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Father Guri (Demidov) was a solitary monk who struggled at St. John the Baptist Skete, Kentlyn, New South Wales, Australia between 1960 and 1992.
Born in 1894, Fr Guri was a monastic in Harbin, China. Due to the cultural revolution, however, he moved to Australia, arriving on October 5, 1960, as a refugee. On arrival, he took up residence at St John the Baptist Skete, having been vacated the previous year. Living in a small, one room tin hut surrounded by thick bush he became its first, and only, monastic inhabitant. Fr Guri was devoted to prayer and craved solitude, and found both in the 18 hectare grounds of the skete, often attending daily services at the nearby Convent of Our Lady of Kazan.
In his search for silence, and in imitation of the monastic hermits of the Egyptian and Judean deserts, Mount Athos and the vast forests of Russia, Father Guri cleared out a natural cleft in a nearby sandstone rock face, making a small, cramped cave in which he would spend many hours reading prayers and using his prayer rope. This was his favourite retreat after communing at the Divine Liturgy. Only God and the holy Angels were witnesses to his prayerful vigils and struggles.
Father Guri was reputed to have had an extensive library on the ascetic life and hesychastic prayer (the use of the Jesus Prayer - also called the Prayer of the Heart - ’Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ - the foundation of Orthodox Christian ascetic prayer). He would often laboriously copy excerpts from the writings of the Holy Fathers on the ascetic and spiritual life in small school exercise books. These anthologies, the fruit of his prayerful reading and spiritual struggles, he would give away as a blessing to those whom he felt would benefit from the wisdom of the Holy Fathers.
Over the succeeding years Father Guri laboured with Michael Sorokhin, together with volunteers from the Russian Orthodox community in Sydney, to erect a small brick building containing six monastic cells surrounding a large central room that was intended to be part of a large monastic church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. It was not to be completed. He waited alone, praying that others would join him. Old age eventually forced Father Guri to move from his beloved isolation at the Skete to a small hut in the Convent grounds, and finally to the Saint Sergius Nursing Home, Cabramatta.
Repose and after
Fr Guri reposed at 98 years on the 23rd of August, 1992. This faithful monk is buried in Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney.
After Fr Guri's repose, the buildings at the Skete were used for a printing facility, and then abandoned. The buildings fell into disrepair, and became inhabited by wildlife. In 1999, Hmk Joachim (Ross) joined ROCOR from the Serbian Diocese, and was invited to rebuild the Skete, restore coenobitic monastic life, and provide a base for missionary work amongst anglophonic Australians.
The Skete was, with help, made secure, habitable and weatherproof, with accomodation, an office, a dining room and a chapel with monastic worship in English. Fr Joachim was able to use the old monastery Church of All Saints in the Monastery of Our Lady of Kazan, where there a community of Orthodox of many national backgrounds attend on Sundays and feastdays.
Father Guri’s small cave, scene of his many hidden vigils and spiritual struggles, has been cleaned of the dirt and rubbish accumulated since his departure. A floor has been laid, overhanging rock walls strengthened, and icons and a burning lampada installed. Sanctified by Father Guri’s prayers and tears, this sandstone cleft, the Skete’s first ’church’, has become a place of pilgrimage and quiet prayer for growing numbers of visitors to the Skete.