Thursday, October 29, 2015

Life Profession, November 8

Sr. Cecilia and Sr. Gabriella will make their life profession on Sunday, November 8, at 2:00 p.m., at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, 1900 Carlton Rd., Parma, Ohio.  All are invited to the profession service and Divine Liturgy!  Here is some information about this step in the monastic life and what you will experience at the profession:

Mother Theodora hands the bishop the scissors at her profession in 2011
After several years of discernment and experience in living the monastic life as a dokimos (postulant) and then as a rasophore (“robe-bearer”) nun after her tonsure, a nun may request to make her life profession and commit her whole life to Christ as His bride.  If she is determined to be ready to make this commitment, she is received as a stavrophore (“cross-bearer”) nun during the monastic profession service.  At the beginning of the service, she is led up through the center of the church in a white robe (symbolic of her baptismal garment), barefoot, with her head uncovered and long hair flowing.  She makes three prostrations as she walks up through the church, symbolizing the three immersions in the baptismal font.  As she walks and approaches the bishop standing before the Royal Doors, the people sing a troparion about the return of the prodigal son to his father.  After the final prostration, the bishop helps her up.  He then asks a series of questions to determine her free will, her intentions, her willingness to renounce the things of the world, and her willingness to embrace poverty, chastity, obedience and all the “sorrows and restraints of the monastic life for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.”  She answers, “Yes, Master, with God’s help.” The bishop then recites a powerful catechesis (instruction) about the monastic life and beautiful words of encouragement, such as, “May He be with you when you fall and when you rise up again, consoling and cheering your heart with the comfort of His Holy Spirit.” The bishop then prays to God that He may accept her and help her.  The bishop then asks her to give him the scissors that he will use to cut her hair.  She must hand them to him three times to demonstrate her free will.  Then he tonsures her (cuts her hair) “as a sign that she has renounced the world, and everything that is in the world, and for the restraining of her will and of all fleshly desires.”  The bishop then blesses each piece of the habit one by one with prayers that explain the significance of that piece of clothing, and she is clothed in each piece.  In addition to the habit she has been wearing since her tonsure as a rasophore nun, she also receives the klobuk (hat with veil), the paramandyas (a square of black wool embroidered with a red cross and the instruments of the Passion), the mandyas (cape), a hand cross, a 300-knot chotki (prayer rope), and a lighted candle.  In Christ the Bridegroom Monastery the nuns also receive a wedding ring to symbolize their union with Christ as their Spouse.  The nun is now led in front of the icon of Christ where she will stand holding her hand cross and lighted candle for the duration of the Divine Liturgy that follows, just as the newly baptized would do.

A stavrophore nun experiences the fullness of monastic life, sharing in the passion, death and resurrection of her Bridegroom.  She is given the title of “Mother” to express the fruitfulness of her union with Christ.  Before the nun is tonsured as a stavrophore she relinquishes all monies,

possessions and property.  At this point, the nun is committed to remain for her lifetime in Christ the Bridegroom Monastery.  Many people ask, “Is the life profession the same thing is ‘final vows?’”  Yes, but Eastern monastics do not make “temporary vows” as other types of religious communities do, so there is no need to specify that these are the “final” vows.  To read more about the stages of monastic life, visit the “Discerning?” tab.  Please pray for Sr. Cecilia and Sr. Gabriella as they prepare for this serious, yet exciting and joyful day!

Please note: The profession and Divine Liturgy will last approximately three hours (but it will be timeless joy!).  Unfortunately we are not able to invite everyone to the dinner reception that will follow, but the Eucharistic banquet is the most important of all!

You are also invited to join us at the Sisters' respective home parishes on the two following Sundays as we celebrate in Thanksgiving for the gift of their vocations!

Mass of Thanksgiving for Sr. Gabriella
Sunday, November 15, 2015
11:00 a.m.
St. Francis de Sales Church
4019 Manchester Road
Akron, Ohio

Divine Liturgy of Thanksgiving for Sr. Cecilia 
Sunday, November 22, 2015 (Feast of St. Cecilia)
10:30 a.m.
St. Joseph Byzantine Church 
8111 Brecksville Road
Brecksville, Ohio

Monday, October 5, 2015

Entrusted to God and to the Church

Our community grew to six members on September 30th, when we welcomed Victoria Olsen as a dokimos (postulant) during Vespers for the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God. Victoria entered on the patronal feast day of her home parish, Holy Protection of the Mother of God Byzantine parish in Denver.  Her pastor, Fr. Michael O'Loughlin, was able to make the trip out to be present for her entrance day. He reminded us that the feast day is also the patronal feast of Victoria's home eparchy, Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix! Victoria's parents, grandmas and a cousin were also able to be present. Enjoy these photos from the day!

