The Signature Circleis going to continue to amaze you. We KNOW there are knitters in every part of the world and with every sort of life experience and I want to introduce you to a very special woman whose title is Mother at her work!
All of us here at Signature feel like we have been blessed with coming to know the gracious Mother Seraphima who is the head of the Holy Nativity Convent (link: http://holynativityconvent.com/) inBrooklineMA. She and the other sisters have become so close to all of us regardless of our own personal faith or even if we are not so religious. Having them in our corner is something that makes us all feel loved.
Time after time they have offered their prayers and their kindnesses never cease to astonish all the folks here. They have sent us items they sell and make which we all enjoy—especially knowing it is from them. We all know that they are always ready to offer support when we have sad times and joyful celebration when things go well.
She has a very different life than anyone I have ever known. As a life long Lutheran we don’t have nuns. Even my Catholic friends have not had much contact with women who choose the cloistered life. Mother Seraphima is always willing to answer questions about the life she and the others live.
It is amazing that she also is an unbelievable “executive” who has linked the Convent to the outside world in order for them to be self-supporting. The charitable knitting they do is always a great example for what we all might want to do to help others.
I am not sure what I would have expected in the life of women who have made this sort of life long commitment to the religious life but now knowing Mother Seraphima and others, like the funny and clever Mother Pelagia, I know that you will enjoy taking a peak into their world.
1. Tell us about Holy Nativity Convent and how long you have lived there?
I entered the convent in 1971 just a few months before I turned 21, as a new convert to the Greek Orthodox Church. The convent was in its first years of formation. We are now a small community of 18 sisters, and for the most part, our convent is self-supporting. We support ourselves with our handicrafts, which consist of: making 100% pure beeswax candles, sewing vestments for Orthodox churches, painting Byzantine icons and making icons, crosses, cards and quotation plaques on the laser-engraver machine. And of late, due to an extension we put on we’ve been able to re-establish our craft room on a permanent basis – this room is set up with our knitting needles (of course our favorites being our “Sigs”), yarn, several spinning wheels and looms and carders. And of late, Mother Macrina (one of our iconographers) has gotten very involved in making batts for spinning, and has established an Etsy shop (InglenookFibers) (link: http://www.etsy.com/shop/inglenookfibers) which has also been contributing to our support. Basically the knitting and woven things we make are given to charitable causes, or are gifts to friends and benefactors.
Caption: The Convent last winter
We have a small house-chapel where we gather together for our services several times a day, and a good part of our day and evening are devoted to these communal services. Plus, the sisters also say their private prayers in their rooms. We also gather together in our dining room for communal meals, at which time the lives of the Saints of the day are read, or homilies on a current feast. We also have some lovely flower gardens to provide flowers for our chapel, and a moderate sized vegetable garden … We also have 6 cats, who love to spend their time in the craft room – but are really well-behaved when it comes to not unwinding balls of yarn (smiley emoticon).
People often can’t imagine what we do with our time, and say “What do you DO all day long in the convent? Doesn’t it get boring?” – but truth be told, we are constantly busy and have very little free time or personal time. On a basic level, there is daily cooking and cleaning for 18 – 25 persons, a large house to care for, orders to be kept up with, and above all – our church services.
2. What is the proper method of dress for your order?
The proper dress for our order is a full length, long-sleeved black dress (in a style that’s been worn for hundreds of years), a leather belt, and a sleeveless vest worn over these… a triangle-shaped large scarf worn over our heads covering our hair (a “wimple”) and during church services we also wear an outer, over-robe and either a veil or a cowl on our heads (depending on if it’s a larger or smaller service). The sisters who have taken their final vows also wear an embroidered scapular-type garment with a large cross embroidered on it ( called a schema), and a sort-of macrame, woven yoke-type piece which has many crosses formed in it to signify the carrying of many crosses (called a polystavrion). Those who have taken their final vows also have a smaller or larger red cross embroidered on the forehead part of their veil or cowl.
3. How do people react to seeing you since there are not as many Sisters as there once were?
This is a question with an evolving answer. May I begin answering it with a backtrack? When I first came to the convent 40 years ago and we would be out on errands, people would frequently greet us and say “Good morning, Sister – could you say a prayer for me …” and often happening would be for someone to pull out a photo and say “Hello Sister, I have a sister who’s been a Sister of St. Francis for 50 years ….” or “I have two cousins who are teaching sisters of St Joseph in the schools in south Boston …” … as the 70′s progressed, people would often look at us, but not react with such warmth … and the children would often look at us and say “What are you guys, ninja’s? Or are you witches? What are you?”
