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St. John the Baptist Skete (Kentlyn, New South Wales)

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In 1956 the then head of the Sydney, Australia and New Zealand Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), Archbishop Sava, commissioned Hieromonk Dimitry (Obuhoff) to establish a monastery at Kentlyn (near Campbelltown, SW Sydney) on land donated by Protodeacon Peter Grishaev. The Archbishop recruited three candidates to test their vocation to the monastic life with Father Dimitry, and on the 16th of September 1956 the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated.
Sadly, by March 1959 Father Dimitry had been transferred to care for the Russian parish at Geelong, Victoria; two of the novices returned to secular life, and the third, Michael Sorokhin, was left in charge of the Diocesan workshop and candle factory in an adjoining rugged and densely timbered sandstone property that later became Saint John the Baptist Skete.
'''Monk Guri'''
On the 5th of October 1960 Monk Guri (Demidov), recently arrived as a refugee from the Russian community in Harbin, China, came to Kentlyn and took up residence at Saint John the Baptist Skete. Living in a small one room tin hut surrounded by thick bush he became its first, and sadly, only monastic inhabitant.
Father Guri was devoted to prayer, and craved a life of solitude, which he found in the 18 hectare grounds of the Skete, often attending daily services at the nearby Convent of Our Lady of Kazan.
'''Father Guri’s Cave'''
In his search for silence, and in imitation of the monastic hermits of the Egyptian and Judean deserts, the Holy 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.
'''His Love of the Holy Fathers'''
Father Guri was reputed to have had an extensive library on the ascetic life and hesychastic prayer (the use of the Jesus Prayer - also called the Prayer of the Heart - ’Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ - 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.
'''Father Guri’s Solitary Labours and Repose'''
Over the succeeding years Father Guri laboured with Michael Sorokhin, together with volunteers from the Russian Orthodox community in Sydney, to erect a small brick building containing six monastic cells surrounding a large central room that was intended to be part of a large monastic church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. It was not to be completed. He waited alone, praying that others would join him.
Old age eventually forced Father Guri to move from his beloved isolation at the Skete to a small hut in the Convent grounds, and finally to the Saint Sergius Nursing Home, Cabramatta. He died in deep old age at 98 years on the 23rd of August 1992. This faithful monk is buried in Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney.
'''A New Beginning'''
In 1999 Hieromonk Joachim received a canonical release from the Serbian Orthodox Church to the ROCOR. He was invited by the current diocesan bishop, Archbishop Hilarion, to rebuild the Kentlyn Skete and restore coenobitic monastic life, as well as providing a base for missionary work amongst English speaking Australians.
With the help of a very small group of faithful volunteers, the past four and a half years have seen the neglected grounds cleared of decades of rubbish and undergrowth, the Skete building secured and made temporarily habitable and weatherproof. There is now modest accommodation, an office, dining room and, most importantly, a prayer room or chapel where the monastic labour of the Hours of prayer according to the typicon of the Orthodox Church are said daily.
'''Worshipping in English'''
With the blessing of Abbess Evpraxia, Father Joachim has been permitted the use of the old monastery Church of All Saints in the neighbouring Our Lady of Kazan Monastery. A small congregation from various national backgrounds - Russian, Cypriot, Greek, Palestinian, Serbian, Lebanese, and Australian converts - attend the Divine Liturgy served in English every Sunday and on major feast days.
'''Father Guri’s Cave Renewed'''
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.
'''Following Father Guri’s Example'''
Where Father Guri would record by hand in exercise books the results of his prayerful reading, the Skete now publishes an English language monthly journal - ‘The Voice’ - using the benefits of contemporary computer technology and desktop publishing. Following Father Guri's example, it is a modest attempt to make the treasures of the Orthodox faith available in English to Australian Orthodox Christians and enquirers.
'''Our Goal - Rebuilding the Skete'''
The first priority when Father Joachim arrived at Kentlyn was to make the Skete habitable, remove tons of accumulated rubbish and clearing the surrounding bush to reduce the threat of bushfires. While cautious and economical expense has been used to make the old building liveable - the main endeavour has always been to raise funds to rebuild.
Mr Nicholas Proskurin of Leda Building Plans P/L has kindly prepared the architectural plans for the rebuilding of the Skete. Development approval has been given by Campbelltown City Council.
'''An Invitation to Help'''
Orthodox Christians who value traditional Orthodox monastic life and the vital importance in plays in the life of the church are invited to help Hieromonk Joachim rebuild the Skete, and complete what Father Guri began 46 years ago.
If Orthodox monasticism is to grow and flourish in Australia then there must be Orthodox monasteries.
St John the Baptist Skete
PO Box 321X
Leumeah NSW 2560
Tel: (02) 46263945
The Divine Liturgy is celebrated in English each Sunday and most wednesdays at 8.30 am in the old monastery church of All Saints, Smith Street, Kentlyn (near Campbelltown, South West Sydney) - Molieben and Akathist to the Theotokos is served every Tuesday evening in All Saints Church at 6.30 pm. Panikhida (Memorial service for the departed) served each Satruday at 8.30am. Prayer requests welcome.

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