Friday, November 21, 2014

"...that we might be holy and immaculate in His presence"

Happy Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple!

But first, a few notes:

  • Today is Mother Theodora's third anniversary of her tonsure as a stavrophore nun (life profession) in our monastery!
  • Today is the 50th anniversary of Orientalium Ecclesiarum, the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, an important document from Vatican II.  This document has been fundamental in the ongoing renewal of authentic traditions in the Eastern Catholic Churches.  The document states, "All members of the eastern churches...are to aim always at a more perfect knowledge and practice of their rites, and if they have fallen away due to circumstances of times or persons, they are to strive to return to their ancestral traditions."
  • Please to continue to pray for Moki, who was originally scheduled to enter yesterday evening at vespers.  She is recovering from pnemonia and God-willing will enter in a couple of weeks!
  • We are about a week into the Nativity Fast.  This fast is traditionally an abstinence from meat and dairy products for these 40 days in preparation for the birth of Our Lord.  Consider joining with us in fasting in some way in order to let go of your attachments so that you may be better able to receive the great gift of God's love in the Incarnation!
Mother Theodora's Profession

Ok, back to the feast day:

The Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple gives us a lot to reflect upon!  Today, let's compare our own process of sanctification to the preparation of Mary to become the Temple of God...

It should be a great relief to us that Mary, the one without sin, wasn't expected to prepare herself by herself.  She was taken to the Temple to be prepared.  In fact, she couldn't have prepared herself.  This was something that only God could do.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity writes,
"'God,' [St. Paul] says, 'chose us in Him before creation that we might be holy and immaculate in His presence, in love' (Ephesians 1:4)....I must remain 'in the presence of God' through everything...and it is contact with the divine Being that will make me 'holy and immaculate' in His eyes" (Last Retreat, Third Day).
Tradition says that at Mary's entrance, Zechariah took her into the Holy of Holies.  At that time, there was no greater place of "contact with the divine Being" on earth!  It was Mary's living in the Temple, in close proximity to the presence of God, that prepared her to contain Him within her.

For us, this place of contact with God happens in such things as the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments), the Divine Liturgy, in prayer and in encountering Him in others.  This contact with God slowly transforms us, especially as we surrender to God's action within us.

St. John Damascene's thanksgiving prayer after Holy Communion says,
"May [Your most pure body and blood] burn away my sins, enlighten my soul, and brighten my understanding.  May they sanctify me, making a dwelling-place in me so that I too may be in You forever...." 
This is beautiful news, but news that is hard for us to accept!  We want to think that we can achieve holiness through our own work!  May the Mother of God intercede for us and help us to surrender to the great love and power of her Son, who alone can prepare us for all that He asks of us on earth and for all that He has destined us for in the eternal glory of heaven!

Monday, November 17, 2014

"We don't need to worry about anything..."

“Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!” (Song of Songs 2:10) was the theme of our annual discernment retreat, October 30-November 2.  Two young women responded to God’s call to spend this weekend with Him, listening for His voice of love.

Fr. Michael Lee celebrated the Divine Liturgy on Friday, October 31, for the feast of Blessed Theodore Romzha, Mother Theodora’s patron.  Fr. Michael’s talk after lunch set the young women at ease in the midst of their discernment struggles and set the tone for the rest of the weekend.  He explained that the purpose of life is union with God, and in discernment, “God isn’t focused on the answer; He’s focused on you.  If you’re face to face with God, you can relax and let Him do the work.”  He said that we are each called to be the bride of God; the question is simply “where?”  He also explained that God’s voice says, “‘Be with Me,’ ‘be not afraid’ or ‘I love you,’ and anything that is not fundamentally one of those things is not God’s voice.”

We also gave talks throughout the weekend.  Sr. Cecilia spoke about the development of monastic life in the Church and about the ways that monastics are “reference points for all the baptized” (St. John Paul II, Orientale Lumen).  Sr. Gabriella shared her vocation story.  Mother Theodora spoke about the vocation of monastic life as a call to enter into the heart of Christ.

The retreat was a peaceful harmony of talks, prayer and community time, which allowed us just as much as the retreatants to pause from the usual daily work and to listen to God’s voice and to rest in Him.  We were all inspired by the film “Bakhita,” the story of a slave from Africa who allowed the abusive experiences of her life to make her a saint instead of a bitter person.  On Saturday evening, we all experienced healing through the Mystery of Holy Repentance.

Selina Melancon, who traveled from Las Vegas, described her experience at the monastery: “The Sisters’ gift to the Lord of hospitality to the weary and burdened makes the monastery the true home of each soul that enters.  To pray and live among the Sisters is to dwell in the safety of the Bridegroom’s Divine Heart: as a guest there, I immediately felt a member of the family.”

