RELIGION

The Byzantine Catholic Monks Who Live In Quiet Harmony On The Shores Of Lake Superior

04/29/2015 02:19 pm ET | Updated Apr 29, 2015

MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP) - A monk's life isn't for everybody, but the beauty and spirituality of one monastery is depicted in the new documentary "Gladsome Light."

The film, by Negaunee Township native Dustin Katona and Denver native Jeffrey Geniesse, shows the life of the Byzantine Catholic monks living at the Holy Transfiguration Skete according to The Mining Journal ( http://bit.ly/1GB1J6j ). The monastery is located near Eagle Harbor.

The monks might be better known to travelers as operators of the Jampot, a seasonal bakery on M-26 known for its jams and jellies made from hand-picked local berries and confections such as Abbey Cake.

However, the monks are so much more, and their mission and philosophy was detailed in the film, which premiered Saturday at Thomas Theatres in Marquette Township.

Katona and Geniesse now live in Askeaton, Wisconsin, and make up the Marquette Cinema Coalition, which created the film.

Katona said the filmmakers had worked on the documentary for two years.

The primary motive was originally to create a vocational promotion video for the monastery, but it became more of an artistic piece to show how much the monks cultivate the arts and their way of life and their mission and to share that, Katona said.

The monks start and end their day with prayer and liturgy, he said.

"That is their primary vocation, is to pray for the world and all creation," Katona said.

In addition with running the Jampot, they host musical events such as piano recitals and concerts featuring classical guitar, many of which are open to the public to help people experience the monastery.

The filmmakers made eight trips in which they spent anywhere from two to four days, although Katona called it "a joy and a blessing" to spend time with the monks.

"They're contemplative, however, they're always in action," Katona said. "There's a synergy between being quiet in the heart as well as acting out in the world as Christ."

Monasticism involves disregarding the importance of worldly goods and ambitions, and embracing poverty, chastity and obedience, with prayer at the center of monk life.

That philosophy is reflected in "Gladsome Light." Katona said the monks truly believe that they're there because God has called them, and prayer is central to their existence.

"They believe that with all their heart, so their prayer is their primary work," Katona said.

The film includes footage of the monks' ceremonies, with harmonic singing and stunning slow motion shots of an incense burner on a chain being swung inside the ornate religious interior of the monastery.

Geniesse said he was overwhelmed with the experience of creating the film about the monastery.

"It transformed myself inside," Geniesse said. "I didn't know what was happening. I walked in and I was transfixed and awestruck by their presence and their gentleness and their peace of mind and their liturgy. Everything about them, top to bottom, was extremely beautiful and unique."

The monastic call is ancient, he said.

"The first monastics were living in the desert in caves, and this is is very similar to that, except for they're on the water," Geniesse said. "You know, they are a desert monastic community, but they live in woods. You know, they're foresters in that sense. It's a very special community because it is so special and unique."

Regardless whether a viewer has any inclination to discover more about the Keweenaw monastic life, "Gladsome Light" also is a work of art in that it shows spectacular images of Lake Superior ice, the unique architecture of the monastery and the Keweenaw landscape.

Of course, it also shows scenes from the monks' daily lives, which include prayer, obviously, but more mundane tasks such as making goods for the Jampot and meals for themselves.

For example, in one scene a monk is shown chopping radishes for a salad.

"Good salads take a long time," he said.

Another scene that showed a monk working at a computer is a far cry from the ancient desert monks' existence, but it's part of the Keweenaw monks' day-to-day life.

After all, it was stated in the film prayer doesn't exempt a monk from having to take care of himself, so a certain degree of prosperity is needed.

Father Basil, who lives at Holy Transfiguration Skete, said the experience of the monastery being the focus of a film was "actually quite pleasant." He, along with monks, attended the Saturday premiere.

"I'm not sure what people will get out of it," Basil said. "If nothing, I hope it will get them more curious about who and what we are and make them decide to learn more."

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