Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Please pray for our Girls Camp

We're getting ready! Our 10th annual Girls Camp will take place this Thursday through Sunday, June 21-June 24. Please pray for us and for the participants! Our theme is "Apart from Me you can do nothing."

Also, please pray for the Boys Camp that will take place at the same time across the street at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch.

Thank you!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Just for fun...

Last month, we spent an afternoon with our dear sisters from the formation house of the Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. We didn't plan on it, but the video below is the result of our time of recreation together! We ended up writing a parody to the song "Hello" by the singer Adele. We enjoyed pointing out the fact that the Mercedarian Sisters are from the Western (Roman Catholic) Tradition and live on the west side of Cleveland, and we from the Eastern Tradition live to the east of Cleveland! It is a joy to have sisters from another tradition with whom we can share our experiences, joys and struggles. This sharing is always enriching. For a while now, we and the Mercedarians have been joking that the Mercedarians, who wear white, are the cream to our Oreo cookie :) Enjoy!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thank you to our spring work day volunteers!

Enjoy these photos from our spring work day and cookout on Saturday, May 26. A huge thank you to our wonderful volunteers who worked so hard in the humidity! They tackled projects such as gardening, cleaning, removing the old garden fence and installing a new one, and more! We ate lunch across the street at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch with the volunteers there, prayed Great Vespers in our chapel for the Sunday of All Saints, and enjoyed dinner at the monastery.




Friday, May 25, 2018

Sacrifice and service by the power of the Holy Spirit

Enjoy this reflection that we wrote together as a community, at the request of Bishop Milan, for a group of Scouts--young men ages 18-25--on pilgrimage from Assisi to Rome. We were asked to write about Sts. Cyril and Methodius as an example of sacrifice and service. In light of the feast of Pentecost, we reflected on the Holy Spirit's role in providing the grace and ability to lay down our lives and preach the Gospel, each in our own unique way.

“Blessed are you, O Christ our God. You have shown the fishermen to be all wise, sending down upon them the Holy Spirit. Through them You have caught the whole world in Your net. O Lover of Mankind, glory to You” (Pentecost Troparion).

Reflecting on the Feast of Pentecost reveals Ss. Cyril and Methodius to be examples to you. These “Equals to the Apostles” responded to the gift of the Holy Spirit with an outpouring of themselves in love, manifested in sacrifice and service.

Jesus’ pursuit of love for you is relentless, but He will not trespass. He waits for your consent, like the Theotokos’ fiat, like the Apostles “yes” to His call, “Come follow Me.” He calls you beyond a superficial walk with Him into the mystery of His love unto death. Your “yes” is a yes unto death, a dying to self; here you find your fulfillment. St. John Paul II said. “Man cannot fully find himself, except through a sincere gift of himself” (Theology of the Body).

There is a particular way that God is calling you to lay down your life, and you will be given the gifts you need. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the uneducated fishermen the ability to proclaim the mighty works of God in many languages (see Acts 2:1-11). Similarly, the Holy Spirit enlightened two Greek brothers, Ss. Cyril and Methodius, with a tremendous ability to create an alphabet for a foreign language, thus enabling them to translate Scripture, Liturgy, and sacred writings for the Slavic people. Your gift may not be one of language, but you may be surprised by the gifts you are given. 

We all receive gifts from the Holy Spirit, and we are called to use them in service. We have the example of Jesus Who washes His disciples’ feet. In service—a true gift of self—you always risk rejection by those you serve. As Jesus was rejected by Judas, whose feet He had just washed, so Ss. Cyril and Methodius experienced rejection, resistance, frustration and persecution, which are all challenges that you may face when you seek to respond to the Holy Spirit. Jesus teaches us, “There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life…” (John 15:13). St. John also said, “By this we know love, that Jesus laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for each other” (1 John 3:14).

It can be frightening to think of laying down your life or being rejected. Scripture tells us that even if father or mother rejects you, God will not reject you (Psalm 27:10). It is through spending time with Him in prayer and partaking in the Holy Mysteries that you receive the power of the Holy Spirit and know that you are not alone. You will find joy and peace when you surrender yourself to God without reserve and conditions, desiring nothing but His will and letting Him act as He knows best. At Pentecost, the Apostles received the grace and courage to go out and proclaim the Gospel and to lay down their lives. The Holy Spirit will give you the courage to lay down your life in sacrifice and service. Be not afraid. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:16-18).

