Orthodox America

Help Needed for Reconstruction of Saint Chariton's Skete

Among its holdings in the Holy Land, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has a skete dedicated to Saint Chariton the Confessor, an early fourth-century desert father, who suffered under the Emperor Aurelian. When, on the death of Aurelian, Chariton was released, he withdrew to the wilderness of Pharan, some six miles from Jerusalem, where he founded the first monastic community in the Holy Land. (The practice of tonsuring monks is attributed to Saint Chariton.)

For centuries, monks continued to live in the cells, carved out of the cliff face, but by the nineteenth century, the property had been abandoned and it had become wholly dilapidated. In the 1890s, it was purchased, together with many other sacred sites, by Archimandrite Antonin (Kapustin), head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission. With financial aid from Russia, he had the skete renovated and fully restored. It was entrusted to Schema-monk Panteleimon, head of the Athonite Skete of the Elevation of the Cross, and in 1903 it was settled by monks and novices of that community. Only a few years later the skete was completely destroyed by fire. It was only partially rebuilt. The last Athonite monk and inhabitant of the skete, Father Gerasim, passed away in the 1960s. Since that time, and until quite recently, the skete has been empty.

On the skete grounds is a two-story building with a large number of cells standing at the foot of a great cliff. Built into the cliff itself, about twenty-five yards above the ground and accessible only with the help of a ladder, is a cave chapel and the church of Saint Chariton. The iconostasis in the church was painted by Athonite monks early in this century.

Currently, there are efforts underway to rebuild the skete, in order that a permanent monastic community may be reestablished there. With the blessing of Archbishop Mark, a few monks from the Mission have already taken up residence at the skete. Hieromonk John, who has been entrusted with overseeing the task of reconstruction, writes that certain initial work to secure the property has been largely completed: steel window shutters, doors, ladders to caves, gates - have all been installed. In order to proceed with the next phase, financial help is needed, estimated at $29,000. This will go towards purchase of a stone altar table, glass windows for caves, a kitchen and storeroom at ground level, internal doors and furniture for caves, improvement of water supply (100m lift pump, 200m hose, tank), cleaning of cistern, repair of stone walls, car, donkey, shed, cart, telephone, and solar battery panels.

Those who wish to contribute to this worthy endeavor may channel their donations through the Orthodox Benevolent Fund P.O. Box 203, Fly Creek, NY 13337-0203