Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Merry Christmas from the monastery!! 

"You have shown forth from the Virgin, O Christ, Sun of Justice. A star found You, whom nothing can contain, manifested in the cave. It led the Magi to adore You. With them, we worship You, O Giver of Life; glory to You!"

(One of the Troparia of Vespers for the Nativity)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Enjoy our Winter 2016/2017 Issue of Pomegranate Blossoms

In this issue, enjoy a reflection titled "A God of Longing" by Mother Cecilia, read about the tonsure of Sr. Natalia and the "Bridegroom's Banquet," take note of our upcoming events, and more!

May God bless you in these final days of preparation for the Nativity of Our Lord!

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Gift of Seeing Our Poverty

A reflection by Mother Cecilia as we prepare for the Nativity of Our Lord

During this time of preparation for the birth of Our Lord, He has given me the gift of seeing my poverty a little more clearly. I am not talking about poverty in terms of a lack of physical things that I have, but in terms of my utter inability to do anything on my own without God. I’m weak, I’m limited and I’m frequently making mistakes and sinning.

When things are going well, I feel like I’m in control and I think that I can do anything! It’s when I’m struggling and suffering that I see my poverty. God allows this struggle and suffering for many reasons, one of which is that it helps me to see my poverty. When this happens, I often wonder, “Why do I have to see this poverty?” It really hurts! Sometimes I remember the words of one of my favorite saints, who said, “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and the greatest of these is to have shown me my littleness, my incapability of any good" (St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul).  Wow! I usually don’t think of this revelation as a gift, let alone as the greatest gift!

I’m beginning to learn that the knowledge of my poverty is a gift. I’d like to share some of the reasons why. First of all, it’s always better to know the truth. “The truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). And the truth is not only that I’m poor; it is also the truth that God is rich—rich in power, mercy and love. Seeing my poverty gives me the opportunity to more clearly see God’s greatness.

Secondly, as I learn the truth, I see that it is God who does all things in me, and I learn that He does them so much better than I could ever imagine. St. Paul tells us that the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Therefore we can say with St. Paul, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

Thirdly, the knowledge of my poverty shows me that God loves me for who I am, not for any sort of perfect actions I can do for Him. It’s actually my poverty that attracts God to me! The poverty of mankind drew Him to become man and to pour His divinity into our humanity! I am like the poor and messy cave in which Jesus was born. He could have arranged to be born in a cleaner, neater place, but He didn’t. He could wait until I seemingly have “everything under control” to do His work, but He tends to do His most powerful work in me when I am the weakest.

Finally, a great gift of seeing my poverty is so that I can surrender to God and give Him permission to work in me and be with me. When I think that I can do everything, I forget to do it with Him. I forget that He wants to be with me!

As we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord, we notice the poor and messy cave because of the One who was born in it. We rejoice that Jesus chose to enter into this poverty. But the point of the feast is not to remain gazing at the cave and the manger alone, but to gaze upon God who has become man. We can see His face and live (Ex 33:20)! I often get stuck focusing my eyes on the poor “manger” of my heart and forget to keep my eyes on Jesus. I get discouraged by all of my weaknesses and forget about Him there in the midst of them.

When I am discouraged, I am a poor and messy closed space, but when I trust in God, I am a poor and messy open one. I need to accept my weakness and allow it to be the place where God can enter in and work in His power. When we open to the birth of Divine Life in us, we can rejoice with Mary, the Mother of God, in the words of her Magnificat: “He has looked with favor upon the lowliness of His servant, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and Holy is His name!”

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Photos from Sr. Natalia's Tonsure

Enjoy this album of photos from Sr. Natalia's tonsure as a rasophore nun on December 5. See our previous two posts to read more about the tonsure and about Sr. Natalia's patron saint.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sr. Natalia explains her name

Sr. Natalia was tonsured and received her new name on Dec. 5, during Vespers for the Feast of St. Nicholas. Following monastic tradition, she submitted three names to Mother Theodora, who chose Natalia. Sr. Natalia is named after the Apostle Bartholomew (Nathaniel). She would like to share with you about her connection with her patron.

The Apostle Bartholomew (Nathaniel)
Feast Day: June 11

My greatest draw to Nathaniel is John 1:43-51, when Christ calls him and Philip. I wish to emulate both his knowledge of scripture, and his bold conviction of faith in saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I also wish to imitate his immediate conversion and whole-hearted trust in proclaiming Christ as God and King as soon as he encounters Him intimately. More than anything else in this passage though, I strive to one day be “without guile,” as Jesus acknowledges Nathaniel to be.

His life after Christ’s ascension is also a great source of inspiration. He was crucified upside down next to Philip. Though Philip died, Bartholomew was rescued. Rather than understandably “retire” from mission work at this point, Batholomew continued traveling and preaching the gospel until he was flayed and beheaded. I pray our Bridegroom grants me this courage to profess my faith for all time, unmoving in the face of adversity and persecution, as did the good Bartholomew.

Some beautiful liturgical propers:
“Jesus our God, the Sun of glory, sent you to the whole world like a ray of light to disperse the gloom of ungodliness, O all-glorious one, and to enlighten all who sit in the darkness of ignorance.” 
“Submitting to the will of Him Whose will all things obey, you imitated Him as a teacher of righteousness.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Introducing...Sister Natalia!

Yesterday evening, our dokimos (postulant), Victoria Olsen, was tonsured as a rasophore ("robe-bearer") nun by Metropolitan William at St. Stephen Byzantine Catholic Church in Euclid, Ohio, during Vespers for the feast of St. Nicholas. During this service, she received her habit and new monastic name: Sister Natalia! She is named after the Apostle Bartholomew (Nathaniel).

We look forward to sharing more photos from the beautiful service, as well as Sister Natalia's explanation of her name.

God grant you many blessed years, Sister Natalia, and blessings in your continued monastic formation and discernment!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Victoria to be Tonsured as a Rasophore Nun Dec. 5

We are full of joy to announce the tonsuring of our dokimos (postulant), Victoria, as a rasophore nun on Monday, December 5! During Vespers for the Feast of St. Nicholas, Victoria will be clothed in the monastic habit, belt, riassa (robe) and skufia (hat) and receive a new monastic name. Please keep her in your prayers as she prepares for this next step in her monastic formation!

