Dear and precious readers,
I have just learned of the falling asleep of a very important person in the story of my own journey to Orthodoxy - Father Laurence Mancuso, the founder of New Skete Monastery.
I could write literally pages of stories about Abba Laurence and how he affected my life, but I won't waste your time.
I will only say that a rag-tag group of refugees from Evangelicalism washed up on his doorstep at New Skete Monastery in Cambridge, NY and he, along with the monks and nuns and companions there, received us, washed our wounds, loved us, corrected us, instructed us, and gave us a safe place to decompress from one world to the new world of Orthodoxy.
His gruff exterior notwithstanding, this convert to Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism, along with his entire monastery, entered Orthodoxy and began to enliven the Church with their passion for worship, prayer, and service. He was a crusty old Italian man who opened his arms and heart to me and offered me fatherly wisdom and respect and counsel.
I will tell one story.
Having not been exposed to much liturgical worship in my past, I was visiting New Skete Monastery for the first time with my mentor and spiritual father, Father Joseph. We spent hours talking and I would ask questions and argue and wrestle with the responses of Abba Laurence and finally we had to go to sleep for worship the next morning. As I stood in the church building there on the grounds of the monastery and heard the liturgy chanted by the monks and nuns and faithful I was uncharacteristically speechless at the end.
I sat down in one of the few chairs in the back of the church building and was silent. Fr. Joseph sat down on one side of me and Abba Laurence sat down on the other side. We sat there in silence for what had to be at least 10 minutes or more. Later they both confessed to me that they thought the experience had been too much for me and were concerned that I was ready to abandon the journey.
Finally after the 10 minutes I turned to Fr. Joseph and asked him "What have you done to me?" As a look of sadness and fear came across his face I followed up with "Now I have no choice, I must have this beauty. My life as I have known it is over." I then turned to Abba Laurence and said "You have ruined me. I cannot go back to my old Christian experience of worship ever again. What am I going to do now?"
Tears welled up in the old Abba's eyes and he fell on my neck and asked my forgiveness.
There was nothing to forgive. My heart and soul had never been more alive.
I owe an eternal debt to Abba Laurence and the faithful of New Skete Monastery.
May your memory be eternal, Abba. Pray for your son who is left behind to continue the fight.
God grant rest to the soul of Your departed servant, Laurence!
I love you, Abba.
Barnabas, the debtor and fool
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