Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Anointing of Love

Today on the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing women I am reflecting back on a grace the Lord worked in my heart a few years ago – a grace which still affects me deeply to this day. I had been sick in bed during Holy Week and feeling frustrated that I was missing all the services and “missing” all my prayer times. At last on Holy Saturday I was well enough to go, at least, to my icon corner in my room, for some quiet, upright prayer (those of you who are sick, know how cherished these upright moments are). But my hands were unsteady, and as I poured oil into my hanging lamp, I accidentally spilled oil all over my icon corner. Instead of having the prayer time that I so desired, I had to spend the next hour trying to clean up the mess. What a waste, I thought.

The next day, after all the Paschal services, my spiritual father unexpectedly stopped by. In an attempt to be funny, I asked him, “I know what Jesus says about the wise virgins who have oil in their lamps and about the unwise virgins who run out, but what about the ones who spill their oil all over their icon corners?” Instead of laughing, he looked at me very seriously and said, “You are the woman who poured her oil over Jesus.” My heart was immediately stirred.

Later the Lord would show me that just as the oil poured over Jesus was not a waste, so too our love is poured out but never wasted. I could see now how often I had been afraid to “waste” my love because I thought it would not be received. Or worse yet, I feared giving my love to those who didn’t “deserve” it. But I was seeing more clearly than ever that I was most called to pour my love out over the seemingly “undeserving,” and that my love would never be wasted. I did not need to worry about controlling the outcomes of this pouring out, but to unite it to Him who would use it in any way that He wished. I realized that as I poured oil over the “least of these” my brethren (see Mt 25:40), I was pouring it over the wounds of Jesus. This love was a consolation to His wounded heart. I had felt so frustrated and inconvenienced by the oil spill because I thought it had taken away my prayer time, not realizing that this oil spill was extremely valuable prayer time.

As this reflection began to permeate and settle into the pores of my heart, my eyes were opened to deeper levels of understanding. The Myrrh-bearing women planned to anoint part of the dead body of Jesus, but their mission failed. They were sent instead to tell the disciples that Jesus was risen. They were called, in other words, not to anoint part of the dead body of Jesus, but the whole living body of Jesus, the Church. We are, each one of us, called to anoint every member of His body, from the weakest to the strongest. We are called to love. We are called to give what we have received from Him.

Sister Iliana

Friday, April 6, 2018

Christ is Risen!

Indeed He is Risen! We hope you are enjoying a beautiful celebration of Our Lord's Resurrection, or that you will this Sunday, depending on when you celebrate it.

The powerful Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom is traditionally read during Matins on Pascha (Easter):

"If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen."

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Girls Camp registration is open!





UPDATE: Girls Camp is full for this year. To be put on a waiting list, email youth@parma.org or call 440-834-0290. Boys Camp is still accepting registrations.

Calling all teen girls!  Our Girls Camp registration is now open on the Eparchy of Parma's website - and is filling up fast!  Registration will be limited to 30 girls ages 13 to 18, and additional sign ups will be placed on a waiting list.  Be sure to sign up soon!

Girls Camp Registration and Information

There will also be a Boys Camp for boys ages 8 to 18 across the street from the monastery at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch, also hosted by the eparchy.  See the link below for information and to register!

Boys Camp Registration and Information

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Week of the Bridegroom

We've reached Great & Holy Week--also known as the Week of the Bridegroom. We now seek to remain close to Jesus, the Bridegroom, as He pours Himself out to the last drop for His Bride, the Church. Will we open to receive the life He is pouring out for us?

Enjoy this reflection from our friend of ours, Fr. Patrick Schultz, a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland. In it, he writes about the Week of the Bridegroom and the receptivity that Christ longs to find in our hearts.

"As we come to the end of our Lenten pilgrimage...we are not asked by the Lord to act, achieve, or accomplish anything. No, we are invited now to trust his loving mercy, to trust his voice, to trust his heart and his intentions, and to open ourselves to receive and conceive the gift of eternal life that gushes out from his heart" (from Fr. Patrick Schultz's reflection). 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Lazarus: A witness to glory

Today we celebrate Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. While we were in the Holy Land last year, we were able to visit the tomb of Lazarus in Bethany, and it was a powerful moment of prayer for me, because Lazarus has taught me so much the past couple years. My favorite aspect of the story of Lazarus is the reminder that we are all called to witness to God’s glory, to allow others access to Christ in us, though we can frequently feel shy about it.

One of the Gospel readings tomorrow (the one for Palm Sunday, not the Annunciation) says, “Then a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead” (Jn 12:9). The Jews wanted to, in some way, see this miracle of Jesus with their own eyes. They wanted to see Lazarus for no reason except because Jesus had done profound things in his life. And is this not now a responsibility of Lazarus – to witness to God’s glory? I remember being embarrassed after sending my home parish a letter which included a beautiful meditation God had gifted me, which transformed me. But who am I to hold back from sharing with others the miracles our Bridegroom has worked in my life?

Last year, as I prayed with the icon of Palm Sunday, I was struck by something similar. The children are throwing the clothes under the feet of the donkey. Of course, I know the story, but in the icon, something hit me for the first time – Christ’s feet are not on the ground. He is not at risk of getting dirty. They are putting their clothes out for the donkey to step on. Did that donkey do anything to deserve such treatment? Only being a vessel for the Bridegroom’s glory.

