Monday, December 14, 2009
What does St. Nicholas have to do with Christmas?
What is it about St. Nicholas that causes this phenomenon? We barely know any facts about the life of St. Nicholas. He wasn’t a theologian and we don’t have a word that he wrote, he isn’t known for any ascetical feats of fasting and he wasn’t a mystic, a prophet or a martyr. There are plenty of legends about the life of St. Nicholas, such as his slugging of the heretic Arius at the first ecumenical council in Nicea or his anonymous gift dropped through the window of a young woman without a dowry. All we know for certain is that he was a fourth-century bishop of Myra in Lycia, known for his defense of the true faith and his good works. We may never know if the particular stories about him are perfectly true, but it doesn’t matter. All we need to know is that he was good!—He possessed the goodness of God Himself.
On the feast of St. Nicholas we participate in the goodness, generosity and joy of this saint by imitating his virtues and receiving the fruits of these virtues from others. Fr. Thomas Hopko explains in his book The Winter Pascha, “The Messiah has come so that human beings can live lives which are, strictly speaking, humanly impossible. He has come so that people can really be good. One of the greatest and most beloved examples among believers that this is true is the holy bishop of Myra about whom almost nothing else is known, or needs to be known, except that he was good. For this reason alone he remains, even in his secularized form, the very spirit of Christmas.”
Sr. Celeste and I hope that this joy and goodness was evident at our St. Nicholas celebration on the evening of December 5. We were certainly uplifted by the singing in our packed chapel for Great Vespers and the spirit of joy throughout the evening. Guests covered our kitchen counter with delicious potluck dishes, joyfully sang “O who loves Nicholas the saintly,” played games with the kids and enjoyed a visit by “St. Nicholas” himself! It was a glimpse of the joy of the Nativity—the joy of heaven!
As we complete the fast and the journey to the Nativity, may we seek little moments of interior silence to prepare a peaceful place in our hearts for Jesus, who desires to rest in us and give us His joy, so that we might overflow in generosity and love. Our prayers are with you!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
A much-needed retreat
We stayed at one of the houses on the grounds and enjoyed the gift of silence. At times we listened to CDs of various speakers, mostly of Father Thomas Hopko and Mother Christophora. We also had time to paint icons. I finished one and Julie started another. Even though some days were cold and rainy, we each made an effort to take walks on the grounds. We often visited Reverend Mother Alexandra’s grave (A.K.A. Ileana, Princess of Romania). I especially enjoyed spending prayerful time with her. Since she was the foundress of the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, I especially felt drawn to be with her and humbly asked for her guidance and intercession. I felt bolstered by her motherly presence.
At the end of the retreat, we were refreshed and ready to trek back to Burton, Ohio. We are grateful to the mothers and sisters of the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration and thank Christ our Bridegroom for the intimate encounters, energizing peace and all the blessings undeservedly received. God is (without a doubt) with us!
Friday, October 16, 2009
"I belong to my Lover, and for Me He yearns": Our 2nd Monastic Retreat
One of the highlights of the retreat was a road trip. We visited Monastery Marcha, a Serbian Orthodox monastery in Richfield, Ohio. Upon our arrival, Sister Anastasia warmly greeted us with great hospitality. She offered a traditional sweet candy and Serbian coffee. She explained that this particular tradition of hospitality goes back centuries when people took great lengths to visit the monasteries and were tired from their long and difficult travels. The hegumena (abbess), Mother Anna, an 87 year old nun immediately lit up the dining room with her entrance and genuine joy and “spunk.” We listened intently as she shared many stories of her life and her simple yet great wisdom. Sister Anastasia led us to their chapel and shared her love, wisdom and support for our endeavors for our future monastery. The holiness and aching love for Christ was clearly present at Monastery Marcha.
We hope that the women went home from the retreat refreshed, and yet instilled with a greater ache for union with God, knowing that they belong to Him and He yearns for union with them.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Fall Work Day
In the evening we prayed vespers in our chapel and then enjoyed a cookout and bonfire in the back yard. It was amazing how the food seemed to multiply! We talked, laughed and kept warm around the fire. Sr. Celeste and I were asked to “tell a story,” and it was a joy for me to realize that we already have stories to tell about the development of the monastery. (On October 3 it was six months since we moved in!)
