Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

O Bethlehem, receive Christ, for He comes to dwell in you in the flesh, that He may open Paradise for me.  Make ready, O Cave, to behold the One who cannot be contained, now wonderously contained in you; for He now is made poor in the wealth of His tender mercies.
In the prayers of the Byzantine Catholic Church leading up to the Nativity of Our Lord and during the celebration of this great feast, the paradoxes of our faith are continually placed before us: "Behold Him who is invisible is now visibly manifest," "As a stranger You have come to Your own," "How shall I nurse the One who gives nourishment to the world?", "How shall I wrap You in swaddling clothes, for You wrap the whole earth with clouds?", "I hold in my arms as a child the One who upholds all," "Behold! The Image of the Father and His unchangeable eternity has taken the form of a servant."

Each day as we meditate on these mind-blowing paradoxes in our liturgical prayer, we are overwhelmed by the love of God for us.  But I think that there is yet another reason why the Church points them out to us.  It seems that if God humbled Himself so completely to embrace these paradoxes--these seeming contradictions--then we are called to embrace them too!  We are called to become poor so that we can become rich, lowly so that we can be raised up.  We cannot do what God did in becoming man--in coming down from heaven to the manger--but we are called to stoop into the cave and to meet Him in his littleness.  We have to become "little" in order to meet the infinite God!! (Now there is a paradox!)

Just now as I was writing this blog post, a friend encouraged me to read Pope Benedict's Christmas Eve homily (without knowing what I was writing about).  It seems that the Holy Father was reflecting on the same thing!
 Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus' Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half meters high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half meters has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God's house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus' birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our "enlightened" reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God's closeness.... Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart.  

It's just my size!  Is it for me???
Well, Christmas at the monastery was beautiful!  We were so blessed that Fr. Stephen Titko was available and happy to come out to the monastery to celebrate the liturgical services for us on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  We found our deepest joy in receiving Christ in the Eucharist, our humble God for whose coming we had been preparing our hearts.  We also cooked the traditional Christmas Eve Velija supper and enjoyed it with some friends.  We hope that you are enjoying the celebration of this beautiful feast!  S'nami Boh!  God is with us!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mother Theodora reflects on her profession

We recently published our winter newsletter which included a reflection by Mother Theodora about her recent life profession.  Due to limited space in the newsletter, she wanted to share more of her personal reflections about the correlation between the liturgical prayers for the feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple and the profession service.  Here they are!

In the Narthex I laid aside my customary habit and was clothed in the Vlasyaniysa, a white robe similar to the baptismal robe. I took a deep breath and thought, “This is it. How did I make it to this moment?” I knew that it was only through sheer grace. I entered barefooted into St. John Cathedral as the Troparion of the Prodigal Son was being sung:
Haste! Open Your fatherly arms to me,for I have lived like the Prodigal.O Savior, do not despise my impoverished heart,that heart that gazes upon the fathomless wealth of Your mercy.For, I have sinned against Heaven, and before You!
“That’s me” (the prodigal), I thought, as I walked down the aisle to make my life profession as a nun—a woman—broken, unworthy and sinful—yet irresistibly drawn by my Bridegroom to become His bride for eternity. I ached almost three years for this moment and with each prostration, I was filled with an increasing awe at the reality I was entering into.

There were a number of correlations between the liturgical prayers and the profession service. We sang verses from the Aposticha: O virgins, carry candles and lead the way for the entrance of the ever Virgin. Sister Julie and Jessie, who walked before me carrying candles, were the virgins leading my way into the temple. When Anna, which means grace, was graced with the pure and ever Virgin Mary, she presented her into the temple. Mother Anna escorted me down the aisle, covering me with her Mandyas, as she prepared to present me to Bishop John. Today the Theotokos…is being escorted with gladness into the Temple of God, and Zechariah receives her. It was not Zechariah the high priest, but Bishop John who received me before the Royal Doors. Let Joachim be glad and let Anna rejoice exceedingly, because they have offered to God the immaculate Queen as a three year old child. It had been almost three years since this monastic adventure was initiated.

