Tuesday, December 28, 2010

All creation is filled with joy today!

'"All creation is filled with joy today. Christ is born of the Virgin!" (Verses after Psalm 50, feast of the Nativity)

"May the whole universe exalt and leap with joy, for Christ has come to regenerate it and to save our souls."  (Aposticha at Vespers)

As we meditated on the mystery of God's incarnation, the meeting of God and Man and the coming together of all creation at the Nativity of Our Lord...it was fitting that our dear cat Scout participated in the festivities.  This picture was taken during Vespers on Christmas Eve.  She sat in rapt attention like this on the bench for almost the entire service.  And at dinner she joined us to partake in one of the twelve dishes of the traditional Velija Supper: the fish.  She also seemed to enjoy the straw under the table!  It is tradition to feed the animals at or after this supper to remind us that they, representing creation, were present at the birth of Christ--when He took on flesh to redeem all of creation.

Christmas Eve was glorious again this year.  Intense...but wonderful!  We prayed all of the prescribed services: Matins, Royal Hours, Vespers with the Liturgy of St. Basil, Great Compline and the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  We also prepared the Velija Supper, enjoyed it with some friends and exchanged gifts.  By the end of the night I was totally and completely exhausted, but filled and overflowing with joy.  It was in this total spending of myself that I was received so many graces and insights into the Mystery of the Incarnation. We are very grateful to Fr. Richard Plishka for making all of these services possible by his presence.

Do you like our nun cookies? :)

"O Christ, what shall we offer You for Your coming on earth in our humanity for our sake?  Every creature that has its being from You gives thanks to You: the angels offer hymns of praise, the heavens give a star; the Magi present their gifts and the shepherds, their wonder; the earth provides a cave and the desert, a manger.  As for us, we offer a Virgin Mother.  O God who are from all eternity, have mercy on us." (Stichera at Vespers for the Nativity)

Looking for a fun and interesting way to spend your New Year's Eve?  Check out a benefit event, "Help Us Get Our Habits On," to support our friends Anna and Amanda in their journey to become TOR Franciscan Sisters.  We'll be there, and so will the TORs!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

2nd St. Nicholas Celebration

Click to view collage in full size
Rejoice, O Radiant Star whose light of miracles shines throughout the world.  Rejoice, O Divine Joy to those in sorrow.  Rejoice, O Defender of those who are oppressed; for even now, all-holy Nicholas, you still pray to God for us who celebrate your feast with faith and who honor you with zeal and joy. (Stichera for the Feast of St. Nicholas)

What an evening!  Almost 50 people packed into our monastery to celebrate the feast of the patron saint of the Byzantine Catholic Church, St. Nicholas.  Everyone was instructed to take off their shoes and leave them in a row in the dining room, and after vespers the shoes were found to hold some treats from St. Nicholas.  Great Vespers was beautiful, celebrated by Fr. Dennis Hrubiak.  It amazes me how beautiful the prayers are for this saint about whom we know very little, and everyone sang together very well.  Fr. Dennis blessed my recently completed icon of St. Nicholas at the end of vespers.  And then we feasted on an amazing potluck dinner!  After dinner, St. Nicholas himself showed up (he looked very much like Fr. Dennis...they must be cousins).  St. Nicholas announced the winner of the trivia contest, Jessica Santacrose (congrats!), and gave the correct answers to the trivia questions about his life.  He spoke to everyone about caring for the needs of others and of course gave the kids chocolate!  We felt so blessed by the presence of so many great people who joined us (even in the snow) to celebrate, some coming from as far as Pittsburgh.  We are glad that you can feel at home in our home.

We've finally managed to emerge from the more than 25 inches of snow that we were buried under during the past four days of continuous snowfall!  We are learning what it means to live in the Snowbelt!  I took a few pictures out the back window this morning.  We had to admit that it is quite beautiful!

If you will be near the Parma area on Saturday, come out to the Cathedral (1900 Carlton Rd. Parma, Ohio) and visit us at our table at the St. Nicholas Craft Show taking place there from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  We will be selling our jams, jellies and breads.

May God bless you as you continue to prepare your heart for Christ's coming.

Monday, November 29, 2010

"But Israel does not know, my people do not understand."

The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master's crib;
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.
Isaiah 1:3

Abbot Leo Schlosser from Holy Trinity Monastery in Butler, Pennsylvania, came recently to give us a short retreat in preparation for the Nativity.  He spoke to us about many things regarding monasticism, prayer and preparing our hearts for the celebration of Christ's birth.  What struck me the most, however, was his definition of the word vigilance.  Vigilance, he said, is "looking for and being aware of God's presence." 

During this Nativity fast, it seems very difficult to be vigilant.  As the darkness of each day lengthens and deepens, as the busyness of the world increases and captures our attention, waiting and seeking for something--someone--who is very silent and very hidden is often the last thing we are thinking about. It must have been the same for the residents of Bethlehem.

Isaiah reproves the people of Israel, long before the coming of Christ, because the animals in the stable recognize Him, but they (we!) do not. 

Bishop John came to the monastery on Saturday to celebrate, in union with Pope Benedict, what the pope named a "Vigil for All Nascent Human Life."  Several people joined us as we prayed the Akathist in honor of the Mother of God followed by Great Vespers.  I felt that we were honoring the Mother of God for her deep faith and vigilance and asking her to teach us!

Bishop John prayed this beautiful prayer which Pope Benedict had just prayed earlier in the day.  We would like to share it with you and ask you to pray it with us.  May we "look for and be aware of God's presence" in each human life we come in contact with and in each moment of our day, so that we will be ready to welcome our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into our world and into our hearts.

Lord Jesus,
You who faithfully visit and fulfill with your Presence
the Church and the history of men;
You who in the miraculous Sacrament of your Body and Blood
render us participants in divine Life
and allow us a foretaste of the joy of eternal Life;
We adore and bless you.

Prostrated before You, source and lover of Life,
truly present and alive among us, we beg you.

Reawaken in us respect for every unborn life,
make us capable of seeing in the fruit of the maternal womb
the miraculous work of the Creator,
open our hearts to generously welcoming every child
that comes into life.

Bless all families,
sanctify the union of spouses,
render fruitful their love.

Accompany the choices of legislative assemblies
with the light of your Spirit,
so that peoples and nations may recognize and respect
the sacred nature of life, of ever human life.

