Some people read the pictures. Some others write the prose. And others have the pomegranates growing up their toes.
“Holy God, holy mighty. Have mercy on me.”
Nobody understand me. They don’t know my secrets. They don’t even know I have secrets. I can’t tell them what happened to me. It was that bad!
When I was 18 years old, I was tricked by a 21 year old man that I should become Russian Orthodox. What happened to me between the ages of 18 and 23 were so horrible that I have blocked them from my memory. Blocking things from one’s memory may seem like a good thing to do, but I don’t know.
Exactly twenty years ago today, I took a Greyhound to a monastery in California. A nun picked me up at the bus station. She took me to a tiny convent that the nuns built themselves with the help of nearby monks.
There was no electricity and therefore no hot water for proper hygiene. There was two feet of snow on the ground and the rooms were freezing in the morning because there was no heat for most of the night.
I had to walk up a very long hill to use the out house. This was good exercise, however, no fun at four o’clock in the morning when I had to use the bathroom.
The nuns said it was a monastery and not a convent. There were six nuns living in this monastery. In Catholic Convents, the nuns are all called sister. The head nun is called Mother, everyone has to do what she says.
At St. Xenia Skete, in the Trinity mountains of California, the nuns all call themselves mother. Maybe it’s traditional, but it seems a bit feminist to me.
Mother Sophia was the head nun at St. Xenia Skete in the Trinity mountains of California. She was also the oldest. She had her own little one room cabin, most likely warm all night long.
I don’t think these nuns were submissive and respected her authority, though. They always bickered and fought endlessly amongst each other. I was told to go to the monastery for some sort of religious experience. It would be a great way to become Orthodox. However, I don’t really feel wanted.
The nuns get frustrated with me. I’m sure I talk way too much about nonsense. I was raised this way. My parents ignored me, they set me in front of the TV my whole life. They didn’t teach me to cook and clean. They didn’t teach me manners, and how to use my words to be polite and make nice conversation.
What really freaked the nuns out was the fact that I didn’t know how to set a table. They told me off and insulted me and my entire generation. Looking back, I really did know how to set a table. Maybe I said the wrong thing. I don’t know.
I don’t think its right to scorn some one and put them to shame for not knowing. How about, “Wow, let me show you how. This will be a great learning experience.”
It is apparent, that these nuns, and the small handful of other women here, are here because they like to be hermits. They don’t like people and they want to be alone. They never learned how to get along with people in the outside world and have no business being role models.
The morning matins service was every morning at 5 am. One of the nuns, Mother Olga, rang a cow bell to wake everyone up. It was cold. I couldn’t feel my toes. Most of the time I would pretend I didn’t hear it. I would pretend I overslept. But Mother Olga didn’t care. She got me out of bed, anyway. No doubt, she called me lazy.
Prayers were three hours every single morning. We read Matins, the Hours, the Psalter, and various other prayers. I had to stand in prayer in the little chapel for the entire three hours. Standing during service is traditional in the Russian Orthodox faith. It is considered rude, lazy, and disrespectful to sit.
There’s a five minute prayer before every meal, and we also say Vespers at night which is about an hour long, or longer during great Lent. I was there during the Nativity fast, so I guess they were longer than they would be if it wasn’t a fast.
The prayers are filled with metaphor and poetry and they’re so beautiful. Sometimes they get stuck in my head and I think I hear angels singing. There is so much profound wisdom in these prayers. There is so much that you can learn if you really pay attention to them.
As for man, his days are as the grass. Like a flower in the field he shall blossom forth. When the wind has passed over, it shall be gone, and no longer will it know the place therof. But the mercy of the Lord is for eternity.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Have mercy on me.
I was supposed to clear my mind and pay attention to the words in the prayer. I’m sure I fell asleep, just standing there. I thought for sure someone had, because I kept hearing someone snore really loud all through the service. I kept looking around and I couldn’t see anyone who was asleep. I found out right before I left that one of the nuns had an old dog who would curl under the church and fall asleep. He had a bit of a snoring problem. I couldn’t stop laughing when I found out. “
“Sobriety, Pelagia. Sobriety.” This is what the nuns would always tell me. It meant that I needed to be more serious. They couldn’t take my constant madness. They had no idea what I had been through. I had gone mad. My brain didn’t function like that of a normal sane person because of the mental anguish caused from my past experiences.
Pelagia is what they called me. If you convert to the Russian Orthodox faith, you change your name to show that your life has changed and therefore you are a new person on a new path. You pick a patron saint to guide you along the way and you are named after this saint.
Pelagia was not a saint. She was a Russian madwoman. They called her a fool for Christ. A fool for Christ is a person who does stupid and foolish things in order for others to see their own errors.
I didn’t pick the name Pelagia. They guy that told me to go to the monastery named me this because he thought I was stupid. He called me “cute but stupid,” and always referred to me as a female version of Forrest Gump.
I am used to insults. At 18, I don’t think anyone in my life had complimented me. Everyone points out my faults. I am used to it. Its the way things were in my family. In my family, love means that you fight, criticize, laugh at, and insult. At 18, I know no other way. I have never experienced anything else.
The church was just some free standing tiny cabin the nuns built. The whole thing was lit with traditional Russian Orthodox lamps called lampadas. These are oil lamps that are filled with olive oil and have floating wicks.
There are several tiny cabins scattered around in the monastery. Did I mention that there is no electricity, there is no running water. It sounds romantic and amazing. It really is. But when you are experiencing this for the first time in the dead of winter with two feet of snow on the ground, it’s a bit of a shock. All the water has to be pumped from the spring. Nobody showed me how to use this pump, and they are terrified that I might break it. It is for this reason that I don’t bathe. And not bathing, can make a person a hideous sight to behold.
There are no mirrors in the monastery, and therefore I don’t know how ugly I’ve become. My face is covered with acne by the time I leave and I have never been more ugly. It is forbidden to look at yourself in the monastery. It’s considered to be vain, a horrible sin.
It seems kind of wrong, though-not being able to look at yourself in the mirror. Isn’t the main purpose of this sort of life, looking inward at yourself so you can change? Isn’t the mirror a metaphorical device to help a person see himself as he really is? Of course, I’m wrong. My deranged metaphors are all ridiculous. My name is Pelagia, and I’m nothing more than a fool.
I liked the monastery, though. It was peaceful. I didn’t want to leave.
I am sure I complained non-stop at this place. I am sure I drove the nuns crazy with