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St. Nilus Island Skete: Could you handle that life?

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.

Here’s a two part article about St. Nilus and its brother establishment on a nearby island if you want to know more.

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?


  1. Scott
    Scott February 12, 2018 3:30 pm

    Short Long way. I could deal with the general MacGyverism of living on a remote site, but I would make a poor monk or hermit. I like people, and sometimes I want to get out in crowds-be it a theater, flea market,convention or whatever.. I think it’s a good idea to meet a variety of hoomin beans. That’s just me, though…

  2. Shel
    Shel February 12, 2018 3:56 pm

    It might seem enjoyable for me at first, but the enjoyment wouldn’t last very long.

  3. david
    david February 12, 2018 4:10 pm

    Without hooman beans? I think I’d enjoy the opportunity to learn how long I could go. I dislike dealing with other folks’ petty ego related issues, and brain-dump word-salad chatter.

    Without my furry friends? Nein Danke! I wouldn’t even try. And new ones would find me anyway – they always do.

  4. Jorge
    Jorge February 12, 2018 4:51 pm

    When I was in 10th grade we read _The Machine Stops_ by E. M. Forster. As part of the class discussion the teacher asked what we thought about living like that. Almost no direct human contact, etc, etc. Everyone in the class except me thought it would be awful. Me, I thought it would be great. Of course that society had everything provided by the machine, so no living off the land.

    These days, I actually have many of the skills needed to live off the land, plus the mind set to figure out / learn what I don’t know.

    I think I could enjoy a community like that. Live in relative isolation, gather for the events you wish to attend or perhaps just show up at the community rec room and see who is there. Yeah, at this stage of my life, I think I would enjoy it. I think I might find peace.

  5. fred
    fred February 12, 2018 5:15 pm

    Nope.Not a chance.

  6. Jim Brook
    Jim Brook February 12, 2018 5:21 pm

    I need to be of use. I need purpose. I do not think I could be content hiding away from people. It is an instinct of man, and a good one I believe, to be contributing, protecting, and providing. No hermitage for me.

  7. Fred M.
    Fred M. February 12, 2018 5:48 pm

    This area of Alaska, where the St. Michael and St. Nilus Sketes are located, is some of the most beautiful and bounteous in the state. Outside of the major cities and larger communities in Alaska many of the outlying and remote communities are small in numbers, and there are also many remote and isolated homesteads. The closest neighbors of some homesteaders may be 10 or more miles away.and accessible by boat or float plane. Living an isolated life is not for everyone, but there are a few who enjoy living off the grid and being almost totally self sufficient. Our Lord has provided a bountiful supply of food from the sea and from the land, resulting in a varied diet among the remote homesteaders. In the early days of our country farmers in new England used lobster for fertilizer when they planted their crops. In Alaska remote homesteaders near the bays and channels, use seaweed as a fertilizer for growing their crops (unlike the value of lobster, seaweed/kelp is still cheap). There are still some items and goods that that cannot be generated by the homesteader and that requires some cash, which is acquired from activities such as mining, trapping, fishing, and Alaska’s annual stipend to residents. While the Religious Sketes have periods where the people get together for meals, if they want, the homesteader rarely has visitors for a meal. But this is by choice. There are lifestyles that may be better, but none so rewarding.

  8. brew
    brew February 12, 2018 6:24 pm

    Depending on the size, I think those Alaskan Saints greeting cards would make an interesting wall decoration if each were framed up… Make for an interesting conversation starter me thinks….

  9. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty February 13, 2018 3:58 am

    Not a chance. 🙂 I’m alone most of the time now, but that’s by choice. I tried the convent life once, and it was not for me. I don’t do “rules” very well. 🙂

  10. Joel
    Joel February 13, 2018 4:59 am

    Nope and noper. The semi-isolation would be fine, I live that way now. But that would be far too much day-in-day-out work. Plus it’s Alaska, which may be beautiful but it’s far too close to the Arctic Circle for my taste. Plus I’m not very contemplative and not the least bit religious. Prayer ropes and sacred springs? I couldn’t keep a straight face, and wouldn’t be welcome long.

  11. larryarnold
    larryarnold February 13, 2018 8:47 am

    gather for the events you wish to attend or perhaps just show up at the community rec room and see who is there

    I have limited experience with monastic life, but it seems like they aren’t into “if you wish” much. They tend to be heavy into the “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop” thing. Schedules are pretty full, and prayer time is for concentrated repetition of specific phrases. The prayer ropes don’t go up to 300 knots by accident.

  12. Mike
    Mike February 13, 2018 11:10 am

    Not in this lifetime, I suspect they don’t even have decent internet coverage… 😀

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