Guide the work of scientists and doctors,
so that all progress contributes to the integral well-being of the person,
and no-one endures suppression or injustice.

Gift creative charity to administrators and economists,
so they may realize and promote sufficient conditions
so that young families can serenely embrace
the birth of new children

Console the married couples who suffer
because they are unable to have children
and in Your goodness provide for them.

Teach us all to care for orphaned or abandoned children,
so they may experience the warmth of your Charity,
the consolation of your divine Heart.

Together with Mary, Your Mother, the great believer,
in whose womb you took on our human nature,
we wait to receive from You, our Only True Good and Savior,
the strength to love and serve life,
in anticipation of living forever in You,
in communion with the Blessed Trinity.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Just another week in the life...

“O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His steadfast love endures forever.” 1 Chronicles 16:33-35. What a week! Well, actually…I was supposed to submit this article a month ago, but have been constantly distracted by other responsibilities…so…okay…I’ll take the responsibility for the negligence.

So…whew…what a week! Monday, October 6, was a full day focused on putting the monastery back in order after a really busy weekend (the weekend of our fall work day). On Tuesday afternoon, I was driving back from my parent’s home, after picking two large boxes of pears for jelly and pear butter. I was less than a quarter mile away from home when someone went through the stop sign at the corner of Nash and Mumford. The driver of the van was approaching the intersection at a high rate of speed, but I thought to myself, “No, he’s supposed to stop.” DAH. I t-boned his van and spun onto the other street. It’s funny now, but wasn’t then, when on impact, not only did the airbags deploy, I was also pelted with the pears from the back seat. I, thank God that I had no broken bones. I was banged up and bruised but nothing too serious. It was my first time to be in an ambulance. When the paramedic saw the condition of the car and some of my “damages,” she convinced me to be “escorted” to the hospital. I thought I was going to sit in the back of the ambulance. Nope. She put a neck brace around my neck, laid me on a back board and totally strapped me down. I must admit, I felt quite silly. Being a passenger in an ambulance was not an item on my “bucket list.” Luckily, there were no lights or sirens. As time has progressed, the pains and aches have subsided and I have one more session of therapy for my neck and shoulder. I should be as good as new, but the car, I’m afraid, will never be, since the adjuster claimed it totaled. So, now we’re a little in limbo for another vehicle. With tongue in cheek, I hope God has an all-wheel SUV in mind!

The next day, Fr. Richard Rohrer, Michelle Sapsara, Chrysostom Rubush, and Chris Watson came from Sts. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic parish in North Carolina for a visit. Michelle and Chrysostom stayed with us for a few days. It was wonderful to pray, work and laugh with them. They were a phenomenal help! They helped clean and pare loads of pears, picked apples, trimmed trees, helped seal the back wooden deck, cooked, cleaned dishes, did yard work, oh, lots of things.

Then Sr. Julie and I drove to the Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in Parma on Friday for the opening of the Eastern Churches Seminar. Fr. Ronald Roberson, associate director for the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reflected on the topic “The Current State of Affairs.” Fr. Ronald’s interesting talk opened with a historical background to shed light on some of the advances and obstacles in the dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

On Saturday, October 8, Sr. Julie and I enjoyed a day in Canton, Ohio at the EWTN Family Celebration. The speakers were great and it was just what I needed to hear. As I listened to Raymond Arroyo talk about Mother Angelica’s journey of faith, I found myself nodding as I related to some of her struggles, and my was heart encouraged as he shared the fruitfulness of her perseverance and trust in God’s loving providence. We briefly talked to Mr. Arroyo. He signed a book that we purchased (Actually, as I waited in a long check-out line, someone with whom I struck up a lively conversation offered to purchase it for us). He also gave us a free book of Mother Angelica’s quotes and was delighted and very supportive when he learned of our endeavor to start a Byzantine Catholic monastery.

On Sunday, we enjoyed an inspiring Divine Liturgy in our chapel with Fr. Richard Rohrer as the celebrant. Afterwards, we took a long walked around the shrine and enjoyed the beautiful weather, then went to Blazin’ Bill’s Restaurant for some awesome ribs and camaraderie. We reluctantly said our good-byes and then they departed for their long trek back to North Carolina. It was a great joy and blessing to have them with us, and we wish they weren’t so far away, though they are close in our hearts. When all is said and done, we thank Christ our Bridegroom for His steadfast love and all the blessings that he abundantly showers upon us!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nun Friends & Upcoming Events

We recently enjoyed a visit by our friends Mother Anna and Sister Anastasia of Monastery Marcha, a Serbian Orthodox monastery in Richfield, Ohio.  We enjoy visiting with our new friends and learning from their wisdom and advice as we establish our monastery.  The nuns always have delightful stories to share!

If you will be near Solon, Ohio, this Saturday, please stop in at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church to say hi!  We will have a table at the craft fair where we will be selling our jam, jelly, apple & pear butters, breads and more!  We will also be raffling off a beautiful Christmas gift basket.  We (especially Sr. Celeste) have been working hard to transform the fruits God has given us into delicious gifts for you and your family!

Details about this and other upcoming events, including a Vigil for All Nascent Human Life and our 2nd Annual St. Nicholas Vespers and Potluck, can be found on our Events Page.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fall Work Day 2010

“Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he gave over the vineyard to caretakers. For its fruit one would have to pay a thousand silver pieces. My vineyard is at my disposal; the thousand pieces are for you, O Solomon, and two hundred for the caretakers of its fruit.” (Song of Songs 8:11-12) There are times when tending to the “vineyard” at our disposal is a bit overwhelming. We were blessed with wonderful caretakers on our workday on October 2, 2010.

What a great day! The weather was cool and damp, and an occasional misty rain throughout the day made the outdoors a little damp, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm and energy of the caretakers. A good sized crew of individuals and families came to the monastery for our work day and lamb roast. They trimmed trees, fixed spouting, painted, erected another raised raspberry patch, pulled weeds, cleaned and organized the garages, reinforced our herb garden, planted trees, hauled dead branches, prepared the property for winter and any other things that needed attention.

At lunch time we gathered to break from work and shared stories and laughter. (I wonder if they realized that we really feed them to reenergize them to work more.) During lunch, the two youngest volunteers, Irena and Juliana Pochatko, enjoyed the opportunity to momentarily wear an apostolnik (veil), but I believe the adults enjoyed it more than they.