You can click on the collage of photos from the work day to see it in full screen. You’ll see the photo in the upper right corner of the Fetsko family being interviewed on video. We are working on a short video about the monastery with Bob Kasarda of Eastern Christian Media (http://www.easternchristianmedia.com/), which Bishop John will take with him on his parish visits. Please pray for this project, and keep an eye out for it soon!
Monday, September 28, 2009
“O you through whom Joy will shine forth”
On Sunday morning we gave tours of our house to pilgrims and then invited all to pray the 6th Hour with us in our chapel. The chapel—and the foyer outside of it—were packed, and the singing was incredible. We were so blessed to pray with these awesome pilgrims.
The pilgrims enjoyed the beautiful hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Sunday afternoon and Sr. Celeste’s delicious homemade chicken paprikas afterwards! Thank you to all those who joined us for the weekend or who prayed for its success.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Boys' and Girls' Camps
In July the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch (across the street from us) was the site of the 2nd Alive in Christ Ascetical Boot Camp for Guys, and the "apartment" side our monastery was the site of the 1st Life in Christ Girls' Sleepover Weekend.
Although we were obviously not part of the staff for the boys' camp, we did enjoy the benefits of the boys' service project! As we waited outside for the boys to arrive, we spotted them coming in procession, shortest to tallest, carrying flowers! Each boy, along with the adult leaders, deacon and priests, presented us with a flower as camp director Fr. Rich Plishka introduced them to us. It was one of the most adorable things I've ever seen! We then quickly set them to work... We assigned each of the three teams of boys to a different project around our grounds and provided them with the necessary tools. Then we judged the teams on their ability to work together, work quickly, complete the project, etc. (The points we gave them were included in the weekend-long competition between the teams.) They were so cooperative and helpful, and we had a blast with them! The boys completed their visit with the praying of 6th hour in our chapel. They could certainly sing! We were also invited to attend their closing Divine Liturgy with Bishop John and the boys' families and a dinner at the pavilion.
The following weekend we hosted the 1st girls' camp (or technically girls' sleepover weekend...but the girls want to camp outside next year). Our theme was "Truth or Dare or Dare to Live the Truth." Sr. Celeste and I gave one of the talks, on religious life. We started out with a game we made up called "Myth Busters: Vocations Edition," to open up dialogue about the "myths" of religious life. The theme of our talk was "Give me an undivided heart." We explained how religious life is an opportunity and special call to live a radical life of dedication to God, without the distractions that come with married life. Whatever vocation they are each called to, we told them, will bring joy and fulfillment. And if God is calling them to religious life, He will not take away their wills and personalities, but will actually allow them to be more fully themselves.
We had a lot of fun with the girls, hanging out around the campfire, eating the first meal at our new dining room table, painting picture frames and attempting to make a human pyramid. We were also inspired by them as we spent Saturday evening in the chapel across the street in quiet prayer and reflection by candlelight with time for the Mystery of Holy Repentance. Most of the girls listed this experience as their favorite of the weekend. We closed the weekend with Divine Liturgy with Bishop John, cantored by the girls, and a dinner at the pavilion. We look forward to the camp next summer!
(You can click on the girls' camp collage to see it on a full screen)
Monday, August 10, 2009
A Colorful Transfiguration
As we harvest the vegetables in our garden, we are continually amazed by the beautiful plants and multitude of fruit produced by each small seed. Numerous spiritual lessons can be learned from a garden, but as we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord, we contemplate especially the transfiguration of each plant from flower to fruit, and how we are also being transfigured into the beauty of God.
On the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, the Byzantine Church observes the tradition of blessing fruit. Above is a picture of our fruit basket, which we were quite proud of! Some of its contents were harvested from our garden (and some from the grocery store)!
Our garden is flourishing, especially the weeds! We have been enjoying cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, green beans, broccoli and the first of the tomatoes. Our first canning experience of the summer was dill pickles. The garden has been difficult to keep up with, but we are grateful for all the blessings.
We ask for your prayers this weekend as we welcome pilgrims to the shrine for the Eparchy of Parma’s pilgrimage in honor of Our Lady of Mariapoch. We are especially excited to welcome the group of teens coming to camp out. If you are in the area, please join us!