All are invited to join us for Vespers and the tonsure:

Monday, December 5, 2016
5:00 p.m.
St. Stephen Byzantine Catholic Church
532 Lloyd Rd. 
Euclid, Ohio

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Furnace of God's Love

The Fathers of the Church compare a person who prays to an iron rod placed in a blazing furnace of fire. By surrendering her life totally to God, a nun seeks to remain constantly in this furnace of God's love, and allow Him to transform her into Himself. What does this look like? What do nuns do? This video, which we produced for our "Bridegroom's Banquet" benefit dinner, gives a glimpse into the joys and struggles of monastic life and its purpose in the world.

Friday, November 18, 2016

We reached our goal at the "Bridegroom's Banquet!"

Thank you for helping us to "keep our lamps burning" by your prayers and support of our benefit dinner, Nov. 5, at St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church in Brecksville, Ohio! About 200 guests joined us for a wonderfully joyful evening of Great Vespers, dinner, music by the band Zug, and enjoying the company of so many awesome people! We also showed a video that we produced about our monastery (which we will share with you soon!)

A very generous benefactor offered to match all donations & pledges up to $50,000, and with pre-event and event donations we reached our goal!!! The funds will go towards keeping the monastery running so that we can continue our life of prayer and hospitality, and towards either the building of a poustinia cabin for individual retreats or the renovating of an empty building connected to the chapel for more retreat space. Thank you for all of your prayers and support!

Click on the photo to enjoy more photos from the event.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Oil of Desire

In honor of Mother Theodora's feast day today (the feast of Blessed Theodore Romzha, martyred Byzantine Catholic bishop), here is Mother's reflection on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Mt 25:1-13) from our recent newsletter:      

"Behold, the Bridegroom is here! Go and welcome Him!” What stirs in your heart? “The Bridegroom is here!” Does your heart leap, does it wince or is it indifferent? We, like the ten virgins, all hear the same message and are called to be prepared, to keep vigilance and to respond at the arrival of the Bridegroom with blazing lamps filled with oil.

What is this oil? St. Seraphim of Sarov teaches us that the oil is “the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God.” He says, "The true goal of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. What God requires is a true faith in Himself and His Only begotten Son. In return He generously bestows the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Lord seeks hearts filled with love for God and for one's neighbor." This oil is the oil of desire—the oil of love. Jesus promises us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, because He abides with you, and He will be in you” (Jn 14:15-17).

We should learn from the foolish virgins who were indifferent and sought oil at the “market place” (the world that cannot receive, see or know the Spirit of Truth).  How often do we seek to purchase the oil of our desires in the “market place” and become distracted and lost in its distorted view of reality and its temporal gratification and artificial fulfillment? The Bridegroom is the ultimate fulfillment of our desires.

All ten virgins were virtuous and did good works. However, the oil of the Holy Spirit filled the wise virgins’ hearts with desire and love for God and neighbor, while in contrast, the foolish virgins, who were lacking this oil, were indifferent and acted more out of obligation than love.

The five wise virgins were prepared because they knew and loved the Bridegroom and possessed the oil of desire. Prayer, which is ultimately union with God, is essential to know and desire Christ. Prayer is a dialogue or a knowing silence of oneness of being with the Other. “The Fathers of the Church say that prayer, properly understood, is nothing other than becoming a longing for God” (Mary: The Church and the Source, Ratzinger and Hans Urs Von Balthasar, 2005). Our “oil of desire” that keeps our lamps burning is continuously replenished and purified with each encounter with Christ. St. Augustine, in his reflection on Psalm 37, says, “Desire is your prayer; and if your desire is without ceasing, your prayer will also be without ceasing. The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer.”

This longing is echoed in the troparian (hymn) for a woman martyr, “I love you my Bridegroom. I seek You with painful longing,” and expressed in Psalm 63:1,3, “O God, You are my God. For You I long, for You my soul is thirsting. My body pines for You like a dry, weary land without water.” May our hearts be lamps burning with desire for union with the Bridegroom as His heart mutually yearns for us (Sg 7:11). His love for us is an eternal, inexhaustible flame that nothing can quench (Sg 8:7).

The sessional hymn for Matins of Great and Holy Tuesday  incites us to be enflamed with divine desire for Christ our Bridegroom:

“O faithful, let us be on fire with love of the Bridegroom, and with lamps burning, let us go out to meet Him. May the light of our virtue shine brightly, and may our faith be radiant. With the wise virgins, let us prepare to enter the banquet hall of the Lord; for the divine Spouse offers us all the crown of immortality.” 

The Bridegroom is here! Go and welcome Him!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Praying with the Psalms

Enjoy this short video about the psalms produced by the Eparchy of Parma and featuring some of us!

The Psalms from The Eparchy of Parma on Vimeo.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bridegroom's Banquet Registration Extended

There are still seats available for the Bridegroom's Banquet, our benefit dinner on Nov. 5, so registration has been extended a week, until Fri. Oct. 28. We hope to enjoy the evening with you! Click here to register or to find out how you can contribute toward the matching funds from afar! God bless you!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Meet the band for the Bridegroom's Banquet

During part of the Bridegroom's Banquet, our benefit dinner on Nov. 5, our guests will enjoy music from the band Zug. The band is comprised of young Cleveland guys, most of whom are priests.

We asked band member Fr. Patrick Anderson to explain the name Zug. He replied:
"Song of Songs 1:4 says it all: 'Draw me Lord and we will run.' Zug means train in German, and it means literally to draw, to pull. It is theological in the sense that Christ attracts, pulls, all to Himself. We are drawn by the transcendentals of the True, the Good, the Beautiful, ultimately to Christ. And as we are drawn by Christ, we want to be a connector between Christ and each person listening and joining into the music we play, just as a train car links to train car, all pulled by the single engine."
May we follow the example of the guys of Zug, allowing ourselves to be drawn to Christ, and drawing others to Him by our lives. "Draw me and we will run" (Sg 1:4, quoted above).

