North Ft. Myers, FL: VIM Volunteers completed a work week at St. Nicholas Monastery
On Sunday, January 24, volunteers from the Volunteers in Mission (VIM) program, headed up by Priest John Moses and other members of the Diocese Council, arrived for a work week at St. Nicholas Monastery in North Ft. Myers, FL. The monastery was in dire need of repairs ranging from electrical work to painting and housekeeping. The volunteers also laid down a tile floor in the monastery trapeza and poured concrete for a ramp. Fr. John submitted the following daily journal of work week.
Day 1 - Sunday
After several days of travel, the team arrived in North Fort Myers and the Monastery of St. Nicholas. The weather was beautiful and the temperature reached a high of 84 degrees. We were greeted warmly by Mother Andrea and Mother Anna and each member was assigned to a place to sleep. We were given a tour of the monastery grounds and discussed the various projects that we would do in the week ahead. After trapeza and prayers, we went to sleep.
Day 2 - Monday
We woke this morning to an incredibly beautiful sky. It was a wonderful red/orange/gold color. We began our work week with Liturgy in the monastery chapel. The service was held in memory of the holy martyrs, St. Tatiana and St. Sava. Afterwards, we went over to the damaged trapeza building and planned the course of our work. The main job was to get the main floor tiled. Other jobs included repairing the walls, repairing some of the electrical systems, knocking down walls for new doors and entry ways, expanding the bookstore, and many jobs in the garden and grounds. Thanks to a generous gift from the Fund for Assistance, we were able to purchase the tiles and contract for cement to make a ramp for the disabled.
Both the men and women, the old and young, picked up sledgehammers and shovels and got to work. George and Serge began to work on the forms for the ramp and landing.
It rained a little today, but most of the time it’s been sunny skies.
After evening trapeza, we ended the day with the canon for the saints of the day.
Day 3 - Tuesday
We met in the skete for morning prayers, and again the temperature was low. This time it got down to the 60s! Brrrrrrr! The trapeza has been special, because each day we have locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact, there are orange trees and grapefruit trees on the property, which covers about 13 acres, and we can pick fruit from them. The monastery has three houses, one that serves as a skete for the nuns, and two that serve as guesthouses. The chapel is in a separate building and is very well apportioned. Besides the trapeza building, there are various buildings that are used for candle-making, bee-keeping, woodworking, and so on.
We were able to finish the form for the ramp and prepare the floor for the tiles. We also knocked out most of walls that needed to be moved and this produced a great amount of rubble. So, we manned the wheelbarrows and hauled the rubble away.
Some of the team began planting seeds in small planters to get them ready for the big garden.
Tonight, we were invited by a local Orthodox man who owned his own restaurant, Mel’s Diner, to be his guests. It was a beautiful restaurant and the food was quite good. At the end, we invited him over and sang “Many years” to him and presented him with an icon from the monastery. He was very touched and invited us to come back and be his guests again. Then it was home to prayers and bed.
Day 4 - Wednesday
We met in the trapeza building for morning prayers. Now the temperature was getting seriously low at 52 degrees. Still, by the afternoon, the temperature returned to the 80s. Today, the young people were invited out to take a 4 hour boat ride on the inter-coastal waterway by an Orthodox family that owns a fleet of rental boats. They had a great time on the water and get to spend a little time on the beach. Lunch included a tray of homemade pierogies.
After prayers, we had a breakfast of Dunkin Donuts and egg and cheese biscuits. Work continued on the tile floor and all the forms were readied for the ramps. Tomorrow the cement truck will arrive and we will be able to complete the ramp and landing.
As I mentioned before, one of the major projects is to get the monastery garden in order. So, some of the team has been busy covering the garden with agricultural cover and irrigation lines. This helps to keep the weeds down and reduces moisture loss by conserving water. Since the garden is about 3000 square feet, this has been a very labor intensive job.
The bookstore, which had been in the trapeza building, had to be moved due to the dust from the renovation. It was moved temporarily to a room attached to the chapel.
We ordered in pizzas for dinner, which everyone enjoyed. Afterwards, we ended the day with evening prayers.
Day 5 - Thursday
Morning prayers began the day at 7 am in the chapel. Then, the cement truck arrived and we were able to finish out the ramp and landing. The tile floor is about half-finished and Kyril is working feverishly to get it completed by the weekend. Father Gabriel spent most of the day working on plumbing in the skete. Those that were working on the garden ran into some fire ants when they went to get mulch. They also met a 5 foot black snake in the garden. They let the snake move on unharmed because they are valuable. They help keep the number of vermin down. The fire ants met their end!
Mother Andrea served a meal of grouper tonight.
The night ended with evening prayers.
Day 6 - Friday
The workday began with a Liturgy in honor of the Chains of St. Peter. Then after trapeza, we got back to work. The floor is ¾ finished and many other projects are close to finished. John and Svetlana spent the morning doing homework that they had emailed to them from their school. Fr. Gabriel finished the plumbing in the skete. As the sun began to set, the crew began to clean up around the trapeza building and we ended with a group picture.
In the evening, the team, with Mother Andrea and Mother Anna in tow, went to Olive Garden to celebrate the success of the work project. It was a wonderful time of fellowship and sharing. At the end of the meal, we stood and sang the blessing in the middle of the restaurant.
Day 7 - Saturday
This morning, after morning prayers and breakfast, the contingent from All Saints left the monastery to head back to Virginia. It was sad to leave the nuns and the rest of the team. We noticed that the farther north we travelled, the colder it became. The group spent the night in Columbia, SC.
Day 8 - Sunday
We attended Liturgy at St. Elizabeth the New Martyr Church, in Cayce, SC. It was a pleasure to worship with Fr. Mark Mancuso and his congregation. After lunch, we headed home and saw our first snow at Charlotte, NC. As we continued north, the snow got deeper. We arrived at All Saints around 8 PM and there was about a foot of snow on the ground. We missed those warm days in Florida.
Day 9 - Monday
I spoke to Mother Andrea by phone this morning to find out if peace and quiet had returned to the skete. She told me that it may take some time for them to recover, but they had little time to reflect because the Kursk Root Icon will come to the Monastery this week. She also told me that George had made it to the airport and flown home on Sunday.
During lunch at home, I got a call from Serge that they were having lunch in Staunton, which is only 10 miles away. I would have invited them over, but due to the snow, there was no place to park a car. Also, I knew that they had about 6 hours to go and I didn’t want to detain them.
And so, the first VIM trip has ended. This was a wonderful team and contained some of the hardest workers I’ve ever had the chance to be with. Besides working hard, we had a lot of fun and great fellowship and spiritual enlightenment. I hope that we will be able to encourage others to sign up to be a part of a future VIM team.
The team was made up of Fr. John Moses, his matushka, Alexandra, and his son, John; Fr. Gabriel Weller and his matushka, Tatiana; Brena (Svetlana) Dunning, Serge Lopoukhine and his wife, Anastasia; George Nikolsky, Kyrill Zaporoshan, Seraphim Cook, and Luke Graham.