Thursday, November 15, 2012

The anticipation begins...

Scout is anticipating too...Christmas day dinner probably...
Today begins the Philip's Fast, or Nativity Fast--a 40-day fast in preparation for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord!  It is traditional to fast from meat and dairy products during this time.  We encourage you to fast in some particular way in which you feel called.

Yep, it's pretty difficult to fast during the time in which it seems like everyone else is celebrating!  But for us Christians, this is really a time to quiet our hearts and minds, to make space for the coming of God in the flesh!  It's a time to anticipate the joy of the Incarnation--this great mystery of our faith!  God clothed Himself in our humanity so that we might be clothed in His divinity!   As the days get darker and colder, let's prepare a little warm place in our hearts for Jesus, the Light of the World.  Let's make space for Him by setting aside something that we don't really need--something that distracts us from His voice, something that keeps Him out.  If we anticipate His coming by fasting instead of feasting, maybe we'll really encounter Him in the depths of our hearts this Christmas!

Praying for you during this journey!

A book we recommend: Winter Pascha

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Happy Feast of St. Michael, St. Gabriel and All the Celestial Powers!

To all of our brothers and sisters whose name day we celebrate today on the Synaxis of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and all the Celeste-ial Powers (this was Mother Theodora’s former feast day under the name Sr. Celeste) – happy feast day to you!

A reflection by Sr. Gabriella:

Although my official feast day for St. Gabriel is July 13th, I had a spark of excitement to celebrate the first of FOUR feast days with my newly-received name.  (Feasts of St. Gabriel include November 8th, March 26th, July 13th and for my Roman Catholic heritage, September 29th)  

As I have been clumsily traversing the last few weeks since our tonsure, struggling to remember my new name (as everyone around me struggles as well!), I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take for me to connect with my new patron.  I have spent the last few years becoming better acquainted with my baptismal patron, St. Christina, coming to a great love for her and feeling her intercession in my life, so I wasn’t sure quite sure what was in store for me and Gabriel.  

When we sang the stichera for the feast at Vespers, this particular verse jumped off the page at me:

O Gabriel, leader of the heavenly hosts and intercessor for our souls, 
crush the boldness of those who attack your flock.
Put an end to schisms within the Church.
Calm the storm of numberless temptations.
Deliver from trial and tribulation those who lovingly venerate you 
and hasten to protect us with the shadow of your wings.

These words seemed very timely to me as we contemplate the reality of the results of the recent presidential election.  I saw the necessity of asking for the protection of the angels and archangels as our Christian faith is boldly attacked by the healthcare mandate and other such legislation.  My heart resonated with the ache for communion with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, as well as the need for all Christians to remain united in faith against the current attacks on religious freedom.  And last but not least, I saw the need for strength in my own small life to ward off daily personal temptations, which I can offer up for the Church and the whole world.

As a wise priest-friend once recounted to me, “I joined religious life first to change the world, then to change the Church and those in the Church, but the one I really needed to change was myself.”  Such a great truth!  So may this feast be a reminder of the presence of and need for the protection and intercession of the angels, first changing our own hearts, and allowing that change to flow forth and create the change we wish to see in the world.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”  Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Open to me, my sister, my beloved, my dove, my perfect one!"

Sr. Gabriella and the retreatants out for a walk on Sunday!
This verse from the Song of Songs (5:2) was the theme of our discernment retreat which took place this past weekend.  Six beautiful young women joined us for a weekend of prayer, talks, discussion and community time; four from Ohio and two from Colorado.

Mother Theodora spoke about monasticism and its development, the discernment process and the plans and dreams of our monastery, Sr. Gabriella shared her vocation story and Sr. Cecilia explained how the Song of Songs can help us to pray.  We gave each participant a copy of the book The Cantata of Love, a transforming commentary on the Song of Songs.  We also watched the film, Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, which takes the viewer on a journey to many monasteries from Egypt to Russia to see how the monastics live and to hear their wisdom on prayer and surrender to God.  

Praying Matins on Sunday morning
Just as important as hearing about the monastic life is living it, to the small degree that a retreat allows.  The retreatants participated in our daily liturgical schedule of communal and private prayer and shared in community meals, work and recreation.  On Sunday evening we all participated in the Mystery of Holy Repentance (Confession), and sought to open our hearts to the One who knocks at the door.

Sr. Gabriella sharing her vocation story
We were uplifted and encouraged by the faith, openness and spiritual beauty of these young women, and look forward to the plans that the Bridegroom has in store for them!  Please keep these women, and all who are discerning, in your prayers.  Being open to such a radical call is extremely difficult in our society, but this openness is a witness profoundly needed.

To see additional photos: Facebook Album