This photo is from last year's benefit dinner, which was held at the monastery. This year the event will take place at St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church in Brecksville, Ohio. Admission is free, but registration is required by Oct. 21. The registration deadline is quickly approaching, so if you are interested, please visit our Bridegroom's Banquet page! All donations and pledges that evening will be doubled (up to $50,000), as well as donations mailed in before Nov. 5 and marked for the Bridegroom's Banquet. Thank you so much for your support!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Photos from our Fall Work Day

Thank you to our awesome volunteers! It was a very fun and productive day! Thank you also to Bishop John for coming out to celebrate Great Vespers. Click to enjoy our photos from the day.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A chance for your donation to be doubled

A generous benefactor has pledged to match donations given/pledged at our benefit dinner on Nov. 5, up to $50,000! Whatever you can give will be doubled! Please visit our Bridegroom's Banquet page to learn more about the event and to register.

How to Help if You Can’t Attend the Event
Your donation can still be doubled! Send in a donation before Nov. 5 and indicate “Bridegroom’s Banquet.” We are also in need of your prayers for a beautiful and fruitful event!

Where Will the Funds Go?
Your donation will help with two needs:

  1. To keep our monastery running so that we can continue  our life of prayer and hospitality
  2. To purchase/construct at least one cabin (“poustinia”) to meet the growing need for personal retreat space for our retreatants and our growing community

Monday, September 19, 2016

Summer/Fall Issue of Pomegranate Blossoms

Enjoy Mother Theodora's reflection on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins in her cover article, "The Oil of Desire." Learn more about our upcoming benefit dinner, the "Bridegroom's Banquet." Read a reflection from Sr. Iliana on her first year as a rasophore nun. See photos from our newly completed East Wing renovations. Enjoy lots of photos from Girls' Camp and the Mariapoch Pilgrimage! (Click on the image below)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Magdala Apostolate Video

Check out this 3.5 minute video which includes footage and interviews from our community. The video was produced to get the word out about the Magdala Apostolate, which provides education/formation for women religious through the internet in a "real-time" classroom setting. We are so grateful for this apostolate which allows us to receive education without leaving the monastery! It is provided to us free of charge. Please consider supporting this wonderful apostolate!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Subscribe to our newsletter, Pomegranate Blossoms

Our fall edition of Pomegranate Blossoms is soon to be published, and you can now easily subscribe through this form, now available on our website. Choose to receive a paper copy in the mail, an electronic version through email, or both!

If you are already receiving our newsletter but want to change your address or your type of subscription, you can also do that through this form. Enjoy!

(Subscribe by Fri. Sept. 9 to receive the fall edition)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Registration now available for the Bridegroom's Banquet!

You’re invited to the “Bridegroom’s Banquet,” a benefit dinner for the nuns of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery, on

Saturday, November 5

at St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church
Brecksville, Ohio  

There is no cost to attend the dinner, but registration is required (by October 21).  Adults 21 and older may attend.  Enjoy a buffet dinner, live music and an evening with the nuns and their guests.  Learn more about the nuns and their life of prayer and hospitality.  The evening will begin with Vespers (Evening Prayer) at 5:30 p.m. and conclude at 8:00 p.m.  You are also invited to attend the parish’s Vigil Divine Liturgy at 4:00 p.m.

For the schedule, more information and to register, please click here to visit the Bridegroom's Banquet tab.

We hope to enjoy the evening with you on November 5!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Join us for our Fall Work Day & Cookout, Sept. 24

Join us for a day of outdoor and indoor work projects, prayer, food and fun at the monastery on Saturday, September 24.  Volunteers of all ages and abilities are welcome!  The day begins at 10 a.m., includes lunch, and closes with vespers at 5 p.m. followed by a cookout.  Come at whatever time you are available, and bring a side dish to share if you can.  The monastery is located at 17485 Mumford Rd. Burton, Ohio.  Please RSVP* by Tuesday, September 20, to 440-834-0290 or, so that the appropriate amount of food can be prepared.

*Please RSVP with:
1. The number of adults (include teens) and the number of kids (12 and under)
2. Will you be here for lunch or dinner or both?
3. The dish you plan to bring

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Announcing: "The Bridegroom's Banquet," Nov. 5!

Last year many enjoyed our first fundraising dinner, the "Mumford & Nuns BBQ," which took place in the summer at the monastery. This year, we invite you to join us for "The Bridegroom's Banquet" on Sat. Nov. 5, 2016, at St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church in Brecksville, Ohio.

This year, admission is free! Registration is required, so please check back soon for more information. Adults 21 and older are invited.

Please mark your calendar to join us for an enjoyable evening of prayer, dinner and fellowship. You will have the opportunity to learn more about our life and to support the monastery.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A talk by Fr. Boniface Hicks: Mercy and the Mother of God

A beautiful talk for the Year of Mercy by Fr. Boniface Hicks, OSB, at the annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch, August 14, 2016. Fr. Boniface talks about the "emptiness" of the Mother of God as the way in which she could be filled with grace and mercy and overflow with mercy for others. This is great news for us who are so empty and broken! 

"When we see her greatness, it's not because she does something that's out of reach of us. She does something that every one of us can do: she's empty, she's open, she's earth that God can plant His mercies in. She has a space that she can't fill, and she doesn't try to--that's our danger: we always try to fill that space with something that's in our own control; we have to let that go. We have to allow ourselves to be poor, and weak, and limited, and broken, and then God can fill us like He fills her. 
He shows us precisely what He wants us to be: empty and filled with His love, that we may also become a fount of His mercies, pure earth which pour forth His abundant mercies. What God shows us in our Lady is precisely what He is making us into: not a porcelain statue distant from us and unachievable, but something that's more like falling than like flying...something that looks more like dying than like rising. Our job is to die, His job is to raise us up again, and that's what our Lady demonstrates for us in her Dormition...."

Monday, August 15, 2016

Happy Feast of the Dormition!

Today we celebrate the great Feast of the Dormition (falling asleep) of the Mother of God. This morning, pilgrims who were camping out after the annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch joined us for Matins (morning prayer) with the burial procession and Divine Liturgy. It was a beautiful 3-hour marathon of a celebration! During the burial procession with the shroud of the Mother of God, we chant verses from the Song of Songs. When we come back inside the chapel and place the shroud on the tomb, we then sing the "stations" at her tomb, similar to the stations sung during Jerusalem Matins on Great and Holy Saturday. Here is one beautiful line from the second station:

"As an infant upon earth, God rested upon His holy Mother; now the holy Mother rests and makes her abode in God!"