The chapel was filled with beautiful voices of praise as we prayed Vespers with Fr. Gary Francisko. We thank God for holding back the heavy rains until Vespers. Afterwards we went to the shrine cafeteria to enjoy the lamb roast. It was quite cold, windy and wet, so we gathered inside the cafeteria. Everyone was able to enjoy the delicious roasted lamb and chicken through the generosity of Steve Trudick. They all brought various covered dishes to share which enhanced the camaraderie. We are grateful to God and for the selfless work and love of our caretakers. Their precious friendships and the value of their assistance is greater than two hundred pieces of silver. We look forward to our next opportunity to gather together for the glory of God and enjoy the fruit of our vineyard.

Photo of "Sister" Irena courtesy of Denis Kucharski. Thank you! Adorable!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Happy Feast! And Our First YouTube Appearance...

Icon by the hand of Sr. Julie
O awesome beauty, you are the true prophetic fulfillment for all the faithful.  You are the glory of the apostles and the joy of the martyrs, the pride of virgins and a wondrous protection for the whole world.  O Lady, with the mantle of your mercy, protect our Church and all the people who sing out to you: Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you, and through you He grants great mercy to the world.  (Stichera from Vespers for the Feast)

Happy Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God!  We also have to mention the feast day of one of our favorite saints...St. Therese! :)  I think the two feasts coincide beautifully, especially in the third reading for Vespers: "Let whoever is simple turn in here" (Proverbs 9).

Below is a video of ourselves that we found on YouTube!  A woman from the website ClevelandPeople.com went around the vocation tent at the Fest (August 8, 2010) asking members of the religious communities if she could record them praying their favorite prayer.  So we sang "It is Truly Proper."  I don't think it is our best singing voice, but we thought we would share it with you anyway!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Fruitful Harvest

Both fresh and mellowed fruits, my lover, I have kept in store for you.

Song of Songs 7:14

Sr. Celeste and I have been enjoying the fruits of our garden, sharing them, canning them, making jam and jelly with them and thanking our Bridegroom for these gifts that He has blessed us with this year.  We thank those who provided us with plants and seeds for our garden.  This year we started our garden in a different location than last year (closer to the monastery) and downsized it quite a bit (much more manageable!).  For various reasons we tried an interesting method of planting each plant in a bag of topsoil or a pot, in rows, on top of landscaping fabric mulched with grass clippings.  It may sound strange, but it worked wonderfully for us (no weeds!).  We have been blessed with a delicious crop, especially the multitudes of tomatoes!

Seminarian Musil helps to make salsa
We were also blessed with the opportunity to join in the harvest of the fruits of others: blueberries at Deacon Bill Fredrick's house and blackberries at my grandma's.  With these berries and other fruits and veggies from our garden we produced many batches of various flavors of jam and jelly.  We spent the day last Saturday by selling our jam, jelly and banana and zucchini bread at the ethnic food sale at St. Emilian parish in Brunswick, Ohio, in the morning and at the Carpatho-Rusyn Society's Vatra at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch in the afternoon and evening.  We sparked the curiosity of many with some of our unusual flavors, such as raspberry jalapeno jelly, tomato jelly and pumpkin butter.  The raised eyebrows which turned into smiles proved that providing samples of these flavors was a good idea...
Selling jelly at the Vatra

As we enjoy the last harvests from our garden we ask for your prayers as we continue to discern God's will in the formation of our monastery and seek to bear fruit that will endure.

We hope you can make it to our fall work day this Saturday!  Please remember to RSVP!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fall Work Day & Lamb Roast Announced!

Volunteers at last year's fall work day
All are invited to our 2010 fall work day, Saturday, October 2.  This year, thanks to the generosity of a parishioner at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch, we will conclude the day down at the shrine with a lamb roast! 

Join us for a day of service, prayer, food and fun!  Bring friends and make new friends!  We need your help with projects such as these: building a raised bed for a second raspberry patch, yard work, repairing downspouts, painting and more!

10:00 a.m.     Work day begins
1:00 p.m.       Lunch (provided)
5:00 p.m.       Great Vespers, followed by lamb roast

-Bring a side dish to share if you are able
-Wear old clothes and dress for the weather
-Please RSVP by Wed. Sept. 29 to 440-834-0290 or christthebridegroom@gmail.com (so we know how many projects and how much food to prepare)

We realize that this event conflicts with the eparchial women's retreat taking place that weekend.  We're sorry for the inconvenience, but this was the only date that worked for us!  We hope this will give the dads and kids something to do together while the moms are on retreat!

Check out other upcoming events (there are several happening soon at the shrine) by visiting our "Upcoming Events" page.  We hope to see you soon!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Monastery Visit in Olympia, Washington

“I lift my eyes to the mountains—from where will my help come? My help shall come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1,2) It was a beautiful view! Sr. Julie and I enjoyed the awesome snowcapped Cascade Mountains from the plane during our flight to the Great Northwest. In our quest to seek and fulfill God’s will in our lives, we visited Holy Theophany Monastery in Olympia, Washington at the end of July to pray with the nuns and learn from their experience of monastic life. We were welcomed with open arms and hospitality. Mother Anastasia, abbess of the monastery, willingly shared her wisdom and the history of their monastery and wanted to help us in any way possible. We enjoyed delicious meals prepared by Mother Irene and were inspired by Mother Johanna’s childlike joy.

Fr. Joseph Stanichar, pastor of St. John Chrysostom in Seattle was a gracious host. He traveled to the monastery and drove us to his parish. We shared heartfelt conversations with Father Joseph and his parishioner, Elizabeth, who fed us well, then we all went to the beach to watch the sun set behind the Olympic Mountains and topped off the day with ice cream before heading back.

Sr. Julie and I were also given the opportunity to suit up in bee keeper’s gear and were intrigued by the meticulous and dedicated work of the bees as we watched Mother Irene gently tend to them to start a new hive. Although she was extremely careful, she still was stung. We hope to raise bees at our monastery in the future, but we’ll probably have to stock up on Benadryl.

Blossom, the monastic dog, created some excitement one afternoon when she chased six raccoons up a tree. She had fun barking and jumping at the tree and intimidated the cute raccoons as they cuddled together on a large branch, but they obviously saw no humor in it.

