Holy Assumption Monastery (Calistoga, California)
Holy Assumption Monastery was founded in 1941 by a small group of nuns who fled from Russia and China in search of freedom to practice their faith. Though they originally settled 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 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 soon became 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, a local winemaker, 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 Benigsen, 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.
After Fr. Benigsen, the monastery fell into disrepair. The nuns were gone and buildings were dilapidated, even condemned. In 1998, a restoration of the property began through the efforts of Igumen Sergious Gerken, the new abbot of the monastery. Following an encyclical and the advice of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and his concern for the environment, the 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. The historic chapel has undergone extensive renovation and improvements. A rectory was purchased and renovated, but has since been sold. The main historical building which now houses nuns and serve as the hospitality center was retrofitted and reinforced with concrete floors and steel beams in order to withstand most any earthquake. A new roof and new cedar siding were installed. The grounds were graced with a koi pond and more church bells were added. A small community of dedicated monastery friends formed. Through the love and efforts of Father Sergious, hundreds of thousands of dollars were generously and sacrificially donated to ready the monastery for the return of a women's monastic community. While the finishing touches were still being put on the main building, the long-expected nuns did arrive, but from an unexpected quarter. On the morning of October 8, 2009, the community of St. Barbara Monastery in Santa Paula, CA was informed that they had 30 days to remove the RVs in which nearly two thirds of the community was living while trying to build a wing to house the sisters. By that evening, Abbess Victoria had contacted Bishop Benjamin and received his enthusiastic blessing to relocate ten of the sisters to Calistoga. Two weeks later, on October 22, the sisters, under the leadership of Mother Melania, arrived at their new home to a gracious welcome from Fr. Sergious. Soon thereafter, various members of the local community and the outlying areas started arriving with good wishes, food, and practical help of various kinds. The sisters were and continue to be overwhelmed by such kindness
The sisters settled gratefully into their life in Calistoga, which revolves around the daily services. Another feature of their life is the frequent presence of pilgrims, tourists, and local residents drawn by the stillness, beautiful gardens and koi pond. In between the services and welcoming guests, the sisters care for the grounds and buildings and strive to support themselves through various means, chief of which are their bookstore, baking for the local farmers' market, and selling caskets. A great joy for the sisters has been the very close relationship that has developed between the monastery and St. Symeon Verhotursky Orthodox Church, the local parish. The hope for the future is an ever deeper unity, in which all continue to work together to glorify Christ.
For more information, please see the monastery's website
Friends of The Holy Assumption Monastery
1519 Washington Street
Calistoga, CA 94515
Igumen Sergius Gerken, Abbot
OCA website description (Some rearrangements made on this page; for original text, see this link.)