The unchangeable nature of God, when united with human nature, shone forth with a brilliant light. It revealed to the apostles of Christ a reflection of the immaterial divinity. (Matins for the Feast of the Transfiguration, Ode 5)
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Christ Our Hope: Our Eparchy's 40th Anniversary
Forty years of hope were confirmed in a weekend of grace, joy and community. Hundreds of faithful gathered at the Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in Parma, Ohio, June 26-28, to celebrate 40 years of hope in our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
The faithful shared their particular parish history through creative displays. We also had a display and made fresh lemonade in the hope to raise a little income, but even more, to refresh those present and make known the hope and presence of our future monastery. A soft-serve ice cream machine was also donated which helped to enhance our humble enterprise. All in all it was an enjoyable success.
There were activities for all age groups as well as various liturgical services throughout the weekend. The climatic highlight was the beautiful, outdoor hierarchial Divine Liturgy celebrated by Bishop John Kudrick. Metropolitan Basil Schott of the Metropolia of Pittsburgh presided and Metropolitan Nicholas of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of Johnstown, Pennsylvania attended. Other bishops from the Metropolia and Roman Catholic bishops were also present. The magnificent white tent enveloped an impressive temporary iconostas and more than 800 people who sang in praise with one voice and soul.
The entire event created an intense anticipation of greater hope for the future. We praise and thank Christ Jesus our Bridegroom for the past 40 years and rely in His love and benevolent wisdom in a future overflowing with hope. God is with us!
Thursday, June 18, 2009
The Year of the Priest
Pope Benedict XVI has declared June 19, 2009 to June 19, 2010 as the "Year of the Priest." Monastics are called in a special way to pray for priests, who are working directly with their flocks. During this "Year of the Priest" we will pray for specific priests, deacons, deacon students and seminarians of our eparchy each day of the week. We would like to share with you the prayer that we will pray communally each day. We invite you to print it out and pray along with us!
O Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, Who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, and are completely without sin, hear our humble prayers on behalf of Your priests, deacons, and those studying for the priesthood and deaconate [N].
Strengthen and enliven those whom You have called to be leaders and servants to Your people here on earth. Give them a deep faith, courageous hope and a burning love for You which will ever intensify in the course of their priestly lives. Through Your Grace may they steadily grow in holiness and wisdom and become partakers of Your divine nature. May they never take for granted the gift of participation in Your Holy Mysteries, and always be in awe before Your true presence at Your holy table.
We ask that they always be vigilant and willing to defend the Gospel to the ends of the earth. May they embody Your sacrificial and all-consuming love, and instill in each person they encounter an unquenchable desire to seek and attain Your unfathomable love and promise of eternal life.
Grant them good health of soul, mind and body and that they zealously use their God-given gifts for the glory and honor of Your Kingdom. Sustain them in their fatigues and labors; give them patience and good counsel in their pastoral cares. Console them in their pains; fortify them in their combats, and keep them safe from the traps of the Evil One.
Comfort and overwhelm them with Your hope in times of loneliness, trouble and sorrow. Encourage them to see these experiences as opportunities to share in Your passion and be witnesses of joy, truth and integrity. Transform complacency into ardent conviction and excitement; discouragement, frustration and cynicism into courageous hope and positive thoughts, words and actions; desires for power and attitudes of entitlement into vulnerability to Your life-giving will and majestic power; anger and self-pity into passionate justice and the selfless sacrifice of Your love; ignorance and prejudice into wisdom and understanding. Cast out and heal the paralysis of fear and transform it into actions of perfect love.
Fill them with the gift of Your Holy Spirit, that they may be worthy to serve blamelessly at Your holy altar, to proclaim the gospel of Your kingdom, to sanctify the word of Your truth, to offer gifts and spiritual sacrifices, and to renew Your people by the washing of rebirth. In Your goodness grant that they may receive their reward of good stewardship at the time of Your second coming. We beseech You through the prayers of the most holy Theotokos and all the saints, for blessed and glorified is Your most honored and magnificent name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
"When it's more than curiosity": Our first retreat!
The future monastery itself was still in “renovation mode.” Doors and windows were missing their casings, molding absent at the base of the floors, doors removed from their hinges, a few rooms still in need of a few coats of paint, single light bulbs hanging from the ceilings, and kitchen cabinets removed from their normal stance waiting to be painted. All this and more could have created a distracting environment, especially for a retreat, yet the seemingly unfinished surroundings created a sense of newness and inspired excitement for the potential of monasticism in the Eparchy of Parma.
Thirteen men and women from North Carolina, Washington, DC, Texas, Indiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Ohio gathered at the future Christ the Bridegroom Monastery in Burton, Ohio, across from the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch. Everyone seemed to instantaneously bond.