After Matins, we all venerate the shroud of the Mother of God. We venerate this body which contained God and which is now in heaven. May we, too, open ourselves to the Divine Life who wants to dwell within us, as we celebrate this beautiful feast!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Voice of the Merciful Father

(Originally published in our spring newsletter)

By Fr. Jeff Barnish, St. Bernadette Parish, Westlake, Ohio

"Only one who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy truly knows the Lord” (Pope Francis, March 7, 2015, address to the Communion and Liberation movement). 

“But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:6).

In the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, just before He teaches His disciples the “Our Father,” Jesus invites them to encounter His Father in the solitude of the inner room.  His invitation arises from the depth of His intimate knowledge of the interplay between the Father and the human heart.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to agree with Jeremiah when he writes “More tortuous than anything is the human heart….”  Among its tortures are the myriad of voices vying for its attention, pulling it in a thousand directions.  For many, myself included, the poustinia house at Christ the Bridegroom Monastery incarnates the inner room of Jesus’ imagination, where the human heart and the Ancient of Days meet in secret, far from the din of the world.

The voice of the Father is so often the still, silent voice that Elijah encounters at Mount Horeb.  It is easily missed in the cacophony of the culture.  The noise of the present age so often drowns out the merciful whisper of God.  This is why Jesus invites us to encounter God in the inner room and why the poustinia exists. The silence of the poustinia house amplifies the Voice of Mercy and opens the human heart to be “caressed by the tenderness of mercy.” The Father does not typically compete with the other voices of our daily lives by raising His own. Instead, He waits patiently to meet us alone, apart from the multitude.  The Father knows that the inner room provides the ideal setting for us to receive His initiatives of love.

Our world can be a weary one and it wears on us.  Though Christ has risen, triumphant over sin and death, we remain subject to the afflictions of a world that is already and not yet.  In this Year of Mercy, our Holy Father invites us to believe that our sinfulness and suffering comprise the privileged place of encounter.  Yet, if we do not quiet the deafening voices that numb our anguish, we will be unable to hear the murmur of the merciful Father.

I’ve had the privilege of finding refuge in the silence of the monastery and the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch a number of times since my ordination last May.  One of the lines from the Rite of Ordination that has stayed with me from that day comes from the prayer of ordination itself in which the Bishop prays, “May they be joined with us, Lord, in imploring your mercy for the people entrusted to their care and for all the world.”  Most days, the priestly call to implore mercy has left me all too aware of my own need for that same mercy.  It is this realization that drives me to the footsteps of the monastery, seeking the gentle mercy of Jesus.  There, in the quiet of the upper room, the Voice of Mercy is audible.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Encountering God's Mercy at the Monastery

(Originally published in our spring newsletter)

By Eric Garris, Seminarian for the Diocese of Cleveland

Recently, Pope Francis released a new book entitled “The Name of God is Mercy” (which I highly recommend!) as part of his desire for the Church to celebrate this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.   In this interview the pope is asked the simple question, “What is mercy for you?”  Although the question itself was quite simple, the response given by the Holy Father was incredibly profound when he stated, “Mercy is the divine attitude which embraces, it is God giving himself to us, accepting us, and bowing to forgive […] mercy is God’s identity card.”  I sat with this line and let God speak to my heart as I prayerfully reflected on the words of Pope Francis.  I thought of how many times we as a Church cry out from the depths of our hearts asking for God to be merciful towards us; we repeatedly cry out as a Church community within the liturgy “Lord have mercy,” we chant Psalms in which we entreat God for mercy, and we pray in the silence of our hearts, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”  These prayers for mercy vocalize our hearts’ desire to have God embrace us—embrace us in the midst of our brokenness, our sinfulness and our pains.

And while we certainly experience God’s mercy within the liturgy, personal prayer and the Sacraments/Holy Mysteries, I also believe that one of most profound ways that we experience the mercy of God is in others, in particular those who have experienced mercy in a profound way in their own lives.  As I read the line about God’s mercy being the divine attitude which embraces, I also thought of the people, the places and the groups/communities that have embraced me, have been merciful to me, and have taught me how to love and how to be merciful.  The women of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery have been incredibly merciful toward me; they have embraced me, they have taught me how to love, they have taught me how to be merciful, but most especially, they have allowed for me to encounter the mercy of God.

I have experienced mercy and have been embraced by the women of the community, and for this I give thanks to God.  Whether it be simply heading over to celebrate and pray Vespers with them, sitting around over coffee and sharing stories and laughs, enjoying a meal with them, or whatever it may be, I have indeed been embraced by these women.  But their embrace and their showing of mercy is not simply in what they have done for me, but in the very nature of who they are.  Just as mercy is “God’s identity card,” mercy is the identity of the women of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery.  The fruit of their spousal relationship with Christ and Christ’s Church is the love and mercy that they exude, and this love and mercy is infectious!  So too I have been able to experience the mercy of God through the monastery—in the poustinia, in the communal prayer and liturgy, and in the others whom I have been blessed to encounter through my association and friendship with the nuns.  

It is my prayer that the women of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery may continue to be icons of mercy, sharing with the world the love which is born between them and their Bridegroom, Christ Himself.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Mariapoch Pilgrimage & Teen Campout, Aug. 13-14

Join us Aug. 13-14, 2016, for the annual Eparchy of Parma pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch in Burton, Ohio, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the dedication of the shrine.  All are invited for a weekend of prayer and fellowship in honor of, and in supplication to, the Mother of God.  In celebration of the Year of Mercy, this year’s theme is, “Open Unto us the Doors of Mercy, O Blessed Theotokos.”  Come during the day or camp out overnight.  The weekend will culminate with a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy celebrated by Bishop John on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.  This year’s speaker is Fr. Boniface Hicks, OSB, from St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa.  For the full schedule and other information, click on the poster to the right, or visit  With questions, please contact Deacon Bill Fredrick at or 216-469-1425.

Teens: Teens wishing to participate in the chaperoned campout program must submit a release form and payment by July 29.  Click here to register.  With questions about the teen program, please contact the nuns of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery at or 440-834-0290.

