Our parish often receives enquiries about the Holy Trinity Orthodox Monastery of Monkerai and its founder, Father John MacPherson. The information set out on this page has been compiled to help consistently answer those enquiries and to provide some history, to date, of an interesting episode in the history of Russian Orthodoxy in the Hunter Region. Where references are not given, the information is based on the records and recollections of the author.
Father John was born in 1938.[i] He is understood to have been a former Anglican monk who had begun his Orthodox monastic path on Mount Athos.[ii] He came to live in Newcastle in the early 1990s and had some involvement in our parish of Saint Nicholas, Wallsend, at that time.[iii] He left the Wallsend parish together with the group of parishioners that formed the Theophany parish in Mayfield West in 1994, a parish of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines (“the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese”) that subsequently transferred to the Moscow Patriarchate.[iv]
In July 1997 Father John petitioned to be received into the Australian-New Zealand Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (“the Diocese”). His petition was granted on 2 September 1997, and he was given a blessing to organise a missionary monastic community.[v] He was tonsured to the Lesser Schema on 25 November 1997.[vi] He was understood to be a mental health professional, and, in this capacity, he undertook work at pastoral conferences,[vii] at youth conferences,[viii] and in various parishes of the Diocese.
Father John strongly advocated the establishment of a monastery that would also provide a place of spiritual, emotional, and physical support to young men who were struggling with social problems and substance abuse.[i] The Saint Elisabeth Convent in Minsk, Belarus, has undertaken similar work with great success.[ii] There was considerable interest in, and enthusiasm for, this project within the Diocese, particularly in Brisbane, and donations were made in support of it. Father John was considered suitable to lead such a project because of his professional background.[iii] A large donation that ultimately enabled Father John to purchase property for a monastery is known to have come from a Russian Orthodox family in Brisbane.
It is not clear exactly when the property was purchased. Monkerai is a rural area between Dungog and Gloucester, two small towns in the Barrington Coast hinterland, that was traditionally used for timber and for dairy farming. The property is a very pleasant one, well-suited for a monastic establishment. It has a small, cleared area close to the entrance but is otherwise covered with trees. The cleared area has a beautiful view out over the surrounding valley. There is much that could be accomplished there.
The Holy Trinity Orthodox Monastery of Monkerai Trust (“the Trust”) was established on 12 August 1999 as the legal entity to hold the monastery property. The proper legal entity for holding property of the Diocese and its parishes and monasteries in New South Wales is the Russian Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust. Father John asked for permission to make different arrangements for the holding of the Monkerai property and his request was granted. The rationale for this exemption was that a degree of independence would make it easier to obtain government funding for the monastery’s social work. The Trust Deed nevertheless made it clear that authority over the Trust was vested in the Ruling Bishop of the Diocese and that the assets of the Trust would, if it ceased to operate, be directed to a similar institution of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. A consolidated version of the Trust Deed is available here.
The earliest copy of the Title Deed in Diocesan records is dated 2 May 2002. It lists as owners of the property the Trustees John MacPherson, George Polos, Michael Games, Steven Rutten, Michael Yastreboff, Alan Teterin and William (“Bill”) Reid. This Title Deed evidently follows the resignation in 2002 of two founding Trustees, Darren Bird and Janene Brown.
Father John was tonsured a reader and ordained subdeacon and deacon at a service in the community of Saint Panteleimon, Gosford, on 14 April 2002.[i] He was, for the time being, assigned to the Gosford community.[ii] On 24 June 2002 he was ordained to the priesthood during an open-air Divine Liturgy at Monkerai on the Day of the Holy Spirit. On the same day there was a service for the founding of a church dedicated to the Holy Monastic Fathers.[iii]
Father John lived in Wallsend at the time of the purchase of the property. As there was no dwelling on the monastery grounds, he subsequently rented a cottage on an adjoining property.
Father John had a storage shed constructed on the property and a cement slab was laid for the construction of the monastery church. He is known to have engaged the School of Engineering at the University of Newcastle for advice concerning sustainable water management strategies for the monastery and to have consulted with experts concerning the construction of mud-brick buildings. He arranged a small temporary chapel in the corner of the storage shed that was used from time to time. There were occasional services on the monastery feast-day and at other times when a choir was available.[i] Over the years following his ordination Father John continued to visit parishes of the Diocese for Sunday and feast-day services. No brethren joined the monastery. An Orthodox Christian man from Brisbane lived in a caravan on the property for a time, helping Father John with maintenance tasks. On 4 June 2013 Daniel Kisliakov was tonsured a reader and assigned to the clergy staff of the monastery.[ii] On the same day, Father John was awarded the right to wear the gold pectoral cross in recognition of ‘his diligent service to the holy Church of Christ.’[iii]
Although he had for many years enjoyed close and supportive friendships with Metropolitan Hilarion and other senior clergy of the Diocese, from 2013 onwards Father John became increasingly isolated and discouraged. Sadly, and against this background, on 8 February 2015 he asked to be released from our Diocese to the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese. He was granted release on 19 February 2015 on the following terms:
In accordance with his written petition, dated 8 February 2015, Hieromonk John (Macpherson) is relieved of his duties as superior of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Monkerai, NSW, and released into the jurisdiction of His Eminence, Metropolitan Archbishop Paul Saliba, of the Australasian and Philippines Diocese of the Antiochian Orthodox Church.