 As I stood fully robed before an icon of Christ the Bridegroom, I closed my eyes and was overwhelmed with an indescribable sense of peace and joy. I do not know how long I basked in that state, but I was content to remain in it. When I opened my eyes, I was startled at the fact that I was standing in the front of the Cathedral before hundreds of witnesses. For a moment I thought, “How in the heck did I get here?” At the end of the long service, I turned around to be greeted by everyone and when I gazed at all the people present who have journeyed with me,  I was filled with an edifying gift of love and thought, “Aaaah, they are how I got here.”

And the winning caption of our first blog poll is...

..."Somebody please buy those nuns a taller ladder!"

Thanks to everyone who voted!  Coming in for a close second was, "Monasticism is not about what you can DO, it's about who you ARE.  Jessie, you are a tall person."  (That was my favorite...)  Even without a taller ladder, we successfully hung some Christmas lights.  (And yes, we really could use an 8 ft. ladder...! hint, hint)  Due to the popularity of our first blog poll, we plan to post more in the future! :)

We are continuing with the preparations for the Nativity of Our Lord, which include not only baking, cleaning and preparation for liturgical services, but also, and most importantly, the transformation of our hearts so that we will have a place to receive Him.  May you all have a blessed, grace-filled Christmas!

O faithful, let us celebrate beforehand the nativity of Christ; * let us raise up our minds to Bethlehem, * and we shall be raised up in spirit. * We shall gaze upon the great mystery in the cave: * Eden is opening up, and God is coming forth from the pure Virgin. * He is perfect in divinity and in humanity. * Therefore, let us call out: * O holy God, O unbegotten Father, * O holy and mighty One, O Incarnate Son, * O holy immortal One, O comforting Spirit, * O holy Trinity, glory to You!  (Stichera for Vespers, Dec. 20)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Celibacy - Chosen in Freedom and Love

We recently received a comment on our blog regarding celibacy and the Catholic priesthood to which we would like to respond and explain the Church’s teaching on this subject.  First, we would like to thank the person who posted their comment.  Our growth as Christians comes especially in times of questioning and seeking the truth, so we are grateful for this opportunity to share about the topic of celibacy.

Sr. Julie and Jessie with Seminarian Eric and Fr. Patrick
I would first like to address the issue of when celibacy became part of God’s will for humanity.  Our primary example of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom comes straight from the source – Jesus.  Jesus’ entire life was spent in obedience to His Father’s Will and dedicated to carrying out the work of His Father, and during the 33 years He spent on this earth, the Catholic Church teaches that He was celibate.

Jesus also gave a direct teaching on celibacy, found in Chapter 19 of The Gospel of Matthew.  The Pharisees questioned Jesus about divorce and remarriage, and Jesus explained to them that divorce was only allowed because of their hardness of heart, so anyone who divorces his wife ‘except for sexual immorality’ and marries another is committing adultery.  Because of this, Jesus’ disciples then state that maybe it is better not to marry at all.  But Jesus disagrees with them, explaining that there are only some who are called to be unmarried, and says the following:

“But He said to them, ‘All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.  He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Mt 19:11-12).

There are a couple of statements Jesus is making about celibacy in this passage.  First, celibacy is not for everyone.  Being a celibate is a call by God to particular individuals to whom God will give the grace to live out this particular state of life, which is why ‘all cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given.’  Second, celibacy must be freely chosen by the person whom God has called. ‘He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.’  Thirdly, Christian celibacy is not an end in itself, but is a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven.  ‘There are eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake’ – men and women who freely respond to God’s call to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom.  These men and women, called by God, serve as a sign or foreshadowing of what our life in heaven will be like, where “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven” (Mt 22:30).  They witness to the reality that all of humanity is created to one day be in total union with God in heaven – and these men and women express that reality by consecrating their lives to God while still on earth, desiring not marriage in this life, but marriage with our Eternal Bridegroom in the life to come.

