So often we hear the words, “We all worship the same God.” Really now, do we? How can that be when we as Christians believe in the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — one God, and those who are not Christians define their God differently? It is easy to dismiss the pantheist, but what about the monotheist? Do they define their God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? No. Then, it is obvious that they do not worship the Christian God, and, therefore, are not Christians.
If you meet someone who confesses to be a Christian and says, “We all worship the same God,” simply counter this statement with, “I worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Is that your God?” Usually you will see the mental wheels turning and then hear the response, “Yes, that is my God.” If not, then how do they define their God? Why do they think they are Christian?
Has anyone ever asked you to agree with the statement, “There is no God, but God?” If you substitute the name “Allah” for the word “God”, then it is a Muslim profession of faith. By repeating this statement to them, you have just agreed with the Muslim definition of God. From their perspective, you have just converted to their faith.
To take it one step further, some will try to get you to think that there is a God behind the Trinity. In other words, the Triune God of the Christians is ruled by another single, greater force. Or, that what the Christians perceive as God the Father is the one God, and the Son and the Holy Spirit are not God, but sub-gods or servants.
We live in a time of mass communication where the master of deception works diligently to lead us away from the true, Triune God. Fervently pray that He will keep you safe from all falsehood and lead you on the true path of salvation through Jesus Christ, His son, and the working of the Holy Spirit — one God.
As you can see from the following pictures, the building has come a long ways since our last newsletter. Brick had to be order four times, which meant an eight-week wait each time, but the brick work is completed on this third. Now the building is dried in and work on the interior can continue as there are funds to do so.
The first picture to the right is the north and east side of the building. The six-windows allow light into the big chapel (as opposed to the little chapel in the doublewide). Between the thin pillars and wall will be a stairway. The picture to the left is the south side. There will be living quarters upstairs. Downstairs will have a sacristy, meeting/work space, guests bathrooms, and a washer/dryer closet. The bump-out is the sun room/sitting room. The bottom picture shows the stairs leading to the sun room from the east side. A number of people have commented on how nice the brick work is and that it is truly a work of art. We agree.
After struggling to understand two different concepts of a barrel ceiling, we decided on the one you see in the pictures, one to the left and one below. It was designed and fabricated by Fast Arch in Phoenix, Arizona. The ribs were freighted to us in a 2500 pound, wooden box and looked like a huge Erector Set when opened. Having never done anything like this before and being good framers, they said they would have to charge by the hour. They unloaded section after section and laid them out on the chapel floor by shapes, only to find that there were no instructions in the box. Dale, our contractor, made a call to Fast Arch only to be told that it was really simple. You just connect the same colored dots from one section to another. That was easy for Fast Arch to say.
After assembling scaffolding, framing in the north and east side 30’ up to the trusses, and laying out one of the barrel ribs on the chapel floor to see how they went together, they were ready to install the barrel ceiling. It was truly a tough job which took on an added dimension when it came to installing the ribs for the vault over the altar. The cross bar you see is to support the chandelier over the altar which has already been donated. Jake and his men worked for eleven days in very hot weather, and, as you can see, succeeded.
Knowing that we would probably have just enough left in the building fund to pay for steps to the second floor, we had our contractor place the order for them. The picture to the right shows Mother Thecla standing on the steps just after the installers quit for the day. It was a real thrill for us to carefully climb the stairs and see the second floor for the first time (pictured on left). Each of us picked out the cell (bedroom) we wanted and had fun taking pictures of what you can see from each window. One of the views is shown below on right.
As you can see, much has been accomplished thus far, and all of it is paid for, leaving us debt free.
What has been done is well built, and our building fund is now depleted. Again we begin saving, and, as we have the amount needed to complete this third, we will do so. The next five steps are filling in the metal steps and two landings with concrete, framing in the rest of the interior rooms, roughing in the electricity and plumbing, insulating the chapel walls, and dry-walling the chapel walls. However, if we are blessed with a $500,000 donation, we will build the second third to the dry-in stage. Your continued prayers and donations are greatly appreciated.
“We fought the squirrel, and the squirrel won.” First, the squirrel chewed through the screening on the porch and the partially open window leading into the Hermitage and took up residence till we discovered him (“him” because we never had baby squirrels). He left, and we reduced the window opening, repaired the chewed up window frame, and had the screening replaced. He chewed through again and entered through the end points of the pediment (the triangle above the exterior wall and under the roof). Greg, our handyman, built little triangular frames, covered them with wire fabric, secured them in place, and replaced the screening. Later, we returned to the Hermitage only to find one of the screens chewed through and parts of two screens and spline pulled out and pieces of insulation lying on the porch floor. The little dickens squeezed through the hole he created between the truss and roof. Again, our handyman returned, repaired the screening and built a metal frame covered with wire fabric to fit around the front porch. This should fix that squirrel’s “little red wagon”.
For this last repair, we were blessed to have Tyler choose this monastery to fulfil his high school’s requirement to do fifteen hours of community service before his senior year. Discovering that he enjoyed construction, he worked with Greg to repair the Hermitage and the Red Shed.