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Speaking "the wonderful works of God"

Happy Feast of Pentecost! Below is a reflection from Sister Natalia.


In preparation for Pentecost and for a letter I was writing to my home parish, I was praying with the Vespers and Divine Liturgy readings for the feast. My gaze kept coming back to the last line of the reading from Acts, so I took some time to reflect on it: “We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” Through this verse, our Bridegroom gently convicted me of a couple things that I’d like to share with you.

First of all, I realized I had never really thought about what the disciples said at Pentecost. I’ve just thought the miracle of each hearing their own language was pretty rad. So, for the first time I noticed what it was the disciples shared: “The wonderful works of God.” I thought about how often, especially recently, I can share my negative experiences, frustrations, complaints, with my sisters and friends much more readily and/or in-depth than the positive experiences, the joys, the good fruits. I thought about the last time pre-Pentecost we know people spoke in a common language, which of course was prior to the “Tower of Babel” shenanigans. But that was a language of pride and self-reliance, of people trying to make gods of themselves. This common language at Pentecost was one of love, of people desiring to glorify God. We are all called to be Christ’s disciples, to accept the gift of the Holy Spirit, and to speak this latter language. We are blessed in our modern society to either speak the same verbal language as most of the people around us, or at least have pretty easy access to Google Translate. But do we take advantage of this gift, and speak of the “wonderful works of God,” or do we abuse the gift and instead have conversations that are anything but uplifting and edifying?

Secondly, I thought about my struggles sometimes in conversing with certain friends or family members. I love them very much but can feel at a loss for words because we just don’t seem to have anything in common anymore. But is that really true? Even beyond the superficial commonalities of sharing a family and memories, aren’t there deeper connections that maybe I’m just not open to seeing? I think all humans struggle, to some extent, with the same wounds. Sure, when I doubt that I’m loved it can cause insecurity in my relationships, whereas when this or that family member doubts that he or she is loved it can cause them to wear a mask of arrogance. But is it not really the same wound of doubting we are loved? I think sometimes the Lord is calling me to speak to that wound (among many others) with people, to be healed together, and together to speak of “the wonderful works of God.” Yet I often am hesitant to “go there,” because it feels awkward or too intense. 


I encourage you this day, friends, to take a couple things to prayer. First, ask the Lord to help you be more aware of what ways your conversations and interactions glorify Him and in what ways you need to purify those conversations. And when He shows you the latter, don’t be ashamed or despairing, simply ask Him to help you grow. Also, ask Him if there are people in your life to whom He desires you to reach out, and make an effort to find common ground. I know it’s not always easy to put forth that effort, but when it causes you and others to become more intimate with Christ, I promise it’s worth it. Please pray for me that I may do the same!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Renovation update!

Tons of progress has been made on our poustinia project since we last updated you in our spring newsletter. The siding is being finished up, and the driveway and new parking spaces are being leveled and covered with crushed limestone. Inside, the plumbing, heating, cooling, electrical system, walls, cabinets, doors and moulding have been installed. Mother has been working on a coat of light stain on the beautiful hardwood paneling in the sitting areas. The doors and moulding were donated by Mouldings One and the hardwood paneling was donated by Sheoga Flooring.

We are excited to see the finishing touches and to look for the furniture that will be just right for each poustinia! Please contact us if you are interested in donating toward the purchase of new or slightly used furniture (christthebridegroom@gmail.com or 440-834-0290).

Thank you for all of your prayers and support!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

In the Pool of Bethesda with me

This morning as I listened to the Gospel reading of the Healing of the Paralytic Man, my heart leaped with joy as I remembered that I had been in the Pool of Bethesda last July during our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The pool is in Jerusalem, a stone's throw away from the Church of St. Ann, which marks the birth place of the Mother of God. Today, visitors can walk down into the maze of rooms and stairways that make up the ruins of the pool and the Byzantine and Crusader churches that were built upon it. Looking down into some of the lower areas, you can see water.

As soon as I began to walk into the ruins, I was filled with the desire to pray for healing for my own physical illness, with which I have been struggling for a while (though not as long as the 38 years of the paralytic man!). I quickly found the priest, Fr. Sebastian, who was helping to lead our group, and he eagerly agreed to help. In a quiet place, he laid his hands on my head and prayed, asking God for healing. (He would have also anointed me there, if he had oil with him!)