We are grateful to Holy Theophany Monastery and to Fr. Joseph and Elizabeth for their love, prayer and support. We still have a few more places to visit before we discern where God wants us to be for formation, but we continue to trust in the unfailing love and infinite wisdom of our Bridegroom and gaze higher knowing our help will come from Him.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"O You Through Whom Creation is Renewed"

Litija prayers during Great Vespers
"O You Through Whom Creation is Renewed," a line from the Akathist service to the Mother of God, was the theme for the annual pilgrimage at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch (aka across the street!), August 14-15.  We hope that our presence here is helping in some way, along with the hard work Friends of the Shrines and other volunteers, to renew the life at the shrine.  But our focus during this pilgrimage weekend was how the Mother of God renews creation through her openness to God and the gift of her Son to the world.

Burial Shroud surrounded by blessed flowers
Because the Feast of the Dormition (falling asleep) of the Mother of God fell this year on Sunday of the pilgrimage, we enjoyed the unique treat of celebrating the burial service of the Mother of God on Saturday night.  This beautiful service, celebrated in some Eastern traditions, is made up of Great Vespers (evening prayer) and Matins (morning prayer) for the feast, which when celebrated together on the eve of a feast are called the "All Night Vigil."  The service also includes a burial procession with the shroud of the Mother of God.  Participants can see how this service closely imitates the burial procession that we participate in on Good Friday of Holy Week, including the veneration of the shroud at the conclusion of the service.  For Sr. Celeste and me, our favorite part is the chanting of the Song of Songs during the procession!!!  The tears were rolling down my cheeks as we walked slowly in the dark, right behind the shroud, as the cantors chanted the words that Sr. Celeste and I pray every evening at the end of compline (night prayer) before we go to bed.  The Church was singing to us!  It was one of those moments when the stress and difficulties melt away...

Pausing for prayer before Fr. Rich's talk
"Frozen T-shirt" icebreaker
Another great blessing of the pilgrimage was the great group of teens who came to camp out.  Sr. Celeste and I helped to organize the teen campout, along with several young adult chaperones.  The teens and young adults brought awesome joy and vibrancy to the prayer services and other activities of the pilgrimage.  We hope that their presence here will continue to renew the pilgrimage and the shrine as a place of life and prayer, as they return with their friends, families and enthusiasm.  The teens immersed themselves in all of the prayer services, enjoyed sports and games out in the field, cooked on the campfire and participated in the procession for the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Sunday with Bishop John.  They also trekked across the street to our monastery for Third Hour on Sunday morning and a tour of the monastery.  We enjoyed showing them and other pilgrims the progress we have made over the past year, teaching them a little bit about our life and showing our video.

Sr. Celeste's chicken paprikas was a hit again this year, and sold out quickly!

The closing Divine Liturgy with Bishop John on Sunday was beautiful, and the gift of three new subdeacons, ordained during the Liturgy, was given to our Church.  Please pray for subdeacons (and our good friends) Greg Loya, Michael Melnick and Robert Cripps as they continue their journey to the diaconate.

I learned during the pilgrimage, as God patiently teaches me over and over again, that I will not be in control, no matter how well I plan out my portion of an event.  It is He alone who knows how to bring life, breathing His Holy Spirit into the very midst of our actions and conversations. But we can participate in His life-giving action--in the renewal of creation--by following the example of the Mother of God, for, "Today she places her all-pure soul into the hands of her Son.  With her, the universe is filled with joy, and the grace of salvation is given to us" (A hymn at the Litija).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Our First Vocation Table--at the Fest!

We put together a display about our monastery and participated in our first vocations fair on August 8 during the Fest--a large Catholic family festival in Wickliffe, Ohio, on the grounds of the seminary for the Diocese of Cleveland.  We spoke with many families who brought their children through the vocations tent to meet the priests, brothers and nuns who were representing various communities from across the country.  We also spoke with several young women who were curious to discover the religious communities that they could look into and ask us questions. 

We enjoyed meeting the members of the other communities represented and catching up with friends who stopped by to chat and show their support.  Later in the afternoon we joined some friends on their blanket in the field to enjoy a live concert by one of our favorite musicians--Matt Maher!

Thank you for your prayers for our pilgrimage here at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch last weekend.  It went very well, and we promise to post some pictures soon!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Summer Youth Events

This summer has been busy but a blessing to us.  We were fortunate enough to be able to attend the ByzanTEEN Youth Rally at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA, July 8-11.  It was great to enjoy a weekend full of prayer, talks, meals, sports and fun (and how could I fail to mention card games?) with 250 energetic teens from across the country.  Sister Celeste, who formerly had a big role in the youth rallies as the Director of Youth Ministry for the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, commented, "Being with the teens again was bittersweet.  It was thrilling to pray and play with them and bask in their unique energy and love.  I miss them dearly, but they're always close in my heart and prayer."

Praying compline each night at midnight was a highlight for us, as well as the impromptu Panachida (prayer service for the deceased) prayed one night for recently departed Metropolitan Basil.  The most inspiring moment however, would have to be the procession from the college to Sts. Peter and Paul Byzantine Catholic Church, a couple blocks away, and the Divine Liturgy celebrated with all of the bishops.  A group of teens had been practicing throughout the weekend to cantor the liturgy, and with the incredible singing and the sense of energy and reverence, we were quite sure we were in heaven!

Two weeks after the Youth Rally we hosted the 2nd Annual Life in Christ Girls' Sleepover Weekend, sponsored by the eparchial Office of Vocations, July 22-25.  Teen girls from Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania gathered to pray, have fun and learn about modeling Christ, during the weekend themed "Byzantine Next Top Model: What are you modeling?"  Activities such as the "Maze of Life," virtue fashion show skits, crafts and games complemented a talk by Sr. Julie and Jessie Houck on real beauty and being clothed with Christ, a talk by Sr. Celeste on the monastic habit and how we are all called to live in poverty, chastity and obedience, and other talks on the challenges and joys of married life and the importance and joy of the Mystery of Holy Repentance. 

The girls seemed to enjoy spending time with us at the monastery.  During a competitive game of Spud, participant Rose Hunt from St. Stephen's in Euclid exclaimed, "I never knew nuns could be so crazy!"  (We hope it's the good kind of crazy...)

