Meant as a form of local missionary outreach to the region, the Second Annual “Men in Black” Series sponsored by the Saint Elias Orthodox Church in Diamond Springs, CA, was held on the 13 and 14 of February 2015. This year’s keynote speaker was Sister Vassa, of the popular video program “Coffee with Sister Vassa.” Below Marcia Brim, one of the series' organizers, gives a brief account about the “Men in Black” Series and Sister Vassa’s visit.
Buddhist monks travel from Tibet each year to spend a week in Placerville, CA. They are making a significant impact on our community. Around here the mere mention of the word “monk” evokes orange robes, shaved heads and sand mandalas. They stroll the streets, and set up shop in the upper room of the Cozmic Café where seekers flock. The local paper covers them like celebrities.
As the only Orthodox Christian Church in the area, they’ve challenged us: Are we making a difference?
Can a small parish that no one’s heard of influence the notions of a community that assumes monks wear orange? We decided to try by bringing in the “men in black”. In February, 2014 we invited Abbot Tryphon to hang out at the Cosmic Café and to speak at the event center across the street from our parish. He made a difference sharing his story, strolling the streets in black and connecting with countless people, especially the owner of the Cosmic Café.
This last February we invited Sister Vassa (Larin). On a Friday night, she engaged about 60 youth in the same upper room where monks in orange created a sand mandala just weeks prior. The following day, she spoke to a packed house at an event center that targeted people who see themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Her outstanding talk was recorded and should provide a topic of conversation for years to come.
As a small Russian Orthodox parish with a convert priest and the majority of parishioners who are converts too, we do not have a large enough ethnic base to reach out with food festivals and fund raisers. But using the organizational skills, generosity and faithful prayers of the people we do have, God blessed.
We have yet to make the front page of the local newspaper, and two years of visits from monastics in black may have only begun to expand the color palette that locals associate with the word “monk”. But it’s a beginning. Pray that we will remain faithful in our annual attempts to introduce Orthodox Christianity and its ancient practice of monasticism to our community.
Article by Marcia Brim