Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

O Bethlehem, receive Christ, for He comes to dwell in you in the flesh, that He may open Paradise for me.  Make ready, O Cave, to behold the One who cannot be contained, now wonderously contained in you; for He now is made poor in the wealth of His tender mercies.
In the prayers of the Byzantine Catholic Church leading up to the Nativity of Our Lord and during the celebration of this great feast, the paradoxes of our faith are continually placed before us: "Behold Him who is invisible is now visibly manifest," "As a stranger You have come to Your own," "How shall I nurse the One who gives nourishment to the world?", "How shall I wrap You in swaddling clothes, for You wrap the whole earth with clouds?", "I hold in my arms as a child the One who upholds all," "Behold! The Image of the Father and His unchangeable eternity has taken the form of a servant."

Each day as we meditate on these mind-blowing paradoxes in our liturgical prayer, we are overwhelmed by the love of God for us.  But I think that there is yet another reason why the Church points them out to us.  It seems that if God humbled Himself so completely to embrace these paradoxes--these seeming contradictions--then we are called to embrace them too!  We are called to become poor so that we can become rich, lowly so that we can be raised up.  We cannot do what God did in becoming man--in coming down from heaven to the manger--but we are called to stoop into the cave and to meet Him in his littleness.  We have to become "little" in order to meet the infinite God!! (Now there is a paradox!)

Just now as I was writing this blog post, a friend encouraged me to read Pope Benedict's Christmas Eve homily (without knowing what I was writing about).  It seems that the Holy Father was reflecting on the same thing!
 Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus' Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half meters high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half meters has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God's house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus' birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our "enlightened" reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God's closeness.... Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart.  

It's just my size!  Is it for me???
Well, Christmas at the monastery was beautiful!  We were so blessed that Fr. Stephen Titko was available and happy to come out to the monastery to celebrate the liturgical services for us on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  We found our deepest joy in receiving Christ in the Eucharist, our humble God for whose coming we had been preparing our hearts.  We also cooked the traditional Christmas Eve Velija supper and enjoyed it with some friends.  We hope that you are enjoying the celebration of this beautiful feast!  S'nami Boh!  God is with us!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mother Theodora reflects on her profession

We recently published our winter newsletter which included a reflection by Mother Theodora about her recent life profession.  Due to limited space in the newsletter, she wanted to share more of her personal reflections about the correlation between the liturgical prayers for the feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple and the profession service.  Here they are!

In the Narthex I laid aside my customary habit and was clothed in the Vlasyaniysa, a white robe similar to the baptismal robe. I took a deep breath and thought, “This is it. How did I make it to this moment?” I knew that it was only through sheer grace. I entered barefooted into St. John Cathedral as the Troparion of the Prodigal Son was being sung:
Haste! Open Your fatherly arms to me,for I have lived like the Prodigal.O Savior, do not despise my impoverished heart,that heart that gazes upon the fathomless wealth of Your mercy.For, I have sinned against Heaven, and before You!
“That’s me” (the prodigal), I thought, as I walked down the aisle to make my life profession as a nun—a woman—broken, unworthy and sinful—yet irresistibly drawn by my Bridegroom to become His bride for eternity. I ached almost three years for this moment and with each prostration, I was filled with an increasing awe at the reality I was entering into.

There were a number of correlations between the liturgical prayers and the profession service. We sang verses from the Aposticha: O virgins, carry candles and lead the way for the entrance of the ever Virgin. Sister Julie and Jessie, who walked before me carrying candles, were the virgins leading my way into the temple. When Anna, which means grace, was graced with the pure and ever Virgin Mary, she presented her into the temple. Mother Anna escorted me down the aisle, covering me with her Mandyas, as she prepared to present me to Bishop John. Today the Theotokos…is being escorted with gladness into the Temple of God, and Zechariah receives her. It was not Zechariah the high priest, but Bishop John who received me before the Royal Doors. Let Joachim be glad and let Anna rejoice exceedingly, because they have offered to God the immaculate Queen as a three year old child. It had been almost three years since this monastic adventure was initiated.

 As I stood fully robed before an icon of Christ the Bridegroom, I closed my eyes and was overwhelmed with an indescribable sense of peace and joy. I do not know how long I basked in that state, but I was content to remain in it. When I opened my eyes, I was startled at the fact that I was standing in the front of the Cathedral before hundreds of witnesses. For a moment I thought, “How in the heck did I get here?” At the end of the long service, I turned around to be greeted by everyone and when I gazed at all the people present who have journeyed with me,  I was filled with an edifying gift of love and thought, “Aaaah, they are how I got here.”

And the winning caption of our first blog poll is...

..."Somebody please buy those nuns a taller ladder!"