On Saturday we spent a beautiful evening in the chapel across the street, gathered in the dark around an icon of Christ surrounded by candles, meditating on how we had at times failed to model Christ in our lives.  One by one we participated in Christ's healing grace in the Mystery of Holy Repentance and returned cleansed, clothed anew in Christ.

On Sunday morning the girls prayed Matins in our chapel and then joined the boys (who were participating in the Alive in Christ Ascetical Boot Camp for Guys across the street at the Shrine) and families down at the Shrine altar for the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy with Bishop John.  The weekend closed with a nice dinner and wrap-up awards program.

So, we are looking for a much-needed break!  Hmm...  In the meantime, please keep in your prayers the annual pilgrimage in honor of Our Lady of Mariapoch taking place across the street at the Shrine this weekend, especially for the teens and young adults who will be camping out.  (Good weather would be great!)  If you are in the area please stop by!  The schedule is available here.  You won't want to miss, among other things, Sr. Celeste's chicken paprikas!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Two Monastery Visits

“But if you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29) Seeking God’s will and desiring to experience different monasteries and their way of life and prayer, Sr. Julie and I ventured out to Holy Annunciation Monastery in Sugarloaf, Pennsylvania. Since they are a cloistered community, we weren’t able to interact much with the sisters, but we were able to pray with them in their chapel and were uplifted by their harmonious singing. We stayed in their guest house and shared light-hearted conversations with Sister Emmanuel who graciously served our meals in their guest dining room. They served us their fresh bakery, homemade butter, eggnog and famous cheesecake. We were blessed with fresh cow’s milk daily. We probably gained a few pounds during our visit. Mother Marija gave us a tour of their grounds and proudly showed us their miniature horses which they raise along with sheep, angora rabbits, and two cows.

Afterwards we visited the Holy Myrrhbearers Orthodox Monastery in Otego, New York. We enjoyed the opportunity to pray with the sisters and eat with them. We witnessed their hard work in the garden, barn and fields as they cared for their goats and sheep. We were edified by their joy. I had the opportunity to milk one of their goats. I think I bonded with the goat! Sr. Julie and I also enjoyed feeding some of the baby goats as they guzzled down milk from a bottle. We actually drank the goat’s milk and it was surprisingly delicious! Mother Raphaela offered us two goats to take home with us, but we really aren’t prepared to take proper care of them…who knows, maybe we will in the future, especially in our efforts to rid the massive poison ivy growing in the woods where we hope to have our prayer walk!

We also traveled with the Holy Myrrhbearers to the annual pilgrimage at St. Tikhon Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. What a beautiful Divine Liturgy. It was two and a half hours long, but didn’t seem like it. Our holy excursion to Pennsylvania and New York was a wonderful experience. We hope to return again. As we continue to seek God’s will with all our hearts and souls, we are eternally grateful to Christ, our Bridegroom, for all the blessings and love experienced. I believe that the relationships that developed during our brief visit will be life-long and fruitful.

You are welcome to view additional photos from our trip:
Monastery Visits

Monday, June 14, 2010

Eternal Memory, Metropolitan Basil

Our Metropolitan (Archbishop), Basil Schott, died early Thursday morning, June 10, ending his year-long battle with cancer.  He will certainly be missed by the Church.  Sr. Julie has fond memories of him when he would stop in at her home parish of St. Joseph in Brecksville, Ohio, when he was the bishop of our Eparchy of Parma (1996-2002), and Sr. Celeste worked with him at the Pittsburgh chancery when she was Director of Youth Ministry for the Archeparchy.  Please keep him and his family in your prayers.  We will be attending his funeral in Pittsburgh on Friday, June 18.

Please also keep our Church in your prayers and those who will be choosing the new Metropolitan.  May the Holy Spirit be poured out on them.

May God grant to His servant the Priest Metropolitan Basil Eternal Memory and Blessed Repose!

Obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Spring Work Day

Friends and new volunteers joined us on Saturday, May 22, for a productive spring work day.  Projects tackled included weeding and clearing out flowerbeds, mulching, pruning bushes, painting a bedroom, cleaning windows and blinds, finishing various tasks around the house and even cutting down a tree!  An afternoon thunderstorm barely slowed the work...we put everyone to work inside!  At 5:00 the work was set aside for the celebration of Great Vespers for the Feast of Pentecost, celebrated by Fr. Stephen Titko.  Our little chapel was bursting with sound as we commemorated the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and received the blessed bread.  Afterward we got the grill going and enjoyed a delicious cookout.  God even blessed us with a rainbow as we ate (which Sr. Celeste was the first to spot, as usual!). 

A huge thank-you goes out to all who came to share their hands, talents and joy with us!  The energy throughout the monastery and grounds was uplifting.  Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit?

Please view our pictures from the work day:
Spring 2010 Work Day

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Front Page News!

We are honored to be featured on the front cover of the most recent issue of our eparchial newspaper, Horizons. A big thank-you goes out to editor Lory Nemeth for a great article. We are excited to get the word out about the development of our monastery to the people of the eparchy, and we look forward to our increasing involvement in the life of the Church. As the article states, we invite all to our upcoming spring work day and cookout, Saturday, May 22. Please RSVP! Thanks!

Bishop gives approval of first steps to ‘raise up a monastery’
‘My heart was just burning within me and I knew that was what God was calling me to’
By Loretta Nemeth

BURTON, Ohio — On Monday morning of Holy Week, March 29, following the celebration of Bridegroom Matins in the chapel of the former residence of Mariapoch Sisters Flora and Adalberta, Bishop John gave his approval of the first steps to the establishment of the Monastery of Christ the Bridegroom there. Acknowledging that Julie Hritz and Celeste Strohmeyer have lived a modified monastic life at the residence for over a year and have formulated a draft typicon to govern a monastic community of women, Bishop John asked for their commitment "to continue this endeavor to its canonical establishment and your full membership."

Following their agreement, Bishop John gave them the following permissions:

•to maintain a private chapel, with the privilege that Divine Liturgy served there will satisfy one’s obligation for Sunday and holy days of obligation, and

•to use some of the monastic symbols: to preface their baptismal names with the title "Sister" and to wear a common garb whenever representing the monastery.

Bishop John then blessed the property and presented the sisters with an antimension for their chapel.

