Saturday, September 12, 2015
Introducing Sr. Emilia & Sr. Iliana
When Pope Francis announced the “Year of Consecrated Life” which began on November 30, 2014, and will continue until February 2, 2016, we knew we didn’t have time to plan and implement any programs or events to celebrate this special year. However, God had time. It turns out that in addition to major renovations, our first fundraising event and the usual annual activities at the monastery, the Lord planned some large steps of growth for us during the “Year of Consecrated Life,” the first of which took place during Vespers for the recent feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God.
On Monday, September 7, our two dokimoi (postulants), Jacqueline McNeill and Motria Lonchyna were tonsured as rasophore nuns by Bishop John at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch in Burton, Ohio, receiving their habits and new monastic names and entering more fully into the monastic life. Jacqueline is now Sr. Emilia, and Motria is now Sr. Iliana.
“Rasophore” simply means “robe-bearer,” which refers to the riassa (religious robe) which the nuns are clothed in at this stage in their monastic life. A rasophore nun also receives the tunic, apostolnik (veil), belt, and skufia (hat).
Receiving the habit and new name is preceded by great anticipation within the monastic community as well as outside of it, and the moment of hearing the nun’s new name is one of emotion for all. Careful discernment takes place on the part of the dokimos as she submits three names to Mother, as well as on the part of Mother Theodora as she listens for what the Holy Spirit desires.
Mother chose the name Sr. Emilia—a name that was not on Jacqueline’s list, but one that was very close to her heart. Sr. Emilia explained, “When Bishop John said, ‘Emilia,’ my heart skipped a beat. That was my number one choice, but it wasn’t one of the three choices that I submitted to Mother Theodora. I had already received that name in eighth grade, when I was confirmed. I told God in prayer one day, 'I love Emilia, I feel called to take that name, but I already did. If it is really you asking me to take this name again, I need you to make Mother pick it without it being an option....I need to know it is your will, Lord.'” St. Emilia was the mother of ten children, five of whom are canonized saints, including St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Macrina. Bishop John was full of emotion as he tonsured Sr. Emilia and gave her this name, and he explained at the end of the service that Emilia was his mother’s name.
Sr. Iliana’s name is the Ukrainian spelling of the feminine form of St. Elias the Prophet. She explained that the Lord placed this name on her heart on the feast of Pentecost. She desired to be “caught up in the flames of God’s love” as St. Elias was. She felt that this courageous prophet was adopting her, “a little soul so prone to fear, teaching me that ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom’ (II Co 3:17) and helping me hear the ‘still, small voice’ (1 Kg 19:12) of the Lord speak to my heart, ‘To you my friends I say: Do not be afraid’ (Lk 12:4).” The name is pronounced “ee-lee-ah-nah.”
Many friends and family witnessed the tonsure. “Tonsure” is the cutting of the hair as a sign of consecration and commitment to God. Following the service, the guests enjoyed a potluck dinner at the shrine pavilion, where the newly-tonsured nuns greeted them and tried to get accustomed to responding to their new names.
The first year as rasophore nuns is a time of limited communication with those outside the monastery so that the new nuns may learn to depend on their Bridegroom alone. If the rasophores and the monastic community discern that it is God’s will that they commit the remainder of their lives to Him and be united to Him as His brides, in several years they may make their life profession and be tonsured as stavrophore nuns, at which time they will be given the title “Mother” to represent the spiritual motherhood with which they are blessed by this union.
Please keep Sr. Emilia and Sr. Iliana in your prayers as they continue to discern God’s will and strive to give their lives to Christ and His Church.
The second moment of growth in our monastery will occur, God-willing, on September 30, when another young woman, Victoria Olsen, will enter the monastery as a dokimos (postulant). Victoria is from Holy Protection Byzantine Catholic Church in Denver, Colorado.
The third moment will occur on November 8, when rasophore nuns Sr. Cecilia and Sr. Gabriella will be tonsured as stavrophore (“cross-bearer”) nuns and make their life profession to Christ. All are invited to attend the profession and Divine Liturgy for the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel and all the Angels at 2:00 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio. Glory to God for all His blessings this year!