Monday, July 18, 2016

July 3rd radio appearance

Fr. David Bline and Fr. Louis Thomas, of St. Francis de Sales parish in Akron, Ohio, invited Mother Cecilia and Mother Gabriella to join them on The Mercy Show on WAKR (a secular Akron station) for the July 3rd episode of the priests' weekly half-hour program. The topics on which they reflected included religious liberty, spiritual motherhood/fatherhood, and monastic life. Visit this link to listen!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Girls' Camp Graces & Photos

Our 7th annual Girls' Camp was again a beautiful, grace-filled experience for the teen-girl participants and for us. We celebrated the Year of Mercy with our theme from Psalm 118: "His Mercy Endures Forever." A record number of girls (25) joined us June 23-26, to camp out on our property, pray many of the daily liturgical services with us, listen to talks on mercy and the vocations of marriage, single life and monastic life, participate in other activities, and experience God's mercy in a profound way through the Mystery of Holy Repentance (Confession).

The camp is an event sponsored by the Eparchy of Parma Office of Vocations and run by our monastery with the help of some young adult facilitators and two hard-working volunteer cooks!

Almost all of the girls named Confession as their favorite part of the weekend. One participant commented, "I also really enjoyed the talks because it was so amazing to hear how Christ worked in the lives of others."

The camp culminated with a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy celebrated by Bishop John Kudrick at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch (across the street from the monastery), at which the Boys' Camp participants and the families of the campers from both camps joined together. The Liturgy was followed by a lunch and awards program.

View more photos here

Here are a few other graces the girls shared with us and are willing to share with you:

"It has definitely brought me closer to God and Mary and all of the saints" (Cassidy Glasier).

"It really opened me up to Christ's mercy like I have never been opened before" (Veronica Perts).

"I grew so much in Jesus Christ this weekend: seeing His presence in everyone and even allowing my heart to be opened to Him and listening to what He has to say" (Macrina Bagay).

"I now love God more than before" (Hannah Olt).

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Thank you!

We would like to give a big thank-you to the priests and seminarians who coordinated a work day for us recently and worked incredibly hard to cut down some huge, dead trees on our property and cut them into firewood. They also began the construction of a platform behind the shed for our trailer.  We also had a blast helping and feeding the guys! Here are some additional photos from the day.

Another big, belated thank-you is due to Mother Gabriella's parents Rick Houck & Cathy McArdle for the gift of our shed, which has been so helpful with storing outdoor equipment!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Vocations blessed by ‘fatherly love’

Bishop John entrusting Sr. Iliana to Mother Theodora, September 2015
The first time I read St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter “Orientale Lumen” (“Light of the East”), I was intrigued by the thought of monasticism “flourishing once more in the Eastern Churches” and thought, “That sounds really cool, but how’s that ever going to happen?”

Little did I know that, years later, I would meet a bishop who saw this need and had the courage and vision to make it reality.

Bishop John Kudrick publicized his vision of monasticism for the Eparchy of Parma in 2008.

At that time, I was already in dialogue with him and was seriously discerning monasticism. To be honest, the thought of it “freaked me out” at times, but I distinctly remember the peace and the confident “yes” when I read his document.

His vision was firmly grounded in “Light of the East,” which devoted considerable attention to monasticism as a necessary “reference point for all the baptized” and as the “very soul of the…church.”

From the beginning of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery, Bishop John has been our spiritual father and he has shared with us his love of God and prayer, truly incarnating his desire to teach God’s children how to pray and to experience the peaceful and life-giving presence of God within.

Each of us at the monastery is grateful to have been blessed with his fatherly love:

“Bishop John’s ‘yes’ to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration for this monastery gave me the ability to say my ‘yes’ to the incredible gift of my monastic vocation. Through Bishop John’s example, he has also helped me to learn how to pray and to seek God in gentleness and simplicity.”
  — Mother Cecilia

“Bishop John’s love of prayer drew me and so many others into the heart of the Byzantine Church. I attribute the beginning of my love for our liturgical prayer to evenings spent at Bishop John’s residence, praying Vespers with other young adults. I am so grateful for the seeds planted during those years, which have blossomed into the monastic vocation I am blessed to live today.”
— Mother Gabriella

“Bishop John is a witness of humility and faith and a manifestation of the Father’s love.”
   — Sister Emilia

“It amazes me when I consider that without Bishop John’s prayerful vision and his courage to start a women’s monastery, I would not be able to live out my vocation today. For this I will always be grateful.”
      — Sister Iliana

“I’ve known Bishop John for such a short time, yet he welcomed me into his flock with the gentle love of Christ. He is one of the most sincere men I have ever known.”
— Victoria

Through God’s grace, we pray that monasticism will continue to flourish in the Eastern Churches.

--Mother Theodora (originally published in Horizons, the newspaper of the Eparchy of Parma)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Girls' Camp Registration is now FULL!

Thank you to all the teen girls who registered for the 2016 Eparchy of Parma's Girls' Camp!  We have reached our registration maximum!  If any girls are still interested in coming, please email us at or call us at 440-834-0290 to be placed on a waiting list if any spots become available.  Looking forward to seeing everyone in a few weeks!
What?!  It's already full?  Oh no!

Monday, May 23, 2016

God be with you, Jacqui!

Jacqui McNeill (formerly known as Sister Emilia) has decided to leave the monastery in order to have the opportunity to discern the possibility of marriage.  Her decision has brought her peace of heart and mind and we share in her peace as well.  Please join us in offering loving prayer and support to Jacqui as she continues to discern God’s will in her life. God bless you, Jacqui!

“I want to thank all the family and friends of the monastery for their love and prayerful support in my discernment. As I continue to ask God to lead me, I ask for your continued prayers. 
Know you continue to be held close in prayer.” 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Enjoy our Spring Newsletter

We hope you enjoy our "Year of Mercy" issue of Pomegrante Blossoms! 

This issue features two beautiful reflections, from a seminarian and a priest, about their experiences of encountering God's mercy at the monastery. Also, read Mother's updates about our renovations and needs, enjoy photos from Holy Week and Pascha, mark your calendars for some upcoming events, and read about our recent discernment retreat. 

It may take a minute to load the large file. Thanks for your patience and for your continued prayers and support! 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Happy Pentecost, and thank you to our work day volunteers!

