Eat, work, love…
Tucked away on 42 acres of Ponderosa pine trees in Manton is the Monastery of St. John, a foundation of prayer, work and love for the Eastern Orthodox Christian monks who call it home, and a place of retreat and renewal for those who visit.
Founded in 2006 when the monks outgrew their original home at Point Reyes Station in Marin County, the Manton location was chosen after an extensive search that went beyond California. “We made the decision fairly quickly as soon as it was discovered,” says Hieromonk Innocent, the monastery’s Superior. “We had grown to about eight members at the time. After moving here, even more people came.” Manton offered land that could be developed with a church, and a milder climate for those who fared poorly on the coast.
The bells ring early at the Monastery of St. John, calling the monks to prayer at 5:55am. They move through a schedule of private and group contemplation that includes chanting, reading, singing and work designed to move them closer to God. “We’re finding our salvation,” says Innocent. “What that means is that we know that we are far from God and we realize that something has to change. We need to be transformed.” The spiritual tradition the monks follow was established in the fourth century by St. Pachomius and St. Basil.
Although the environment may be idyllic, the monastic life has its challenges, and these are embraced as part of the journey. “When we come and live this life and live this program, all the things that are hidden come to the surface. Then there is conflict, there is drama. And we tell God,” says Innocent. “It’s a years-long process of finding out how bad we really are and how much God really loves us.”
Innocent was raised an Evangelical Protestant Christian but converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity at age 29 after a mission trip to Siberia. “I came back and experienced shell shock,” he explains. “That led me on a path to search for what I really believe. It led me to the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church.”
While the Monastery of St. John is designed to facilitate a monastic life for its members, it also provides opportunities for visitors to experience renewal and retreat through its guest house. “It’s not a hotel,” says Innocent. “Guests are expected to come to services and the common meals. It’s a non-organized personal retreat.” Themed spiritual retreats are also offered a few times a year, and groups have enjoyed volunteer events in the mountain environment.
The monks pay for expenses through an online business selling beeswax candles and honey made onsite, as well as spiritual books found in their bookstore. “We make a lot of candles that are used in Eastern Orthodox churches,” says Innocent. “They are thinner. Most of our candles are used for prayer. Historically, monasteries, especially in Russia, rely heavily on candle-making and bee keeping. The reason we do candles is because we want to have something to keep us busy, to not be idle.”
The monks have been happy to help locals get started in beekeeping, as well. “We have a nucleus package – three or four frames with a queen bee,” he adds. “It connects us to the community. Bees work here because there are flowers. And it’s cold enough here that certain parasites don’t exist.”
For those not interested in keeping their own bees, but desiring honey, it’s available, as well. “People will deliberately come here for local honey. I like it when we can connect with other people that way.”
Although this year’s annual open house was canceled at the monastery due to precautions related to COVID-19, Innocent still believes in the message of the event. “We can show that it’s possible to live in community, to work things out, how to actually stay in one place. To honor the place, to honor the people. To go through the struggle of forgiveness.”
The path to forgiveness is so important that it’s how the monks end their long days of prayer and work. “At the end of the final service, we bow to each other and we say, ‘Please forgive me,’” says Innocent. “It’s the end of the day. You have to have forgiveness at the end of the day.”•
Monastery of St. Johnwww.monasteryofstjohn.org • 21770 Ponderosa Way, Manton