The retreat overflowed with intense prayer and laughter, questions and answers, silence and singing, holy embraces and sharing personal stories and hopes, new and rekindled friendships, a lively camaraderie of good food and taking turns washing the dishes, and above all, a desire to grow closer to God and to know and fulfill His loving will. All of this helped make the vision of Eastern monasticism in the Eparchy of Parma closer to a reality.
During morning prayer, the window in the sanctuary allowed the bright sunlight to pierce through clouds of incense in defined rays of light. Even more exhilarating was the union of spirits and voices during prayer and Divine Liturgy that transformed a yet-to-be completed chapel into a heaven on earth experience.
Fr. Elias O’Brien, O Carm., talked candidly about monasticism and welcomed questions and dialogue from the retreatants. Bishop John Kudrick visited on Saturday, celebrated Vespers, listened to the stories of those gathered, and shared his vision for monasticism in the eparchy as each participant eagerly listened.
The retreat was a blessed event and went smoothly, until one of the men took a shower after the retreat. He unknowingly closed the recently painted door with a missing doorknob. As the participants stood talking in the foyer, knocking was heard on the wall. One of the men recognized that the knocking was an S.O.S. in Morse Code. After much laughter and a little ingenuity, he was rescued from captivity.
The sense and blessing of newness, excitement of a potential monastery and the awesome wonder of God’s will yet to be revealed stirs and grows in the heart of the Eparchy of Parma.
Monday, May 11, 2009
"Today is the springtime of our souls"
Today is the springtime of our souls, * because Christ is risen as a sun from the tomb on the third day. * He has dispelled the dark winter of our sins; * let us sing to Him, for He is covered with glory. (Matins of the Sunday of Thomas, Ode 1)
Walks around the monastery and the shrine are often accompanied by my chotki (prayer rope)…and my camera. Discovering each flower that pushes through the dirt and each tree that bursts in blossoms has been a thrill. Branches that were bare when we moved in are now flowing with life, and each is a surprise.
I thank God for the gift of new life as I play with my digital camera’s macro feature and photograph water droplets hanging from the lilacs and honeybees pollinating the redbud tree. If God designed the smallest detail of each tiny petal and each insect’s wing, He certainly has a plan of beauty for our lives.
There is life inside the monastery too. Volunteers continue to help us paint, clean, and finish other tasks, and also pray with us. They energize us! This weekend we will welcome several men and women who will come for our first retreat for monastic discernment. They are coming from Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Texas! Please pray for them!
It was difficult to choose only one photo for this post! Some of the others are in the slideshow to the right. God bless!
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Christ is Risen!
Indeed He is Risen!
Not only was the “Bridegroom” imagery present during Holy Week, but during Bright Week (the week after Easter) we sing every morning during Resurrection Matins about Christ coming forth from the tomb “like a bridegroom.”
“Bearing torches let us meet the bridegroom Christ, as He comes forth from His tomb; and let us greet, with joyful song, the saving Pasch of God.” (Ode 5)
This was an especially meaningful Holy Week and Pascha (Easter) because it was the first we celebrated in our monastery! In fact, Holy Week was the first week we spent here. We moved in on the Friday before Palm Sunday with the help of a few friends.
We prayed in our monastery for the first time on Saturday morning—matins for Lazarus Saturday—in the foyer at a little icon corner we set up. God’s providence was brilliantly clear to me when I realized that three years ago, right after praying matins for Lazarus Saturday at a discernment retreat, was the moment I felt God calling me to religious life! And now it was that very prayer that was our first in the monastery.
On Sunday evening we prayed vespers at Bishop John’s residence and had our icon of Christ the Bridegroom blessed, along with our cadillo (censor). On Monday morning we set up our chapel temporarily so we could pray there, even though the walls are still bare drywall. Fr. Rich Plishka brought our icon and prayed Bridegroom Matins with us. How beautiful it was to see our icon carried around the altar and placed on the icon stand as we prayed for the first time in our chapel, singing “Behold, the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night…”
Holy Week was spent praying the services in our chapel, the parish across the street and other churches, and baking the Easter foods. Good Friday was an especially beautiful and prayerful day. Fr. Rich came out again, with Seminarian Jaroslav from Slovakia, and we prayed Matins with the 12 Gospel readings and the Royal Hours. Our little chapel was filled with the Passion story and incense. We also prepared our chapel for the burial and Resurrection by making do with what we could find, including a “tomb” for the Plaschanitsa (burial shroud) which we constructed with cardboard boxes and cloth! Considering the situation, our chapel is beautiful!
