Orthodox America

  Summers in a Serbian Convent

During the last two summers, I have spent a few months visiting the Serbian women's monastery of the Nativity of the Mother of God in New Carlisle, Indiana. The first time I went there was in October of 1997, and I loved it so much that I wanted to go back. I encouraged my friend Catherine Williams to come with me, and she joined me there in the summer of 1998, and again this summer.

The monastery consists of one main building, a church, two guest houses, many flower gardens, and one vegetable garden. The atmosphere of the monastery is prayerful and peaceful. The residents of the monastery are the abbess, Mother Evpraksija; a priest-monk, Father Gavrilo; three nuns: Sisters Marina, Paraskeva, and Antonina; a novice, Zora; and a lay worker. One time that first summer, we went cherry picking with Mother Evpraksija and Sister Antonina. We spent the whole day in trees, selecting the best cherries. After picking the cherries, we had the seeds removed mechanically and went home. We spent the next day in the kitchen cooking, mashing, straining, and making jam out of the cherries. We were up until midnight and then dropped off to our rooms to say our prayers and go to sleep. The next morning we all got up early, went to church, and spent the rest of the day working with the jars of jam, labeling, marking,and putting them on shelves for the winter. It was a tiring but fun experience.

The most important part of our stay was going to the services. The church, dedicated to the Nativity of the Mother of God, is a small but roomy temple. The walls are lined with gorgeous frescoes, and the altar is screened with the most beautiful iconostasis. The church is formed in the shape of a cross, facing east. It is made in the form of most Serbian churches. The singing is so majestic because it is so simple. I have always imagined what women's singing would be like, and this singing is beautiful. Some of the tasks that Mother gave Catherine and me each morning were our obediences for the summer. Sometimes we had to pump water from the well or we had to water the garden. Also, Mati (which means "Mother" in Serbian and is used to address nuns in the schema) had us work in the office, clean, help Father Gavrilo move furniture, cook, or just sit around and listen to Father talk. Sometimes she asked us to watch religious movies with Father. Mati taught Catherine and me how to make prayer ropes. After a few tries and days we got the knack of how to make them and worked on them in our spare time, which usually fell around three o'clock after the dinner dishes were washed.

Services in the morning are at five o'clock and are made up of the Hours, Matins, and Typica. The afternoon service usually consists of Compline and Vespers. On Saturdays and Sundays, and Mondays, Divine Liturgy is served with the vigil done the day before. There are two meals a day. Breakfast is always after the morning service. Lunch-supper is served about two o'clock. After lunch there is a resting time until the evening service.

The life in a monastery is very peaceful. I have enjoyed my two lengthy visits there over the past two years. Catherine Williams and I share some blessed memories that will last a lifetime, I am sure. I have delighted in staying in a monastery and finding out what life there is like. Even though I would like to get married and lead a godly life as a married woman, I still would like to consider the monastic life. Both paths are pleasing to God. Catherine and I have relished the past two summers together immensely, and we hope that we can continue sharing similar experiences in the years ahead.

Natalie Mirolovich

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