Looking for an out-of-the-way place to go on retreat? Here are three unique monasteries that welcome visitors for retreats.
Holy Transfiguration Monastery (www.monksofmttabor.com) – In a remote forest in Redwood Valley in Northern California resides a small community of monks founded more than 40 years ago. In accordance with the spirit of poverty, the monks of Holy Transfiguration Monastery live a simple life in rough wooden buildings with onion-shaped domes.
Although founded by a Latin-rite priest, the monks celebrate the liturgy and sacraments according to the Byzantine tradition, part of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Nicholas of Chicago, which is in union with Rome. Located a three-hour drive north of San Francisco, the monastery’s chief work is to serve as a center for retreats.
The monks’ day begins at 5:30 a.m. with morning prayer and Divine Liturgy, followed by breakfast (unless the monks are fasting). They work until noon, then enjoy their main meal with table reading. They have a period of private time, then a class at 2:30 p.m. They have a light supper at 4:30 p.m., followed by community recreation. The monks are silent throughout the day, with the exception of the community recreation period. The day concludes with vespers and compline.
The monks wear a full black tunic, and have beards. Their liturgy is in English and is sung. Typical in Byzantine liturgy, prominent in the Holy Transfiguration chapel is an icon wall separating the congregation from the sanctuary.
All baptized persons may receive Communion, even babies. Communion is by tincture, or dipping the host into the chalice and administering it to the faithful with a small spoon. In contrast with the West, crossing ones arms over the chest indicates one’s readiness to receive Communion, rather than a desire for only a blessing.
Both male and female visitors are welcome to come to the community for retreat and to take part in the life of the monastery. Participation includes religious services, meals and work, if visitors are willing. Retreats are self-directed, although several times a year the monks offer guided retreats, particularly on iconography.
Redwood Valley has the unfortunate history of being the site of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, 1965-74. Jones relocated to South America where he and his followers engaged in mass suicide. One of the monastery’s benefactors has been a Greek Orthodox priest who lived in the area and lost a daughter to the suicide. He funded a bell tower for the monks in his daughter’s memory, as well as a gate house in honor of his son, who survived the calamity.
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Monastery of Christ in the Desert (www.christdesert.org) – Located in the wilderness of Chama Canyon, 75 miles north of Santa Fe, the Monastery of Christ in the Desert of Abiquiu, New Mexico is home to 60 monks ages 20 to 91. It is one of the most remote locations for a monastery in the world; to reach it, visitors must travel 13 miles along a dirt road off US Route 84. The beautiful scenery along the way includes rock formations, high cliffs, mesas, tree-covered mountains and the Chama River in the center of the valley. The nearest town of 300 is a 45-minute drive away.
Its conditions have been somewhat primitive; both the church and guesthouses were heated by wood-burning stoves until 2014. Most of the electricity that supplies the community comes from a solar array, with a propane generator serving as a backup.
The community follows the Rule of St. Benedict. Prayers are typically sung, and begin at 4 a.m. and continue every few hours throughout the day until 8 p.m. Between prayers, the monks engage in manual labor to sustain their needs. Community members wear a traditional Benedictine habit, with a specialized habit used for work.
Lay men and women, whether Catholic or not, are welcome to come join the monks for day or overnight stays and participate in their lives of prayer; some 30,000 come annually.
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Prince of Peace Abbey (www.princeofpeaceabbey.org) – Prince of Peace Abbey is a Benedictine Monastery located on a hill in the city of Oceanside in Southern California. While not as far away from the city as the other two, the abbey still has a country-like, back-to-nature atmosphere. It is home to 23 monks, whose chief work is prayer.
Its members follow a daily schedule which begins with 5:30 morning prayer in the church. Prayers are often sung. There are other prayers during the day; meals are taken in silence or with table reading. Visitors are welcome for days of recollection and retreats. The church is more contemporary than traditional, but “faithful traditional” which is arguably well done with much artwork.