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This is a small community of Orthodox Christian nuns (monastery) on the island of Saaremaa, Estonia, which supports itself mainly by beekeeping and gardening.
This place is a "daughter" of a monastery in Thessaly, Greece, near the village of Anatoli on Mt. Kissavos that aso supports itself through organic agriculture, mainly by cheesemaking. Counting the nuns both here and at the mother monastery, thirteen nationalities are represented, which gives the community certain advantages for welcoming visitors of various backgrounds.
In parallel with communal and personal prayer, the community on Saaremaa keeps bees (about 50 hives) and a substantial garden. The rhythm of the day is marked by church services (mostly in Estonian and with the Byzantine style of chanting, early morning and late evening in the chapel, except for Divine Liturgy later in the morning, usually once a week, in the Church of St. Andrew,) and meals (normally taken separately by nuns and visitors), punctuating periods of work and rest.
Approximatey 4000 visitors come here each year, mostly during the summer months. The place supports itself mainly through the sale of honey and other agricultural products, and by producing its own fruits and vegetables, bread, and dairy products with milk from a nearby farm. Bread, herbal teas, soaps, and salves are also made here.
During the quiet months of winter (December-March), besides carrying firewood, shoveling snow, etc., the nuns paint icons, practice various handcrafts, translate spiritual and liturgical texts, and arrange melodies for chanting in the church services. Because outdoor work is so limited during this period, visiting then probably only makes sense if someone is seriously interested in the monastic life.
All residents here are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Staying here means being immersed in rural Estonian culture --
the sounds: songs of swamp cranes and nightengales, breeze through aspens, buzz of grazing bees, 200-year-old church bells;
the smells: an ever-changing mosaic of blossoms, mowed hay, occasionally the manure and diesel that make it all possible;
the tastes: bread from grain grown and milled by the neighbors, eggs from down the road, fish from off the coast of Saaremaa, dairy products made at the monastery from milk from the same cows that eat the silo grown on the monastery's fields, fruits and vegetables from the monastery garden, honey from the monastery bees;
the sights: a mind-boggling variety of wildflowers, everywhere trees with personality, forest creatures of all kinds, an old and very actively maintained cemetery, homesteads from various time periods and in varying stages of decay or renewal
Just contemplating all of that is a huge learning experience in itself, and participating in this "ecosystem" even for a short time -- by gathering herbs or weeding, making the tour of the bee yards, meeting the residents of the leaf compost pile, etc. -- lets it sink into one's skin much more deeply than any touristic encounter with a place.
It also offers the opportunity to interact with Orthodox Christian monastics, who correspond on the human side with the centuries-old churches that dot the landscape.
While Workawayers have their own living space and can arrange their daily schedule as is comfortable for them, work together in the garden offers the opportunity to share techniques and experiences with growing the following vegetables and fruits in this type of climate (hardiness zone 5): potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, leeks, garlic, tomatoes, basil, kohlrabi, green peas, green beans, mint, various wild-growing herbs, apples, red and black currants, strawberries, raspberries, plums, pears, cherries. Workawayers will have the opportunity, depending on the season, to participate in all phases of the process (planting, pruning, protecting from diseases and pests, harvesting, processing) and trade tips with the nuns on how things can best be done.
Currently there are native speakers of Estonian and English here; language practice is also available in Finnish, Greek and Italian.
Visitors can help with all the work that takes place outside the monastery's main building, which means gardening (planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, compost and fertilizer production and application), landscaping (mowing with a riding and/or push mower, using a trimmer), gathering cultivated and wild-growing herbs for tea, salves and soaps (for example mother-of-thyme, St. John's wort, calendula).
Help is also welcome with the beekeeping -- not up-close with the bees, unless the visitor is an experienced professional beekeeper, but rather with preparing or cleaning frames and hive boxes, possibly also helping with honey harvest.
Rainy day activities include packing seeds, soaps and herbal teas; fashioning wicks for oil lamps out of Greek horehound blossoms; various tasks in the beekeeping workshop.
Visitors may also participate in seasonal tasks such as making firewood (splitting with a hydraulic splitter, stacking, transferring dry firewood to woodshed) and working to restore the wooded meadow landscape, either with hand tools or a chainsaw or trimmer, depending on the visitor's level of experience.
This host offers a language exchange
This is an ideal place to work on learning the Estonian language, as some of the sisters are native speakers and the others have been through the learning process, so that each can help in their own way. In the height of summer, there is little time for formal lessons, but in general we can offer abundant opportunities for language practice.
Visitors can stay next to the monastery's main building in a tiny but comfortable two-bed guesthouse with heating, hot water, insect screens, and a refrigerator and cupboard stocked with bread, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, etc.
The midday meal is cooked within the monastery; eating at other times is organized independently. Fish is sometimes served, otherwise the food is either ovo-lacto-vegetarian or vegan, depending on the time of year.
Bedsheets, blankets and towels are provided. Laundry is done within the monastery once a week or as needed. Visitors normally clean the guesthouse themselves once a week.
Note: camping of any kind is not permitted on monastery territory.
Getting to the monastery by bus is cheap (15-18 euros from Tallinn) and very easy.
Local buses, free of cost, can take you to the most interesting sites on Saaremaa (Kuressaare with its castle, Kaali crater, Panga cliff, Mandjala beach, Sõrve peninsula, Koigi bog, Vilsandi nature preserve, several medieval churches). The monastery also has bicycles available, and already within walking distance there are some very beautiful areas, including Reo cemetery and the Reo-Tahula nature preserve.
Limited internet access
We have pets
We are smokers
Can host families
Expected is certainly not more than 25 hours/week, though in the atmosphere of the monastery the line between working and resting is very blurry.
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