Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mother Theodora's thoughts on fasting

Despite terrible road conditions due to the overnight snow, we made it down to Akron on Sunday morning for the Divine Liturgy at Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church.  Mother was invited to speak after the Divine Liturgy about fasting.  During the brunch, Moki shared her vocation story with the parishioners.  We were welcomed with the greatest hospitality by the loving parishioners!  Their pastor, Fr. Vsevelod ("Fr. Sal") Shevchuk is the brother of Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.  Fr. Vsevelod's wife is due any day now with their second child! Please pray for this beautiful parish as they celebrate their 100th anniversary.

We would like to share with you a portion of Mother's talk:

Serbian bishop Nikolai of Ochrid said (regarding his experience at the tomb in Jerusalem on Easter morning):
“We waited, and at last our expectations were fulfilled. When the Patriarch sang 'Christ is risen,' a heavy burden fell from our souls. We felt as if we also had been raised from the dead. All at once, from all around, the same cry resounded like the noise of many waters. 'Christ is risen' sang the Greeks, the Russians, the Arabs, the Serbs, the Copts, the Armenians, the Ethiopians one after another, each in his own tongue, in his own melody…Coming out from the service at dawn, we began to regard everything in the light of the glory of Christ’s resurrection, and all appeared different from what it had yesterday; everything seemed better, more expressive, more glorious. Only in the light of the Resurrection does life receive meaning."
This experience of resurrection joy is foundational to our worship and is the root of our Christian life and hope.  Yet if we are to experience the beauty and power of the Resurrection, each of us needs to go through a journey, a time of preparation and waiting. Without going through this journey of waiting—of expectant preparation, the deeper meaning of the Easter celebration will be lost.  In others words, if we do not die, we will not resurrect.

Fasting is a way of emptying ourselves in order to be filled with God. The purpose of fasting is also to discipline ourselves and to gain control of our passions. The soul is strengthened through self-denial and grace.

We as human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, are body and spirit. Our spirit could not express itself without the body and the body is alive and animated by the spirit.  Since we are a synthesis of body and spirit, both the body and spirit need to go through this time of preparation and be attentive not to neglect one or the other.

St. John Chrysostom teaches us about the meaning of the true nature of the Fast:
“The value of fasting does not consist in abstinence only from food, but in a letting go of sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meat is he who especially demeans the fast.  Do you fast?  Give me proof of it by your works.  If you see a poor man, take pity on him!  If you see a friend enjoying honor, do not envy him.  For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of your bodies.  Let the hands fast by being pure from greed.  Let the feet fast by ceasing from running to forbidden spectacles. Let the eyes fast by being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances…For it would be an instance of the highest absurdity to abstain from meals and from unlawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to feed on what is forbidden.  Do you not eat flesh when you feed on immorality by means of the eyes?  Let the ear also fast. The fasting of the ear is not to receive evil speaking and slander.  Let the mouth also fast from fowl words.
For what does it profit if we abstain from meat, and yet bite and devour our brother?”
There needs to be a proper balance between the body and the spirit.  St. Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…glorify God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  Without physical abstinence a full and true fast cannot be kept; yet we have to be careful not to treat the rules about eating and drinking as an end in themselves.

Ascetic fasting always has an inward and unseen purpose. The primary aim of fasting is to make us aware of our helplessness and dependence on God. We experience hunger, thirst and physical strain in order to lead us to a sense of inward brokenness and repentance. Through fasting and prayer we realize, in a profound way, the words of Jesus, “Without Me, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). 

If it is important not to overlook the physical requirements of fasting, it is even more important not to overlook its inward significance. If we disregard the spiritual aspects of the Fast, then fasting without prayer becomes a mere diet. And...prayer and fasting without works of charity is dead. 

Moki with Fr. Sal's wife Helen and son Juri
The gospel of the Paralytic has a message of perseverance and hope. The paralytic was unable to get to Jesus because of his condition and the crowd. The friends of the paralytic overcame the obstacles that were in the way of their love for their friend. The gospel says, "Jesus saw their faith..." It was through their faith that the paralytic was healed. We, through our faith, through our prayer, fasting and almsgiving can bring others to Christ and overcome obstacles of spiritual paralysis or anything that separates them from Christ.

Fasting makes us light, vigilant, free and joyful. In time, it actually makes us work more diligently and think more clearly. 

When we over eat and drink we can become complacent and self-reliant. We become spiritually sluggish and our well-meaning intentions to pray or exercise an act of almsgiving can yield to compromise. Our opportunity to spend intimate time with God, a loved one or someone in need may ultimately end in a fruitless enslavement with something like a Smartphone.  