If he so desires, Father John may continue to live at the monastery, but in all matters concerning the property he will need to liaise with the Diocesan Administration of the Russian Orthodox Church or the new Superior of the Holy Trinity Monastery, His Grace Bishop George.[i]
Bishop George was formally appointed Abbot of the monastery on 19 February 2015.[i] On 13 March 2015 the work of selecting and appointing new trustees commenced. A Deed of Appointment of New Trustees was finalised on 6 August 2015. The Deed was registered on 13 October 2015. The new trustees were Bishop George, Priest Peter Hill, Priest Gabriel Lapardin, Protodeacon Alexander Abramoff, Protodeacon Constantine Moshegov, and Deacon Martin Naef. Bill Reid remained a trustee. The process of transferring the Title Deed to the new Trustees then commenced.
On 9 March 2016 Bishop George appointed Father John “caretaker of the Holy Trinity Monastery property” with the “authority to arrange for maintenance of the monastery grounds and to ensure the safety and security of monastery property”. Father John himself requested this appointment and used the authority so granted to work with the New South Wales Police to prevent trespassing on and vandalism of the monastery property. To the best of our knowledge this appointment remains in force.
A Certificate of Title in the name of the new Trustees was issued on 9 June 2016.
It is understood that some work in preparation for a construction project on the monastery property was commenced in 2016. As this work had been undertaken without the approval or knowledge of the Trustees appointed in 2015, Bishop George directed on 16 June 2016 that the work be stopped immediately.
It is our understanding that the monastery site remains unoccupied and and that it has not been further developed. This situation is known to have been a cause of some dismay to those members of the Russian Orthodox community, particularly in Brisbane, whose generosity made purchase of the monastery property possible. Regrettably, this had led some community members to advocate sale of the property and allocation of the proceeds to other initiatives within the Diocese, particularly projects with a youth focus. Although such thinking is understandable, the original monastery vision was a worthy one, and we remain hopeful that it will be realised.
Archpriest James Carles
1 January 2022
Father John Macpherson
[i] Michael A. Protopopov, A Russian Presence: A History of the Russian Orthodox Church in Australia (Gorgias Press, 2006) (n 56) 422.
[ii] ‘Рукоположение нового диакона’,  6 (June) Церковное Слово - Word of the Church 24.
[iii] See Protopopov 2006 at (n23) 398, where Father John is the source of information on conflict in the Wallsend parish in 1993.
[iv] Ibid, 400.
[v] Ukase No. 9-2,  7 (March-April) Церковное Слово - Word of the Church 26.
[vi] Protopopov 2006 at (n 56) 422. See also ‘Рукоположение нового диакона’ .
[vii] ‘Пастырское совещание 1999 г.’,  3 (October) Церковное Слово - Word of the Church 15. In this Russian-language article Father John is described as an “Orthodox psychologist” (“православный психолог”). See also ‘Рукоположение нового диакона’  where he is described as “a psychologist by profession” (“по профессии психологом”).
[viii] See, for example, ‘35 й съезд русской православный молодежи’,  1 (January) Церковное Слово - Word of the Church 22-23. See also: иерей Сергий Окунев, ‘36 й съезд русской православный молодежи в Нью Норсия’,  1 (January) Церковное Слово - Word of the Church 21-22; and А.И., ‘Второй мини-съезд в Брисбене РПК (Русские Православные в Квинсланде)’,  6 (August) Церковное Слово - Word of the Church 20-21.
The monastery vision
[i] Protopopov 2006, 421-22. See also ‘Рукоположение нового диакона’ .
[iii] Protopopov 2006, 422. It is stated here that “To operate such a refuge it was necessary to have an experienced social worker, and Father John Macpherson, who conceived the project, was ordained to the priesthood to that end”.
Ordination and the foundation of the monastery
[i] ‘Рукоположение нового диакона’, .
[ii] Ukase No. 6-8,  7-8 (July-August) Церковное Слово - Word of the Church 29.
[iii] ‘Рукоположение иеромонаха Иоанна (Макферсона)’,  7-8 (July-August) Церковное Слово - Word of the Church 11-12.
Activity at the monastery site
[i] See, for example, ‘Feast-day celebrations at the Holy Trinity Monastery, Monkerai’, Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church (Web Page), https://www.stnicholaswallsend.org.au/news_140611_1. This article includes several excellent photographs of the monastery site and chapel.
[ii] Ukase No. 6-2-12,  1 (January) Церковное Слово - Word of the Church 14.
[iii] Ukase No. 6-1-12, ibid.
The departure of Father John from our Diocese
[i] Ukase No. 2-2-15,  2 (April) Церковное Слово - Word of the Church 15.
[i] Ukase No. 2-2A-15,  2 (April) Церковное Слово - Word of the Church 15.