Through Fr. Sebastian, Jesus came into the pool with me, asking the Father for His will to be done in me. It was not the Father's will at that moment for physical healing, but each time I ask for healing, I trust that He is healing spiritual ills a little at a time--those ills which paralyze me the most.

When we get frustrated by our various infirmities, Jesus is asking us, as He asked the paralytic man, "Do you want to be healed?" Let us not turn inward on ourselves, but look quickly to Him and ask for healing! And then let us quickly trust that He is raising us from our beds of sickness, by the power of the grace of baptism and of all of the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments), and in our lives of prayer and love. He is healing us so that we may be able to remain with Him in faith, just as He is always with us in our sickness, calling out to us.
"O Lord, with Your divine authority, as You once raised the paralytic, now raise my soul, paralyzed dreadfully with all kinds of sin and disgraceful deeds, that, being saved, I may cry out to You: Glory to Your power, O merciful Christ" (Kontakion of the Paralytic Man).
(The icon to the right is hanging on the wall in the pilgrim house located next to the Pool of Bethesda.)

Mother Cecilia

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Join us for our Spring Work Day & Cookout, May 26

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 26.  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 21, to 440-834-0290 or christthebridegroom@gmail.com.

*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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Anointing of Love

Today on the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing women I am reflecting back on a grace the Lord worked in my heart a few years ago – a grace which still affects me deeply to this day. I had been sick in bed during Holy Week and feeling frustrated that I was missing all the services and “missing” all my prayer times. At last on Holy Saturday I was well enough to go, at least, to my icon corner in my room, for some quiet, upright prayer (those of you who are sick, know how cherished these upright moments are). But my hands were unsteady, and as I poured oil into my hanging lamp, I accidentally spilled oil all over my icon corner. Instead of having the prayer time that I so desired, I had to spend the next hour trying to clean up the mess. What a waste, I thought.

The next day, after all the Paschal services, my spiritual father unexpectedly stopped by. In an attempt to be funny, I asked him, “I know what Jesus says about the wise virgins who have oil in their lamps and about the unwise virgins who run out, but what about the ones who spill their oil all over their icon corners?” Instead of laughing, he looked at me very seriously and said, “You are the woman who poured her oil over Jesus.” My heart was immediately stirred.

Later the Lord would show me that just as the oil poured over Jesus was not a waste, so too our love is poured out but never wasted. I could see now how often I had been afraid to “waste” my love because I thought it would not be received. Or worse yet, I feared giving my love to those who didn’t “deserve” it. But I was seeing more clearly than ever that I was most called to pour my love out over the seemingly “undeserving,” and that my love would never be wasted. I did not need to worry about controlling the outcomes of this pouring out, but to unite it to Him who would use it in any way that He wished. I realized that as I poured oil over the “least of these” my brethren (see Mt 25:40), I was pouring it over the wounds of Jesus. This love was a consolation to His wounded heart. I had felt so frustrated and inconvenienced by the oil spill because I thought it had taken away my prayer time, not realizing that this oil spill was extremely valuable prayer time.

As this reflection began to permeate and settle into the pores of my heart, my eyes were opened to deeper levels of understanding. The Myrrh-bearing women planned to anoint part of the dead body of Jesus, but their mission failed. They were sent instead to tell the disciples that Jesus was risen. They were called, in other words, not to anoint part of the dead body of Jesus, but the whole living body of Jesus, the Church. We are, each one of us, called to anoint every member of His body, from the weakest to the strongest. We are called to love. We are called to give what we have received from Him.

Sister Iliana

Friday, April 6, 2018

Christ is Risen!

Indeed He is Risen! We hope you are enjoying a beautiful celebration of Our Lord's Resurrection, or that you will this Sunday, depending on when you celebrate it.

The powerful Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom is traditionally read during Matins on Pascha (Easter):

"If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen."

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Girls Camp registration is open!





UPDATE: Girls Camp is full for this year. To be put on a waiting list, email youth@parma.org or call 440-834-0290. Boys Camp is still accepting registrations.

