Beloved Friends and Family,
As I was praying very intentionally with the profession service on my pre-profession retreat, I was moved to share part of those reflections with all of you. I find that there is a common misconception at the tonsure of a monastic that I’d like to clarify. I know that some come to this service thinking, “Wow. How beautiful! This woman is giving up all the goods and beauties of the world for the sake of the Lord. This is the epitome of virtue. Of holiness. She is entering the life of holiness.” There are truths in all of this, but really none of these capture the fullness of what a monastic tonsure is, and I think they can even distract us from the reality of what you will witness today.
As Sr. Petra and I come down the aisle in our simple white garment (which we will be buried in some day), we are barefoot. Hair untied. Hands crossed across our chest as though they were bound. Because at this point we are bound—by our own sin. We walk down the aisle totally poor, with nothing to offer but ourselves. And as we make our three prostrations (a sign of penance), the hymn being sung is not “Here Comes the Bride,” but it is the troparion of the Prodigal Son. Proclaiming our deep sinfulness, and our deep need for mercy. I remember when a monk, who has been fully professed for many years, gave a retreat at our monastery. He said, “When you are making that final prostration, and you are praying to be received into the ranks of the penitent, your prayer should be, ‘Lord, I need this life of healing. I need this life of recovery.’” This is very similar to what St. John Climacus writes in the Ladder of Divine Ascent, “Let no one, by appealing to the weight and multitude of his sins, say that he is unworthy of the monastic vow...Where there is much corruption, considerable treatment is needed to draw out all the impurity. The healthy do not go to a hospital.” At the ordination of a Byzantine deacon or priest, when they receive each article of their vestments, the priests and people cry out, “Axios!” meaning “He is worthy!” You will notice today that when Sr. Petra and I receive each article of monastic clothing, the priests and people cry out, “Lord have mercy!”
Please don’t misunderstand me. Though this is a day in which Sr. Petra and I enter the ranks of penitents and promise a life of self-denial, it is by no means a gloomy day. On the contrary, it is a day of great rejoicing. But I firmly believe the joy is that of Luke 15:7, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” In this sense, today you are all joining in with the rejoicing of the angels over two sinners who desire to transform their prodigal pursuit of sin to the prodigal love of their Bridegroom.
Please pray for us that we may fully embrace this life of joyful penance. And be assured of our prayers for each of you as well.
In Christ our Bridegroom,