The journey to that day began during the time Sister Celeste was a nun of the Sisters of St. Basil the Great, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Province, Uniontown, Pa.

Sister Celeste is originally from Niles and one of 11 siblings. A vocation from St. John Parish in Solon, she worked at Nestle USA for 10 years there before becoming a nun. Sister Celeste was the director of youth ministry for the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. "I liked where I was," she said, but felt God calling her in a different direction. Unsure of what the direction was, Sister Celeste said it started to materialize through casual conversations with Bishop John about his vision and finally with his open letter to invite the establishment of traditional Eastern monastic communities in the eparchy.

Sister Celeste was given a year’s leave of absence from her religious community to discern this new calling. It was an intense time of "tons of prayers," and the decision to answer this new call was not without heartache. "The decision to leave my sisters – and the teens – was difficult," said Sister Celeste.

Bishop John’s invitation letter also hit home with Sister Julie. "When I was reading the letter, my heart was just burning within me and I knew that was what God was calling me to," she said. Sister Julie was in her final semester at the University of Akron and living on campus at the time she read the letter. After praying about it, she wrote a letter to Bishop John, expressing her interest in a monastic community. Sister Julie is a member of St. Joseph Parish in Brecksville and after graduation lived with her parents and two brothers in North Royalton and continued working at Right to Life of Summit County until she moved into the monastery.

The two women visited Sisters Flora and Adalberta, now at Regina Health Care Center in Richfield, seeking to rent their former residence at the shrine. The elderly sisters were so excited to hear that the home would again be a monastery and that Sisters Celeste and Julie would continue being involved at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch that they just turned the property over.

Sisters Celeste and Julie, along with many, many volunteers, began renovating the house in January 2009. The house was still under major renovation when the women moved in April 3, 2009. They and their helpers pulled down paneling, installed dry wall and tore down a wall to expand the chapel. "New life was generated there," said Sister Celeste, "with people coming in, really giving of their time, giving us things that we needed."

"The first summer we were there, we were already able to help out with activities at the shrine, host the girls’ camp and host two discernment retreats," Sister Julie said.

Their project over the winter and spring was to compose a provisional typicon, a monastic rule of life for the community. The sisters said that their typicon was inspired by John Paul II’s document "Orientale Lumen." In that letter he "encouraged the rediscovery of Eastern monasticism, especially in the United States … and called the church to support these monasteries," said Sister Julie. They also looked at the typicons of other Eastern monasteries. "We made it our own unique typicon by incorporating our own spirituality of the spousal relationship with Christ," she said.

The ceremony on Holy Monday "made us a part of the eparchy as Christ the Bridegoom community and commissioned us to begin it, so we promised to live by what we’ve spelled out in our typicon," Sister Julie said.

Sister Celeste commented on the day: "I felt excitement, more grounded – for me personally, it was neat that I could be called ‘Sister’ again … the bishop’s presence, especially during Bridegroom Matins, that was such a very significant and intimate connection with the eparchy, Jesus Christ, our community … it culminated that sense of unity."

Sister Julie said she "felt kind of nervous about making that commitment," but she said she was also glad that they could "take this step to move ahead with the formation of the monastery. … It was good to have Bishop’s concrete support."

Sister Julie also said, "I felt more deeply our need for the prayers of the church to help us at this time."

The next step for the sisters is to formalize their formation process and who will be assisting them. Once their formation is complete, they will be able to invite other women to join the community; they have been in communication with women who are already interested in the community.

The sisters see their ministry as prayer and hospitality, welcoming people and helping them to understand and nurture the spousal relationship with Christ. Right now, they can host individuals who need to get away and have a personal retreat. Future goals include working with youth and families, especially at the shrine pilgrimages, and to be able to host formal retreats for small groups.

The sisters said their blog (http://christthebridegroom.blogspot.com) has been a good communication tool. They also said Eastern Christian Media (easternchristianmedia.com) was a big help to them in the production of the video on the creation of the monastery. There is a link to the video on Eastern Christian Media’s home page.

The sisters invite helpers to their next work day at the monastery, Saturday, May 22, beginning at 10 a.m. The day will include lunch, great vespers and a cookout. They ask that volunteers planning to attend contact them at (440) 834-0290 or by e-mail at christthebridegroom@gmail.com.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Holy Week 2010

To share with you a glimpse into our experience of Holy Week at the monastery we put together this brief video. It includes a slideshow of photos from the Palm Sunday weekend young adult retreat and other photos throughout Holy Week, a piece of the video from our commissioning on Holy Monday by Bishop John, recordings of us and the women visiting for the week singing the Bridegroom Troparion and the Hymn of Light from Bridegroom Matins, and a couple of songs from the latest album "Alive Again" by Catholic musician Matt Maher (a monastery favorite!). We hope you enjoy it!

On Holy Saturday afternoon we attended Vespers with the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma. We were thrilled to hear a beautiful homily from Bishop John about the Resurrection as the wedding feast for the marriage of Christ the Bridegroom and His Church. Bishop John also mentioned the creation of our monastery and its dedication to this spousal relationship. We would like to share with you the text of his homily:

Pascha … a wedding feast

We have just heard three stories about God freeing his people. He freed the Israelites from the bondage in Egypt. He freed the three young men from the fiery furnace. He freed the whole world from the bondage of sin and death by raising His Son from dead.

The first two seem to be rewards for faithfulness. The last is in anticipation of faithfulness. After he frees us, he calls us to be faithful. This last action is rather difficult to understand. One image that seems to help is that of the wedding of two parties in love with each other. The wedding is certainly not a reward but a pledge.

Monday of this last week, we were blessed with the creation in principle of a new monastery in the Eparchy of Parma. Christ the Bridegroom Monastery is dedicated to God’s love for his people and the relationship that ensues.

In the book of Revelations, we read: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready.” (Rv 19:7)

Christ the Bridegroom! What a beautiful way to understand the saving action of Jesus Christ!

The Resurrection is the forming of a relationship of give and take. It is an intimate relationship of true love. As Father Stephen reminded us last evening, the passion, crucifixion, and burial are truly our assurance of “no greater love has anyone than to give one’s life for the other.”