Calling all teen girls!  Our Girls Camp registration is now open on the Eparchy of Parma's website - and is filling up fast!  Registration will be limited to 30 girls ages 13 to 18, and additional sign ups will be placed on a waiting list.  Be sure to sign up soon!

Girls Camp Registration and Information

There will also be a Boys Camp for boys ages 8 to 18 across the street from the monastery at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch, also hosted by the eparchy.  See the link below for information and to register!

Boys Camp Registration and Information

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Week of the Bridegroom

We've reached Great & Holy Week--also known as the Week of the Bridegroom. We now seek to remain close to Jesus, the Bridegroom, as He pours Himself out to the last drop for His Bride, the Church. Will we open to receive the life He is pouring out for us?

Enjoy this reflection from our friend of ours, Fr. Patrick Schultz, a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland. In it, he writes about the Week of the Bridegroom and the receptivity that Christ longs to find in our hearts.

"As we come to the end of our Lenten pilgrimage...we are not asked by the Lord to act, achieve, or accomplish anything. No, we are invited now to trust his loving mercy, to trust his voice, to trust his heart and his intentions, and to open ourselves to receive and conceive the gift of eternal life that gushes out from his heart" (from Fr. Patrick Schultz's reflection). 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Lazarus: A witness to glory

Today we celebrate Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. While we were in the Holy Land last year, we were able to visit the tomb of Lazarus in Bethany, and it was a powerful moment of prayer for me, because Lazarus has taught me so much the past couple years. My favorite aspect of the story of Lazarus is the reminder that we are all called to witness to God’s glory, to allow others access to Christ in us, though we can frequently feel shy about it.

One of the Gospel readings tomorrow (the one for Palm Sunday, not the Annunciation) says, “Then a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead” (Jn 12:9). The Jews wanted to, in some way, see this miracle of Jesus with their own eyes. They wanted to see Lazarus for no reason except because Jesus had done profound things in his life. And is this not now a responsibility of Lazarus – to witness to God’s glory? I remember being embarrassed after sending my home parish a letter which included a beautiful meditation God had gifted me, which transformed me. But who am I to hold back from sharing with others the miracles our Bridegroom has worked in my life?

Last year, as I prayed with the icon of Palm Sunday, I was struck by something similar. The children are throwing the clothes under the feet of the donkey. Of course, I know the story, but in the icon, something hit me for the first time – Christ’s feet are not on the ground. He is not at risk of getting dirty. They are putting their clothes out for the donkey to step on. Did that donkey do anything to deserve such treatment? Only being a vessel for the Bridegroom’s glory.

I find these two incidents very related because…what did Lazarus “do” to allow others to see God’s glory? Well…not much. He died. He didn’t raise himself from the dead. All the power was God’s. What did the donkey “do” to deserve special treatment? Again…not much. He just let Jesus do His thing. Sometimes I struggle to share with others the work Christ has done in my own life, but Lazarus reminds me of part of a homily I recently heard: when God gives us a gift, be it a particular strength or a consolation…that gift is not ours to keep for ourselves, to grasp with a tight grip. We must let Him use that same gift for others, through us. This takes discernment, to be sure. There are parts of our heart and parts of our prayer life that are meant to be between only us and our Spouse. However, when you feel that tug on your heart that is Jesus asking you to let others see the parts of your life He has resurrected, to let Him use you as a vessel of His glory, I encourage you to say “yes” to that, recognizing with all humility that you are showing not your own power, but the power of our all-loving, all-merciful Savior.

Sister Natalia

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Join us for Bridegroom Matins on Great & Holy Wednesday

Join us for our patronal commemoration, Bridegroom Matins, on Great & Holy Wednesday, March 28. Celebrated only on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, the readings and hymns of this service rouse the heart to conversion and vigilance for the coming of the Bridegroom and offer strength to His Bride the Church as we journey with Him in His passion. The service on Great & Holy Wednesday will take place from 8:00 a.m. to about 9:30 a.m. and will be followed by a light breakfast. If you plan to stay for breakfast, please RSVP to christthebridegroom@gmail.com or 440-834-0290.

