It isn’t for everyone. Those who do decide to enter monastic life say it is the result of an undeniable calling. Nuns are female ascetics who choose to voluntarily leave the world and live life in prayer and contemplation in a monastery. In the Greek Orthodox tradition, these establishments are not referred to as nunneries.
The sisters submit themselves to a life of voluntary servitude. “It’s a calling from God,” agree Sisters Philothei and Theophano, who graciously invited KCM for a tour of their seasonal Christmas store, The Sisters Touch of Christmas.
When Sister Philothei reached out to KCM to promote the store, she made sure to highlight the unique, artisan nature of their annual fundraiser. Aside from the virtues of the store itself, we asked to learn more about what the funds raised were going to support. Since 2003, the initiative has been the main source of “funding for the many programs that we do throughout the year and support various private families,” she explained.
The Sisters of St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery, located on the border of King and Caledon are renowned for their efforts in and service to the community.
Of course, the heart of monastic life is the church. “It gives you inner peace, happiness and fulfilment,” explains Sister Theophano. “You are serving your Lord and trying to do good works.” Congregants, many of whom come from diverse orthodox backgrounds, travel from across Ontario on a consistent basis in order to attend.
The monastery is open for regular services, after which the sisters like to hold small social gatherings, with light refreshments. In that relaxed atmosphere congregants feel at ease to share their burdens or knowledge of others in need within the community.
Much of their time is spent in prayer, delivering hot meals to the elderly, visiting the sick and performing works of compassion. They’ll often serve as liaisons within the community too. “There’s a lot of good people with a lot of love in their hearts,” explains Sister Philothei, “We’ve never heard ‘no.’ People genuinely want to help other people.”
They seek out opportunities where they feel they can help, and work with Greek Orthodox youth by coaching on spiritual matters and hosting day retreats. During Christmas the sisters hold a charity drive for new clothing, toys and food donations to give to those who are struggling or have temporarily fallen on hard times.
Volunteers frequently donate their time and resources to the monastery, helping maintain the grounds, working at the gift shop and performing other work that frees up the sisters to focus on their core duties and responsibilities. Members of the community are just as generous to the sisters as the sisters are in their outreach, often bringing gifts of food from their farms or gardens.
The Sisters Touch of Christmas is an exclusive gift shop, stocked with carefully selected unique items sourced from around the globe and with artisan products made by the sisters. Much of the year is spent in preparation for the store with each sister lending her talents to the effort.
“It’s a touch of everything,” beams Sister Philothei, pointing to the fine assortment of nativity scenes, jewellery, baked goods, hand-painted ceramics and ornaments (which they are happy to personalize for their customers), exquisite seasoned olive oils, artisan bath and beauty products, and so much more. The handpainted dishes and ornaments are done in the traditional Greek style by the Mother Superior. Each is one-of-a-kind and often embellished by the sisters as a contribution to the group effort of stocking the store.
“We really try to bring things of good quality that you can’t find anywhere else. We put a lot of effort into finding things. It takes a year to put all this together,” explains Sister Philothei, “The hand painting never stops.”
All of the sisters pitch in with the baking, a highlight of the Christmas store. “We do it the old-fashioned way. It’s fresh, and that’s why it tastes so good,” states sister Philothei.
As much as The Sisters Touch of Christmas is a team effort, individual talents shine through for the progress of the monastery. The calibre of the store is evidence of mastery in pastry making, sewing, graphic design and fine art. But, after all, the purpose of the store is to raise money to support their community outreach efforts.
To this end, while they all support it, not all of the sisters take the lead in stocking various accents of the store. Instead, some focus more intimately on sourcing community outreach opportunities such as support for the Yellow Brick House, a place for abused women and children in York Region.
It’s nice to know that when you buy something so delicious and beautiful for Christmas, your hard earned money is going to support the community work done by The Sisters of St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery.