Monday, November 9, 2015
For Thirty Years, The Monks at Holy Transfiguration Skete have kept the Daily Offices of Prayers, and All Are Welcome To Share their Offices, Jacob's Falls @PureMichigan
The monk...s have planned sustainably for the millenniums, and this year dedicated a donated water treatment plant for their jam making operation, protecting the bay from the sugars that wash off fruit, sugars that would leach minerals out of the rocky soil and bloom algae in the pristine waters.
Located on a stunning Lake Superior bay which has a scenic turnout, beaches sandy rather than rocky, the onion globes of the sanctuary glowed in the November sun, visible when I came around a bend miles away.
I had made a list of services at the monastery between Eagle River and Eagle Harbor on M-26. Solemn Vespers Saturday began at 5:30 PM, now sundown time in November. Reservation Matins scheduled at 7:00 AM on Sunday and Divine Liturgy followed at 10 AM. The monastery had commissioned an iconic painting of three archangels and the ceremony of dedication was scheduled for four. I had the idea of attending all four ceremonies. However, the remote upper shore of Keweenaw had few places where a pilgrim could hang between ceremonies. Even the resorts had shuttered for the season. Seat of power for Keweenaw County, Eagle River had gone to sleep for the night by 7:30 PM after vespers. The township hall and courthouse dark, I noticed a woman at her kitchen window, washing dishes after a dinner party in a dining room, still radiant with light. I repaired to Calumet for the night and made for the Super 8 in Houghton for the businessman rate in the morning. I soaked in a hot tub to exorcise the chill that had resided in my bones that Saturday. So much for my ardent pursuit of religious pilgrimage!
I read the signs at the window, standing with a man from Wisconsin who had been sitting in his car when I arrived. We approached the door together. I waved at his SUV window and he accepted my friendliness and opened the door. I had hoped he had the facts. It was his first visit too. So we investigated together. The schedule had been posted on the window and instructions mentioned only modest dress. So I tried the door knob and it opened. A pair of wooden doors, wide, tall and stout awaited, and I said, "These are the doors you want". I found the exceedingly clean water closet.
A man and his wife greeted us, the woman arranging candles in a brass dish filled with fine gravel. The man looked to be an aging rock and roller now turned to his spiritual development, his long hair and clean shaven face and threadbare sweater communicating his inner peace. He gave me three thick books, the Office of Vespers, the Office of Matins and one with a Latin title. My host made certain I had the right book and page as the eight brothers sang from the book. My friend from the parking lot required little assistance; he could make the frequent gestures of the monks, one the sign of the cross combined with bowing, finished with the low to the floor swinging of the right hand.
I noticed the new painting on the upper north wall of the sanctuary, Archangel Michael, my guess, standing with his boots on the shoulders of a defeated demon with skull eyes purging fire. Gabriel and Raphael might have been to his right and left, one with a pike swimming between his heels. I cannot remember what was found at the feet of the third archangel. His boots had sigils upon them that will end up on a faithful Catholic's custom boots, mark my words. The sanctuary has literally scores of small iconic paintings executed in a Byzantine style. The painting of the three archangels had an American style that would be celebrated at Comicons.
I had turned off my cellphone camera out of respect and Vespers is hardly time to halt eight monks in ritualistic chant for permission to take a photograph. One approach to this painting has my asking details, who painted and who commissioned and who donated. I searched for a press release to little avail. An approach has my mind making a leap of faith, seeing the painting as the brothers and my grandmother Stella would behold it. The iconic paining keeps open a portal between the material and spiritual world, the three archangels perpetually arriving to intervene in human lives. As the brothers sang from the books of prayer, I heard Lake Superior roaring and witnessed sundown's light playing on the faces of these winged saviors and felt a hint of eternal peace.
As for the songs of the monks, songs of beseeching and acknowledgement of the powers of God, I found myself thinking of the repetitions of Elvis, plainsong echoing the sounds of its age. See More
— at Jampot.