May we remain close to our self-emptying Bridegroom in these final days of the fast and in the celebration of His passion and resurrection.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A story of hope for the desert

Today, the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent, is dedicated to the memory of our holy mother St. Mary of Egypt.  Oh, we need her by this point in the Fast!  I need her every day I live in the monastic desert…  I first encountered St. Mary of Egypt during the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete last Lent (2017), at which we read aloud the story of her life recorded by St. Sophronius.  This saint, one of the great treasures of the Christian East, was entirely unknown to me, coming as I do from the Christian West.  Listening to her story, I was moved to tears, and as I read the ending aloud, I had to keep pausing between sentences to swallow my emotion and take deep breaths lest the sobs welling up from my heart burst forth.  She is a beacon of hope for us sinners!  I began praying, in a personal way, to St. Mary of Egypt when we went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land last summer.  I was aware that my motives for pilgrimage were not entirely pure, a mixture of worldly curiosity, a natural desire for adventure, and spiritual desire.  I thought, who knows more about pilgrimaging with impure motives than this harlot who went aboard a boat of pilgrims sailing from Egypt to Jerusalem, intending to pay her way by seducing the men on board?!  But while this woman lived a life of flagrant sin, her heart was not hardened, but remained receptive to the grace of conversion.  Arriving in Jerusalem, she approached the Church of the Resurrection (The Holy Sepulchre) to join the pilgrims who were streaming in to venerate the relics of the True Cross.  Three times she tried to enter, and three times her entrance into the holy place was halted by invisible forces.  Though people entered around her, she simply could not cross the threshold!  Then, grace broke through:  "The word of salvation gently touched the eyes of my heart and revealed to me that it was my unclean life which barred the entrance to me.  I began to weep and lament...and to sigh from the depths of my heart."  Welling up in the heart of this sinful woman was a desire for salvation, a sigh that led, not to self-pity, but to repentance!

Mary turned in prayer to the Theotokos, the Mother of God, confiding herself to her maternal intercession and guidance:  "I have heard that God Who was born of you became a man on purpose to call sinners to repentance.  Then help me, for I have no other help... Be my faithful witness before your Son... I will renounce the world and its temptations and will go wherever you lead me."  Then, she was able to approach the Cross and to bow before the wood on which Christ's Blood poured out to cleanse her of her sins.  Giving thanks to the Theotokos for her help, she committed her life to Christ, asking His Mother to guide her.  The Theotokos told Mary, "If you cross the Jordan, you will find rest."  Immediately, she went to St. John the Baptist Monastery on the banks of the Jordan River, where she received the sacraments, and then she crossed the Jordan and wandered into the wilderness where she did battle with demons, with wild beasts, and with her own sinful nature.  She related to St. Zosimos that, "after the violent storm [of seventeen years!], lasting calm descended," and she lived in the desert until her death 30 years later (for a total of 47 years in the desert--she died in her mid-sixties).

Mary was present to me on our pilgrimage:  I saw her icon on the walls of the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, of the Melkite Emmanuel Monastery in Bethlehem, of St. Peter Gallicantu in Jerusalem.  We found the ancient icon, cracked with age, before which Mary pled for the prayers of the Theotokos.  Our guide directed us up steps, through a chapel, and to a roof courtyard up in the Coptic section of the Holy Sepulchre where we found to the arched doorway (now closed up) that Mary had been unable to enter all those centuries ago.  I set a small icon of her on the stones of the wall, and we sang her tropar with awe and gratitude for this saintly friend.

But it was in the months after the Holy Land, as Jesus led me deep into a spiritual desert in which I encountered very deeply the poverty and emptiness of my yearning heart, that I knew Mary close to me, interceding for me, teaching me as the Desert Mother that she is.  She teaches us to live and to love in the desert.  From the world's perspective, it is as much madness to enter the monastic life (or to embark on the difficult path of Christian discipleship) as it is to go into the desert, seeking God by prayer, silence, and a life given wholly over to God for the sake of the world.  But Mary knows that Love led her into the desert so that she could be all His.  And, belonging totally to the Holy Trinity, in the mystery of the Communion of Saints, she belongs also to us, the faithful who still trudge along desert roads under the burning sun.  Mary lived the words of Hosea the Prophet: "I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her... I will espouse you in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.  I will espouse you in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord” (2:16, 19-20).  The Church sings of this saint, "By the Cross, you annihilated the horde of demons; for this you are a bride now in the Kingdom of Heaven" (kontakion for her feast, April 1).  May she also pray for us, that we would wield well the weapon of the Cross against the hordes of hell until we, too, are admitted to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

Sister Petra

Friday, March 9, 2018

Spring Newsletter: "With the Suffering Servant"

We hope you enjoy our spring issue of Pomegranate Blossoms. It includes a reflection from Sr. Petra her experience in the pit in which Jesus was imprisoned during His Passion, some quotes about why we prostrate, prayers with prostrations, photos from Sr. Petra's tonsure, a reflection from Sr. Petra about her connection with St. Peter, a renovation update and upcoming events.