Elizabeth Hofmeister, from Greenwood, Ind., succinctly explained the truth that was uncovered in her heart: “I learned the most important ‘secret’ ever!...That true discernment isn't forcing God to tell us what His will is, but drawing so close to Him that we will just know through our relationship with Him.  We don’t need to worry about anything, but simply look at Our Lord and fall more in love with Him as we let Him work on us and perfect us.

Please pray for these young women and for all who are discerning a call to the monastic life.  Click here to view more photos from the retreat.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Pray for Moki, who will join our community on November 20!

Moki, at center of photo, during our Girls' Camp
Happy National Vocation Awareness Week!  It's a perfect week to announce the wonderful news that our community will grow from four to five when we welcome Motria ("Moki") Lonchyna as a dokimos (postulant) on the evening of November 20, during Vespers for the Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple!

Moki is an incredibly joyful young woman.  She is Ukrainian Catholic and currently lives in Philadelphia.  She fulfilled her observership at the monastery this summer, spending six weeks living our life and helping with our Girls' Camp.  We are thrilled to welcome her into our family!

Please pray for Moki as she prepares for her entrance day and begins to live this new life of joyful dying-to-self in the monastery!

Monday, November 3, 2014

November Feast Days

This month we celebrate the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel and all the Angels and the Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple.  Here is our "open-to-the-public" liturgical schedule for most of this month.  Remember to check the calendar on our "Upcoming Events" page for an up-do-date schedule and more information!

Friday, November 7
4:45 p.m.         The Jesus Prayer in silence
5:00 p.m. Great Vespers (Feast of St. Michael & all the Angels)

Saturday, November 8
9:00 a.m. Divine Liturgy (Feast of St. Michael & all the Angels)

Wednesday, November 12
9:00 a.m. Divine Liturgy

Saturday, November 15
4:45 p.m.         The Jesus Prayer in silence
5:00 p.m. Great Vespers

Sunday, November 16
10:00 a.m. Divine Liturgy

Friday, November 21
9:00 a.m.    Divine Liturgy (Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple)
                        Third Anniversary of Mother Theodora's Life Profession

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Happy Feast of St. John Paul II!

Today is the first celebration of the feast day of St. John Paul II since his canonization in April.  We also recently celebrated, on Oct. 11, the first feast day of St. John XXIII, who was canonized together with him.  Here are our reflections from the canonization, which we recently published in our fall newsletter:

Reflections on the Canonization 
of St. John Paul II & St. John XXIII

Thanks to a very generous anonymous benefactor, we were all sent to Rome in April to witness the canonization of St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII.  St. John Paul II has played a large role in the founding of our monastery: he inspired its foundation by writing “Orientale Lumen” (“Light of the East”), he has played a role in each of our vocations, and we realized his obvious guidance from heaven while writing our typikon (rule of life).  Those who have visited the monastery also know about our “JPII room”—a small sitting room used most often for our personal meetings with Mother, which is stocked with all our St. John Paul II books, photos and a couple second-class relics.  Once we learned that we would be attending this canonization, we made an effort to get to know St. John XXIII as well.  Some of us read sections of “Journal of a Soul,” the compilation of his personal journals.  We were also pleased to learn about his importance to the Eastern Catholic Churches and his work towards unity with the Orthodox Church.  Making a pilgrimage to this canonization was a distant-dream-come-true and an experience that will always remain in our hearts.  Enjoy these brief personal reflections from each of us.

Mother Theodora—”Be not afraid”
“Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well.  Do this in complete faith and confidence” (St. John Paul II).  I was 19 when I heard the opening words of Pope John Paul II’s papacy, “Be not afraid.” His love and courage continues to incite me to trust and to move into the unknown.  It was a privilege to be with my sisters in St. Peter’s Square for his canonization and that of John XXIII.  Arriving at the Square took some courage.  We pushed our way into the deep and dense ocean of people that moved us uncontrollably toward our destination.  There were moments when the surge of the crowd literally made it hard to breathe.  We arrived in the Square unscathed and grateful.  My most memorable experience was praying before the tomb of St. John Paul II.  The guards kept moving the endless line of faithful who desired to be near his tomb.  The sisters and I managed to find a little cove outside the ropes in which to stand and pray for his intercession.  We believe the guards tolerated our prayerful presence until a growing number of people joined us.  As I prayed, a flood of fears and reluctancies overwhelmed me and with tears I implored his help.  I then felt his fatherly embrace and heard his encouraging words: “Don’t be afraid.”  With the loving guidance and intercession of St. John Paul II, we continue to step out into the unknown, knowing that through God’s grace all will be very, very well.