So, with the ideas in mind that celibacy is a call by God which must be freely chosen for the sake of the Kingdom, we want to look at celibacy within the Catholic priesthood.  First of all, celibacy is a discipline of the Roman Catholic priesthood, not a doctrine of the Catholic Church.  There are churches in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, in particular the Eastern Catholic Churches such as the Ruthenian Byzantine Church we belong to, that allow for married men to discern and be ordained to the priesthood.  Both are valid disciplines and both are in communion with the Holy See in Rome.  In both cases though, the key to celibacy or marriage in the priesthood is that it must be freely chosen.  No one is forced to become a priest – they must freely choose to enter into discernment, which the Church ratifies by accepting that person into the seminary.  With that free choice comes the knowledge that to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest, you must remain celibate or in the Eastern Churches, you may be married prior to ordination but if your wife precedes you in death, you may not remarry.  Therefore, marriage is not forbidden, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, but is freely given up to embrace the gift of celibacy for the sake of building up God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Celibacy is not a burden, but is truly God’s gift to priests and religious men and women.  When celibacy is freely chosen in response to God’s call, God provides the grace each day to embrace that life of single-hearted dedication to Him.  As priests and religious men and women, we are called to obedience to God’s will for our lives, including celibacy, just as Jesus was called to be obedient to His Father’s will, which also included remaining celibate for His entire earthly life.  God asks us no more than He asked of His own Son – that we be willing to freely lay down our lives for one another, just as Jesus has done for us.  It is with great joy, ardent love, and much fervor that I proclaim my ‘yes’ to God’s call to celibacy as a nun, in obedience to the wisdom of the Catholic Church, whose foundation is Jesus Christ.  Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory to Him Forever!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Congratulations, Mother Theodora!

The nuns of Christ the Bridegroom Community would like to wish a big CONGRATULATIONS to Sr. Celeste who made her life profession as a stavrophore nun and is now Mother Theodora!

Mother Theodora is named for Blessed Theodore Romzha, a Byzantine Catholic bishop marytred for the faith in 1947.
Icon of Blessed Theodore Romzha
In God's providence, this year was named 'The year of Blessed Theodore Romzha' by the Eparchy of Mukachevo.  2011 marks the 10th anniversary of Blessed Theodore's beatification, the 75th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, and the 100th anniversary of his birth.  

One account of the life of Blessed Theodore.

Or check out the YouTube clips on St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church's YouTube channel:

God grant you many years, Mother Theodora!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reflecting on our time in New York

Sr. Celeste and Mother Anna
Sister Celeste: 

Life is a mystery, and it was providential that Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery in Otego, New York, graciously tended to the needs of Christ the Bridegroom Community. The Myrrhbearers mentioned in the Gospels tended to the needs of Christ from their personal means (Luke 8:2-4), and the nuns of Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery opened their home and hearts and shared their personal means with us. The Myrrhbearers in the Gospels displayed unyielding courage and were not intimidated by any animosity and fear that permeated the atmosphere. With love, they forged forward to approach the tomb of Christ. The nuns of Holy Myrrbearers emulated this courage with the myrrh of love and conviction. Knowing that they could possibly incur some criticism by hosting us, they still forged forward with love and conviction and allowed us to experience a deeper life of Eastern Christian monasticism.

There was an immediate bond between the two communities, and through all the prayer, hard work and oneness of heart that developed between us, each monastery was a gift to the other. At the end of our stay, bittersweet farewells were exchanged with tears and embracing, with both communities knowing they were strengthened in their faith and commitment to Eastern monasticism. The nuns of Christ the Bridegroom Community will always be grateful to the nuns of Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery and we look forward to an ever deepening relationship, to be of one heart and one spirit (Acts 4:32).

Though ecumenism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches remains in dialogue, there is still much to be undertaken for spiritual understanding and unity, and we hope that the bond that grew between us is one more small step towards this goal. We pray that one day we will be one (John 10:17).

Our typikon confirms this commitment: The nuns of this monastery will pray with their whole beings for the unity of all Christians, “So that they may be One as I and My Father are One” (Jn 17:12).  They will pray especially for understanding and reconciliation between the Eastern and Western Churches.

The role of monasteries as meeting places for the East and West was emphasized by Blessed John Paul II: “In this regard, I hope that monasteries will make a particular effort, precisely because of the unique role played by monastic life within the Churches and because of the many unifying aspects of the monastic experience, and therefore of spiritual awareness, in the East and in the West” (Orientale Lumen 25).  

Sister Julie:

During our time in New York, the word “vigilance” continually resurfaced in my prayer.

Maybe it was because of the goats?