Also, don't forget about the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, coming up on March 15! Please RSVP if you plan to come for dinner.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Song of Victory

Today marks Mid-Lent: the midpoint of the Great Fast. Each year, it falls during the week in which we venerate the Cross (this past Sunday was the Veneration of the Cross). In the middle of the desert struggle, we hold high the sign of Christ’s victory—of our victory, in Him—to remind us why we are embroiled in this struggle of the spirit. We press on in hope because we know our end is Pascha, the Resurrection of our Lord, when Love conquers death. But, let’s face it, it is a struggle, and our hearts feel burdened with the weight of our pain…

During Matins this morning, the eighth ode from the Canon grabbed my attention: “…the lance pierced Your side, O Lord, wounding the enemy….”  The implication of this verse jerked me from my early-morning stupor into awareness of the hidden reality surrounding us: When I suffer as a result of the enemy’s attacks—whether directly assaulted by demons myself, as fallout from his acting on another person, or as a result of living in a fallen world—he’s actually hurting himself and contributing to his own downfall! Because my suffering, borne in union with Christ Crucified, makes the Cross—and therefore life and peace—more present in the world.  Despite how it appears from the world’s small perspective, a life spent on the Cross is not one of failure, defeat, or death. The Cross is a banner of victory, a “weapon of peace”! We exult in “the life-creating Cross”! Mystery of mysteries…

In class yesterday, our teacher through the Magdala Apostolate, Fr. David Anderson, said, “Jesus is victorious not in spite of the Cross, or on the other side of the Cross, but in the Cross itself.” These words stilled my troubled heart, knotted with my struggles, my sorrows.  Our lives are not fruitful in spite of, or on the other side of, our suffering; it is precisely in our sufferings that Love wins. When Jesus of Nazareth, once dead, burst from that tomb in Jerusalem nearly two millennia ago, He altered the very fabric of suffering so that never more would it be meaningless. Embraced in love, our pain becomes the place of intimate union in which we become one with Divine Love. Through the Cross, Jesus hides me in His Wounds, and He enters my wounds, in a marvelous exchange of nuptial love that necessarily bears fruit (even though the fruit may be hidden).

Fr. David continued, “God told Moses, ‘You can see my back, but you can’t see my face’ [Ex. 33:17-23], but when He does turn around [in the Incarnation] we see His Face and we find that God is by nature self-emptied humility in love.” By nature! This humble, self-emptying—self-giving—is the very essence of the Trinity. And we, children of God, are invited into this life of Love. We meet Love incarnate only on the Cross. 

When, finally, we behold Him face to face, we will say with St. Paul that our “momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). So let us look to the Cross, a shape so familiar it often fails to move us, and see beyond it to the Love that once burned upon it. Let us hear its song of victory echoing through all our suffering: This is not the end; Love wins; the Resurrection is coming…

Sister Petra

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Join us for the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, March 15

Join us in a deeply-moving, once-a-year Lenten experience on Thursday, March 15, at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, 1900 Carlton Rd., Parma, Ohio.  The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete takes us on a journey through the entire Bible, placing us in the shoes of the penitents of the Old and New Testaments and teaching us from their examples.  The hundreds of prostrations unite our body and soul as we repent of our sins and experience God’s mercy.  We will also listen to the life of St. Mary of Egypt and venerate her relic.  The opportunity for the Mystery of Holy Repentance (Confession) will also be available.  A simple Lenten meal will be served 5:00-5:45 p.m., and the Canon will begin at 6:00 p.m.  All are invited to come for part or all of the Canon, even if you are not physically able to participate in the prostrations.  The duration of the Canon is approximately 3.5 hours.  If you plan to come for dinner, please RSVP by Friday, March 9, to 440-834-0290 or christthebridegroom@gmail.com.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Tonsure photos, and Sr. Petra shares about St. Peter

Sr. Petra was tonsured as a rasophore nun on Feb. 1. Enjoy these photos from her tonsure.

