Since 1966, New Skete has been a peaceful presence in southern Washington County. The Eastern Orthodox monks and nuns of New Skete strive to worship authentically and intensely and share with the broader community their efforts to translate the essentials of early Christian monasticism into American culture.
In 1967 the monks cleared the steep and rocky land on the mountain to begin building their monastery. Today, in addition to the monks’ private living quarters, there are classrooms, a gift shop, two guest rooms and two parlors.
The nuns of New Skete arrived in 1969 and built their monastery about four miles west of the monks’ on Ashgrove Road. Their monastery includes a kitchen, bedrooms, dining area, community rooms, a small chapel for daily services, an art studio, guest areas, library, workshops and bakery, along with a tiny gift shop for the sale of the nuns’ famous cheesecakes, seasonal brandied fruitcakes and other treats.
In 1983 the community of the Companions of New Skete, a fellowship of lay people who seek to be formally connected with the New Skete communities to deepen their spiritual lives, built Emmaus House on the monks’ land, and it now serves as the monks’ main guest house.
New Skete has two churches at the monks’ monastery. The first, a small temple topped with eight small but distinctive gold cupolas or “onion” domes was built in 1969 and is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ. A larger church dedicated to Holy Wisdom was built in 1983 by the monks and local carpenters to accommodate the monastic communities, local parishioners and the growing number of retreatants and visitors.
All are welcome to join the monks and nuns in worship. The divine services at New Skete are the single most important work of the members in common. They are sung for the spiritual benefit of all who participate in them and for all who are commemorated during their celebrations.
Two important aspects are immediately obvious to the listener. First, most of the priest’s prayers are sung aloud for all to hear. Second, all the services have been translated into contemporary American literary English. As with the layout, design, and furnishing of the church building, both music, and texts, and the structure and movement, of the liturgical services, form an integral whole. Every element of it must help lead the worshipper to a further experience of the presence of Christ in our midst.
Both of the monastic communities at New Skete are self-supporting and receive no financial support from the national church. They are sustained financially through charitable donations and the work of their own hands. The communities, since their founding, have worked in liturgical arts, producing icons and publishing liturgical books and music. In addition, the monks are world-famous for breeding German Shepherds and their dog training programs, whereas the nuns are known for their heavenly cheesecakes.
The monks’ love for their first German Shepherd dog Kir led them to begin breeding, raising and socializing these intelligent and beautiful animals. Today, the monks of New Skete dedicate themselves to providing the best possible companion dogs.
Based on their experience and expertise, the monks have written extensively on the relationship of dogs and people. They also offer a course of dog training that includes standard AKC obedience and incorporates the values of the monastic environment.
“The cheesecakes made by the Nuns of New Skete are, dare we say, divine? They give new meaning to the term heavenly,” said an article in Life@Home magazine regarding the nuns’ cheesecakes.
Three sisters and four employees typically bake twice a week following a highly efficient two-day process. They use 30-pound blocks of cream cheese and an amazing mixer that tips to pour the batter, saving the nuns from heavy lifting. The nuns’ cheesecakes are available at their gift shop and at
Hundreds of people visit New Skete each year. The meditation gardens with a waterfall feature provide a soothing area for reflection and relaxation. Hiking trails with stone walls, spring runnels and various grades from flat to mildly steep are open to the public. Group tours for 10 or more people are available by appointment. School and youth groups may also book field trips. Individuals looking for a spiritual retreat may make arrangements to stay at the guest house. Several themed retreats, public events and a dog training workshop are held annually.
The monks’ monastery is located at 273 New Skete Rd., Cambridge, New York. The nuns’ monastery is at 345 Ashgrove Rd., also in Cambridge.
For more information on New Skete, visit newskete.org.