Thanks to everyone who voted!  Coming in for a close second was, "Monasticism is not about what you can DO, it's about who you ARE.  Jessie, you are a tall person."  (That was my favorite...)  Even without a taller ladder, we successfully hung some Christmas lights.  (And yes, we really could use an 8 ft. ladder...! hint, hint)  Due to the popularity of our first blog poll, we plan to post more in the future! :)

We are continuing with the preparations for the Nativity of Our Lord, which include not only baking, cleaning and preparation for liturgical services, but also, and most importantly, the transformation of our hearts so that we will have a place to receive Him.  May you all have a blessed, grace-filled Christmas!

O faithful, let us celebrate beforehand the nativity of Christ; * let us raise up our minds to Bethlehem, * and we shall be raised up in spirit. * We shall gaze upon the great mystery in the cave: * Eden is opening up, and God is coming forth from the pure Virgin. * He is perfect in divinity and in humanity. * Therefore, let us call out: * O holy God, O unbegotten Father, * O holy and mighty One, O Incarnate Son, * O holy immortal One, O comforting Spirit, * O holy Trinity, glory to You!  (Stichera for Vespers, Dec. 20)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Celibacy - Chosen in Freedom and Love

We recently received a comment on our blog regarding celibacy and the Catholic priesthood to which we would like to respond and explain the Church’s teaching on this subject.  First, we would like to thank the person who posted their comment.  Our growth as Christians comes especially in times of questioning and seeking the truth, so we are grateful for this opportunity to share about the topic of celibacy.

Sr. Julie and Jessie with Seminarian Eric and Fr. Patrick
I would first like to address the issue of when celibacy became part of God’s will for humanity.  Our primary example of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom comes straight from the source – Jesus.  Jesus’ entire life was spent in obedience to His Father’s Will and dedicated to carrying out the work of His Father, and during the 33 years He spent on this earth, the Catholic Church teaches that He was celibate.

Jesus also gave a direct teaching on celibacy, found in Chapter 19 of The Gospel of Matthew.  The Pharisees questioned Jesus about divorce and remarriage, and Jesus explained to them that divorce was only allowed because of their hardness of heart, so anyone who divorces his wife ‘except for sexual immorality’ and marries another is committing adultery.  Because of this, Jesus’ disciples then state that maybe it is better not to marry at all.  But Jesus disagrees with them, explaining that there are only some who are called to be unmarried, and says the following:

“But He said to them, ‘All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.  He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Mt 19:11-12).

There are a couple of statements Jesus is making about celibacy in this passage.  First, celibacy is not for everyone.  Being a celibate is a call by God to particular individuals to whom God will give the grace to live out this particular state of life, which is why ‘all cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given.’  Second, celibacy must be freely chosen by the person whom God has called. ‘He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.’  Thirdly, Christian celibacy is not an end in itself, but is a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven.  ‘There are eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake’ – men and women who freely respond to God’s call to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom.  These men and women, called by God, serve as a sign or foreshadowing of what our life in heaven will be like, where “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven” (Mt 22:30).  They witness to the reality that all of humanity is created to one day be in total union with God in heaven – and these men and women express that reality by consecrating their lives to God while still on earth, desiring not marriage in this life, but marriage with our Eternal Bridegroom in the life to come.

So, with the ideas in mind that celibacy is a call by God which must be freely chosen for the sake of the Kingdom, we want to look at celibacy within the Catholic priesthood.  First of all, celibacy is a discipline of the Roman Catholic priesthood, not a doctrine of the Catholic Church.  There are churches in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, in particular the Eastern Catholic Churches such as the Ruthenian Byzantine Church we belong to, that allow for married men to discern and be ordained to the priesthood.  Both are valid disciplines and both are in communion with the Holy See in Rome.  In both cases though, the key to celibacy or marriage in the priesthood is that it must be freely chosen.  No one is forced to become a priest – they must freely choose to enter into discernment, which the Church ratifies by accepting that person into the seminary.  With that free choice comes the knowledge that to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest, you must remain celibate or in the Eastern Churches, you may be married prior to ordination but if your wife precedes you in death, you may not remarry.  Therefore, marriage is not forbidden, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, but is freely given up to embrace the gift of celibacy for the sake of building up God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Celibacy is not a burden, but is truly God’s gift to priests and religious men and women.  When celibacy is freely chosen in response to God’s call, God provides the grace each day to embrace that life of single-hearted dedication to Him.  As priests and religious men and women, we are called to obedience to God’s will for our lives, including celibacy, just as Jesus was called to be obedient to His Father’s will, which also included remaining celibate for His entire earthly life.  God asks us no more than He asked of His own Son – that we be willing to freely lay down our lives for one another, just as Jesus has done for us.  It is with great joy, ardent love, and much fervor that I proclaim my ‘yes’ to God’s call to celibacy as a nun, in obedience to the wisdom of the Catholic Church, whose foundation is Jesus Christ.  Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory to Him Forever!