Before a dokimos is tonsured, she asks the Lord to place in her heart three names that she will submit to the Hegumena (superior of the monastery). The Hegumena then asks the Holy Spirit for guidance and clarity in choosing one of these names (or another) which the dokimos will receive at her tonsure as a sign of her new life consecrated to Christ the Bridegroom. In our monastery, the dokimos submits to the Hegumena not only the three names, but also a written explanation about each of them. Below are the thoughts that Sr. Petra submitted about St. Peter.  

During the past few months, St. Peter has been very present with me in prayer, teaching me Christ's faithfulness in the face of my human weaknesses and failures.  As I've touched my own poverty more deeply, I could easily recoil at my unworthiness, could be tempted to flee the One Whom I love so poorly.  But Peter gives me courage to remain under the merciful gaze of Jesus, confident of His love for me in the midst of my fear and failure.

I understand Peter's fear of the Cross, his initial rejection of the Lord's revelation of the cost of obedience to the will of the Father.  When Jesus revealed to His Apostles that He must suffer and die in Jerusalem (Mt. 16), Peter burst out, "God forbid, Lord!  This shall never happen to you!"  He wanted to make Jesus avoid suffering, to escape the Cross!  How logical this seems.  Yet Jesus rebuked Peter, "Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men."  In other words, the urge to escape suffering is not of God.  The Christian life is not about avoiding suffering; rather, it is about the reality that Love transforms suffering so that it becomes both redemptive and a  means of union.  Thus, Jesus continued, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."  On a natural level, I respond to suffering, to the Cross, the same way as Peter.  Yet something—perhaps witnessing the Resurrection of Jesus, perhaps being embraced by His gaze of love after his denial and abandonment of Him, perhaps receiving the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (or, likely, all of the above)—converted Peter's heart so that he would later have the courage to climb up on his own cross and pour out his blood, in imitation of His Beloved.  Here, in between the experience of my own fear and weakness, and my desire to respond to Jesus' love in kind, Peter comes alongside me and intercedes that my heart, too, would be changed, infused with supernatural love and trust.

After the Resurrection, after he had denied and abandoned his Friend and Master, Jesus met His disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and called Peter apart, asking him three times if he loved Him.  Keenly aware of his unfaithful denial, Peter neither tried to defensively excuse himself, nor did he count himself out of Christ's merciful Love in a spirit of self-condemnation (as had Judas).  Rather, he referred his love to Jesus' knowledge, laying open his poor heart to Christ's omniscient gaze:  "Lord,  You know everything—You know  I love You."  He also knows everything about me:  He knows my sins, my past, my secret selfishness, the shabbiness of my love, my weakness, my wandering heart that is always looking for a resting place among mere creatures.  He knows my fear, my reluctance to suffer, the ways I've tried to avoid His Cross.  And yet, He also knows that I love Him, so He continually renews His call on my life to follow Him.  "I know whom I have chosen," Jesus said at the Last Supper, fully cognizant of what would follow (Jn 13:18).  Jesus knows me, too, the woman He has chosen.  I can trust that I can't disillusion Him so that He removes His love from me.  He knows me, loves me, calls me—calls me by name!

Peter's faith in the Resurrection taught him to embrace suffering, especially the suffering of violence and persecution, even unto martyrdom.  The man who ran from the Cross would later run to the Cross!  He writes of this hope in his first epistle:  "We have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials...For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly...For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps...By His wounds you have been healed...Do not return evil for evil."

This fisherman from Galilee was chosen to be the chief shepherd of Christ's Church on earth; his successors continue to guard the Faith built on the rock of Peter.  He is a tremendous intercessor for the unity of the Body of Christ, having heard Jesus' high priestly prayer "that they may be one, even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You" (Jn 17:21). 

