Various types of spiritual lifestyles exist in Daviess County, MO, from traditional Christian congregations worshipping in church buildings that dot the landscape to the Amish …and even a monastery within the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Speaking in 2017 Father David Alexii (Fr. Paisius) describes the peaceful, isolated monastic community at the northwestern edge of Daviess County as “a place for the soul to catch its breath.” It’s definitely a dramatic change from the inner city world he came from.
Father Alexii was a parish priest in Kansas City. His ministry, Reconciliation Services, offered counseling, material aid, medicine, and job training to the city’s poor and disenfranchised. It was located on Troost Avenue, a prominent racial and economic dividing line in Kansas City. He was there for more than 20 years.
“Daviess County is a world apart,” Father Alexii said. The change from city to backwoods was not rapid. Nor was the change from preacher to priest.
Father Alexii was a protestant pastor from 1973 to 1993. He and his wife, Thelma, had six children. Reconciliation Ministries started as an interdenominational outreach in 1987. Eventually it became a local parish under the Serbian Orthodox Church called “St. Mary of Egypt.” He and his wife converted and received new names. His new name was Paisius.
Father Paisius was ordained a priest in the Serbian Orthodox Church in 2001. Later in 2012, Father Alexii’s wife passed away. In 2013, after prayer and reflection, he became an Orthodox hieromonk or priest-monk. His name was changed again, this time to Alexii. He then spent about a year at a monastery in Northern Greece.
Father Alexii returned from his pilgrimage with the purpose of founding a men’s monastery. He discovered a place for his skete (or small monastery) on an 80-acre piece of property south of Weatherby. It was purchased in 2014.
On a hot and humid summer day, a visit to the retreat finds a sister making prayer beads, a monk cooking lunch, and several volunteers working outside in the garden and tool sheds. Two dogs and some cats wander about. One dog is a border collie called Ursa. “As of yet, she has no sheep to herd, so she herds frogs at the frog pond,” says Father Alexii. The other dog, Lex, is a weiner-type spotted dog that occasionally lets out a sharp yelp. He is not in pain. He just wants to be picked up and carried.
Father Alexii is happy to take people on a tour of the grounds. There are 80 acres, with 15-acres of farmable pasture, 65-acres of forest, trails, and ponds, and seven structures. Mennonites and Amish have built two residences and one greenhouse. These are the buildings with the green roofs. A vineyard and cemetery have been added recently. A storm cellar is presently being dug.
There are two communities at the Holy Archangel Michael and All Angels Skete retreat. One side is the monastery and the other side is for the sisterhood. The brotherhood has two monks, one novice, and a monastic worker; and the sisterhood has three nuns and one novice.
Volunteers from all over the country provide labor at the retreat, but a great deal of the help comes from local folks. “Our neighbors have been incredible,” says Father Alexii. “They have baled hay, given us a brush hog to cut the trails, and hauled manure for the vineyard. One neighbor gave us a swarm of bees that is now flourishing. Two young men chose us for their Eagle Scout projects. We gained a smokehouse and a cemetery fence.”
He points out numerous raised garden beds, greenhouses, and an orchard that has peach trees, pear trees, apple, cherry, etc. “We are following a permaculture model,” Father Alexii says. “Everything is complimentary and balanced. Permaculture has three core values: care for the earth; care for the people and share the surplus.”
Father Alexii talks enthusiastically about planting and harvesting, but admits he is no expert. “I’m learning to be a farmer as I go,” he said.
The latest farming project is a two-acre vineyard. About 1,800 vines were planted in May. The monastery will grow communion wine and has already arranged with the diocese to provide their product to 40 churches, from Illinois to Texas.
“Last fall a bulldozer turned up the ground three feet down,” says Father Alexii. “We added 16 tons of manure, 15 tons of sand, and fertilizer. When they turned it over last fall, it was five feet high. When they went to plow and till in May, the ground had set to only six or eight inches.”
The vines were planted with something called a hydro bug on a sprayer. The hydro bug is used to make a hole in the soil with water allowing for space for the new vines. Blue glow tubes protect the tender vines from rabbit and deer. “We left some of the rows between the vines in grass to work the vines from; the other is tilled to soak up the rain,” he said.
“Eventually, we will install a four-wire trellis system.” Since closing on the property, the mortgage has gone from $387,000 to $268,301 currently, thanks to the assistance of many with down payment and monthly donations. Slowly but surely, the monastic community is becoming what Father Alexii envisioned it to be. His future plans include a new church on the grounds.
Inside the trapeze building on the monastery is a large dining table. One the table is a glass box. Inside the glass is a small model of a cathedral-looking building with domes and conical roof. Father Alexii hopes to build this new church building in the style of architecture known as Eastern Orthodox. He wants to build it where the raised garden beds are located now. He doesn’t know when that will come to pass.
“Things are going much faster than expected,” he said. “It’s in God’s hands.”
Father Alexii seems to have found peace in his northwest Missouri retreat. “In the middle of the city, we tried to create a sense of village,” he said. “That sense of village is already here in Daviess County.”
— written by T.L. Huffman for the Gallatin North Missourian, 2017