Here are some beautiful words from our bishop's homily:

“Entrusting: what a beautiful concept…on this Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God.  Jesus entrusted his good friend, John, to His Mother.  He said ‘Here is your mother.  Trust her.’  And we know that Mary is that image of the Church, and God entrusts us to this beautiful instutition, organization, family: the Church.  And so we do trust and we do have to have that kind of faith, and today is an opportunity for us to entrust ourselves into the hands of: a superior, into the hands of those who have been given to us for support. …We know that Victoria has in the past and will continue to thank her family, and we in the name of the Church thank her family for showing her that right to trust, that ability to trust.  [This trust] comes from living in a strong family, or it comes later in life with the grace of God. …We take a moment to be reminded of those to whom we are entrusted. …We thank God for the gift of His Mother, whose mantle is held over us, to show us that indeed it is a mantle of love, a mantle of interest and care for us.  And so, how appropriate we do trust, and we indeed want to maintain that newness in our life and not lose that first fervor that is easy to lose. …I am sure that God has great things in store for [Victoria] as she continues her discernment now to determine if in fact this community is where she will find God’s plan for her.”

Monday, September 28, 2015

"You are an enclosed garden": Upcoming Discernment Retreat

The retreat has been postponed to the spring. Please check back later for the new date!

Single Catholic women, ages 18-35, who would like to take a weekend to pray about a possible vocation to the monastic or religious life, are invited to inquire about attending our upcoming discernment retreat, Thurs., Oct. 15 – Sun., Oct. 18, 2015.  Experience our life of prayer, listen to talks on prayer and discernment, make use of the opportunity to get to know us, and receive healing through the Mystery of Holy Repentance (Confession).  If you are interested in this retreat, or a future retreat or discernment opportunity, fill out the online Vocation Inquiry Form.  Space is limited for the retreat, so be sure to fill out the form by October 8.  Mother Theodora will call you to talk about availability.  With questions, call 440-834-0290 or email

Visit our "Discerning?" page for the schedule and more information.  Or check out the retreat brochure!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Welcome, Victoria!

Please keep in your prayers our soon-to-be dokimos (postulant) Victoria Olsen! She will enter our community at Vespers for the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God on September 30. Victoria comes to us from Denver, Colorado, where she was a parishioner of Holy Protection of the Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Church. She will be an enthusiastic, joyful addition to our community! Please pray for her as she begins this time of growth and discernment of the monastic life.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Our new sisters explain their names

Our new rasophore nuns, Sr. Emilia and Sr. Iliana, were tonsured on September 7, and they would like to share with you about the saints and inspiration behind the monastic names they received:

Sr. Emilia
Feast Day: May 8

“You shall be given a new name
which the LORD himself will give. . .
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall
your God rejoice over you.”
(Isaiah 62:2,5)

“…the handmaid of God, Sr. Emilia.” These words are the words spoken by my bishop on the day of my tonsure. I did not know my name up to this point. When he said, “Emilia,” my heart skipped a beat. That was my number one choice, but it wasn’t one of the three choices that I submitted to Mother Theodora. I had already received that name in eighth grade, when I was confirmed. I told God in prayer one day, “I love Emilia, I feel called to take that name, but I already did. If it is really you asking me to take this name again, I need you to make Mother pick it without it being an option and without me saying it’s the number one name on my heart. I need to know it is your will, Lord.”

My seventh grade year, my mom passed away just two weeks after having the youngest of my siblings, Edward Benedict. If he had been a girl, my mom wanted to name him Emilia Rose, after St. John Paul II’s mom, who died when he was young. In honor of my mom, I chose to take Emilia as my confirmation name that next year. When I submitted that name I had to write a little report on St. Emilia. Here are some of the things that I found interesting then, which are even more so now:

St. Emilia was the mother of ten children, five of whom are canonized saints. She instilled the Christian faith in her children, teaching them to pray and devote their lives to the Church (this reminded me greatly of my own saintly mother). The most well-known children of St. Emilia’s are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Macrina. Because of her holiness and the holiness of her children, St. Emilia is referred to as “The Mother of Saints.” She left everything behind to start a monastery with her oldest daughter Macrina. They began to live humble lives with other women who sought union with God.

