I mentioned to a friend that I could do with a few days silent retreat. He came right back with a link to the St. Nilus Skete.
And I said, “Um. Wow. But um. No freakin’ way!”
A skete is a religious community midway between a monastery and a hermitage. Monks or nuns (nuns, in the case of St. Nilus), largely live and work solo, avoiding the communal perils of cenobitic life. But they gather for religious observances and meals to avoid the emotional and intellectual perils of pure solitude.
Far as I know there are only a handful of sketes for women in the U.S. However many there are, St. Nilus may win the prize in the category of Scary Place You’d Have to Be Incredibly Dedicated to Live.
Go. Read the one-page site. See what I mean.
Now, if you were a woman who wanted a week-long retreat in, say, July, and you ventured out to that Alaskan island, that would be one thing. To live there in primitive conditions year round and to do it for the sake of an ideal … that takes fortitude. Fortitude I doubt many of us possess.
The site doesn’t say how many nuns live there. I’m guessing, though, that you could count them on the fingers of one hand (in 2006, there were two). Odds are they’re past middle age. Which makes what they’re doing even more terrifyingly awesome. Think of getting to the nearest hospital. Heck, the nearest grocery store.
My admiration makes me want to go buy one of their Alaska saints greeting cards. Or a prayer rope or two. What I’d do with either, I couldn’t say. But the thought that the nuns earn their living creating these tiny items, in addition to living off the land and sea, both awes and worries me.
St. Nilus Skete is for women only, and of Orthodox persuasion. But let’s say you knew of a community that lived as they do that was open to all. Could you handle it? Would you want to? What would be hardest about the life? What would be best?