Monks Early History

 The Monks of New Skete began in 1966 under the leadership of Father Laurence with 12 monks who separated from a small community of Byzantine-Rite Franciscans, based in New Cannan, Connecticut and Sybertsville, Pennsylvania. The first brothers sought to live a more explicitly monastic life within the Eastern Christian tradition.

 

Initially, we were given help by friends from New Canaan and within weeks the monks of Mount Saviour, a Benedictine Monastery in south central New York, loaned us the use of a hunting lodge in Northwestern Pennsylvania. The previous hunters would have been amazed to see the transformation of the building when we removed their antlered trophies from the walls and converted the dining room into a chapel.  

 We enjoyed the harvest from the apple orchard on the property as summer revolved into early winter and we were preparing to move to a new home in upstate New York. It was a small farm with land extending down the Batten Kill [river] near the hamlet of Shushan with Cambridge as our mailing address. It had a magnificent view of the peaks of the Green Mountains across the line in Vermont.  We transformed the small frame farmhouse into a suitable monastery, adding a wing from the second floor out onto the rock ledge characteristic of the Taconic uplands to accommodate bedroom cells. When spring came we landscaped the grounds. With no means of support, but owning two handsome barns a stone's throw from the house and several open fields, we began farming. 


We more or less tried a hit or miss approach: a variety of animals starting with a Holstein milk cow and including goats, pigs, chickens, sheep and Hereford beef cattle. Local Yankee farmers were generous with their help and we learned fast, winning with our hard work not only food for the table, but the respect of our neighbors, hardworking descendants of Scots-Irish sheep farmers from Colonial days. However, as time went on, it became clear that the location we had chosen lacked the necessary solitude; a town road passed only a dozen yards from the house and noise from a nearby recreational lake carried on summer evenings clashing with the hoped-for contemplative atmosphere.


So a year later we moved once more to a location on the East side of Cambridge, to the flanks of Two-Top mountain [el. 1,743 ft..] picking a site at the end of a dirt tract where heifers were left to graze. The first order of business was to have a bulldozer carve out an actual road. Br. Marc drew up plans for both a residence at about 1,260 feet near the head of a shallow ravine with a brook, and some sixty feet below, a workshop-barn. We began construction in the Fall of 1967 and continued thru the Winter. With a raw road and lacking a plow, many a day we had to walk up through the snow from the town road carrying our construction tools and lunch. The days started with early chores, then Matins, a quick breakfast; we then piled into our panel truck for the ride across the stunningly scenic Cambridge Valley and into Ash Grove to what would become New Skete Lane. 

 As the evening Psalm [104] sung daily puts it, we struggled "to labor till evening falls" and as the last light caressed the top of Mt Equinox, which dominates the northern skyline, we made the reverse trip, did the farm chores, sang Vespers' and had dinner often followed by meetings hammering out our monastic vision [with novice study papers generously supplied by Fr. Louis (Thomas) Merton] and sometimes debating livestock or construction challenges.  


A few years after settling on Two Top the first sisters came to visit as they emerged from the strictly cloistered Poor Clares in search of a more contemporary contemplative life. We shared Franciscan roots and the same desire to start afresh. Our offer of help found a responsive chord and the group returned and settled a few miles away closer to town. They would eventually become the Nuns of New Skete.

 In 1970, we built our first church dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ; now we refer to it as the "little" church. It attracted visitors from near and far, the former coalescing into an informal parish which is now a vibrant part of our monastic outreach.


This period of building and becoming economically established was parallel by the ongoing study of our monastic and liturgical traditions, which eventually evoked an ecclesial question of where we belonged. While the broad themes of renewal and authentic tradition initiated by the Second Vatican Council were an inspiration for us, the actual changes implemented in the Roman church during the 60’s and 70’s did not pertain to our Eastern liturgical practice. However through our study we reclaimed our identification with the Orthodox East in ways that led us to seek actual ecclesiastical affiliation. Mediated by the gifted and farsighted theologian-priests Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff we sought and received incorporation into the Orthodox Church in America and were given the status of stavropegial communities, that is, subject directly to the head of the Church, at that time Archbishop-Metropolitan Theodosius.  In 1983, this same hierarch consecrated our newly constructed church of Holy Wisdom, a larger temple erected to accommodate a growing monastic community and additional parishioners. It is a sacred space that speaks to the soul of what New Skete is all about.