Sunday, July 06, 2008

Update on prayer request

Thank you all for your prayers! Both the monks and nuns have returned home, the monasteries having been spared from the fires. Here is the text of Fr. Damascene's last letter:

Your Grace, Bless, Master!

Thanks be to God, we just heard that the nuns are returning to St. Xenia Skete today. The fires in their area are now more under control, and those in our area are almost all put out. Today a fire crew walked along the top of our ridge with Monk Nicolas, to check for and put out spot fires. Over the past few days, we learned more from the fire crews about what happened at our monastery during our evacuation. It turns out that the monastery had been in even greater danger than we first thought on returning to it on Monday. The captain of one of the fire crews said that they had not done back-fires on the ridge directly above our monastery; they had only done a back-fire on the western side of the mountain, along western side of the road leading down from the monastery to the town of Platina. This means that the fire at the top of our ridge was not a controlled back-fire, but the actual wildfire that came shooting from the gorge to the southeast. The fire captain said that, when the wildfire reached the top of the ridge, the flames were up to 30 feet in the air. The fire crew thought that the fire might well jump the fire break they had created, igniting the upper branches of the trees on the other side. If that had happened, they would not have been able to stop the fire from going down the other side of the ridge and engulfing the monastery. By the Grace of God, and through the prayers of the faithful, the fire did not catch the upper part of the trees on the monastery side of the fire break. However, at the very top of the ridge, at Transfiguration Skete, some cinders from the fire started a ground fire on the monastery side, burning up the fallen leaves and the bottom of the trees for 50-75 yards. The firefighters were able to stop this fire when it got as close as 50 yards from the "Valaam" cell. Thus, they were able to save all the buildings -- just barely. It is amazing to see how close we came to losing the monastery to the fire, and it is both inspiring and humbling to see how God clearly showed His mercy by stopping it just in time. On the morning of the evacuation (Tuesday, June 11/24), I went to our Mt. Athos "skete" atop our ridge, blessing the area with holy water and singing hymns to the Mother of God, asking her to protect the monastery. I placed an "Axion Estin" icon of her, which was commemorated that day, on top of the altar table at "Mt. Athos," praying that she would not let the fire past that point. When I went to "Mt. Athos" after we had returned to the monastery, I found that the icon had fallen off the altar table, but that both the icon and the altar table were totally unharmed. The Mt. Athos skete was not on the monastery side of the fire break, but on the other side, where the wildfire was. The wildfire scorched the area around the altar table and the icon, leaving charcoal debris all around, and stopped right at the edge of the table. Also, the cross along the road past our monastery was totally unharmed, but the wooden bench right next to it had been burnt up by the fire. Such are little indications to us of the heavenly protection that our monastery received from our Lord Jesus Christ and His Most Holy Mother. Asking Your Archpastoral blessings and prayers, In Christ, hieromonk Damascene

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