To step into the sanctuary of the Duchovny Dom Byzantine Catholic Men’s Monastery on Weston Mountain is to enter an unexpected portal.

Once the double wooden doors to the outside world have closed, one is immersed into surroundings that speak of another time and world — a seemingly separate plane of existence populated with religious iconography and a deep holiness.

Situated on Highway 204 about 10 miles on the way to the mountain’s summit and around a bend in the road, the church itself is unexpected, despite that Duchovny Dom has been on these 77 acres since 2013.

The monastery exists as the dream of The Right Rev. Josef Stanichar, better known as “Father Joseph” to those who live at or pilgrimage to the mountain compound.

The New York native was ordained in 1968 and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1972. After a 23-year career, Stanichar retired as a full colonel while stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane. During that time, he established the first Byzantine Catholic parish in Spokane and another in Seattle.

The Walla Walla area — with its modest cache of Byzantine parishioners — had also called his name, Stanichar said.

And here, on Weston Mountain, was a sweet cabin offered for sale by a Walla Walla family.

“It was on 6 acres, and it was perfect for what I wanted,” Stanichar recalled, noting he bought that property in about 1980.

“I got it on a VA loan. I’ve had it all these years.”

The idea was to create a place for worship and prayer in his retirement, something more than could be accomplished as head of a parish church, he said.

“I wanted to live the fullest liturgical life I could. I wanted to do all the prayers and live a life fully for God. Besides, what are you going to do when you retire? Watch TV, get fat and die.”

Duchovny Dom is intended to offer respite and repentance to those who seek solace from life’s difficulties. Stanichar calls such seekers pilgrims.

Presently, for example, Pilgrim Vincent is here from his home in Montana. The former soldier suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and sought Stanichar’s permission to come to the monastery and heal. On this day, Vincent is weeding the raised garden beds in sunshine that has not yet grown overly warm at this altitude.

“He’s a good worker,” Stanichar said. “We’re grateful to have him.”

The first step in crafting his vision was to transform the small-but-solid cabin into today’s 4,000-square-foot home that can house up to eight monks. Currently Stanichar is abbot to five monks, although two of those are away for medical treatments.

There are always queries from those interested in the isolation and simplicity, he said.

“We might get a few more. I just got a call from a fellow in Georgia. I told him, ‘We’re way out here in God’s lost acre.’ He’s going from Russian Orthodox to Byzantine Catholic. I told him, ‘You know we’re into the Pope here,’” Stanichar recalled with a laugh.

The Weston Mountain order differs here and there from other monasteries. The day’s structure can be fluid, more fitting to mountain life where a monk might be called upon to rescue chickens during one of the five daily prayer times. Or help birth puppies in the middle of the night.

Duchovny Dom, in fact, sells two breeds of dogs as one way to support the ministry. One is a hybrid of Pyrenees and Maremma sheep dogs that produces fluffy canines the size of small lions. The other is Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a toy breed which retail for about $1,000 per puppy in places like California, Stanichar noted.

“They are very hard to find.”

Such pups were scampering about like the canine stars of a Disney movie, racing around the feet of Brother Petr, who had brought a tray of snacks and coffee to Stanichar and his visitors.

Brother Petr — Stanichar chooses the monastic titles of all the monks — is in charge of running the house, including deciding meals and making grocery lists. He and Stanichar have known each other for decades, the two agree.

Dog sales represent just one funding stream for Duchovny Dom; others include donations for special projects and money from the steady benefactors Stanichar collected during his military service.

The monks grow potatoes and raise chickens, sheep, turkeys, geese and goats — all animals contribute in some way to the compound’s financial sustainability.

As do those who come for services on Sundays and those who arrive at the monastery on a pilgrimage, or during special events such as “Summer at the Monastery.”

Women are as welcome as men, but they stay at “Hermitage House,” a trailer on the property. In keeping with Eastern Catholic tradition, women must cover their heads inside the church and dress modestly — pants are out, and long sleeves are preferred for all.

Most visitors attend church and eat with the brothers while cloistered, to be as monk-like as feasible, Stanichar said.

“We get people who need help and can’t find it anywhere else in the church … Some people come just to be quiet, and some want to fast. We serve them bread and water, but they can change their mind when they get hungry,” he said with an impish grin that belies the age he declines to name.

It’s come to his attention that young people are drawn to the spiritual environment of Duchovny Dom and other Greek Catholic churches, Stanichar said.

“They need the stability … The American church is not growing. The Catholic church has lost 75 percent of participation. I think the Church has to serve its people. And do it with love.”

The monastery’s daily routine is the picture of stability. The first prayer session begins at 7 a.m. in the church. Anyone who wants coffee before the two-hour service is welcome to have a cup, and someone must tend to the dogs.

Again, a bit more relaxed than most other monasteries.

After matins — the longest and most complex prayer of the day — comes Divine Liturgy, followed by First Hour. Third Hour is in the afternoon, then vespers at 4:30 p.m. and compline begins at 7:30 p.m.

Monks are expected to be in their rooms by 9 p.m. and have a personal prayer time at midnight. Stanichar said he leaves that one between man and God.

Daily chores must be fit into the schedule, including trips off the mountain for shopping and appointments. The feed store in Pendleton is a popular stop, as is Andy’s Market in College Place. The monks dress the same off church grounds as on, which opens up a lot of conversation when people inquire about their mission, Stanichar said.

“I like to evangelize in public. That’s why I don’t mind wearing my habit. The women like my jewelry,” he said, offering ringed fingers for inspection.

“I’m naughty, you know. A little bit.”

Duchovny Dom’s sanctuary, however, is where all is taken seriously. The church building was started after the house was finished and its presence closer to the highway announced the monastery in a more visible way.

Lit by chandeliers, sconces and candles, every inch of the walls and ceiling glow with depictions of disciples, prophets, Jesus and God. There are illustrations of biblical stories everywhere, some done by Stanichar and all hand rendered. A rotunda in the ceiling is encircled with small windows that allow sunlight to pierce the depths of the chapel below, beam by beam.

At the front of the room — its large size is surprising — double doors open to reveal a center alter within its own nave, where Stanichar sings out his part of the Byzantine rite, to which Brother Petr responds in this particular service.

Indeed, the whole liturgy is sung with a continuous back and forth between the two. In his role as priest, Stanichar dons different vestments and uses separate vessels during the celebration of the liturgy.

In writing about the Greek Catholic mass, retired Catholic educator Joe Bound in Wisconsin noted that for most of the liturgy, the priest faces west, with his back to the people.

“In general, there is a strong feeling of the sacred at a Byzantine rite liturgy,” Bound said in writing for the Green Bay Catholic diocese’s newspaper, The Compass.

“This is brought out through the architecture of the church building, the art used on the liturgical setting,” such as religious icons, candles, incense and the interaction between the priest and his congregation, Bound explained.

“In fact, some have said that it appears like heaven on earth.”

Indeed.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.

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