Heavenly Help: Monks, nuns operate unique downtown bookstore

Author: Anne Hart
Date Published: 05/29/1999

Some of the store clerks wear black cassocks and answer the phone with the greeting ”Christ has risen.”

T-shirts on the wall read ”Death to the World” and a warm lamp glow illuminates icons of saints.

Door To Paradise bookstore in downtown Redding is far from the average Barnes & Noble-type shop.

The Tehama Street business — similar to the Heavenly Realm bookstore in Chico — is run by monks who live in an isolated hilltop monastery on 160 acres of mountainous land near Platina and nuns from a skete, or small monastery, in nearby Wildwood. The hermitages are about 50 miles west of Redding.

Members of the religious order — called St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood — call themselves members of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church.

One of three major branches of Christianity — Catholic, Protestant and Orthodoxy — the Orthodox Church separated from the western Roman Catholic Church during the Great Schism in 1054.

From Thursday to Sunday, the members will have a free Pentecost Conference on the second floor of the bookstore as part of their ministry. Pentecost celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the seventh Sunday after Easter.

Part of the seminar will include vespers and vigils in the bookstore chapel.

Church member Paul Ferrari of Redding described the event as a chance to share what he called Orthodoxy’s ”unseen warfare” against worldly passions.

Followers cut themselves off from things in the secular world that dilute one’s spiritual life. On certain days they abstain from animal products, wine and olive oil.

”There are a lot of things that draw us away from Christ and we aren’t even aware of it,” said Ferrari, a former evangelical pastor in Redding whose first name was Bob before he was baptized in the Eastern Orthodox faith.

In addition to running the bookstore, church members also try to spread their beliefs by setting up booths at rock concerts, publishing a periodical called ”Death to the World” and counseling drug abusers and troubled teens.

Mother Cornelia — a nun who lives at the Wildwood skete and works at the bookstore a few days a week — said this weekend’s lecture series — much like the literature in the store — is meant to serve as a bridge to the spiritual life.

”It’s difficult to have a spiritual diet if you are used to Dean Koontz or Stephen King,” Cornelia said.

The bookstore has been open for more than a year and is slowly attracting curious customers despite the strong Protestant presence in Shasta County, including Simpson College, Cornelia and Ferrari said.

”We’re well-received here because Christians are getting to be a rarity,” Cornelia said.

But others say the Door To Paradise and those who run it are not part of the real Orthodox Church.

”If people go to the lecture, they need to be clear that they are not going to a lecture sponsored by the Orthodox Christian Church,” said Father Gregory Jensen of the nearby St. George Greek Orthodox Church on California Street.

Gleb Podmoshensky, whom followers consider a mystic, is a defrocked Russian Orthodox priest and founder of the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, according to a January 1998 Anchorage Daily News article ”Orthodox or not.”

Podmoshensky took the name Father Herman after Alaska’s revered St. Herman, a monk who lived on Spruce Island north of Kodiak two centuries ago.

Podmoshensky was defrocked in 1989 by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia after he came in contact with the Forestville-based Holy Order of MANS in 1983, which founded a chain of restaurants called Brother Juniper’s and shelters for homeless families called Raphael House, according to the article.

Podmoshensky baptized 750 MANS members to Orthodox, the newspaper reported. MANS, a secret acronym known only to members, reemerged as Christ the Saviour Brotherhood, according to the article.

Platina members say the controversy stems from politics and unproved accusations.

”We are certainly Orthodox to some people and not Orthodox to others and those who say we aren’t Orthodox, aren’t Orthodox to others,” Ferrari said. ”When I came to Orthodoxy, I came for the inner life, not the politics.”

For information on the conference schedule call the Door To Paradise at 247-1414.

Reporter Anne Hart can be reached at 225-8344 or at ahart@redding.com