These points about her life affect me more now because of the connection with the Byzantine Church. Her children are celebrated on the Byzantine calendar and St. Basil the Great has a special liturgy that we, the faithful, use during Great Lent. When I was in eighth grade, I had no idea what the Byzantine Catholic Church was. I had no idea that down the road I would be tonsured a rasaphore nun in a Byzantine monastery and receive that same name again. Looking back at this process, I can clearly see God’s hand at work in my life. He truly picked my name the day I was tonsured and it means that much more because of the connection with my mother.

Now that I am called Sr. Emilia, I will live each day remembering to emulate this holy saint. I will look to her for guidance in holiness, for examples of how to be a good mother for those children of God that come to me seeking spiritual motherhood. Above all, I will remember and be connected to my own mother each day as I remember her love for God and her dedication to raise me and my ten siblings in the love of the Lord, my heavenly Father. I will have the memories of her example to help me in religious life; to always love the Lord above all else, and strive to lead the souls whom I encounter to heaven, to union with God.

“You are now God’s daughter; you belong. In Christ, you are His favorite, His beloved.”
(Abba’s Heart, by Neal Lozano)

Sr. Iliana                        
Feast day: July 20th, Elias the Prophet  
Meaning: “My God has answered” in Hebrew 
Pronounced: ee-lee-ah-nah (Iliana, the Ukrainian spelling of Eliana, feminine of Elias)  

The Lord placed the name Iliana on my heart on Pentecost Sunday, and filled my heart with a burning desire to be named after the great prophet Elias. I felt unworthy to be named after such a great prophet, so full of fiery zeal, when I was so small and prone to fear. Elias was “filled with jealous zeal for the Lord” (I Kg 19:10). He was taken to heaven in a “chariot of fire” (II Kg 2:11) and when he was born, his father saw “angels of God hovering around the child, wrapping the child in fire and feeding it flames” (The Prologue of Ohrid). So, too, I wished to be caught up in the flames of His love.  

The next day, I decided to ask the Lord if this was the name He had chosen, and asked Elias if he was, in fact, adopting me as his little pupil. I began to read about the Transfiguration, and was immediately struck by the image of Jesus speaking to Elias face to face, and so I understood that Elias would teach me to pray and speak with the Lord face to face, “as a man speaks with a friend” (Ex 33:11). When Jesus said that “Elias has come already,” the disciples “understood that he was speaking of John the Baptist” (Mt 17:12-13), and so I understood that with Elias as my patron, I would also have John the Baptist, the “friend of the Bridegroom” (Jn 3:29) as my patron as well. As we continued to celebrate Pentecost, I felt that by choosing the prophet Elias as my patron, I could also cry out with Elisha, “Let me inherit a double share of your spirit” (II Kg 2:9).  

I felt that the three most courageous, zealous prophets of the Lord were adopting me, a small little soul so prone to fear, teaching me that “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” (II Cor 3:17) and helping me hear the “still, small voice” (I Kg 19:12) of the Lord speak to my heart, “To you my friends I say: Do not be afraid” (Lk 12:4). As I pondered these things through the day, I continued to ask the Lord if this was what He was choosing for me. Then I went to the chapel for Vespers, and soon discovered that we were having Great Vespers, for the Feast of the third finding of the head of John the Baptist! The friend of the Bridegroom had adopted me and my soul rejoiced! Then the Lord confirmed this burning desire during the readings for Great Vespers, when Mother suddenly read, “Lo, I will send you Elias, the prophet” (Mal 3:23). 

I began to research the feminine name of Elias and discovered that Iliana meant “my God has answered” in Hebrew. This meaning resonated so deeply, for I knew in my heart that my vocation to be a nun at Christ the Bridegroom Monastery was a beautiful answer to prayer from the Lord. As Elias had “quenched his thirst by the stream” that the Lord had provided (I Kg 17:6), so too, the Lord was quenching my thirst for Him. As the “hand of the Lord had come down upon Elias” (I Kings 18:46) so that he could accomplish the Lord’s work, so too, the Lord’s hand was coming down on me.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Introducing Sr. Emilia & Sr. Iliana

When Pope Francis announced the “Year of Consecrated Life” which began on November 30, 2014, and will continue until February 2, 2016, we knew we didn’t have time to plan and implement any programs or events to celebrate this special year.  However, God had time.  It turns out that in addition to major renovations, our first fundraising event and the usual annual activities at the monastery, the Lord planned some large steps of growth for us during the “Year of Consecrated Life,” the first of which took place during Vespers for the recent feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God.

