Holy Assumption Monastery (Calistoga, California)
Monastery Background (updated June 2006)
The Holy Assumption Monastery has been a living testament to the legacy and spirit of the Orthodox Christian faith for over 65 years. From its home on the banks of the Napa River in Calistoga, CA, the monastery welcomes faithful pilgrims and visitors of all backgrounds. It stands as the heart of a strong, multi-cultural community in northern California, upholding the vision of Orthodox Christianity in America and reflecting the rich fullness of Christian life in the daily worship of God.
Holy Assumption Monastery was founded in 1941 by a small group of nuns who fled from Russia and China with St. John Maximovitch in search of freedom to practice their faith. Originally settling in San Francisco, they soon discovered the quiet town of Calistoga 80 miles north of the city and, with the blessing of the local church hierarchy, purchased an old two-story property by the Napa River.
They were given permission to establish their new monastery and spiritual haven on the condition that they would finance and administer the community on their own and would dedicate themselves to the service of God with faith that He would take care of them. At first, the old building had to serve as both chapel and living quarters, but soon the nuns, with their own hands, built a separate small wooden chapel as their place of worship. They adorned it with their own icons and embroidered cloths and began to hold services, to which all those inside and outside their gates were welcome.
As the community grew, Orthodox Christians of all backgrounds came to attend the twice-daily services, and it was soon apparent that the chapel was far too small to hold the increasing number of faithful pilgrims. In 1959, a new chapel was built on the grounds--a replica of the 1812 Fort Ross chapel. Under the leadership of Andre Tchelistcheff, who was the enologist at Beaulieu Vineyards of Napa Valley, money was raised for this important project.
The community continued to thrive through the 1960s and 1970s, drawing people from all backgrounds through its serenity, beautiful surroundings, and spiritual presence. In the mid-1980s, the monastery extended its outreach far beyond its borders through the work of priest-in-charge Fr. George Benigson, who broadcast regularly on Radio Free Europe. His radio talks became known as an inspired voice of Orthodox Christianity that touched millions around the world.
Sadly, after Fr. Benigson, the monastery fell into disrepair. The nuns were gone, and buildings were dilapidated, even condemned. It was an unfortunate period where some took advantage and used the buildings as a free shelter. They disrespected and abused the monastery, piling enormous amounts of debris in the sagging buildings and grounds. The grounds themselves were barren; nothing grew. Perhaps, though, there were a few seeds of love and hope in the grounds somewhere, because on January 1, 1998 all of this began to change.
The New Beginning
Father Sergious Gerken arrived that day with the flu, two birds, an overnight bag, many talents, vision and a mission. With official blessings but without financial support, little by little the Holy Assumption Monastery began her transformation. The monastery has taken on a completely new focus and direction to better serve the faithful. She is not only being renovated but, God willing, will also become a major monastic center. Nuns will come from Greece to train American novices in the ancient practice of monasticism. In the meantime, the monastery has been here to feed the spiritual needs of the people. Remaining true to her roots, the monastery is a place where the faithful can come for spiritual renewal. Daily life revolves around worship services, tending to the needs of the community, offering hospitality to all visitors and pilgrims and providing spiritual counseling and pastoral ministry to those in need.
To this day, the monastery has relied solely on donations and charitable contributions for her support and financial livelihood. Her vision is to create the means for self-sufficiency and to become revitalized as a strong monastic community. Every part of this vision is to serve the faithful and to reflect the essence of Orthodox Christian spirituality.
An ambitious restoration of the entire property began in 1998 through the efforts of Igumen Sergious, Abbot of the monastery. Following the Encyclical and the advice of His All Holiness The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and his concern for the environment, the now glorified grounds have been transformed into a lush garden oasis, a tranquil place ideal for reflection and contemplation. Much needed retaining walls were built to hold back the annual flooding of the Napa River (one more is needed).
The historic chapel has undergone extensive renovation and improvements. A rectory was purchased and is being renovated. The main historical building which will house the nuns and serve as the hospitality center has been retrofitted and reinforced with concrete floors and steel beams which would withstand most any earthquake. A new roof was added and new cedar siding is being installed now. The grounds are graced with new statuary, church bells, and a koi pond, and the list goes on. A small community of dedicated monastery friends has formed. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been generously and sacrificially donated to this project through the love and efforts of Father Sergious. The project is nearly completed, and it is almost time for the nuns to come from Greece.
Yet, there is still work to do. All that remains to be finished is the interior of the nuns’ quarters (the main building). This includes the kitchen appliances and professional equipment needed to feed the nuns and hundreds of guests. The interior walls, furnishings, appliances, curtains and other items remain to be completed as well. The nuns will need airfare, insurance, visas and other essentials. This money must be raised in advance. We are asking for your help to complete this vital project. The main building can be completed for about $450,000, a small price to pay to complete the dwelling-place and garden of our All-Holy Theotokos.
For eight years, Father Sergious has labored with the help of God and a few sacrificial friends and visionaries, on this miraculous project. The monastery has always been a blessing to those who visit. Until now, she has been unable to live up to her full potential. Will you help bring the dream to fruition?
Friends of The Holy Assumption Monastery
1519 Washington Street
Calistoga, CA 94515
Igumen Sergious Gerken, Abbot