The Lenten journey, the Christian life itself, is a real battle. If it is true fasting it will lead us to temptation, weakness, doubt and irritation. We will probably fail many times in various ways.  Let it be said that there is no growth in the Christian life without the unpleasant experience of failures.  Did you start the fast with enthusiasm and then give up after your first failure? “Oh well, I messed up, maybe next year.”

The real test actually comes after your first failure.  If after having failed in your efforts, you start all over again and do not give up no matter how many times you fail, sooner or later your fasting, prayer and almsgiving will bear spiritual fruit. 

Be patient with yourself. There are no shortcuts to holiness (other than martyrdom!).

We have 5 more weeks--35 more days--of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. We have 35 more days of preparation and waiting, waiting for our expectations of the resurrection to be fulfilled. 

Let the fast be one of hunger and thirst for God. At the end of the Lenten journey we can say with all our being, “We waited, and at last our expectations were fulfilled. Only in the light of the Resurrection does life receive meaning.”

(Some points adapted from The Meaning of the Great Fast: The True Nature of Fasting by Mother Mary and Bishop Kallistos Ware)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Join us for the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete
Thurs. March 19
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Parma, Ohio
5:00 p.m.: Simple Meal
6:00 p.m.-9:30 p.m.: Great Canon
Facebook Event

Join us in a deeply-moving, once-a-year Lenten experience on Thursday, March 19, at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, 1900 Carlton Rd., Parma, Ohio. The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete takes us on a journey through the entire Bible, placing us in the shoes of all the penitents of the Old and New Testaments and teaching us from their examples. The hundreds of prostrations unite our body and soul as we repent of our sins and experience God's mercy. (New this year: we will follow the tradition of reading of the life of St. Mary of Egypt.) Simple Lenten food will be available 5:00-6:00 p.m. and the Canon will begin at 6:00 p.m. All are invited to come for all or part of the Canon, whether or not you are physically able to participate in the prostrations. The Canon will last approximately 3.5 hours. Please RSVP by Monday, March 16, to 440-834-0290 or so we know how much food and how many booklets to prepare.

Monday, February 16, 2015

2nd phase of renovations...and the Lenten renovations of our hearts...

God has provided, through many generous hearts, enough funds for our building campaign so that we were able to begin the 2nd phase of our project on February 2!  This phase is the biggest component of our project: the complete renovations of the south half of the monastery.

These are the main goals of this phase:

  • Rewire the entire monastery (eliminate danger of fire and bring up to code)
  • Widen kitchen three feet
  • Increase counter space
  • Redesign for more usable layout
  • Replace old, unsafe stove/oven
  • Create space for refrigerator and freezer in kitchen
  • Update appliances
  • Create pantry space
  • Create four bedrooms for nuns (an increase of two bedrooms)
  • Create a double bathroom (an increase from current single bathroom)
  • Convert single garage into a space for laundry and exercise
  • Repair roof over office
  • Raise and reinforce sagging floors

View photos of the renovations

These past two weeks have been exciting, but also challenging!  Some of us have struggled with the constant packing, moving and rearranging, some with the lack of control we feel, some with the inconvenience of moving to a different, smaller kitchen, some with the constant answer: "It's in a box somewhere!," some with the noise, some with the dirt, some with the daily surprises of unexpected problems and decisions, and one of us with living temporarily in a room that we all walk through!

And in the midst of this commotion, we enter the Great Fast (Lent)...the most intense period of the liturgical year.  But actually, this ascetical period is related to our renovation struggles!  During this time of increased fasting and prayer, we will often be uncomfortable.  We will feel the pinch of hunger, the strain of the prostrations and longer services, and the weakness of our will.  We will be stretched to the limits of our bodily and spiritual abilities.  We will feel out of control--unable to "stay on top of" the demands of our monastic Lenten regimen.

Yet, there is a beautiful goal!  When we recognize and accept that we can't do this on our own, then we can make room for God to work in us.  When we loosen our grip on the things that we lean on that make us comfortable, then God can be the One we lean on.  Then, and only then, can we grow in union with Him and therefore be able to truly love.

If we five nuns stood in the construction zone all day we would greatly slow the renovation process!  (Not only would we distract the carpenters and electricians by our goofiness, but we would also get knocked out by two by fours...)  :)  We have to stay out of the way and let the masters of the trade do their work!  It is the same in our relationship with God: our selfishness, our ideas about what holiness should look like, our desire for control over our life, our attachments to things that are less than God, block the work of the Master in us.