I didn’t always feel like going out to the barn to do the barn chores, but every morning the goats were still there.  The four goats we milked every day were bursting with milk, the kid goats were hungry for their bottles and all of the goats were just plain hungry!  (As were the dog and cats.)  Then at midday, the goats were hungry again.  And in the evening, the four goats we milked were bursting with milk again, and again all of the goats were hungry.  You see the routine.  And unfortunately, they still produced milk and still got hungry even on Sundays! :)

But I learned that vigilance is more than simply persevering in my daily chores (or “obediences”) and even more than showing up for each of the many monastic prayer services throughout the day.  Vigilance is being constantly aware of the presence of Christ and allowing myself to be absorbed in that presence.

Doing my chores with Jesus filled me with peace.  I experienced a great freedom in carrying out the tasks given to me, especially the physical work.  Away from the demands of founding a new monastery, I could simply be a “child”—a novice—and learn how to pray!

I am grateful to the nuns for welcoming us into their home for three months, and I am grateful to God that I have new sisters in New York!


Poverty.  Chastity.  Obedience.  Of the three monastic virtues, I feel like obedience is that last thought about by people outside of a monastery and the most thought about by the nuns in a monastery.  I would say that obedience is the most important virtue, out of which the other two virtues flow.  In order for a nun to truly live out poverty and chastity, she must first obey the call of her Beloved, who is made visible through the mother of her community, so that she may die to her own desires and become totally fulfilled by her Beloved.

During our time in New York, obedience was a recurring theme for my prayer.  In particular, I felt an overwhelming sense of the need to embrace obedience with JOY.  I had a great desire to not only complete the tasks I had been assigned, but to do each task JOYFULLY, as if I were doing each task for my Beloved.  For a city girl like me, this desire often challenged me, especially when it came to shoveling poop in the goat barn!  But there was such a freedom that came with embracing even the humblest of tasks and doing them totally for Jesus.  This freedom came from abandoning my own will and accepting Jesus’ will in everything, trusting that He would give me whatever I needed to do what He asked.

"Obedience is not blind, but deliberately seeks to know God's love and to experience the liberation of freely and continually falling into the arms of the Bridegroom with increasing trust" (Monastic Typikon, Christ the Bridegroom Monastery).

Monday, November 14, 2011

You want me to fast NOW?

Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?”  And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast (Mt 9:14-15).

We Christians are not yet totally united with the Bridegroom, Jesus, so we fast.  We fast, in one sense, as an expression of the hungering of our souls for union with Him.  Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:23).  Fasting should stir up this groan—this longing—for heaven; not just a heaven of “eternal rest,” but for the eternal explosion of joy that is union with the God of infinite love.

The Church invites us to fast for forty days before the Nativity of Our Lord. This period of time, beginning on November 15 each year, is called the Nativity Fast, or the “Philip’s Fast” (because it begins after vespers on the feast of the Apostle Philip). During these forty days, we fast because we are waiting for Christ’s coming—liturgically, in anticipation of our yearly celebration of His Nativity, and literally, in anticipation of His second coming.  The Nativity is the beginning of God’s union with mankind.  At that very specific point in time, the creator of the universe united Himself with human flesh.  The One who had always been, became man!  “And man is not left alone to attempt, in a thousand often frustrated ways, an impossible ascent to heaven…The Word became flesh, like us in everything except sin.  He pours divinity into the sick heart of humanity, and imbuing it with the Father’s Spirit enables it to become God through grace” (Blessed John Paul II, Orientale Lumen, 15).

Fasting shouldn’t be gloomy.  We are preparing in joyful anticipation for the Wedding Banquet of heaven!  We shouldn’t judge those who use feasting as their way to anticipate the celebration of the Nativity (perhaps God is using this type of joy to lead them to Him), but we shouldn’t be afraid to share with them the concept of fasting as a way of preparing for this feast.  Let’s try to share the indescribable joy we experience in celebrating the Nativity after a season of fasting.  And if we haven’t experience this joy, let’s fast more intensely, laying ourselves aside and surrendering our will and our desires so that we can welcome the God of the universe into the humble manger of our hearts.  He wants to unite Himself to us.  He wants us to be ready for the Wedding Feast!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We're Home!

Glory to Jesus Christ!  Thank you so much for your prayers during our three-month stay at Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery in Otego, New York.  We learned so much and are so grateful to our sisters in New York for welcoming us into their home.  We look forward to sharing more with you in the near future.

