Last week we were privileged with a visit to our monastery by Metropolitan Ján Babjak of the Archeparchy of Prešov, Slovakia. Metropolitan Ján was in the United States for the enthronement of our new metropolitan, Metropolitan William, which took place last Wednesday in Pittsburgh. We were honored that Metropolitan Ján desired to visit our little monastery during his visit to the Eparchy of Parma, following his time in Pittsburgh.
Although we did not speak each other’s language, through the Holy Spirit and translator Subdeacon Daniel Černy, we were able to share a grace-filled evening with each other. We talked about our daily life at the monastery, and the metropolitan was particularly interested in the way that we pray for priests. He asked that we add him to our list, promising in return his blessing from Slovakia!
|Praying vespers in our chapel|
We saw Metropolitan Ján again the next evening at the Byzantine Catholic Cultural Center in Cleveland, where we attended Great Vespers at which Bishop John, Metropolitan Ján and Bishop Peter Rusnak of Bratislava, Slovakia, presided. Many community representatives and faithful from local parishes attended to pray with and meet the bishops. We were delighted to meet Bishop Peter at the reception afterwards, who also asked for our prayers.
At the reception, community representatives presented gifts of welcome to the two bishops from Slovakia, and then they were asked to give a few words to us. Metropolitan Ján again spoke about the state of the Church in Slovakia and the prayers of the martyrs. As he spoke, I felt a strong sense that we in our monastery are called to be “martyrs,” in some sense, for the Church in our country. (Monasticism is often described as a “white martyrdom”—a martyrdom without the shedding of blood, but an offering of one’s life nonetheless.) And I also felt that, like the martyrs of the communist era, we may not see the fruits of our sacrifice. I wasn’t sad at this thought, but rather honored by this vocation. When I thought he was finished speaking, he instead looked directly at the three of us, and spoke of his joy at meeting us and visiting our monastery. He said that we would be a seed for the Church in our eparchy and in the United States. This was, just in different words, the sense I had been given as he spoke about the martyrs! “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24).
So, why am I sharing this reflection with you instead of keeping it in my journal? Because you too are called to be a martyr—to be a seed which will give life to the Church by your dying! The state of our Church in the United States is very different from Slovakia and other countries which suffered persecution under communism. We are shrinking, churches are being closed and most seminaries have many open rooms. But we have our own persecutions and struggles: secularism is tightening its hold on our culture and threatening our right to the freedom of religion; many Christians are becoming lukewarm and fading into the relativism of our culture; and we could go on listing them… But we must live in the hope that these struggles will lead to rebirth, and we must ask ourselves, “Am I willing to be a martyr?”
Our martyrdom begins with the daily dying to ourselves and the offering of each little moment and each little sacrifice to God. It must begin here. We are the little grains of wheat that can result in a great harvest. If we are waiting for the Church as a whole to revive and begin growing all at once, we will wait forever, because it is the work under the soil—the dying—that is not “seen” but happens within us, that will cause the Church to grow again. We do not mean “grow” just in the sense of numbers, but “grow” in all the many aspects of the fullness of life in the Holy Spirit. Then the numbers will follow!
|Sr. Julie, Mother Theodora, Bishop Peter, Jessie, Metropolitan Ján and Fr. Juri|