At the end of January, Mother Thecla gave three short talks -- “Living the Christian Life in the 21st Century”, “Theophany”, and this monastery -- to a group of parishioners at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, in Morrisville (near Raleigh), North Carolina.
Due to so much illness this winter, only three knitters were able to attend the Knitters Retreat - a small, but talented group.
Eighteen Ethiopian Coptic Christians from Saint George Mission in West Columbia blessed us with their presence at Liturgy here on March 7th and stayed to visit. We learned that their bishop had declared a week of prayer and fasting to specifically ask God to help their fellow Christians who are being persecuted and martyred. This was shortly after the 21 Christian men were martyred by the sea shore in Libya.
Many people realize that the upkeep of the monastery grounds and buildings is a mammoth task and offer to help us. Usually it is one or two people at a time who assist. In mid-February, a group of women from Saint Maria of Paris Orthodox Mission in Cleveland, Tennessee, achieved a phenomenal amount of work in helping us prepare for our Pilgrimage.
For the third time, Liturgy was celebrated in the big chapel on April 25th which was the day of our Pilgrimage. 45 people attended. Fr. John Parker from Holy Ascension in Mount Pleasant and Fr. Alexis Baldwin from Holy Resurrection in North Augusta concelebrated Liturgy.
Much of May was spent reorganizing our warehouse so we could add the items that were stored in a friend’s garage. She had put her house up for sale before our Pilgrimage and was expecting it to sell within four to six weeks which it did. Again, we could not have completed this task if we had not had help from some friends and their relatives.
May was an incredibly busy and tiring month. On May 2nd, Mother Thecla gave a talk on Saints Mary and Martha of Bethany to the women’s group of the United Methodist Church in Wagener.
With help from three friends, we sold items at the Barnyard Flea Market. Due to a low turn-out, we only made $199.15 for the Building Fund.
Robert Seraphim Lindsay from Holy Apostles in West Columbia was buried next to his wife, Evelyn, on May 13. Ganna Anikyeyeve from Saint Basil the Great Orthodox Church in Wilmington, North Carolina, was buried here on May 22.
We attended a Flock Blessing at the Floyd’s home on the afternoon of May 24th. It was a joy to hear the prayer asking God to bless the sheep, goats, geese, and chickens and to see the animals receive a sprinkling of holy water. This was a first for all of us and reminded us that animals are important to our well-being.
Knowing something was wrong with Lady, our Australian Shepherd, we took her to the veterinarian on May 22nd. The vet noticed that her pupils were different sizes which indicates a brain tumor. Lady died a week later. It has been difficult to loose three dogs within fourteen months.
One of the female ducks produce two ducklings, one of which was probably pick off by a hawk. None of the other hens had any ducklings this year.
During the fourth week of June, a small group of Orthodox Christian women, who were a part of a larger group of Christian Women striving to be Christian mothers, held a retreat here.
On July 2nd, Fr. Thomas Moore brought Mother Nectaria, the international editor of the magazine Road to Emmaus. It was a pleasure to meet her, hear about some of the people and places she had been to, and to show her what God has done here.
I am not a fan of horror movies. I don’t enjoy feeling frightened by suspense and terror as a means of entertainment. But back in February I forced myself to watch a video that was about as horrifying as anything I have ever seen. It was so awful that I could not bear to watch it to the end. What made it especially horrifying was that it did not feature actors following a script but was a real-life documentary. The video was titled: “A Message Signed in Blood to the Nation of the Cross”. It was the gruesome video of 21 Orthodox Christians of Egypt beheaded by Islamic terrorists on a beach in Libya.
The video was designed to send a message filled with fear and terror to the world, especially Christians “the Nation of the Cross”. The terrorists who murdered these men did send a message to the world but the message was the opposite of what they intended. The video included a subtle message of triumph, victory, courage, and faith. The unintended message has encouraged and united Christians around the world. One of the captions their murderers wrote said “these insisted to remain in unbelief”. Do we understand what this simple sentence means? It means these Orthodox men were given the choice to deny their faith in Jesus and to recite the Muslim confession of faith. It means these men refused to deny Christ and embrace Islam. With a knife at their throats they were given the chance to be rewarded and be returned to their wives, children and families. Each of them refused! What faith! What courage! And as they were being simultaneously slaughtered they were seen to be whispering prayers and some were heard to cry out “Lord Jesus!” No wonder, then, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt has already honored these men as holy martyrs and included them in their calendar of saints. This video gives us an illustration, in living color, of the words of Jesus:
But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to
synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my
name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your
defense in advance; for I will give you word and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be
able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives
and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my
name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Our Church has always honored the martyrs: from the earliest days of the Faith we have documentation of how the early Christians honored the memories of those who died for Jesus. Our church calendar is filled with the commemoration of martyrs who are remembered on the day of their martyrdoms. We know the stories of some of these better known martyrs such as St. George and St. Demetrios. But with this video “A Message Signed in Blood...” for the first time in Christian history we can see for ourselves the courage, faith and witness of individuals laying down their lives because of their love for Jesus. We can now see for ourselves why we honor men and women like them throughout history. We can see for ourselves why we have icons of martyrs in our churches. We can see for ourselves why we honor them on their feastdays.