Monday, February 12, 2018

"To heal the great wounds of our soul"

Today in the Byzantine Church is the first day of the Great Fast (Lent). Below is the ambon prayer from the Divine Liturgy on Cheesefare Sunday (the day before the fast begins). It is a beautiful prayer asking for God's grace as we begin this time of time of intensified prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

"We thank you, O Lord Jesus Christ, that you have brought us to this opportune time of fasting towards salvation, for in this short time you have arranged to heal the great wounds of our soul, and to bring about the rejection of our many sins. Good Master, we pray you, remove from us any pharisaical hypocrisy in fasting, and banish all false sorrow. Drive from us all pride in our self-denial and moderation in deeds, words or thoughts. Fill us with light and the truth which you have taught. Strengthen us in the struggle against passions and in the war against sin. By alienation from passions prepare us to follow you by our fasting. Show us victory over the devil, that we may partake of your death and resurrection, and rejoice in the joy which you have prepared for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. For you are the God of mercy, and glory is yours, together with the Father and the Son and your all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen."

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Video of Sister Petra's Tonsure

As we shared in our last post, the newest member of our community was tonsured as a rasophore nun on Feb. 1. This video includes the blessing of the habit, the giving of Sr. Petra's new name, her tonsure and a beautiful homily by Bishop Milan.

Bishop Milan’s said, while speaking about Sr. Petra's patron, St. Peter:
“Jesus, again today, through this liturgical celebration, invites you also, and again repeats, ‘Follow Me. Follow Me in your life! Are you prepared to follow me with all? With all sacrifice? Again, with all renouncement of this world? Or no?’ Each of us needs to give the answer to Jesus Christ, as today Sr. Petra gave this answer here.”

Saturday, February 3, 2018

God grant you many years Sr. Petra!

Sr. Petra in center
On Feb. 1, during Vespers for the feast of the Meeting of Our Lord with Simeon and Anna, dokimos (postulant) Sara Lynn Gafford was tonsured as a rasophore ("robe-bearer") nun, receiving the habit and a new name: Sr. Petra. She is named after the apostle Peter. She was tonsured (four small segments of her hair were cut, in the sign of the cross) by Bishop Milan Lach, our apostolic administrator. Our founding bishop and bishop emeritus of our eparchy, Bishop John Kudrick, was also present. The tonsure took place at St. Stephen Byzantine Catholic Church in Euclid, Ohio.

We look forward to sharing more about the tonsure in the near future, including photos and Sr. Petra's reflection on her name. Please keep Sr. Petra in your prayers as she grows in the monastic life and continues her discernment (3-4 years leading to life profession).

Monday, January 15, 2018

Eternal Memory, Rita Strohmeyer

Mother Theodora's mother, Rita Strohmeyer, fell asleep in the Lord on Saturday, January 13. She was 85. Rita was the mother of 11 children, Mother Theodora being the fifth. We all enjoyed Rita's smiles and sense of humor, even in her final years as she suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Please keep Mother and her family in your prayers. May God grant eternal repose to the soul of His servant, Rita!

Viewing:
Thursday, January 18 - 4 pm to 8 pm

Lane Funeral Home
1350 N. Niles-Canfield Road (Rt. 46)
Mineral Ridge, OH 44440

Funeral:
Friday, January 19 - 10 am

St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church
356 S Belle Vista Ave.
Youngstown, OH 44509

Interment:
St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church Cemetery

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sara Lynn to be tonsured as a rasophore nun, Feb. 1

We are full of joy to announce the tonsuring of our dokimos (postulant), Sara Lynn, as a rasophore nun on Thursday, February 1! During Vespers for the Feast of the Meeting of Our Lord with Simeon and Anna, Sara Lynn 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:

Thursday, February 1, 2018
5:00 p.m.
St. Stephen Byzantine Catholic Church
532 Lloyd Rd.
Euclid, Ohio

Saturday, January 6, 2018

"Come and behold the place of the baptism of Christ..."


“O faithful, come and behold the place of the baptism of Christ, so that we may follow Him to the streams of the Jordan and thus draw near to the one who cries out in the wilderness: See the inexpressible loving-kindness of the Creator of Adam, who bows His head to the hand of a servant. Therefore, let us cry out to Him: You have come and appeared in the Jordan to sanctify the waters.”

(Sessional Hymn 3, Matins for the Feast of Theophany)

Happy Feast of Theophany! In this photo, Fr. Sebastian Carnazzo blesses us with the water of the Jordan River during our July 2017 pilgrimage to the Holy Land.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Winter Newsletter

Enjoy our winter edition of Pomegranate Blossoms! May this new year be filled with many blessings for you and your loved ones.