The Incense of Eucalyptus and Pine, and a Hermit’s Cave in the Australian Bush
I accompanied Father Edward on a visit to the (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia) Our Lady of Kazan Convent at Kentlyn (an outer suburb of Sydney). We were graciously received by Abbess Maria, who kindly invited us to join her and the Nuns for luncheon.
A Monastery was established on the present site in the early 1950’s, and a monastic building and the All Saints Church were erected. The late 1950’s saw the arrival from China of an enormous wave of refugees, including those in monastic orders. The monastic buildings were given to Nuns in the late 1950’s, and the Monks established a skete in honour of St. John the Baptist on an adjoining property.
It seemed that the Convent would die out, but in 1984 a stream of young novices began to join. At that time work commenced on a new Church in honour of the Kazan Icon of the Holy Theotokos, together with a new building to house the monastic cells.
See further: http://www.kazanconvent.org/
Of particular interest to me on my visit to the Convent at Kentlyn was to visit the cave of the Hermit Father Guri (Demidov)(1894-1992), near to the St. John the Baptist Skete adjacent to to the Convent. Father Guri began living in the skete in 1960. Fr Edward and I walked along a dirt road and down a very steep and rocky path to the cave. The air was filled with the “incense” of pine (from the trees in the grounds of the Convent) and eucalyptus (from the gum trees in the surrounding thick bushland) – an entirely appropriately fragrant mixture for a Russian Hermit living in Australia. In overwhelming silence, punctuated only by the calls of native birds, we venerated the memory of the man who was (almost certainly) Australia’s first Orthodox Hermit.
For me it was an inspiring time, and an opportunity to reflect on the great lineage of Hermits whose path those of us who aspire to be their modern equivalents seek to walk (however unworthily).
This photograph is from an earlier visit to the cave by Abbess Maria (and the magnificent Convent dog) and a visiting Priest.
“Father Guri’s small cave, scene of his many hidden vigils and spiritual struggles, has been cleaned of the dirt and rubbish accumulated since his departure. A floor has been laid, overhanging rock walls strengthened, and icons and a burning lampada installed. Sanctified by Father Guri’s prayers and tears, this sandstone cleft, the Skete’s first ‘church’, has become a place of pilgrimage and quiet prayer for growing numbers of visitors to the Skete.” http://orthodoxwiki.org/St._John_the_Baptist_Skete_%28Kentlyn,_New_South_Wales%29
“Born in 1894, Fr Guri was a monastic in Harbin, China. Due to the cultural revolution, however, he moved to Australia, arriving on October 5, 1960, as a refugee. On arrival, he took up residence at St John the Baptist Skete, having been vacated the previous year. Living in a small, one room tin hut surrounded by thick bush he became its first, and only, monastic inhabitant. Fr Guri was devoted to prayer and craved solitude, and found both in the 18 hectare grounds of the skete, often attending daily services at the nearby Convent of Our Lady of Kazan.
In his search for silence, and in imitation of the monastic hermits of the Egyptian and Judean deserts, Mount Athos and the vast forests of Russia, Father Guri cleared out a natural cleft in a nearby sandstone rock face, making a small, cramped cave in which he would spend many hours reading prayers and using his prayer rope. This was his favourite retreat after communing at the Divine Liturgy. Only God and the holy Angels were witnesses to his prayerful vigils and struggles.
Father Guri was reputed to have had an extensive library on the ascetic life and hesychastic prayer (the use of the Jesus Prayer – the foundation of Orthodox Christian ascetic prayer). He would often laboriously copy excerpts from the writings of the Holy Fathers on the ascetic and spiritual life in small school exercise books. These anthologies, the fruit of his prayerful reading and spiritual struggles, he would give away as a blessing to those whom he felt would benefit from the wisdom of the Holy Fathers.”