We celebrated Resurrection Matins at my home parish in Brecksville on Saturday night and Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning at the Shrine parish across the street from us. The rest of the day was spent visiting with family and friends.
We hope you and your families had a glorious celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection! (And we wish our Orthodox brothers and sisters a blessed Pascha this Sunday!)
Thursday, April 2, 2009
"Behold, the Bridegroom is coming..."
Jesus Christ is the divine Bridegroom of the Church. He became incarnate, took on our flesh and came into the world to betroth Himself to His bride with the price of His blood. He invites us, woos us to come to His beautiful garden, His bridal chamber, to envelope us in His love, life, joy and peace (Ephesians 5:25-27). He yearns to be intimately one with each of us, His Bride (Song of Songs 7:11).
The icon of Christ the Bridegroom portrays the selfless love for Christ’s Bride, the Church (Isaiah 54). He is dressed in royal colors as the betrothed King, complying with Sacred Scripture’s account of His mockery by the Roman guards before His crucifixion. The crown is a symbol of His marriage to the Church; the rope, a symbol of bondage to sin, death and corruption which Jesus untied by His death on the Cross; the reed, a symbol of His humility.
During Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, we celebrate Bridegroom Matins. We sing:
Behold, the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night. Blessed is the servant he shall find awake. But the one he shall find neglectful will not be worthy of him. Beware, therefore, O my soul! Do not fall into a deep slumber, lest you be delivered to death and the door of the Kingdom be closed to you. Watch instead and cry out: Holy, Holy, Holy are you, O God. Through the intercession of the Theotokos, have mercy on us. (Troparion)
Other beautiful prayers during Bridegroom Matins include these prayed on Tuesday:
O faithful, let us be on fire with love for the Bridegroom, and with lamps burning, let us go out to meet him. May the light of our virtues shine brightly, and may our faith be radiant. With the wise Virgins, let us prepare to enter the banquet hall of the Lord; - for the divine Spouse offers us all the crown of immortality. (Sessional Hymn One)
O wretched soul, think of your last hours. Be dismayed at the rebuking of the fig tree. Act and double the talent given you with a loving purpose. Be watchful and cry out: Grant that we not be left outside the bridal chamber of Christ. (Kontakion)
May we all stay awake in anticipation and prayer throughout this holiest of weeks, as we prepare to meet the Bridegroom as he emerges from the tomb.
Please also keep us in your prayers as we move into our monastery this weekend!
Monday, March 2, 2009
Welcome to Our Blog!
Welcome to the blog of the future Christ the Bridegroom Monastery! Let us take a moment to introduce ourselves and our vision, which we hope is also God’s vision.
In January of 2008 Bishop John Kudrick published a letter outlining his vision for a new men’s or women’s monastery (or both) in the Eparchy of Parma. His letter can be read here. (Click on the link to Bishop John's pastoral letter and scroll half way down) We have responded to that call and are in the beginning stages of the formation of a women’s monastery.
Bishop John’s letter is a good starting place to learn about the purpose and spirit of the future monastery, though we will also expand on this as we continue to write here.
So a little about us… My name is Julie. I graduated from The University of Akron in 2008 with a degree in communications (explaining my interest in this blog…), and I currently work at our eparchy’s chancery office in Parma, Ohio. I have been discerning religious life for several years and I am excited to see God’s plan for my life unfold. My interests include pro-life work, drawing and painting, and the color purple…
Celeste is on leave from her community to begin this monastery. (Many know her as Sister Celeste, but during exclaustration canon law states that she cannot be addressed as "Sister"...) Her beautiful optimistic spirit is the sunshine that will bring life to the little seed of our endeavors! Her passions include youth ministry and arguing with Bishop John (playfully of course!) about the possibility of making jelly with crab apples... She insists it is not only possible but quite tasty.
Currently we are fixing up the house that will be our future monastery, across the street from the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch in Burton, Ohio. We will document our progress here! Dry walling, painting, and tearing out a wall to expand our chapel are the projects in motion (with the help of wonderful family and friends).
We look forward with joy to the growth of our community, and to sharing it with you here. Please pray for us! You are welcome to write to us at:
17485 Mumford Rd.
Burton, OH 44021
May you have a blessed season of the Great Fast.