On August 18-19, 2017, His Grace Bishop Maxim visited the St. Herman Monastery in Platina, California and the nearby St. Xenia Skete in Wildwood to celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. His Grace had made an episcopal visit to the monastery and skete less than a month earlier, on July 26-27, and it was a joy for the monks and nuns to welcome him back so soon.
In the evening of Friday, August 5/18, 2017, the eve of the Feast, His Grace arrived at the St. Herman Monastery together with Sr. Irina of Gracanica Monastery in Kosovo. After a brief meal, everyone—the monks of the monastery, the sisters of St. Xenia Skete, and the pilgrims—gathered in front of the catholicon. From there they began the procession to the places where, according to local tradition, the beginning of Transfiguration Vigil is celebrated: the men to the “Transfiguration Skete” atop Mount St. Herman, and the women to “St. Elias Skete,” which lies to the west of the monastery, atop Noble Ridge.
During the Vespers services atop Mount St. Herman, the monks sang the services while Abbot Damascene served and Bishop Maxim pronounced the blessings. At the Aposticha, both the men and the women went in procession from their respective “Sketes” to one of the crosses that overlooks Beegum Gorge. Each of the processions was accompanied by the singing of hymns.
In the old days, it had been a tradition of the monastery that, when the men and women had gathered at the cross at this point the service, Fr. Seraphim (Rose) would give a sermon on the Transfiguration. Two of these sermons of Fr. Seraphim had been partially recorded: one, in 1974, by Fr. Seraphim himself, in his Chronicle of the St. Herman Brotherhood, and another, shortly before his repose in 1982, by a sister of St. Xenia Skete. It has become a more recent tradition of the monastery to read aloud these recorded sermons of Fr. Seraphim at this point in the service.
That is what we did this year. As everyone gathered to listen around the cross, Fr. Damascene read the sermons from “Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works.” The procession then continued back to the monastery catholicon, where Vespers was concluded. Bishop Maxim, vested in an orarion and an epitrachelion, celebrated the Litya together with the monastery priests, blessing the loaves, wheat, wine and oil at the end. Before distributing the blessed bread with wine, he congratulated the faithful with the Feast. It was beautiful, he said, to go up the mountain for the beginning of the service. It has been a practice from the early days of Christianity to go up to a high place to celebrate the Feast of Transfiguration. This, the Bishop said, can also can be seen as a prayer that we be lifted up spiritually.
The Vigil concluded with Matins and First Hour.
The next morning, the hierarchical Liturgy for the Transfiguration was held in the outdoor chapel at St. Xenia Skete. The monks from St. Herman Monastery, Fr. George Elliott, Deacon Philip Mayer and parishioners from the St. Andrew Serbian Orthodox Church in Anderson, California; Archpriest Christopher Stanton, Matushka Mary Sara, and their six children from the St. Innocent Cathedral (OCA) in Wasilla, Alaska; and other pilgrims came for the celebration. His Grace celebrated the Liturgy together with Abbot Damascene, Hieromonk Paisius, Fr. Christopher, Fr. George, and Deacon Philip.
In his sermon, Vladika said that not only the Lord but also the disciples were illumined by the Transfiguration; that’s how they could behold Him in His transfigured state. Speaking of the Uncreated Energies revealed as Light at the Transfiguration, Vladika noted that the Energies can never be separated from the Person of God, or from the experience of God as Person. His Grace stressed how the Feast of Transfiguration is important for all Christians in their striving to transfigure their entire lives in the light of Christ; it has become especially significant for monastics in their striving toward the Kingdom.
After the Liturgy, His Grace read the Prayer for the Blessing of Fruits, according to the tradition for this day, and the blessed grapes were distributed to the faithful along with antidoron.
At an outdoor gathering afterwards, the young pilgrims presented musical offerings. Fr. George’s son John, dressed in traditional Scottish attire, played several melodies on the bagpipe, ending with “Amazing Grace.” Fr. Christopher’s children sang Native Alaskan songs in the original language, accompanied by traditional dance.
Fr. George, who had recently returned from Scotland with John and his touring bagpipe band, presented Bishop Maxim with a gift: a Scottish “clergy tartan.”
His Grace presented a gift copy of the new English edition of the “Prologue of Ohrid” to the St. Herman Monastery, whose monks had helped to edit. Gratefully receiving it, Fr. Damascene told the gathered faithful about the features of the new edition, which includes a host of saints glorified by the Church since the publication of the first edition in 1928.
A meal was served in the Skete trapeza, after which Abbess Dorothea asked Sr. Irina of Gracanica speak about her monastery and life in Kosovo. Sr. Irina gave a moving account of the history of Gracanica, and of the adversities and present condition of the Serbs living in Kosovo. Bishop Maxim and Dr. Jelena Vukecević , who was also visiting at the time, added to the account. His Grace told of his experience of being in Kosovo with Bishop Atanasije as a hierodeacon during the harrowing year of 1999. The talk was deeply edifying and also very informative in bringing us up-to-date about our brothers and sisters in suffering Kosovo.
The brothers of St. Herman Monastery and the sisters of St. Xenia Skete give thanks to Christ the Giver of Light for this unforgettable celebration of His Transfiguration.
— Abbot Damascene