Those mysterious women in black

July 21, 2006
Santa Paula News

Perhaps some Santa Paula residents have noticed women draped in black from head to toe patronizing some of the local businesses.

By Father Alexander Lisenko, St. Barbara Monastery ChaplainPerhaps some Santa Paula residents have noticed women draped in black from head to toe patronizing some of the local businesses. Undoubtedly, some may have thought these were Muslim women, while others guessed, correctly, that these are nuns, and the question, then, is to what order do they belong. The answer they usually give when questioned is that they are Russian Orthodox nuns--but that still must leave questions in the minds of many, since none of them have any trace of a foreign accent and seem to be quite at home in this environment. In fact, the religious body to which they belong, the Orthodox Church in America, is an outgrowth of the Russian Orthodox Mission which first set foot in Russian-owned Alaska at the end of the eighteenth century which had been functioning on its own ever since the Communist takeover in Russia. The fact is that these sisters were all born in this country and, with the exception of two of them, who are what we call “cradle Orthodox”, are converts with little or no ethnic ties to Orthodoxy. They come from a diversity of ethnic backgrounds and religious affiliations, which include Roman Catholicism and various Protestant groups.What are they doing in Santa Paula? They are all part of St. Barbara Monastery, which was started in small house in Santa Barbara in 1992 by its founder, Abbess Victoria. Eventually, the community grew, moved to other houses, and ended up occupying two houses in a Goleta subdivision. But by last year the two houses were full and others were wishing to join. With house prices being what they are in the Santa Barbara area, it was decided to move to a more rural setting outside Santa Barbara. It was on their second property-hunting expedition that they first beheld the nearly four acre property bordering Sisar Creek on Ojai Rd. a quarter of a mile past Thomas Aquinas College, and right away they knew that this was what they were looking for. Although it was obvious that the beautiful cedar home with its four bedrooms would be insufficient for the community, there was plenty of room to build.All this happened last July. By late September the community had settled in and set up a chapel in what had been the great room of the house, with windows looking out toward Santa Paula Mountain. Ever since then, there has been a regular round of liturgical services, while the monastery has been gradually moving ahead with plans to build a wing onto the original house with additional rooms for the sisters. And they plan to build a proper chapel as well. By December a gravel parking lot was put in to accommodate participants in occasional events at the monastery.
Local residents have been very welcoming and helpful to the community. In particular, Thomas Aquinas College has demonstrated neighborly willingness to be of assistance. What do the sisters do? Prayer is at the center of the monastery’s life. Beyond that, the sisters show hospitality to a steady stream of visitors. And the monastery often hosts day-long group retreats, as well as well as retreats for individuals who wish to stay for a few days. One of the sisters teaches in an Orthodox school in Goleta, commuting there during the school year. The community also operates a small bookstore, sometimes taking it on the road to area Orthodox churches.St. Barbara Monastery is happy to receive visitors from the area. Just give the monastery a call at 921-1563. Whether you wish to spend a relaxing afternoon or are plain curious, you will fInd a warm welcome.

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