Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross

May we receive strength, during this mid-point of the Great Fast, from the Cross held up before us. It is a sign of suffering, but also of intimacy with Jesus and the glory of our salvation!

"Come, let us drink from the inexhaustible stream which flows from the grace of the Cross. Behold, we see exposed before our eyes, the most holy wood, the fountain flowing with grace, given by the blood and water from the side of the Lord of the universe; He was voluntarily raised upon the Cross to exalt all mortals with Him" (From the Stichera at the Praises; Matins for the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Fasting: part of every Christian’s journey toward holiness

By Mother Gabriella
As published in Horizons, the newspaper of the Eparchy of Parma, March 5, 2017.
While Byzantine Catholics are called to abstain from meat and meat byproducts during the Great Fast, many are unaware that the traditional fast also includes abstinence from the food products pictured above. The author reminds readers that the traditional fast also includes eggs, dairy, oil and wine, with a mitigation for oil and wine on weekends and certain feast days. (Photo: Laura Ieraci)

     As we begin the most strenuous of the four fasting periods in the Byzantine Catholic Church, the Great Fast, it is good to be reminded of the purpose and goal of fasting in the Eastern tradition.
     It is important to remember that what we fast from and when we fast are dictated not by our own tastes but by the typikon or rule of the church.
     During the Great Fast or Great Lent, the traditional Eastern fast outlined by the church includes abstaining from all meat and dairy products, including eggs, as well as oil and wine on weekdays, with a mitigation for oil and wine on Saturday and Sunday.
     There are a few feast days that oil and wine are also allowed, which can be found in the typikon, and there are two feast days when fish is allowed — Annunciation and Palm Sunday.
     It is necessary to remember why we fast. In the wisdom of the Church, fasting developed as a physical reminder of our primary dependence on God.
     Our fasting calls us out of ourselves and our self-sufficiency and reminds us of our utter poverty before our Heavenly Father.
     As Jesus tells us in the Gospel of St. John, “apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5).
     We see the truth of these words at the beginning of every fast in the monastery. Deprive us of our easy sources of protein and we quickly begin to get irritable and out of sorts.
     Our poverty and dependence on food become tangible as our stomachs remind us that we aren’t being filled by food in the same way.
     Even as nuns, we need this reminder, so we can begin again to surrender to our ultimate need for God to fill us — beyond a full stomach.
     It is essential to realize that fasting is not simply the work of the monks and nuns; it is implicit in each Christian’s baptismal call to holiness. That’s right — everyone is called to fast!
     The ascetical life of the Eastern Church is on a spectrum, calling each person to some degree of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, that is appropriate for his or her state in life.
     As monks and nuns, we hopefully live that witness in its fullness, offering our lives as a model for the ideal or goal of the Christian life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
     We pray our witness may inspire everyone also to engage more fully in the ascetical Christian life, which will lead all to a deeper union with God, beginning heaven on earth.
     A good summary of these ideas is found in these words from the Aposticha at Vespers for Monday of Cheesefare Week: “By fasting, let us strive to purify ourselves from the stain of our sins. By mercy and the love of our neighbor; by our zeal to help the needy, we shall be able to enter the bridal chamber who grants us his great mercy.”
     As you start the Great Fast, be sure to consider how you would like to incorporate fasting in your preparations for Pascha. Make a commitment to start one new fasting practice this year.
     Be sure to increase your prayer as well — fasting without prayer is just dieting! Out of that life of prayer and fasting, you will find it easier to do the acts of charity or almsgiving that we are also called to do during the Great Fast. Make sure you have all three or you won’t have a stool to sit on!
     For more information on fasting, as well as some practical dos and don’ts for how to incorporate fasting practices into your Great Fast, be sure to check out my reflections along with Father Moses of Holy Resurrection Monastery in St. Nazianz, Wisc., on our new cooking show, Eastern Hospitality.
     Go to and click on Episode 2:2.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Join us for the Great Canon, March 29

Join the nuns of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery in a deeply-moving, once-a-year Lenten experience on Wednesday, March 29, at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, 1900 Carlton Rd., Parma, OH.  The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete takes us on a journey through the entire Bible, placing us in the shoes of 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.  We will also listen to the life of St. Mary of Egypt and venerate her relic.  The opportunity for the Mystery of Holy Repentance (Confession) will also be available.  A simple Lenten meal will be served 5:00-5:45 p.m., and the Canon will begin at 6:00 p.m.  All are invited to come for part or all of the Canon, even if you are not physically able to participate in the prostrations.  The duration of the Canon is approximately 3.5 hours.  Please RSVP by Friday, March 24, to 440-834-0290 or so the nuns know how much food and how many booklets to prepare.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The poverty of fasting

A heart-opening reflection on the pain and glory of fasting and what it's really about, by Sara Lynn

Recently, my confessor enabled me to see the root of the long litany of sins I was laying before him: self-reliance, as opposed to trust in God.  When I signed up to write a blog post to mark the beginning of the Great Fast, I had planned to write about the theological context of Lenten fasting as observed in the Eastern Church.  But as I have prayed with the self-reliance so deeply rooted in my heart, I find that none of what I had intended to write now seems important.  It was all neatly and logically arranged in my head (on which I often depend too heavily in my self-reliance), but it didn’t reach my heart—and repentance must come from the heart.  In light of the revelation of my self-reliance, my heart is moved by an awareness of my own poverty, by all the ways I try to fill myself or act from my own partial or flawed understanding.  I resist Jesus’ call to humbly consent to the experience of being needy and inadequate, waiting in trustful expectation in the midst of my own emptiness and inability.  It is precisely in this place of poverty that I find the hope that is at the heart of Lenten fasting.

In Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, Fr. Alexander Schmemann describes the interior posture of a Christian entering this holy season of repentance: “I stand before God, before the glory and the beauty of His Kingdom.  I realize that I belong to it, that I have no other home, no other joy, no other goal; I also realize that I am exiled from it into the darkness and sadness of sin.”  This is my awareness also.  And my hope—our hope—comes from the promise of our Faith, that we will not merely (merely!) share in Christ’s Resurrection, but that we will also become one with Him through theosis, totally united to God Himself in the spousal union for which we yearn in our exile.  But how do we become one with Jesus?  How are we to be healed so that we can once again live as citizens of our True Country?  Healing and redemption come through the Paschal Mystery—the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  “If we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him” (2 Tim 2:11).  Where do we need to die so that we can be raised to new life?

For most of us, that answer involves, to some degree, our relationship with food.  The fundamental lie hiding in our often unhealthy relationship to food—and in all sin, really—is that I know what will make me happy far better than God does; that I, creature that I am, know more than my Creator.  Schmemann defines fasting as “the refusal to accept the desires and urges of our fallen nature as normal, the effort to free ourselves from the dictatorship of flesh over the spirit.”  Fasting is about submission to our creaturely inadequacy, acknowledging that we need God more than we need all other things for which we are reaching (even good things that are His gifts).

Living at the monastery begs the question: What is the point of the monastic life?  What is the merit of a life in which we are perpetually tired, surrender the freedom to satisfy our preferences, and even sacrifice our ability to love people in the ways both they and we desire?  St. Augustine explains, “You are a vessel; but as yet you are full.  Pour out what you have, so that you may receive what you do not have….”  T. S. Eliot adds, “In order to possess what you do not possess / You must go by the way of dispossession.”  As monastics, we freely and joyfully accept deprivation so that we may receive Jesus into the emptiness of our aching, waiting hearts.

For all Christians, not just monastics, fasting serves a similar purpose:  It creates space in which we touch our poverty, our utter insufficiency, and thereby open ourselves to the necessity of relying on God to fill our hearts and satisfy our needs.  Fasting must not become something that we do, part of an ego-satisfying plan of asceticism by which we plan to take heaven by storm.  Rather, it is a very effective means of becoming small and creating space for God to draw us closer to His Heart.

To be fruitful, fasting must be closely accompanied by prayer.  In our prayer, we bring to Jesus our raging desires and pour out to Him our distress at not having what we crave.  And it is precisely through the wound of our insufficiency that He enters into us, revealing the lies we have believed (such as the lie that eating that chocolate is going to ease this loneliness in my heart, or that a particular person’s affirmation is the source of my identity).  In the silence of the Lenten desert, we listen in expectation for the Voice of Love.

Fasting is not about legalistic perfection, but about letting go of ourselves in order to make room for God.  “For He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself;” says C. S. Lewis, “and He can give that only insofar as our self-affirming will retires and makes room for Him in our souls….What matters, what Heaven desires and Hell fears, is precisely that further step, out of our depth, out of our own control.” This Lent, join the Great Fast; take that further step, out of your own control (which is an illusion anyway) and discover with St. Paul that when you are weak, then you are strong (2 Cor 12:10).

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Cooking tips and catechesis for the Great Fast & Pascha

Mother Gabriella has been working hard, along with Fr. Moses (Holy Resurrection Monastery, St. Nazianz, Wisconsin) and the crew of "Eastern Hospitality," to produce a series of videos providing both practical cooking tips and spiritual catechesis for the upcoming seasons of the Great Fast and Pascha.

Fr. Moses was a professional chef before becoming a monk and is the main cook at his monastery. Mother Gabriella enjoys cooking at our monastery and tackling the feeding of large groups!

In the video below, Mother Gabriella and Fr. Moses have a discussion about fasting. This is the second video of the second series of "Eastern Hospitality." The first series took place during the Philip's Fast (or Nativity Fast). To access all the videos, as well as recipes for each of the meals prepared, visit the Eastern Hospitality website.

We hope you learn a lot, enjoy some new recipes, and deepen your understanding and experience of fasting and feasting throughout the Church year!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Welcome, Sara Lynn!

Sara Lynn Gafford was received as a dokimos (postulant) of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery during Vespers for the Feast of the Meeting of Our Lord with Simeon and Anna, on Wed. evening Feb. 1, 2017. Bishop John, bishop-emeritus of our eparchy, blessed her and her headscarf and cross. Metropolitan William, administrator of our eparchy, also joined us later on to celebrate her entrance. A few friends and family members also joined us for Vespers and dinner. We are overjoyed to welcome Sara Lynn into our monastic family!

Enjoy more photos here.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

"Come down!"

Today is the first pre-Lenten Sunday, the Sunday of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus "sought to see who Jesus was" (Lk 19:3), but Jesus said to Zacchaeus, "Make haste and come down, for I must stay at your house today" (Lk 19:5). Jesus says a similar thing to each of us: "Come down! I desire more for you than having you just thinking about me; I desire a real relationship with you. I want to come into the house of your soul!" When Jesus comes into Zacchaeus' house, Zacchaeus experiences a conversion and tells Jesus what he is going to do to amend his life. Zacchaeus is willing to let go of those things that hinder his relationship with God. When we come down from our thoughts and let Jesus into the meeting place in our soul, He gives us the strength to let go of those things we cling to that prevent us from deepening our relationship with Him. He can then say to us as He said to Zacchaeus, "Salvation has come to this house today!" Let's pray for each other that we may be willing, with the haste of Zacchaeus, to "receive [Jesus] joyfully" (Lk 19:6) as we begin our preparations for the Great Fast. It is Jesus in us who will give us the strength for our Lenten journey of conversion.