A recent Eucharistic Congress in Washington, D.C., called the paschal mystery a "Sacrifice of Enduring Love." Cardinal Justin Rigali stated in a homily: "The wedding feast has begun, and we, the church, his bride, … are here to acknowledge the power of his blood and to proclaim the spousal covenant in which this blood has forever linked us to himself" (Sept 11, 2009).

This spousal relationship, like all human marriages, develops from a desire to get to know the other person, through the wedding to the fullness of intimacy. The holy passion of Christ served to establish our relationship. The Day of Resurrection celebrates our wedding. The descent of the Holy Spirit takes us through the full intimacy of marriage. This is indeed "the wedding day of the Lamb." The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, is the bridegroom and we, the church, his bride.

“The wedding feast has begun” but it is not over. Each time we gather for the Holy Eucharist we unite ourselves to the Lamb. Those who participated in the “Heaven on Earth” seminar last Saturday know that the bread of the Divine Liturgy that, together with the wine becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, (that bread) is called the Lamb. The Lamb that Father Richard reminded us on Holy Thursday is broken but not divided – food that unites through its sacrifice. It is the Lamb which becomes our Holy Communion with God.

Because we, the church, are wedded to Christ the Bridegroom, we are invited to share in the radiant glory of the resurrection. The Bridegroom calls us so lovingly and so tenderly as we hear in the Old Testament book of Song of Songs: "Come, my beloved, my beautiful one."

“The wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready.” Even if we haven’t taken full advantage of the 40-day preparation period, even if we haven’t started, let’s start now to "make ourselves ready." All God asks is what he offers us – a mutual "sacrifice of enduring love." As we accept this spousal relationship, we will be ever the bolder to proclaim: Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Beginning Continues

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Pasch so delightful, Pasch of the Lord is the Pasch--most honored Pasch now dawned on us. It is the Pasch! Therefore, let us joyfully embrace one another. O Passover, save us from sorrow; for today Christ has shown forth from the tomb as from a bridal chamber and filled the women with joy by saying: "Announce the good news to My Apostles." (From the Paschal Hymns)

We pray that you and your families enjoyed a beautiful Pascha and will continue to rest in the light and joy of the Resurrection! The past few weeks have been very busy for us, but we immersed ourselves in the spirit of Holy Week and the Resurrection as best we could, with the grace of God! During Palm Sunday weekend we hosted a young adult retreat, and during Holy Week several women discerning monastic life joined us for discussion, prayer and to experience our life. We will post pictures soon from these experiences.

Holy Saturday fell this year on April 3, the first anniversary of the day we moved into the monastery! We are so grateful to God for all the blessings (and the challenges!) of this past year, and we look forward to continued growth.

Also, on Monday of Holy Week, Bishop John visited to celebrate Bridegroom Matins and officially commission us to begin this monastery and become part of the Eparchy of Parma! It was especially significant because Bridegroom Matins was the first service we celebrated in our chapel one year ago. The text of this commissioning is below. Please keep us in your prayers as we continue to move forward in the development of our monastery.

Bishop: Blessed is our God, now and ever and forever.

Response: Amen.

Bishop: In 2008 I issued a call for the establishment of monasteries to complete the ecclesial activity of the Eparchy of Parma. I identified this property, a gift from Sisters Flora and Adalberta, Sisters of Mariapoch, to be a monastery of nuns. For over a year you have resided here, living a modified monastic life and, with the help of many others, improving the property. From your experience, combined with the shared experience of other monasteries of women, you have formulated a draft typicon to govern the life of nuns in a monastery to be established here at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch in the future. You have expressed a desire to continue this endeavor to its canonical establishment and your full membership. And so I give approval of these first steps to the establishment of the Monastery of Christ the Bridegroom and I ask you

Bishop: Are you aware of the expectations presented in the typicon, that was given initial approval, and are you willing to try to live according to it?

Celeste, Julie: I am.

Bishop: Are you willing to represent the monastery appropriately as you continue formation into the monastic way?

Celeste, Julie: I am.

Bishop: Are you willing to welcome others into the community?

Celeste, Julie: I am.

Bishop: Do you acknowledge that your involvement in this monastery is one of formation and discernment and that, until formal formation begins, you do not have canonical standing as a monastic?

Celeste, Julie: I do.

Bishop: Are you willing to grow in the spiritual life toward a possible full entry into the monastic way?

Celeste, Julie: I am with the help of God.

Bishop: I, as Bishop of Parma, assure you that the eparchy will provide you every support at our disposal. To lay the foundation upon which the monastery will be built, I grant you the following permissions. I give you permission to maintain a private chapel, with the privilege that Divine Liturgy served here will satisfy one’s obligation for Sunday and holy days of obligation. I give you permission to use some of the monastic symbols: you will preface your baptismal name with the title “Sister” and you will wear a common garb whenever representing the monastery.
Although not graced with vows, your living the life of the evangelical virtues will identify you with the monastery and the monastery will be identified as an appropriate means of grace. Because the monastery has no canonical status, all real property and its contents, unless specifically identified, remain the property of the eparchy. By following the typicon you will live a chaste life. To be able to maintain obedience to this way of life, we must identify one person to serve as guardian of the common life, a role satisfied in a monastery by the hegumena or abbess. To that end, are you, Sister Celeste, willing to serve in this role until such time that the monastery will be established and a hegumena identified?

Sister Celeste: I am.

Bishop: May God be blessed by this endeavor and may He bless the monastery with properly motivated nuns and may he bless each of us with proper discernment.

Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord.

Response: Lord, have mercy.

Bishop: Almighty God, creator and fashioner of all, who made Heaven with understanding, and founded the earth on its firmness: Look down on your servants Sister Celeste and Sister Julie, who, together with myself and many others, desire, in the might of Your strength, to raise up a monastery. Establish it on a firm rock, and, according to Your Divine Voice in the Gospel, found it so that neither wind nor water, nor anything whatsoever may be able to harm it. Be well-pleased to bring it to completion and bring those who desire to be members thereof to live lives worthy of Christ the Bridegroom, and to be delivered from the snare of the adversary.
For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, Father Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever.

Response: Amen.

Bishop: This property, as it is, and as it may become, is blessed with the sprinkling of this Holy Water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Response: Amen.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Longing for Paradise

Adam formerly sat before the gate of Paradise weeping, * and with his head buried in his hands, he cried out; * O merciful Lord, have mercy on me, a fallen one. (Ikos of the Canon, Matins of Cheesefare Sunday)

We do not have doors yet on the iconostas in our chapel (actually we only have two tall icons…though a design has been drawn up!), but if we did, we would be praying before these closed doors each day remembering our exile from Paradise.