Why would these men make such a choice? Why did they not choose the easy way out, deny their belief in Jesus and return home? They were not priests, monks, or theologians but simple men from impoverished Egyptian villages who went to Libya to find work to support their families. But these men were Orthodox Christians and knew the promises of Jesus:
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against
you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the
same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat
down with My Father on His throne.
Those Muslim terrorists never learned the lesson learned by the Romans and the Communists: persecution and the killing of the followers of Jesus only leads to a flowering of the Faith. Love and forgiveness always eventually triumph over hate and violence. As the ancient Christian writer Tertullian noted “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. The release of the gruesome video has united Christians all around the world: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestants in praise and admiration of these men. Even the Muslim majority population of Egypt, often hostile to the Coptic Orthodox minority, have expressed widespread sympathy and support for their Christian neighbors. Rather than suppressing the Christian Faith this awful video has strengthened and reinforced the faith of Christians around the world.
How does the Christian Faith in America compare to the Faith exhibited by these new martyrs? Churches in America: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant often try to make Christianity appealing to people and to fill the pews by making the Faith comfortable, easy and convenient. Fasting is eliminated or made easy. Hard pews replaced with padded seats or theater style chairs. Sermons have to be upbeat, uplifting and humorous. Worship has become entertainment with rock style “praise bands”, live dramas, and video clips to illustrate the sermon. Pastors have to “watch the clock” and not extend worship too long or people will grow restless and not come back. Christianity in America is a mile wide but an inch deep. Few American Christians are willing to undergo any kind of self denial, self sacrifice or inconvenience for the sake of Christ.
Thankfully, there is no knife at our throat – yet - but Christianity is being slowly killed by an American culture which preaches a gospel of secularism: there may be a God but it doesn’t matter, life is fine without Him. We are being martyred by a gospel of relativism: there are many paths to God and they’re all the same, or as I was recently told “Church is church, they’re all the same.” We are subtly being asked to deny Christ and His gospel and if we do not we are mocked, considered weird, bigots, close-minded, ignorant, homophobes, fundamentalists. The command of Jesus is to follow Him in ways that are uncomfortable, hard and inconvenient: If anyone would come after Me, let Him deny Himself, take up His cross and follow Me. (Mark 8:34)
The call of Jesus is a call to a radical faith, a faith that is challenging and often inconvenient and uncomfortable. This message in blood from these new martyrs challenges me. Would I be willing to remain faithful to Jesus with a knife at my throat? Honestly, I’m not sure. But at least for today I am encouraged by this video to respond to the call of Jesus with new willingness to take the hard way, the uncomfortable way, the inconvenient path. Do I rather tend to respond in ways that are comfortable, convenient and that make few demands on me? What small steps can I take in the coming weeks to respond to Jesus in ways that are directed towards a more radical faith? By the prayers of the Holy New Martyrs of Libya, may we be strengthened and renewed in our love and commitment to the Lord Jesus!
Shortly after these men were beheaded for the crime of being Christians, Coptic Pope (Bishop) Tarwadros II proclaimed them saints and announced that they would be added to the Synaxarion (volumes containing the lives of saints) of the Coptic Orthodox Church. They are: Milad Makeen Zaky, Abanub Ayad Atiya, Maged Solaiman Shehata, Yusuf Shukry Yunan, Kirollos Shokry Fawzy, Bishoy Astafanus Kamel, Somaily Astafanus Kamel, Malak Ibrahim Sinweet, Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros, Girgis Milad Sinweet, Mina Fayez Aziz, Hany Abdelmesih Salib, Bishoy Adel Khalaf, Samuel Alham Wilson, Ezat Bishri Naseef, Loqa Nagaty, Gaber Munir Adly, Esam Badir Samirm and an unnamed worker from Awr village.
As of this issue of our newsletter, we have almost depleted our twenty years of accumulating this Building Fund. Each step will be taken as we have the finances to do so. Our contractor has obtained estimates for the next steps. Any amount that you can donate to help continue building this monastery is greatly appreciated.
1⁄4 cup canola oil
2 cups chopped onion
4 garlic cloves
1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric
31⁄2 cups of hot water
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
3 cups frozen peas OR
2 14 oz. cans of unsalted peas, drained juice of 1⁄2 lemon
salt & pepper to taste
2 cups of whole wheat couscous
2 cups toasted pecan pieces
Heat oil in large soup pan on medium-high. Add onion, garlic and turmeric. Sauté until the onion begins to brown. Dissolve bouillon cubes in hot water. Add to onion mixture. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper, and couscous. Bring to boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes.
Toast pecan pieces in a dry skillet.
Transfer couscous to a large bowl, like a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle roasted pecan pieces on top and serve.
This dish keeps well in the refrigerator for several days and can be reheated and served.
After it has cooled completely, the pecans can be mixed in as they should maintain most of their crunchiness.