New Skete is a community of men and women dedicated to monastic life since 1966. The monastic life has but one Rule, the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, and one goal: that we love God with an undivided heart and place nothing in the way of our personal and communal attachment to Christ. We endeavor to achieve this by embracing the evangelical virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience in stability and fidelity.
As Orthodox Christians, it is our passionate desire to live the monastic life and to worship authentically and intensely. New Skete’s entire history has been characterized, in the midst of supporting ourselves, by our efforts to translate the essentials of early Christian monasticism to an American culture capable of transforming us today. This has entailed pursuing the knowledge needed to foster a spirit of healthy simplicity. We achieve this by studying Sacred Scripture, Monastic and Liturgical History and by being open to the difficulties and yearnings of our contemporaries.
Taking part in the mysteries of Christ’s life, death and resurrection at the daily liturgical services, draws us to repentance and the gradual change of our inner selves. Reciting the Psalms, spending time in prayer and quiet, together with our physical labor and study, are intended to help us follow
the Gospel rule of love and compassion.
By our mutual love and understanding as children of the same God, we hope to demonstrate the possibilities open to everyone: living in peace and harmony for the benefit and welfare of all. We hope that all who come our way will find in us a source of generous hospitality, inspiration and encouragement to seek the will of God and to respond to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the near half-century we have lived together as the Monks of New Skete the two poles of our life have remained fixed: daily prayer and worship along with the labor to earn our daily bread. In the early years, the latter included the physical work of erecting the buildings where we would live, worship and care for the farm animals who provided us with food.
Moving to Cambridge, on the eastern edge of the low but beautiful Taconic Mountains, we settled in a very agrarian community and learned farming skills, including smoking meats and cheese, from our rural neighbors. As the economy shifted so did our skills: we were able to build on our love for our first German Shepherd to what is now internationally known breeding and dog training programs. We’ve published many books related to our lives with the dogs NEW SKETE SHEPHERDS, as well as a spiritual study of our monastic life called IN THE SPIRIT OF HAPPINESS and a book of meditations, RISE UP WITH A LISTENING HEART.
The basic structure of our worship remains anchored in a daily cycle of matins and vespers (with Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days) for our prayer life is the measure of our relationships with God and with each other. Even from the days before we left the Byzantine Rite (Roman Catholic) Franciscan Order to found New Skete we have been studying the origins and evolution of liturgical worship in the Orthodox East. Over time this enabled us to refine translations of the psalms and the liturgical poetry of the services and to simplify the structure of the offices in the spirit of renewal, keeping in mind the balancing act between the monastic ideal of “desert” and the Gospel call to make the world a sacrament.
We have always believed in ecumenical outreach as an aspect of putting the Gospel into practice. Beginning locally, we often host visiting social, school and church groups, and we participate in the Cambridge association of clergy and take our turn providing a free meal with a brief devotion during Advent and Lent. We are also supportive of inter-Orthodox unity on many levels including retreats offered here and in various parishes across the country. Two of our members have been invited to Greece and to China to make presentations on aspects of our monastic life.
We welcome all who visit the monastery each year either to make retreats, attend services, visit the gift shop and grounds or to purchase a puppy or have their dog trained. We have a small guesthouse available for retreatants.
We are a contemplative monastery of Eastern Orthodox nuns, under the aegis of the Orthodox Church in America. Our monastery is under the patronage of Our Lady of the Sign, a symbol of the entire praying church. We consider ourselves ecumenical in terms of our religious backgrounds, experience, and understanding. The community began by a group of Poor Clare nuns under the Roman Catholic Church. From our beginning here, we followed the Eastern Rite in our liturgical lives, feeling most at home with an Eastern bent to our spirituality. We embrace fully the Eastern Orthodox emphasis on the goodness and inherent beauty of creation and God’s indwelling Spirit in everything. Our ongoing prayer is that the division between the churches may one day truly be healed.
Our primary focus is to work continually to transform ourselves in the light of the Gospel. To follow the path that leads us to become the person God wants us to be, we have chosen to live this life together. We strive for a balance in common and private prayer, and work that is simply the work of daily living. The work of producing the cheesecakes in our bakery helps to support us and the upkeep of our monastery and grounds. Life in the monastery allows for reflection, relaxation, and ongoing growth. Our monastery, outside of a small village in eastern New York State, is situated on a rolling hillside that offers a sense of solitude without enclosed cloister. Hospitality is an important expression of our monastic life and women of diverse Christian faiths find time with us to be restorative and renewing in their journeys. Spiritual companioning, both formally and informally through our ongoing relationships, is an essential expression of the fruit of our contemplative life. Creative artistic expression finds outlets in our gardening, icon painting, vestment making, writing, and cooking. With all these elements, we find it is a rich and fulfilling life.
Our founding in 1969 was with the ideal of living out the values of monastic life in a way that was fitting in contemporary
American culture. Today this is a delicate line to walk which requires ongoing discernment. We strive to retain those pieces of the earliest tradition which we feel are essential to supporting our spiritual growth and to let go of other pieces which have long tied monastics to the culture of medieval Europe and near eastern cultures. We have a rich liturgy with services shared with the monks, which are sung and chanted in English and inclusive language. Rather than using a strict translation of ancient texts, we work at making the language of our prayers and hymns accessible to contemporary American understanding while maintaining a sense of reverence and dignity. We wear Riassas (monastic choir robes) over our regular clothes for liturgical services.
As a small community, there is an emphasis on consensus in governance under the leadership of our elected prioress. This is very much part of the tension of individuality and shared communal life that we strive to hold in light of ongoing discernment. While maintaining our autonomy as a monastic community, a truly unique character of our monastic life is the interrelatedness of our community with that of monks.