I find these two incidents very related because…what did Lazarus “do” to allow others to see God’s glory? Well…not much. He died. He didn’t raise himself from the dead. All the power was God’s. What did the donkey “do” to deserve special treatment? Again…not much. He just let Jesus do His thing. Sometimes I struggle to share with others the work Christ has done in my own life, but Lazarus reminds me of part of a homily I recently heard: when God gives us a gift, be it a particular strength or a consolation…that gift is not ours to keep for ourselves, to grasp with a tight grip. We must let Him use that same gift for others, through us. This takes discernment, to be sure. There are parts of our heart and parts of our prayer life that are meant to be between only us and our Spouse. However, when you feel that tug on your heart that is Jesus asking you to let others see the parts of your life He has resurrected, to let Him use you as a vessel of His glory, I encourage you to say “yes” to that, recognizing with all humility that you are showing not your own power, but the power of our all-loving, all-merciful Savior.

Sister Natalia

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Join us for Bridegroom Matins on Great & Holy Wednesday

Join us for our patronal commemoration, Bridegroom Matins, on Great & Holy Wednesday, March 28. Celebrated only on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, the readings and hymns of this service rouse the heart to conversion and vigilance for the coming of the Bridegroom and offer strength to His Bride the Church as we journey with Him in His passion. The service on Great & Holy Wednesday will take place from 8:00 a.m. to about 9:30 a.m. and will be followed by a light breakfast. If you plan to stay for breakfast, please RSVP to christthebridegroom@gmail.com or 440-834-0290.

May we remain close to our self-emptying Bridegroom in these final days of the fast and in the celebration of His passion and resurrection.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A story of hope for the desert

Today, the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent, is dedicated to the memory of our holy mother St. Mary of Egypt.  Oh, we need her by this point in the Fast!  I need her every day I live in the monastic desert…  I first encountered St. Mary of Egypt during the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete last Lent (2017), at which we read aloud the story of her life recorded by St. Sophronius.  This saint, one of the great treasures of the Christian East, was entirely unknown to me, coming as I do from the Christian West.  Listening to her story, I was moved to tears, and as I read the ending aloud, I had to keep pausing between sentences to swallow my emotion and take deep breaths lest the sobs welling up from my heart burst forth.  She is a beacon of hope for us sinners!  I began praying, in a personal way, to St. Mary of Egypt when we went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land last summer.  I was aware that my motives for pilgrimage were not entirely pure, a mixture of worldly curiosity, a natural desire for adventure, and spiritual desire.  I thought, who knows more about pilgrimaging with impure motives than this harlot who went aboard a boat of pilgrims sailing from Egypt to Jerusalem, intending to pay her way by seducing the men on board?!  But while this woman lived a life of flagrant sin, her heart was not hardened, but remained receptive to the grace of conversion.  Arriving in Jerusalem, she approached the Church of the Resurrection (The Holy Sepulchre) to join the pilgrims who were streaming in to venerate the relics of the True Cross.  Three times she tried to enter, and three times her entrance into the holy place was halted by invisible forces.  Though people entered around her, she simply could not cross the threshold!  Then, grace broke through:  "The word of salvation gently touched the eyes of my heart and revealed to me that it was my unclean life which barred the entrance to me.  I began to weep and lament...and to sigh from the depths of my heart."  Welling up in the heart of this sinful woman was a desire for salvation, a sigh that led, not to self-pity, but to repentance!

Mary turned in prayer to the Theotokos, the Mother of God, confiding herself to her maternal intercession and guidance:  "I have heard that God Who was born of you became a man on purpose to call sinners to repentance.  Then help me, for I have no other help... Be my faithful witness before your Son... I will renounce the world and its temptations and will go wherever you lead me."  Then, she was able to approach the Cross and to bow before the wood on which Christ's Blood poured out to cleanse her of her sins.  Giving thanks to the Theotokos for her help, she committed her life to Christ, asking His Mother to guide her.  The Theotokos told Mary, "If you cross the Jordan, you will find rest."  Immediately, she went to St. John the Baptist Monastery on the banks of the Jordan River, where she received the sacraments, and then she crossed the Jordan and wandered into the wilderness where she did battle with demons, with wild beasts, and with her own sinful nature.  She related to St. Zosimos that, "after the violent storm [of seventeen years!], lasting calm descended," and she lived in the desert until her death 30 years later (for a total of 47 years in the desert--she died in her mid-sixties).

Mary was present to me on our pilgrimage:  I saw her icon on the walls of the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, of the Melkite Emmanuel Monastery in Bethlehem, of St. Peter Gallicantu in Jerusalem.  We found the ancient icon, cracked with age, before which Mary pled for the prayers of the Theotokos.  Our guide directed us up steps, through a chapel, and to a roof courtyard up in the Coptic section of the Holy Sepulchre where we found to the arched doorway (now closed up) that Mary had been unable to enter all those centuries ago.  I set a small icon of her on the stones of the wall, and we sang her tropar with awe and gratitude for this saintly friend.

But it was in the months after the Holy Land, as Jesus led me deep into a spiritual desert in which I encountered very deeply the poverty and emptiness of my yearning heart, that I knew Mary close to me, interceding for me, teaching me as the Desert Mother that she is.  She teaches us to live and to love in the desert.  From the world's perspective, it is as much madness to enter the monastic life (or to embark on the difficult path of Christian discipleship) as it is to go into the desert, seeking God by prayer, silence, and a life given wholly over to God for the sake of the world.  But Mary knows that Love led her into the desert so that she could be all His.  And, belonging totally to the Holy Trinity, in the mystery of the Communion of Saints, she belongs also to us, the faithful who still trudge along desert roads under the burning sun.  Mary lived the words of Hosea the Prophet: "I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her... I will espouse you in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.  I will espouse you in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord” (2:16, 19-20).  The Church sings of this saint, "By the Cross, you annihilated the horde of demons; for this you are a bride now in the Kingdom of Heaven" (kontakion for her feast, April 1).  May she also pray for us, that we would wield well the weapon of the Cross against the hordes of hell until we, too, are admitted to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

Sister Petra