Orthodox America

  Visiting a Monastery

Provemont, a hundred kilometers northwest of Paris, is now one of my favorite places on earth. When I first heard that I was going to Lesna for two weeks I was not very enthusiastic. I thought it would be dull, but I was constantly occupied. This is how the day at the monastery goes: midnight office at 5:30 a.m. (I slept through that every time), then Divine Liturgy at 7:00. Breakfast follows and then individual obediences begin. Mine was to do schoolwork. At lunch one of the nuns would read from lives of saints or readings of the holy fathers. After lunch I helped by sweeping floors and washing pots. Before vigil, tea is served with lots of French white bread and homemade jam. The evening service lasts until 8:00. I was surprised at how easy it was for me to stand in church for so many hours every day. At the end of Matins they carry the wonderworking Lesna Icon of the Mother of God from the main church to the inner chapel where the nuns live. It is accompanied by children holding lanterns, while the nuns chant "O Theotokos and Virgin, Rejoice.'" It is like a small procession. Then it is dinner time. The day ends with Small Compline.

At Lesna I met many wonderful people. Archbishop Seraphim is very approachable. He rides a motor-scooter, and loves children. Mother Pelagia, a retired schoolteacher from England, was kind enough to give my sister and me history lessons about Celtic, English, and Irish saints and martyrs. That information can't even be found in books!

Sightseeing is not my favorite pastime, but seeing Paris was fun. We climbed the Eiffel Tower, and the stained glass windows in the Notre Dame cathedral were impressive. We had a small calamity at the end of the day. At the train station we lost a purse with our passports, credit cards, and a Lesna icon which my mother always travels with. Thankfully, our train tickets were in my hand, so after searching we sadly went home. Everyone called it a temptation. I call it a miracle, because the next day we were informed that someone had turned our purse in to American Services! Everything was there but our camera.

The youth conference began that day. The number attending was small by our American standards, but just as inspiring.

Leaving Lesna was like stepping down from somewhere closer to heaven. I wish we lived closer, then I would visit it all the time.

Melanie Naumenko


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