The Great Fast, or Lent, is all about this exile. The Sunday before the fast begins, called Cheesefare Sunday (because it is the last day we eat dairy products before the fast) or Forgiveness Sunday (because at the end of vespers that evening, which marks the beginning of the fast, we forgive each other), the theme is the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. We remember the sin of our first parents and our own sin, and in the prayers of Matins we call out to Paradise itself:

O pleasant meadows, O sweetness of Paradise, * you trees planted by God, * let your leaves, as so many eyes, pour out tears for my nakedness * and my estrangement from the glory of God. (Ode 4 of the Canon, Matins of Cheesefare Sunday)

Why are we called now to remember this particular chapter in our history?

It is because God is calling us to Himself, and He wants us to long for the Paradise we have lost. Before we experience His Resurrection, we must know why we need this Resurrection.

The prayers of the Church will take us on a journey. Especially in the Old Testament readings during vespers and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, we will travel from the Garden of Eden, through the whole book of Genesis, to the beginning of Moses’ mission.

As we listen to these stories we will see in them glimpses of our own sinfulness, our own tendencies to choose our own paths instead of God’s, and our own longings to be reunited with Him. The story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise is especially appropriate, because we do not have anything to strive for unless we realize that we have fallen—fallen from a state of great dignity and glory. How will we hear God calling us to Himself if we do not know that we are separated from Him?

The 40 days of the Great Fast are a journey through a spiritual desert, just as the Israelites wandered for 40 years through the desert, exiled by their sins. We can reflect on many similarities: Our deserts are full of difficulties and temptations similar to the struggles faced by the Israelites; we will come face to face with ourselves and fall in our weaknesses just as the Israelites grumbled against God and fell into to the worship of idols; we are fed by the Eucharist at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts just as God provided manna for the Israelites; and at the end of our journey we know that the Resurrection awaits us, just as the Israelites entered into the Promised Land.

At Forgiveness Vespers, which begin the Great Fast, we softly sing part of the Resurrection Canon as we forgive each other. We will sing this Canon at Resurrection Matins in its full splendor, but we are given a little taste now so that we long for more.

It is your joyful task to continue to reflect on all that God is speaking to us during this journey through the desert. May we all recognize our longing for Paradise and know that this longing is a great gift.

O delightful Paradise, * share in the sorrow of your fallen master, * and, by the whispering of your leaves, beseech the Creator * not to keep you closed forever; * O merciful Lord, have mercy on me, a fallen one. (Ikos of the Canon, Matins of Cheesefare Sunday)

For additional Lenten reflections, we recommend listening to podcasts by Fr. Thomas Hopko at Ancient Faith Radio: http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Witness of Life and Joy

We had a great time at the March for Life this year with the teen group we organized through the eparchy. Instead of writing a new post, I'll just post my article which will appear in the upcoming edition of our eparchy's newspaper, Horizons. You can click on the collage above to zoom in.

The ByzanTEENs joined a massive convergence of people celebrating life and praying for an end to abortion at the 37th Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Friday, January 22.

Departing the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio, at 5:30 a.m., the sleepy teens, many of whom would be attending the march for the first time, did not quite know what they would be experiencing. When the group of 13 teens, 10 young adult and adult chaperones and one priest (Fr. Mychail Rozmarynowyz, St. Basil, Sterling Heights, Mich.) stepped out of the Metro station in the center of D.C., a scene of an estimated 300,000 people stretched out in front of them.

“It was a very life changing experience to see all of the people there supporting the same cause,” said Rachel Pawluszka, a teen from St. Basil in Sterling Heights, Mich.

“Seeing all of the other people there at the March got me to think about what we were marching for,” said Cathedral teen David Bratnick. This year’s march took place in the midst of the national health care debate, in which federal funding of abortion is the major issue at stake. Many signs read, “Abortion is not Healthcare.”

The group met up with Bishop John, Fr. Richard Plishka and several of the Byzantine seminarians and marched to the Supreme Court building, following an icon of the Visitation depicting Jesus and John the Baptist in the wombs of their mothers. The young adults led the singing of Marian hymns using portable speakers.

“Everybody was asking questions about the icons, which I thought was cool,” said Pawluszka.

At the Supreme Court building various groups paused to sing or pray in their own unique expressions as the mass of marchers continued to pour around the corner and in front of the building. The ByzanTEENs stopped at the edge of the crowd to share their own gift by praying the Akathist to the Mother of God, led by Bishop John.

Numerous marchers paused at the circle of Byzantines to listen for a while to the words and melody of this beautiful prayer. One man planted himself next to the icon sign holding a sign of his own that read: “When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe John leapt in the womb…(Lk 1:41)” He smiled at the group as he stood there, knowing that his sign described this icon perfectly. In this and in so many ways, the group was united to all of the many other marchers.

Just as the Akathist was finished the march ended. The group ate dinner nearby and then returned to the Supreme Court building, which was now lit up against the black sky. The marchers were gone and the streets had been returned to their usual car traffic. The teens sat in front of the steps as young adults Jessie Houck and Julie Hritz gave a reflection and led the group in prayer.

The group stayed overnight at Epiphany of Our Lord Byzantine Catholic Church in Annandale, Va., where they prayed compline at night with Bishop John and third hour in the morning. On Saturday the 23rd, the group explored several of the Catholic sites in D.C., including the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center and the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. For lunch the group took a break at the Ukrainian Catholic Monastery of the Holy Cross.

The trip concluded with vespers and Divine Liturgy at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The beautiful Liturgy was celebrated by Bishop John in the Byzantine chapel, and attracted the attention of pilgrims visiting the various chapels in the Basilica. Many stopped to experience part of the Liturgy.

Bratnick enjoyed capturing the trip on video along with young adult Jenny Forkal. “I plan to edit the video with Jenny at the Eastern Christian Media Studio,” he said, and he hopes to incorporate the funny moments of the trip along with the serious.

Pawluszka said, “I would tell someone who wants to come next year to bring their walking shoes because it’s going to be a blast. There were so many cool things that we did this year and next year should be even better!”