Sr. Cecilia—“In the heart of the Church”
I knew I didn’t want to stand with the crowds out on the street all night in order to get into St. Peter’s Square when it opened.  To be honest, the main reason was that I knew I couldn’t last that many hours without using the restroom!  So I was resigned to being far away from the Square.  However, as soon as we arrived, our tour group leaders told us that they had managed to arrange an amazing opportunity for us: a room large enough for our group to sit in was reserved in a building right on the Via della Conciliazione, just outside St. Peter’s Square.  We would spend the night in prayer, some food would be available for purchase and…we could use the restrooms until the morning!  As soon as the prayer vigil began, I was completely overwhelmed with gratitude and awe at God’s providence.  There I was, right there with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, safe inside this building, as hundreds of thousands of people made their way toward this very spot.  The eyes of the world were on this place, yet no one knew I was there in that building in the midst of it.  My monastic vocation—to be praying in the heart of the Church—was renewed.  I became resolved that I wanted my vocation to be for the world, and I realized how intimately close to Jesus this vocation is!

Sr. Gabriella—“God’s abundant mercy”
Having been to St. John Paul II’s beatification, I had a good idea of what we would experience at the canonization.  Last time, I spent the night outside in the streets with all the people waiting to enter the Square – this time, we were blessed with a room to spend the night in away from the crowds – with bathrooms, food and Jesus!  By the time I made it into the Square though, I was beyond exhausted.  I crumpled under my poncho waiting for Mass to begin, barely lifting my head when Pope Francis came in.  The mood was different this time – much more subdued and peaceful.  The almost two full days of being awake was taking its toll on me and I barely made it through Mass.  Since I already received communion at midnight, I felt it wasn’t right for me to receive again because I had not fully participated in Mass.  In God’s providence, a priest walked up 20 feet away from me and had only a few people in line – and somehow I found myself in line to receive Jesus!  The guilt I felt melted away as I tasted the most wonderful Eucharist I have ever received, thinking, “Is this what manna tasted like?!”  I had a profound sense of God’s mercy, so fitting on Divine Mercy Sunday, and Jesus spoke to my heart, reminding me that nothing I do merits my partaking in the Eucharist – it is truly a gift, freely given by God to me!

Jacqui—“Being Christ for each other”
The most memorable moment for me was standing in line to get into St. Peter’s Square the morning of the canonization.  Things got tense as the hours passed.  People became tired, hungry, thirsty, claustrophobic, etc.  After a while I became separated from my group.  I began to get nervous because no one around me spoke English.  My back was hurting because my backpack was too heavy, there was no such thing as personal space, and it was difficult to communicate.  Then I realized that this is a pilgrimage and it isn’t supposed to be easy.  I lifted my backpack and began singing the Jesus Prayer to calm down.   Then a kind Italian man behind me said, “May I help you with your bag?”  I immediately thought of what was in my bag that could be stolen.  As I was trying to think, he placed his hand under my bag and lifted it up so the weight wasn’t on my shoulders and back.  He then said, “We stay together.”  Each time the line moved up he would grab my backpack straps and say jokingly, “Left foot, right foot, left foot.”  I realized that these popes who would soon become saints had somehow helped every single person who was in line that day.  We are all called to be that person for the world: a witness to God’s love and action.  I am grateful for the friend who helped me to realize that even in those tense moments we can still be Christ and bring Joy to those around us.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Our Divine Liturgies are now open to the public!

We have some news that we are very excited to share with you!

After some discernment about the needs of our growing community and God's will for our immediate future, we became open to the possibility of moving our liturgical services out of our tiny, unfinished chapel that we set up in the monastery, to the larger, established chapel directly across the street.

After speaking with Bishop John, he has given us the care of this chapel which was formerly under the care of the "Fellowship of the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch," a small group of lay people in the area.  The extra space of this chapel now allows us to open our liturgical services to this group of lay people and to anyone who would like to pray with us!  Bishop John has also appointed Fr. Andrey Kovalenko, the current administrator of the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch, as our chaplain.

At our recent fall work day, volunteers helped us to clean the chapel and make some rearrangements to adapt the space for monastic use. There are still many aspects of the chapel that we would like to renovate and liturgical items that we would like to purchase, but we know that God will provide in His time if it is His will.

On this coming Sunday, October 19, we will open our Divine Liturgy to the public for the first time!  Divine Liturgies will be celebrated here on most Sundays, at 10:00 a.m.  We will also publish the days and times of Great Vespers and other services as we feel able to open them.  If you would like to pray with us at a time not listed, please feel free to call (440-834-0290) to check our schedule.

We will keep a calendar updated on our "Upcoming Events" tab.

We are excited to begin to pray with you, and we hope to see you soon!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A great Fall Work Day!

Thank you to all of our Fall Work Day volunteers!  We were blessed with a beautiful, warm, sunny day and beautiful, enthusiastic volunteers!  We accomplished many projects, indoors and out.  As always, we also enjoyed a delicious potluck lunch.  Quite a few volunteers also stayed for Great Vespers, dinner and a campfire.  Thank you for blessing us with your joy and willing hands!

Click here to view more photos!