ST. NAZIANZ, Wisconsin — Father Maximus knows exactly why he is one of the monks that are calling the new Holy Resurrection Monastery his home for life.
"The world is such a confusing place … I am only able to make sense of life through prayers of the heart," said Father Maximus, who has moved from Southern California to the former Maria Haus, 300 S. Second Ave.
Built in 1869, the three-story former convent of the Salvatorian Sisters is home to Father Maximus, Father Moses, Father Basil, Brother Mark and Abbot Nicholas, the leader of the small community of men dedicated to the life of traditional Byzantine monasticism.
This life includes daily sessions of prayer, vigil, liturgy, reflection, readings and "obediences."
For the past decade the St. Nazianz building and grounds have been used as a small retreat center, a ministry that the monks will continue.
The monastery has a dozen guest rooms. Abbot Nicholas, leader of the community, said they will develop a program of one-day retreats and adult enrichment workshops designed to immerse people in the rich spiritual and liturgical tradition of Eastern Christian customs and practices.
Among the religious items the men brought to Wisconsin were several dozen icons, an older Christian art form.
"We do not worship these images as idols, but rather see them as windows into heaven," Abbot Nicholas said.
The group's website states the icons are "points of contact between us and the holy people and events they depict.
"They are proof that God in Christ Jesus became a man, that heaven became one with earth, and that here in our own lives we can touch all that is holy and good."
Knowing love of GodThe vast majority of Catholics in the world belong to the Roman Church, led by current Pope Benedict XVI.
A small fraction belong to the 21 Eastern Catholic Churches including the Romanian Greek Catholic Eparchy of St. George headquartered in Canton, Ohio, that purchased the monastery for the five men to pursue their lives dominated by prayer.The church the monks belong to includes 14 parishes — including two in Milwaukee and several in Chicago — as well as four missions and two monasteries.
The abbot explained they are orthodox in liturgical, spirituality and theological outlook, but are loyal to Pope Benedict XVI and not the leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church, which also features icons as central to worship.
Abbot Nicholas explained the men of Holy Resurrection Monastery are not cloistered or confined to the building and grounds in St. Nazianz.
They are interested in accepting invitation to speak to faith groups and other organizations about their life and traditions.
"This is most definitely the age of the New Evangelization and we need to be a part of it," the abbot said.
"If the Church is to fulfill its mandate, it needs to draw on the witness of the whole of its traditions, East and West.
"That's why Pope John Paul II was so insistent that the Church had to 'breathe with both lungs,' something Pope Benedict has echoed many times," Abbot Nicholas, 54, said.
He said one reason he is Catholic is because of its teachings that include knowledge through revelation as well as knowledge derived through human reason.
"We can, for example, disagree with Buddhists and Muslims on revelation, but agree on respecting the dignity of all humankind, share beliefs common to all humanity like not killing innocent people," the abbot said.
As a Catholic Christian, Abbot Nicholas said he is compelled to preach truth and faith.
"Life isn't just about getting to heaven (after death) but getting to heaven now through knowing the love of Christ and God," he said.
Services in EnglishAbbot Nicholas said services conducted in their chapel principally will feature English and include monks leading chants, though their music features voices only, no instruments.
The abbot said God is good but no one knows the purpose behind, for example, suffering.
"All religions have grappled with evil and none have provided a satisfactory answer."God is essentially a mystery … we have to humbly accept and respect that," the abbot said.
Those who come for a brief stay will find sections of Holy Resurrection Monastery will be quiet zones and the monks' "cells" on the third floor off-limits.
But guests won't find the mood of the monastery to be somber.
"Our services, though long, have a certain intrinsic beauty that even bad singing can't destroy," said Father Maximus, who serves as cantor.
"There is an attachment to beauty that is very clear that I think will be of interest and use to people," he said.
His invitation to outsiders is to "make retreat, have some silence, some good food, and share the life of our community that is deeply attached to the love of God."
Understand the 21st centuryThe monks practice ancient Christian traditions but they are very much in the 21st century.
Go ahead and bring your smart phone … as long as you're using it to, perhaps, study scripture through a Bible "app" and not be texting your office for an update.
"Technology is neutral, it depends on how we use it," said Abbot Nicholas, whose business card includes the group's website, www.hrmonline.org.
It has background on the community and gives visitors the opportunity to support retreats, prayer ministry, and living expenses through donations and pledges via PayPal.
A chef before he became a Benedictine monk, Father Moses said the men sought their own monastery, rather than sharing with another order.
Father Moses had pecan raisin bread in the oven Monday and said he anticipates selling baked goods, including specialty breads, cakes and pies at farmers markets to help raise money.
As opposed to diocesan priests, the monks take vows of poverty.
Father Moses grew up in New Jersey and has experience with a four-season climate but seeing a few falling flakes shortly after their arrival a few weeks ago was a new experience for Father Maximus, a native of Australia."I'll get through winter, somehow," he said … presumably, with God's help.
Follow this link to learn more about Holy Resurrection Monastery