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

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Holy Week Schedule

Below is a schedule of Holy Week services at the monastery which are open to the public. Some services which are not listed are still being confirmed with the chaplain(s). We will update the schedule here and on our Calendar.

Saturday, March 19
Lazarus Saturday
9:30 a.m. Divine Liturgy

Sunday, March 20
Palm Sunday
9:30 a.m. Divine Liturgy

Wednesday, March 23
Great & Holy Wednesday
8:00 a.m. Bridegroom Matins with Bishop John, followed by a light breakfast (please RSVP to 440-834-0290 or christthebridegroom@gmail.com by Mon. March 21)
3:00 p.m. Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts & Mystery of Holy Anointing

Friday, March 25
Great & Holy Friday & the Feast of the Annunciation
7:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. Matins with the 12 Passion Gospels and for the Feast
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. 1st & 3rd Royal Hours
2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. 6th & 9th Royal Hours
4:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. Entombment Vespers, Divine Liturgy for the Feast, and Burial Procession

Saturday, March 26
Great & Holy Saturday
6:30 a.m. - 8:30 a.m. Jerusalem Matins
3:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. Vespers & Divine Liturgy of St. Basil

Sunday, March 27
Pascha: The Resurrection of Our Lord!
9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Resurrection Matins & Divine Liturgy

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Holy Smoke

A reflection from Sr. Iliana on the Mystery of Holy Repentance (Confession)

As we find ourselves in the midst of the Great Fast during the Year of Mercy, I am reminded of a reflection from many years ago. I sat down in a chapel and soaked in the faint and familiar smell of incense that inevitably filled my senses and reminded me of the presence of the Lord. This routine had proven to be a comfort many times in my life and I was grateful to God for the gift of sitting within the beauty of His house.

Then something unexpected happened. Someone sat down right behind me who smelled so strongly of stale cigarettes that I was immediately distracted by the overpowering smell. My initial reaction was one of irritation. Why does he smoke so much? Why does he have to sit so close to me? Everything was going so well until he showed up! I tried to pray, though I was so hopelessly distracted, that his smell was really all that was on my mind. I heard his heavy breathing behind me and realized his smoking was also paying a heavy toll on his health. Then I heard the slight rustle of tin foil and the faint smell of mint. The smell of the mint was attempting to cover up the stench of stale smoke, but it was not succeeding. All of a sudden I had a revelation. I realized that he knew he smelled badly and he was trying to cover it up. As if in an instant, this scene was teaching me about the state of my own soul. I asked myself, “Am I ever like this man when I am living in a state of sin, affecting others with a less-than-pleasing spiritual aroma?”

I had recently attended a talk given by Fr. Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household. In his talk, he described how he once witnessed a housewife preparing to receive an unexpected guest. As the doorbell rang, she ran and closed all the doors to the messy rooms in the house in order to make the house appear presentable to the guest. Fr. Cantalamessa explained that these are precisely the doors in our heart that we should open when the Lord comes to visit, for it is the Lord who will heal and renew and restore these places in our soul. As I sat in that smelly chapel, I realized that just as this man smelled of smoke, so my soul smelled of sin. I had closed off the messy rooms in my heart to Christ. If I opened those doors, He might see what was really hidden deep inside, which was something I did not want anyone to see. And so, when I kept those doors closed, the sins became buried deep within my immortal soul and I really began to smell.

I really do not like to think that I smell, and I certainly do not want my friends to notice that I smell. How many time in my life have I tried to cover up the stench of my sin with little mints – little excuses that help me to pretend that things are not as bad as they seem. The sins begin to damage my heart and my soul and soon I find myself breathing heavily, overburdened with the weight on my shoulders. Sin not only makes me smell, but it is such a heavy burden! It is so damaging to the tissues of my soul, just as those cigarettes are damaging to the tissues of the lungs.

I also find myself under the false impression that my sin is only harming my own soul. I tell myself, “It is really just my own problem and I can try to deal with it at some point when I feel ready.” What I do not realize is that the stench of my sin is also distracting others away from the Lord. My sin affects my neighbor. Instead of radiating the light of Christ and the love of God, I am focused on myself and my own misery, bringing my neighbors down into the mud along with me. After all, second hand smoke is more damaging than first hand smoke. I am reminded of another of Fr. Cantalamessa’s stories. One day just after leaving a prayer group, Father got on a bus. He was just sitting there on the bus, but in his heart he was still singing praises to the Lord. A lady on the bus turned to him and said, “When I look at your face, I am obliged to believe in God.” His radiance was so palpable to those around him that without a word he was giving glory to God.

In that moment in the chapel, I could see a living image of the Mystery of Holy Repentance (Confession). It is only through repentance that our stench is washed away. For a smoker it takes ten years to rebuild the damage done to the lungs, but through the great mercy of God we are made whole in an instant. As we leave the confessional, our faces should be radiant with joy and our souls filled with the sweet perfume of grace. The Lord washes the deepest wounds, the deepest stenches, and we are reborn in Him. We no longer need to cover up our stench with little mints, because the stench no longer exists. We are clean. We are whole. We are more who He made us to be at that moment than at any other time. Imagine if our whole church, our whole community, received this great grace of reconciliation and healing. Imagine if we were all made whole though this Holy Mystery (Sacrament). Imagine if we were all in a state of grace as we stood and prayed together during the Liturgy. Imagine if the whole chapel was filled with the smell of incense, which is the prayer of the saints!

“The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of God's holy people, ascended up to God from the altar where the angel had poured them out.” Revelations 8:4

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Discernment Retreat, April 21-24

"You are an enclosed garden my sister, my bride” (Song of Songs 4:12). Single Catholic women, ages 18-35, who would like to take a weekend to pray about a possible vocation to the monastic or religious life, are invited to inquire about attending our upcoming discernment retreat, Thurs., April 21 – Sun., April 24, 2016. Experience the life of prayer at Christ the Bridegroom Monastery, listen to talks on prayer and discernment, make use of the opportunity to get to know the nuns, and receive healing through the Mystery of Holy Repentance (Confession). See the Retreat Brochure for the full schedule and more information. If you are interested in this retreat, or a future retreat or discernment opportunity, fill out the online Vocation Inquiry Form. Space is limited for the retreat; be sure to fill out the form by April 11. Mother Theodora will call you to talk about availability. With questions, call 440-834-0290 or email christthebridegroom@gmail.com.