Weeding and landscaping the newly-named "Mount Theodora!"
A great group of volunteers joined us yesterday for our spring work day. The rain let up long enough in the afternoon to accomplish some outdoor projects, and we also attacked some indoor cleaning and moving. Some volunteers also helped with projects across the street at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch. There was plenty of mud for everyone to get sufficiently dirty!

In the evening, we prayed Vespers for the Feast of Pentecost and enjoyed dinner indoors! Thank you to all who gave of their time, energy, and love yesterday, and we send our love to all on this glorious Feast of Pentecost!

"In the days of old, pride brought confusion to the tongues of the builders of the Tower of Babel, but now the diversity of tongues enlightened the minds and gave knowledge for the glory of God. Then, God punished the impious for their sin; now, Christ enlightened fishermen through His Spirit. Then, confusion of tongues was for the sake of punishment; now, there was variety so that voices could be joined in harmony for the salvation of our souls" (Vespers Aposticha Doxastikon).

Mother Gabriella finishes a project outside and Fr. Cyril carries Pentecost decorations to the chapel

Sunday, May 8, 2016

“Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me" (Isaiah 8:18).

Among the various saints we commemorate today, one is St. Emilia, the mother of ten children, five of whom are canonized saints.  Below is a reflection from our Sr. Emilia on the occasion of her feast day and Mother's Day.

Eight months ago, when I was given the name “Emilia” at my tonsure, I was in awe of the Lord’s reminder that He had named me as His many years ago, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you...” (Jeremiah 1:5). Mother Theodora chose the name Emilia because of the connection with motherhood and my love for children.  Accordingly, at my confirmation (10 years ago) and again at my tonsure; the words of Isaiah 62:2,5 were fulfilled, “You shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord shall give…as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” The Lord continues to speak to my heart, showing me how I am called to love in a maternal manner; showing me His great desire to love me, as my Father.  I have loved hearing and responding to the voice of Abba calling out to me, His little girl, “Emilia!” Never have I felt so loved.

After my tonsure, I looked at the calendar to see on which day my feast fell this year and whether it was in a fasting period or not (important, right?!). I was happy to see that it fell on a non-fast day. Then I looked again and laughed at God’s work…of course my first feast day as “Sr. Emilia” would fall on Mother’s Day! He truly does give us the desires of our hearts. 

This feast day, falling on Mother’s Day, is perfect because the reason I am named Emilia is due to motherhood. I chose that name for my confirmation in 8th grade in honor of my mom and the mother of St. John Paul II. Then, I was given that name again 10 years later as a byzantine monastic, at my tonsure as a rasophore nun. St. Emilia has been to me a mother who consoled me in the loss of my mom, who guided me in my love for children as a nanny, and now in my discernment of whether I am called to biological or spiritual motherhood.
Sr. Emilia with her mother, dad & step-mom, "Aunt" Shirley, & godmother
I celebrate today the joy of being a spiritual mother to many children. I am especially grateful to God for the children who hold a special place in my heart: my youngest siblings, as well as Matthew, Abigail, Andrew, Maria and Daeclyn Emmelia Rose. I am thankful for the mothers that God placed in my life, especially Our Lady and my mother and godmother, who have gone to be with the Lord, as well as those mothers who God gave me in place of them, to lead me in my walk closer to union with the Bridegroom: Mother Theodora, Aunt Shirley and my step-mom, Lisa.  These children and women are to me the people who lead me to be a better “mother.” Who are the women in your life who are being honored today? What children has the Lord given you? Let us thank the Lord today for all women who accept the call to be "Mom" and pray for those who desire to be biological mothers, but are unable to be. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Praying for our bishop and father at the news of his resignation

Pope Accepts Resignation of Bishop John M. Kudrick and Bishop Gerald N. Dino

May 7, 2016

PARMA, Ohio — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop John M. Kudrick of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma and has named Archbishop William C. Skurla of Pittsburgh as apostolic administrator.

​Further, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Gerald N. Dino of the Byzantine Catholic Holy Protection of Mary Eparchy of Phoenix and appointed Bishop John S. Pazak C.S.s.R., of the Eparchy of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, based in Toronto, Canada as Bishop of Phoenix, while remaining administrator of the Toronto Eparchy.

The clergy and faithful of the Eparchy of Parma are saddened by the unexpected news of Bishop Kudrick’s resignation. He was appreciated as a prayerful leader, who loved the Church and the Eastern Catholic Tradition. Among his accomplishments, he showed great pastoral vision in trying to restore Eastern monasticism by establishing a women’s monastery in the eparchy. He also created a new pastoral plan, aimed at invigorating parishes and encouraging efforts for evangelization.

Bishop Kudrick was ordained the fourth bishop of Parma in 2002. Born in Lloydell, Pa., in 1947, he was ordained a priest in 1975 for the Third Order Regular of St. Francis (Franciscan Friars, T.O.R.). He was incardinated in the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Pittsburgh in 1987, serving in Pennsylvania until his episcopal appointment to Parma. He was 68 at the time of his resignation.

Archbishop Skurla is the Metropolitan of the Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States since 2012. Born in 1956, he was ordained a priest for the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) in 1987, and was incardinated in the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Van Nuys (western U.S.A.) in 1993. He was ordained bishop of the same eparchy in 2002, and appointed bishop of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic five years later. He was named the fifth archbishop of Pittsburgh in 2012.

The Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma includes 12 states in the American Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin. It was established in 1969. Today, it provides ministry and pastoral care to some 8,000 faithful in about 30 parishes and missions.

More information to follow.

Media contact:
Father Andrew Summerson

Letter from Bishop John to the Eparchy of Parma:

In 2002, I was humbled that the Church considered me God-chosen for the office of Bishop of Parma. It has become apparent that now in 2016 the Eparchy of Parma needs leadership that I cannot provide. The Holy Father in his paternal concern for the Eparchy and for myself has allowed me to retire with the understanding that I may be asked to accept another office in the future. Until the next bishop is chosen, Metropolitan William Skurla will serve as apostolic administrator.

I thank all who collaborated with me and I assure you of my prayer, for which I’ll now have more time. I hope to offer assistance where I am able. I pray our ongoing relationship will be marked especially with mercy and forgiveness.

I look forward to joining the Eparchy in offering our support to my successor. In the last 14 years I experienced God’s presence and wonderful cooperation with Him. I am certain that will continue to ensure our deepening of discipleship and sacramental practice, an accepting of our individual vocations, and the strengthening of our parishes.

