I must admit, asking to stay at Holy Cross Monastery for a 3-night retreat was partly because it was cheaper than B&B. But I am well pleased with the choice. One advantage of being a priest is that I have the whole retreat flat to myself. It is well equipped; I even found an iron and a cute little ironing board so I can wear my favorite long sleeved shirt. There is a large shady balcony where I am writing this.
The church was originally built for the German community, and is very large. As the population moved around, and perhaps became less religious, the diocese closed many churches and gave this one to the monks, who have been able to add some large new icons thanks to an anonymous donor. It was too dark to take photos in the church, so here is one of an information leaflet.
The first service I attended was Vespers. I was handed two thick ring binders and a leaflet of instructions on how to use them; being Holy Cross Day it was more complicated than usual and I could not attempt to join in the chants. The “little hours” of Terce, Sext and None are easier and I soon got the hang of the binders. I opted out of the 3:30 am service of Vigils the first morning, wanting to catch up on sleep after the train ride, but managed to get up for it on the other two days. What surprises me is the shortage of bible readings. Apart from Vigils (which is like the Office of Readings in the Missal but with far more psalms) and the Mass, only one short passage is read apart from the psalms, which are read on a weekly cycle. After all that chanting, I came away wanting to sing “proper” hymns.
I had wondered about their expectations of retreatants, but was reassured when Brother Ezekiel, the guest master, recommended a coffee shop and a park in the vicinity. It’s a beautiful day, and I walked round the park (see Chicago Wilderness) in the morning, and round the block after lunch, visiting a church with a many-domed roof (not Orthodox but Polish Catholic) and a Tibetan Buddhist temple on the way. I returned to the park a second day, and wrote a meditation on Creationtide for the blog.
There is also a small library of a dozen books in the sitting room – much more helpful to me than shelves and shelves. I am reading Finding Sanctuary by Christopher Jamison, Abbot of Worth, and if I finish it, there are several others which appeal. So it does feel like a retreat. Also, they pray for their guests.
I had lunch and supper with the monks. The first supper, in honour of their feast day, was homemade pizza, and as the only guest I had the doubtful privilege of cutting the first slice. Lunch, a more formal meal, was more enjoyable. Brother Ezekiel looked as if he was going to get the giggles when the reader announced a book about the discovery of the body of Richard III in Leicester, as we had been discussing this the day before. As for breakfast, I was prepared for this to be self-catering, but there is plenty in the fridge. In the event, the two B&B guests downstairs had their door open, and when I introduced myself invited me to join them. We had a good chat about travels, and Maya composed an email to me with some recommendations. I did have breakfast the next day, and the “plenty in the fridge” turned out to be several packets of waffles and a large jar of raspberry+cherry+rhubarb jam, as well as large containers of milk and orange juice.