So, this Lent, let's not be afraid to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable, for this is the place of encounter with the One our hearts really desire--the One who is capable of renovating them.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Eternal Memory, Sr. Flora

Photo from March 2012. Sr. Flora is sitting in the center.
"Now you may dismiss your servant, O Lord, in peace, according to Your word...."  As we celebrate the Feast of the Encounter of Our Lord with Simeon, we can say that these words of Simeon have been fulfilled for his servant, Sr. Flora.

Sr. Flora, the Social Mission Sister who gave us our monastery when we were just about to found our community, passed away on Friday, January 30. She and Sr. Adalberta came from Hungary and previously lived in our building for many years and took care of the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch and its pilgrims. They have lived for the past seven years at Regina Health Center and have beautifully continued their ministry of prayer and service for their fellow residents. Please pray for the repose of the soul of Sr. Flora, as well as for Sr. Adalberta who mourns her passing. We are so grateful to these Sisters for the gift of their monastery, and especially for their love and prayers.

Tuesday, February 3
Calling Hours 10:00-11:00 a.m.
Funeral 11:00 a.m.
Regina Health Center (In the chapel)
5232 Broadview Road, Richfield, OH 44286

In blessed repose, grant, O Lord, eternal rest to your departed servant Sr. Flora and remember her forever.

Monday, January 19, 2015

"Here I am at last! This is why He made me!"

We are happy to share a little bit more about our newest dokimos (postulant) and her entrance day.

Our community grew to five members when we welcomed a new dokimos (postulant) on December 8, 2014.  Motria (“Moki”) Lonchyna was blessed by Bishop John and received her headscarf and cross during Vespers for the Feast of the Maternity of Anna.

“The Lord filled my heart completely with peace and joy on my entrance day,” Moki said. “Words cannot express the joy of beginning my monastic formation on the very day that Mary’s most pure heart was formed in the womb.  For a long time, the Lord had given me a great longing for monastic life.  Towards the end of vespers, it was as if scales fell from my eyes and I could see His calling so much more clearly.  My heart cried out in that moment, ‘Here I am at last!  This is why He made me!  I was made to serve Him!’ I am left utterly overwhelmed with gratitude for His call upon my heart.”

Moki, 33, grew up in Maryland in the Ukrainian Catholic Church.  She literally grew up in the church!  She is the daughter of Fr. Taras and Lala Lonchyna.  Fr. Taras is currently the pastor of St. Josaphat parish in Trenton, NJ. Her uncle (Fr. Taras’ brother) is Bishop Hlib Lonchyna, the bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London.  Moki received her degree in nursing from The Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C., and her Neonatal Nurse Practitioner degree from the University of Pennsylvania.  She worked as a nurse at Children’s National Medical Center for five years and as a neonatal nurse practitioner at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for four years.

Moki first met us at the Eastern Catholic Vocations Fair in D.C. in January of 2012. She first visited the monastery in 2013 and spent her six-week observership at the monastery in the summer of 2014.

In this first step of the monastic life, Moki is called a dokimos (Greek for “approved by testing, genuine”) or postulant (from the Latin word that means “to ask”).  She will spend one to two years “trying out” the monastic life. She and the community will discern together whether God is truly calling her to the monastic life in Christ the Bridegroom Monastery.

Please keep Moki in your prayers as she begins to live the monastic life and seeks daily to surrender to her Bridegroom, Jesus.  To see more photos from Moki’s entrance day, visit our Facebook album.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

1st Phase of Renovations Begin!!

Thanks to the quick outpouring of support for our renovation project, we were already able to begin the first phase of our project!  This phase involves converting our former, unfinished chapel into a bedroom and office (page 9 of our renovation project booklet).  We did the priming, painting, staining and varnishing ourselves, and the wood was donated.  This phase is almost complete, and we are looking forward to starting the larger projects!  Enjoy our photos of this first step.

We are at 70% of our goal towards the matching funds of $100,000!  If you would like to help us reach 100%, please visit our Renovation Project page for more information.  Thank you so much for your prayers and support!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"He refashions us through the cleansing that He receives"

Happy Feast of the Theophany of Our Lord!

Here are some photos from our celebration of the feast.

"The One who clothes Himself with light as with a robe deigned, for our sakes, to become as we are.  Today He is clothed in the streams of the Jordan even though He has no need to be purified.  He refashions us through the cleansing that He receives.  What a marvelous wonder!  He creates anew without fire and refashions without tearing apart; He grants salvation to those enlightened in Him, Christ our God, the Savior of our souls." 

(Litija at Great Compline for the Feast of the Theophany of Our Lord)