In Christ our Hope,
+Bishop John

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Girls' Camp Registration Now Open!

Teen girls ages 13-18 are invited to the 8th Annual Eparchy of Parma Girls’ Camp, June 23-26, 2016, hosted by Christ the Bridegroom Monastery in Burton, Ohio. This year’s theme is “His Mercy Endures Forever.” The camp is an event sponsored by the Eparchy of Parma Office of Vocations, which provides an opportunity for teen girls to discover different vocations in the Church and develop a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. More information and online registration can be found at the “For Teen Girls” tab.  Space is limited to 20 girls! Register as soon as possible to guarantee your spot.  Registration will close June 10 if not already full.

The Office of Vocations also offers a boys' camp, the Alive in Christ Ascetical Boot Camp for Guys, for boys 8-18 during the same weekend, across the street from the monastery at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch. Visit for more information.

Friday, April 15, 2016

"My weaknesses don't inhibit His love"

Newsletter Reflection 6 of 6

A reflection from Victoria about her entrance as a dokimos (postulant) on Sept. 30, 2015.

The days leading up to my entrance were focused on opening my heart to be receptive to the love of the Father, a grace for which I had never really asked, but badly needed. God answered those prayers through scripture and meditation, helping me to see the ways He has healed my wounds and invited me to a deeper discernment of marriage to Him. He graciously showed me how my weaknesses not only don’t inhibit His love, but are in fact endearing to Him, and how it brings Him joy to work through and in those weaknesses.

I was most struck at my entrance by Bishop John’s passionate homily. His words on trust stirred within me both an anticipation of the ways in which I would need to trust, but also encouragement that when I do trust, God will always provide. In the Gospel reading from Matthew at Vespers the night of my entrance, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you…what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?...If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (7:7-11). This was a reminder to me of the Father’s intense love for us, so much more intense than anything we’ve ever experienced.

Because my entrance was on a feast of Our Lady—the Protection of the Mother of God—we sang many hymns to her during Vespers. In one of these hymns we sang, “O Theotokos, you cooperated with the invitation offered by the Holy Spirit.” Mary is the most prominent example of immense trust in our Bridegroom. She is a constant reminder for me that God always gives us a choice, but also that He bears so much fruit within our hearts when we make the choice to follow Him. This hymn, combined with the Gospel reading, says we must trust and believe in how much it delights Him when we say “yes” and also how much He delights in saying “yes” to us!

A few days after my entrance, I was reflecting on the Lord’s words, that we should ask of Him what we desire. My first thought was one of concern, that I may ask for the wrong things. But Christ reminded me of His love of my weaknesses and of the trust He requires of me, and He gently reminded me that even when I ask the wrong question, He will always give me the right answer. The two months [now six months!] since my entrance have already presented opportunities for trust—trust that God will bless and bring forth fruit from my sacrifices, and that He will continue to pour upon me the graces I need to keep my heart open to Him and to maintain this path of discernment.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Join us for our Spring Work Day, May 14!

Join us for a day of outdoor and indoor work projects, prayer, food and fun at the monastery and the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch on Saturday, May 14. Volunteers of all ages and abilities are welcome! The day begins at 10 a.m., includes lunch, and closes with vespers at 5 p.m. followed by a cookout. Come at whatever time you are available, and bring a side dish to share if you can. The monastery is located at 17485 Mumford Rd. Burton, Ohio. Please RSVP* by Monday, May 9, to 440-834-0290 or, so that the appropriate amount of food can be prepared.

*Please RSVP with:
1. The number of adults (include teens) and the number of kids (12 and under)
2. Will you be here for lunch or dinner or both?
3. The dish you plan to bring

Facebook Event

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

"I don't know what to do with all this joy!"

Ok, we're back to posting the remaining reflections from our winter newsletter!

Newsletter Reflection 5 of 6

A reflection from Sr. Iliana about her tonsure as a rasophore nun, Sept. 7, 2015

One of the most pivotal moments of my discernment occurred almost two years ago, while I was on retreat here at the monastery. To be completely honest, I had almost cancelled the retreat because I was afraid of what God might be doing in my life. I had heard Him call to me, “you are mine” over a decade earlier – which in my heart was very clearly a call to religious life – but I did not really understand where He wanted me to live out His calling and was a little tired of asking. As I prayed on the first morning of the retreat, I found myself sitting in a tree with Zacchaeus, waiting for a glimpse of Jesus in the crowd below. As Jesus walked by my hiding place, He looked up at me and said, “Moki, come down” (Moki was my name before I became a nun). It was in response to these words that I immediately quit my job and left everything behind to follow Him. The prophet Isaiah says, “I have called you by your name, you are mine” (Is 43:1). Jesus had called me by my name, and as Zacchaeus, I “made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully”(Lk 19:6).

All words seem inadequate in expressing the joy that I felt on the day of my tonsure. This joy came from being called by Jesus, who had stooped down to his lowly servant saying, “You, follow me” (Jn 21:22). What joy it is to be called by Jesus – called by name – and to dwell in His heart in the heart of the Church. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Gal 5:22), and this particular fruit is very apparent in those who respond to His call. The tonsure was on the Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, and what a beautiful example Mary is of the joy of responding to God’s call. After her “yes,” Mary cries out, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Lk 1:47). The Gospels tell us that after Jesus calls the rich young man to follow him, he goes away “sad” (Lk 18:23). Just as the fruit of not answering Jesus’ call is sadness, conversely the fruit of responding to His call is infinite joy.

During my retreat before tonsure, the Lord asked me again if I would follow Him, and I was repeatedly able to join in Mary’s “yes.” These many “yeses” brought an incredible joy to my heart: the joy of knowing that He had called me, and most importantly, the joy of knowing that I was loved. After retreat, I kept being led to scriptures such as: “Serve the Lord with gladness” (Ps 100:2), “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Neh 8:10), “I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy” (Ps 27:6), and “Let the faithful rejoice in their glory, shout for joy and take their rest” (Ps 149:5). I wondered, how could souls be shouting for joy and resting at the same time? Then I understood that they are resting in the knowledge of His love. They are resting because they know that they are His own, His chosen ones. It is when they rest in His heart of love, in His loving gaze, that they can do nothing other than “shout for joy” and dance as God Himself is dancing “with shouts of joy,” for they know that God has “renewed them with His love” and this joy is too great to keep contained in their hearts (Zeph 3:17).  

