The nuns of Christ the Bridegroom Community would like to wish a big CONGRATULATIONS to Sr. Celeste who made her life profession as a stavrophore nun and is now Mother Theodora!
Mother Theodora is named for Blessed Theodore Romzha, a Byzantine Catholic bishop marytred for the faith in 1947.
Icon of Blessed Theodore Romzha
In God's providence, this year was named 'The year of Blessed Theodore Romzha' by the Eparchy of Mukachevo. 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of Blessed Theodore's beatification, the 75th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, and the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Life is a mystery, and it was providential that Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery in Otego, New York, graciously tended to the needs of Christ the Bridegroom Community. The Myrrhbearers mentioned in the Gospels tended to the needs of Christ from their personal means (Luke 8:2-4), and the nuns of Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery opened their home and hearts and shared their personal means with us. The Myrrhbearers in the Gospels displayed unyielding courage and were not intimidated by any animosity and fear that permeated the atmosphere. With love, they forged forward to approach the tomb of Christ. The nuns of Holy Myrrbearers emulated this courage with the myrrh of love and conviction. Knowing that they could possibly incur some criticism by hosting us, they still forged forward with love and conviction and allowed us to experience a deeper life of Eastern Christian monasticism.
There was an immediate bond between the two communities, and through all the prayer, hard work and oneness of heart that developed between us, each monastery was a gift to the other. At the end of our stay, bittersweet farewells were exchanged with tears and embracing, with both communities knowing they were strengthened in their faith and commitment to Eastern monasticism. The nuns of Christ the Bridegroom Community will always be grateful to the nuns of Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery and we look forward to an ever deepening relationship, to be of one heart and one spirit (Acts 4:32).
Though ecumenism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches remains in dialogue, there is still much to be undertaken for spiritual understanding and unity, and we hope that the bond that grew between us is one more small step towards this goal. We pray that one day we will be one (John 10:17).
Our typikon confirms this commitment: The nuns of this monastery will pray with their whole beings for the unity of all Christians, “So that they may be One as I and My Father are One” (Jn 17:12). They will pray especially for understanding and reconciliation between the Eastern and Western Churches.
The role of monasteries as meeting places for the East and West was emphasized by Blessed John Paul II: “In this regard, I hope that monasteries will make a particular effort, precisely because of the unique role played by monastic life within the Churches and because of the many unifying aspects of the monastic experience, and therefore of spiritual awareness, in the East and in the West” (Orientale Lumen 25).
During our time in New York, the word “vigilance” continually resurfaced in my prayer.
Maybe it was because of the goats?
I didn’t always feel like going out to the barn to do the barn chores, but every morning the goats were still there. The four goats we milked every day were bursting with milk, the kid goats were hungry for their bottles and all of the goats were just plain hungry! (As were the dog and cats.) Then at midday, the goats were hungry again. And in the evening, the four goats we milked were bursting with milk again, and again all of the goats were hungry. You see the routine. And unfortunately, they still produced milk and still got hungry even on Sundays! :)
But I learned that vigilance is more than simply persevering in my daily chores (or “obediences”) and even more than showing up for each of the many monastic prayer services throughout the day. Vigilance is being constantly aware of the presence of Christ and allowing myself to be absorbed in that presence.
Doing my chores with Jesus filled me with peace. I experienced a great freedom in carrying out the tasks given to me, especially the physical work. Away from the demands of founding a new monastery, I could simply be a “child”—a novice—and learn how to pray!
I am grateful to the nuns for welcoming us into their home for three months, and I am grateful to God that I have new sisters in New York!
Poverty. Chastity. Obedience. Of the three monastic virtues, I feel like obedience is that last thought about by people outside of a monastery and the most thought about by the nuns in a monastery. I would say that obedience is the most important virtue, out of which the other two virtues flow. In order for a nun to truly live out poverty and chastity, she must first obey the call of her Beloved, who is made visible through the mother of her community, so that she may die to her own desires and become totally fulfilled by her Beloved.
During our time in New York, obedience was a recurring theme for my prayer. In particular, I felt an overwhelming sense of the need to embrace obedience with JOY. I had a great desire to not only complete the tasks I had been assigned, but to do each task JOYFULLY, as if I were doing each task for my Beloved. For a city girl like me, this desire often challenged me, especially when it came to shoveling poop in the goat barn! But there was such a freedom that came with embracing even the humblest of tasks and doing them totally for Jesus. This freedom came from abandoning my own will and accepting Jesus’ will in everything, trusting that He would give me whatever I needed to do what He asked.
"Obedience is not blind, but deliberately seeks to know God's love and to experience the liberation of freely and continually falling into the arms of the Bridegroom with increasing trust" (Monastic Typikon, Christ the Bridegroom Monastery).
Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast (Mt 9:14-15).
We Christians are not yet totally united with the Bridegroom, Jesus, so we fast. We fast, in one sense, as an expression of the hungering of our souls for union with Him. Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:23). Fasting should stir up this groan—this longing—for heaven; not just a heaven of “eternal rest,” but for the eternal explosion of joy that is union with the God of infinite love.
The Church invites us to fast for forty days before the Nativity of Our Lord. This period of time, beginning on November 15 each year, is called the Nativity Fast, or the “Philip’s Fast” (because it begins after vespers on the feast of the Apostle Philip). During these forty days, we fast because we are waiting for Christ’s coming—liturgically, in anticipation of our yearly celebration of His Nativity, and literally, in anticipation of His second coming. The Nativity is the beginning of God’s union with mankind. At that very specific point in time, the creator of the universe united Himself with human flesh. The One who had always been, became man! “And man is not left alone to attempt, in a thousand often frustrated ways, an impossible ascent to heaven…The Word became flesh, like us in everything except sin. He pours divinity into the sick heart of humanity, and imbuing it with the Father’s Spirit enables it to become God through grace” (Blessed John Paul II, Orientale Lumen, 15).
Fasting shouldn’t be gloomy. We are preparing in joyful anticipation for the Wedding Banquet of heaven! We shouldn’t judge those who use feasting as their way to anticipate the celebration of the Nativity (perhaps God is using this type of joy to lead them to Him), but we shouldn’t be afraid to share with them the concept of fasting as a way of preparing for this feast. Let’s try to share the indescribable joy we experience in celebrating the Nativity after a season of fasting. And if we haven’t experience this joy, let’s fast more intensely, laying ourselves aside and surrendering our will and our desires so that we can welcome the God of the universe into the humble manger of our hearts. He wants to unite Himself to us. He wants us to be ready for the Wedding Feast!
Glory to Jesus Christ! Thank you so much for your prayers during our three-month stay at Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery in Otego, New York. We learned so much and are so grateful to our sisters in New York for welcoming us into their home. We look forward to sharing more with you in the near future.
Please keep Sr. Celeste in your prayers as she prepares for her life profession on November 20! All are welcome to the service at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio, beginning with vespers for the Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God at 4:00 p.m.