On Monday, September 7, our two dokimoi (postulants), Jacqueline McNeill and Motria Lonchyna were tonsured as rasophore nuns by Bishop John at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch in Burton, Ohio, receiving their habits and new monastic names and entering more fully into the monastic life.  Jacqueline is now Sr. Emilia, and Motria is now Sr. Iliana.

“Rasophore” simply means “robe-bearer,” which refers to the riassa (religious robe) which the nuns are clothed in at this stage in their monastic life.  A rasophore nun also receives the tunic, apostolnik (veil), belt, and skufia (hat).

Receiving the habit and new name is preceded by great anticipation within the monastic community as well as outside of it, and the moment of hearing the nun’s new name is one of emotion for all. Careful discernment takes place on the part of the dokimos as she submits three names to Mother, as well as on the part of Mother Theodora as she listens for what the Holy Spirit desires.

Mother chose the name Sr. Emilia—a name that was not on Jacqueline’s list, but one that was very close to her heart.  Sr. Emilia explained, “When Bishop John said, ‘Emilia,’ my heart skipped a beat. That was my number one choice, but it wasn’t one of the three choices that I submitted to Mother Theodora. I had already received that name in eighth grade, when I was confirmed. I told God in prayer one day, 'I love Emilia, I feel called to take that name, but I already did. If it is really you asking me to take this name again, I need you to make Mother pick it without it being an option....I need to know it is your will, Lord.'” St. Emilia was the mother of ten children, five of whom are canonized saints, including St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Macrina.  Bishop John was full of emotion as he tonsured Sr. Emilia and gave her this name, and he explained at the end of the service that Emilia was his mother’s name.

Sr. Iliana’s name is the Ukrainian spelling of the feminine form of St. Elias the Prophet.  She explained that the Lord placed this name on her heart on the feast of Pentecost.  She desired to be “caught up in the flames of God’s love” as St. Elias was. She felt that this courageous prophet was adopting her, “a little soul so prone to fear, teaching me that ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom’ (II Co 3:17) and helping me hear the ‘still, small voice’ (1 Kg 19:12) of the Lord speak to my heart, ‘To you my friends I say: Do not be afraid’ (Lk 12:4).”  The name is pronounced “ee-lee-ah-nah.”

Many friends and family witnessed the tonsure. “Tonsure” is the cutting of the hair as a sign of consecration and commitment to God. Following the service, the guests enjoyed a potluck dinner at the shrine pavilion, where the newly-tonsured nuns greeted them and tried to get accustomed to responding to their new names.

The first year as rasophore nuns is a time of limited communication with those outside the monastery so that the new nuns may learn to depend on their Bridegroom alone.  If the rasophores and the monastic community discern that it is God’s will that they commit the remainder of their lives to Him and be united to Him as His brides, in several years they may make their life profession and be tonsured as stavrophore nuns, at which time they will be given the title “Mother” to represent the spiritual motherhood with which they are blessed by this union.

Please keep Sr. Emilia and Sr. Iliana in your prayers as they continue to discern God’s will and strive to give their lives to Christ and His Church.

The second moment of growth in our monastery will occur, God-willing, on September 30, when another young woman, Victoria Olsen, will enter the monastery as a dokimos (postulant).  Victoria is from Holy Protection Byzantine Catholic Church in Denver, Colorado.

The third moment will occur on November 8, when rasophore nuns Sr. Cecilia and Sr. Gabriella will be tonsured as stavrophore (“cross-bearer”) nuns and make their life profession to Christ.  All are invited to attend the profession and Divine Liturgy for the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel and all the Angels at 2:00 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio. Glory to God for all His blessings this year!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Come and join us for our Fall Work Day!

Saturday, September 19th
10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Join us for a day of outdoor and indoor work projects, prayer, food and fun at the monastery on Saturday, September 19.  Volunteers of all ages and abilities are welcome!  The day begins at 10 a.m., includes lunch, and closes with vespers at 5 p.m. followed by a cookout.  Come at whatever time you are available, and bring a side dish to share if you can.  The monastery is located at 17485 Mumford Rd. Burton, Ohio.  

Please RSVP by Tuesday, September 15, to 440-834-0290 or, so that the appropriate amount of food can be prepared. 

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