result that life has become meaningless . The information age has driven God out of societal, cultural and governmental prominence, resulting in mass disbelief.

We who are of the older generations must witness to the wealth of truth that is in the ancient knowledge and wisdom of the Church by demonstrating it’s worth in how we live. If young people do not see a genuine living out of the Faith in us, they will keep looking for truth in directions that will take them far from it. Young people are worthy of our love and respect, and worthy of sharing with us the life in Christ that is their heritage as well. The Church will not be a draw to our youth unless her members demonstrate holiness of life and reach out with love, patience and understanding, offering something that is seen as real by today’s young people.

Finally, today’s young people need to see joy in the hearts of those of us who have taken on Christ. If we do not have joy in our hearts the youth will see nothing that is attractive to them, and will continue in the wasteland of consumerism, materialism, nihilism, and all hope for the future of our planet will have died.

Love in Christ,

Abbot Tryphon