It was only in our last century that Eastern Orthodox, and even Roman Catholic, parents considered it a great blessing to have at least one child become a monastic and dedicate their life to our Lord and savior. However, in today's society most people wouldn't consider joining a monastic community or have their children become a monastic.

I believe that most people don't understand monasticism _ they find it foreign and weird. When I was Roman Catholic and in my teens, I'd considered monasticism, and started to really take the idea seriously after I read Fyodor Dostoyevsky's book, "The Brothers Karamazov," and was introduced to the character of the Elder Father Zosima.

I found this elder interesting and wanted to know more about the Eastern Orthodox Church. I started to attend liturgical services where I lived and was immediately captivated by the beauty of the environment, icons and singing. I knew that God was present, and that was home for me.

In my study on Orthodox monasticism, I've found out that the monastic life has always been part of the Holy Orthodox Church. It's not the whole church, but a living organism within the church.

Historically, Eastern Orthodox is one of the oldest branches of Christianity, along with Roman Catholicism. Rome broke away in 1054 over political and liturgical issues, thus separating itself from the body of the Apostolic church. The ancient Sees of Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria have stayed together with the Apostolic church and its traditions.

Today the church is known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church is not new in North America. In 1794, 10 Russian missionary monks from Valaam Monastery on Lake Vadoga in Russia were sent to Alaska (then part of Russian territory) to meet the needs of their people who were trying to make a living out of the lucrative fur trapping field. Once in Alaska, the monks also evangelized the Aleut, Tlingit and Eskimo peoples who were native to the Alaskan lands.

In the last 20 years, the Orthodox Church has seen a growth in numbers in America due to immigrants from the former Eastern Bloc countries and converts from other Christian dominations who are searching for a church that can link them to the Apostolic church. Orthodox monasticism is also growing _ there are more than 30 monasteries from coast to coast. There are more than 300 million people in the world that professes Eastern Orthodox as their religion.

The story of our monastery here in Treadwell had its beginning in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. As time went on we grew out of our small brown stone monastery, and in 2008, our abbot, Father Joachim purchased a farmhouse with two beautiful barns on 153 acres of land. We renovated one of the barns into a chapel, which is more than 200 years old and was dilapidated due to harsh weather and neglect. We named the monastery the Savior's Desert.

The word, "desert" in monasticism, means a place where monks reside, such as a monastery, a skete (little monastic dwellings) or a hermitage.

Historically, a desert was the place where numerous monasteries were first formed, including the monastery of Saint Anthony the Great in the Egyptian desert.

The Egyptian deserts were very popular among aspirants of the monastic life in the early centuries because they were less populated and were far away from the busy cities of the Middle East.

Saint Anthony the Great is credited to be the founder of Eastern monasticism, and spiritually guided thousands of monks and nuns to redemption and salvation.

In our monastery in Treadwell, we have 12 monks at the monastery and three nuns who live down the road in a rented house. (We are looking for permanent place for the nuns to live.)

We all come from diverse backgrounds. Some of us were born in the faith and some converted to Orthodoxy. As monks and nuns, our goal is to follow what the Savior of the world summarized all his particular commands in two main, general commandments: You are to love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is: You are to love your neighbor as yourself. The whole of the law and the prophets depends on these two commandments (Matthew 22: 37-40).

Since our arrival in Treadwell, we've been welcomed by our neighbors and find the community to be helpful and caring to our needs.

Steven Barbaro is a novice at the Savior's Desert monastery in Treadwell. He can be reached at S.B.

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