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 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