On the evening of the tonsure, I exclaimed to a priest-friend, “I don’t know what to do with all this joy!” But deep in my heart I do know what to do with it: I must share it with you. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Christ is Risen!

"Bearing torches let us meet the bridegroom, Christ, as He comes forth from His tomb; and let us greet, with joyful song, the saving Pasch of God" (Resurrection Matins, Ode 5).

We wish you a blessed celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord! Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Friday, March 25, 2016

In the Shadow of the Cross, at the Tomb

I went to visit a family member in the hospital this week, and while I was there, we were chatting about the weather and I commented that the sun was shining when I came in.  “The sun is shining?  It looks dark out to me!” was the reply.  So I opened the curtain, but part of the hospital building was blocking the sun from shining directly outside the window.  “Still looks dark to me.”  No matter what I said or how I reassured that the sun was indeed shining, since it could not be seen from the angle we were looking, it was not believed.

I was struck by this exchange because so often in my own spiritual life I experience moments of "darkness," where I am not able to "see the sun shining."  All I can see from my vantage point is the shadow, the lack of sunshine – the absence of the presence of God.  In those moments when God seems far away, hidden or completely absent, I must rely in faith on those around me who assure me that He is in fact still there, still "shining." I also must rely on His word, because He said He is always there: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (Proverbs 3:5).

I often times feel as if God’s felt absence is a sign of displeasure or disfavor, and I am led to ask "What did I do wrong?  How can I fix it so You will come back?"  In that moment, I can echo the words of the Bride in the Song of Songs: “I sought him whom my soul loves, I sought him but I did not find him” (3:1).

I was reminded in a talk I heard this past weekend that His absence is not because I have done something wrong – but it is a means to draw me deeper.  The priest speaking was married and was relating his own distress when he and his beloved bride were forced to be apart for a number of months because of issues out their control. “I was a mess,” he confessed.  “I began to see her in the people walking down the street.  I thought of her when I heard our favorite songs on the radio or saw our favorite food in the grocery store.  It was in her absence that her presence was made known.”  As he spoke those final words, my heart was pierced.  How often do I endure God’s absence, rather than embrace it and allow it to produce THAT kind of longing in my heart?  If only His absence could be transformed into seeing Him in everyone and everything, instead of lamenting that I can’t "feel" Him! Oh, how much I have to learn!

So as we commemorate Our Lord's Passion, I offer this little reflection as something to ponder while we sit in the shadow of the Cross, while the Sun is darkened and His felt presence leaves us, and we await Him at the tomb.  May we cling to the Cross, embracing His absence as a sign of the great work He is doing for our salvation, full of expectant hope in the Resurrection to come on Pascha.

-Mother Gabriella

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Good Friday and Annunciation…Together?

This year, Great and Holy Friday falls on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. The Byzantine Church doesn’t move the celebration of the feast, which might seem strange! However, I'd like to propose that it actually makes a lot of sense.

In these two events we see the awesome condescension of God, and we can look at both of them through the role of Mary, the Mother of God. First, at the Annunciation, God condescended to become man through Mary. Mary said “yes” in behalf of humanity, receiving in her body--as in a chalice--the gift of divinity, so that it could be poured out into the world in a way that we could receive it.

St. Ephrem beautifully expresses this mystery in one of his Hymns on the Nativity (#11):

A wonder is Your mother: The Lord entered her
and became a servant; He entered able to speak
and He became silent in her; He entered her thundering
and His voice grew silent; He entered Shepherd of all;
a lamb He became in her; He emerged bleating.
The womb of Your mother overthrew the orders:
The Establisher of all entered a Rich One;
He emerged poor. He entered her a Lofty One;
He emerged humble. He entered her a Radiant One,
and He put on a despised hue and emerged.
He entered, a mighty warrior, and put on fear
inside her womb. He entered, Nourisher of all,
and He acquired hunger. He entered, the One who gives drink to all,
and He acquired thirst. Stripped and laid bare,
He emerged from [her womb], the One who clothes all.

Secondly, at the Crucifixion, the Lord made another great act of condescension: the acceptance of physical death. And again, Mary was there saying “yes,” this time in behalf of the Church, receiving the gift of eternal life that was pouring forth from Jesus on the cross, as He changed death into life.

The Festal Theotokion in Tone 4 clearly illustrates the connection between these two events of the Annunciation and the Crucifixion, as well as Mary's role:

The mystery hidden from all ages and unknown to the angels has been made known to those on earth through you, O Theotokos. God has taken flesh in a union without confusion, and willingly accepted the Cross for us; whereby He raised the first-formed Adam and saved our souls from death.

These two condescensions of God--these two parts of the mystery of the Incarnation--changed everything, and they happened at the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly life. So even though we think of one as a joyful event and the other as a sorrowful, it doesn’t seem strange to me to commemorate them together. There is also a tradition from early in the Church to do just that! This tradition said that Jesus died on March 25: “He suffered in the thirty-third year, March 25th, Friday, the eighteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, while Rufus and Roubellion were Consuls" (Commentary on Daniel by St. Hippolytus, 170-240 A.D.). And as the perfect man, it was believed that He had been conceived and died on the same day, therefore making March 25 the date of the Annunciation. (Later, the date of His Nativity, December 25, was based on this calculation.)

Fun facts aside, this Great and Holy Friday is a beautiful opportunity for us to reflect deeply on the mystery of the self-emptying of Christ through the Incarnation, with the Mother of God as our teacher and model. We can allow her to teach us how we can be a chalice like she was—receiving the love of God and pouring it out to others by loving them, making it accessible to them and helping them to thirst for more.

This year we lose our Annunciation mitigation of the fast for fish and oil, we get a major headache trying to decipher the liturgical typikon, and we feel the awkwardness of celebrating the Divine Liturgy on Great and Holy Friday…but theologically it seems very beautiful and meaningful to me to celebrate these two earth-shattering events of the Incarnation on the same day. Disagree if you want!...It won’t happen again until the year 2157 anyway!

–Mother Cecilia