Another time, a lady approached us in the grocery store and was laughing her head off – she said “My son said, look mama – there are emergency sisters over there! And she asked him why he thought we were emergency sisters, and he answered, ‘they’re wearing red crosses!’” (smiley emoticon) After 9-11, people really look at us with some concern and caution. When they realize we’re wearing crosses and we’re nuns, they relax … when we notice they seem nervous to see us, we try to smile and make a comment about the weather or something light to help diffuse their nervousness. We also, since 9-11, wear a large neck cross when we go out.
All in all, once people understand that we’re nuns, they’re kindly and from time to time people will also say that it’s so nice to see nuns in full habits again…
4. What does a Mother Superior do as her job description?
My duties as a Mother Superior consist in overseeing, in a general way, the workings of the convent – the finances, supplies, correspondance, tending to the various needs of the sisters, tending to the upkeep of the convent building and grounds… Each department of the convent has a direct overseer, and then I meet with them to see what supplies are needed, how things are going, etc. I help sisters on a more practicle and personal level as well.
5. How do you interact with the world outside the Convent?
We are semi-cloistered, but do go out for our shopping needs, to visit sick people in the hospitals, go to our local yarn store (smiley emoticon), pick up visitors from the airport… We have a good relationship with our neighbors and local businesses, who we try to support as we can. A local group of ladies that we met at our local yarn store started an organization called “Brookline Keeps Smiling”, which performs different charitable acts during the course of the year, and we annually contribute to their drive for knitted goods for the veterans at Christmas-time – and we join in various other activities that they do, plus our own church community activities.
6. When did you learn to knit and how often do you get to knit?
When I was 7 or 8 years old my beloved Grandmother taught me how to knit simple things – but my mother re-married and we moved away, and after a while, the knitting fell by the wayside. I get jealous when I hear stories of girls who were taught knitting and crochet from an early age and were able to carry it through under the tutorage of their mother or grandmother … I kept having the urge to take it up again, over the years, and about six years ago I got some needles and some yarn and just started to take up knitting again. My knitting time is kind-of sporadic – just depending how the days go … unexpected things are always happening here… So I try to be a good thief and steal time whenever I can. Sometimes when we’re having meetings about the work areas, or making the menu for the week I knit while I’m listening and giving my input. It’s been my great joy that other sisters have taken it up, and we are able to enjoy it collectively.
7. How much knitting goes on at the Convent? What do the sisters make?
The sisters love to do some knitting as time permits -sometimes in doctors’ offices, and as a “wind-down” before bed, and what’s so nice is that it’s so quiet and repetitive, we can say our prayers while knitting. The sisters make everything from scarves, mittens, hats, fingerless mitts, baby sweaters, triangle shawls, baby blankets, and small knitted animals (for Christmas stocking and Easter basket stuffers).
8. Tell us about the trip you lead every year.
We are co-workers with the local men’s monastery here, in leading an annual pilgrimage to the Holy Land every fall. This pilgrimage includes visits to: The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and many churches and ancient monasteries in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Bethany, Nazareth, Lazarus’ Tomb, Galilee, Mt Tabor, Jacob’s Well – we are immersed in the Jordan River, and we also take a 2 day trip to the 6th century monastery of Saint Catherine in the South Sinai Penninsula of Egypt. We basically visit the major shrines in the Holy Land. The sisters chant the church hymns for saints or feasts at all the shrines.
9. What is something that most people would be surprised learning about life in your Convent?
I think the fact that we are so busy. People frequently ask us if we watch TV or read the newspapers … we don’t have a TV and we don’t have a subscription to the newspaper…. but we wouldn’t have time to watch the TV or read the newspapers anyway – we’re just simply too busy. Our time is taken up with our services and our work … and no, we don’t take vacations or get days off (smiley emoticon)! Even the annual pilgrimage to the Holy Land is tightly scheduled in order to see everything – and it’s not a leisurely tour …
10. How did you meet the Signature folks?
When I was in the orthopedic doctor’s office one day, I was looking at a magazine on arthritis, and there was an advertizement for Signature needles beeing good for people with arthritis, due to the sharp points … and I also like the fact that one could set up one’s own design of caps, style of point, etc. and so we put in an order… and of course we fell in love with these wonderful needles from the start – and then later we received such a nice, warm letter from you, Cathy … and it’s been such a nice bond ever since.
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