Please keep Sr. Celeste in your prayers as she prepares for her life profession on November 20!  All are welcome to the service at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio, beginning with vespers for the Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God at 4:00 p.m.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

We'll be back!

Dear Friends,

We wanted to let you know why you won’t be hearing from us too much (if at all) for the next three months.

We are heading out to Otego, New York, for a stay with the nuns of Holy Myrrhbearers Orthodox Monastery.  This experience will be a time of preparation for Sr. Celeste as she prepares for her life profession on November 20th of this year, and it will also be an opportunity for all three of us to learn from an established Eastern monastery.  We are grateful to the nuns for enthusiastically welcoming us into their home and community life for these three months!

We are also grateful to those who have offered to work on projects around the monastery and grounds throughout this time that we are gone.  We know that the monastery is in good hands!

We are sad that we will not be able to be present to the pilgrims at the annual eparchial pilgrimage at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch (Aug. 13-14) right across the street from the monastery, but God has chosen this time for us to spend with Him and to learn more about the monastic life.  He is asking us to trust Him in an even deeper way—to let go and trust that He is taking care of everything.  We hope that this time will help us to become better nuns so that when we return we will be better able to love you, to be a witness to you and to uphold the Church in prayer.

As we leave, we are carrying all of you and your needs with us, even if we do not know you.  We believe that this time away will help us to draw even closer to you and to the whole Church as we intensify our prayer life, draw closer to Christ and unite our daily work with your efforts and struggles.

We are asking for your prayers also.  We rely on the prayers of the people of the Church so that we can continue to be open to God’s will and faithful to Him, especially when difficult challenges arise.  Thank you and God bless you!

Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery is part of the Orthodox Church of America (OCA), and their website is

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Transfigured Vision

“The world will be saved by beauty.” –Dostoevsky

On a quiet morning as I gaze out the window at the drizzling rain and the hazy trees in the distance, this phrase comes to mind. I see the daisies bent over by the weight of raindrops, the multicolored daylilies adorning the chapel sign and the intricate and rugged bark of the large maple tree. God has given me the priceless gift of seeing the world with the eyes of an artist.

As I take it all in, I am mulling over the reason for art. What comes to me is the longing God has placed in our very beings—the longing for beauty. The artistic ability (in different forms) is a gift given to many of us to draw hearts to God. I think of my love for landscapes, but more especially for the “close up” details. I love to photograph the interior of a flower, a grasshopper perched on a blade of grass or a drop of water on a leaf. The artist focuses our attention on beauty—or rather, teaches us how to see beauty. He teaches us to pause, just as this rainy morning has taught me, to alter our gaze, and to allow the world to be transfigured. The artist teaches us to see, not everything all at once (because this has confused us), but the little, tiny strokes of beauty. From there he opens our eyes to the reality of infinite beauty, purity and holiness. He opens our eyes to God Himself.

The tiny strokes of beauty are ones that we can imitate by our gentleness and silence. And the more we truly see and experience beauty, the deeper our longing for beauty becomes. The more we long for beauty, the more we long for God—for an intimate union with Him. And so in a way, we can say, “The world will be saved by beauty!” It is God Himself who has given it to us, created us for it and is beautiful Himself without flaw. He is calling us to this perfect beauty and to see it in each other, so we can cry out with the bridegroom in the Song of Songs: “You are all beautiful, my beloved, and there is no blemish in you” (4:7).

The process and experience of the artist not only teaches others to see beauty in the world; it also allows the Holy Spirit to work in the artist himself and transfigure him and his vision. This transfigured vision allows us to see the joy and the grace of God that permeates all things, even suffering.
“An all-embracing love…transfigures its object, making the human environment transparent, so that the uncreated energies of God shine through it” (Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, “The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity”).

Blessed John Paul II also has wisdom for us on this topic, in one of his letters to artists:
"Human beings, in a certain sense, are unknown to themselves. Jesus Christ not only reveals God, but fully reveals man to man. In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself. All believers are called to bear witness to this; but it is up to you, men and women who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed: the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation which, according to St. Paul, 'awaits impatiently the revelation of the children of God' (Rom 8:19), is redeemed. The creation awaits the revelation of the children of God also through art and in art. This is your task. Humanity in every age, and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon its path and its destiny” (Letter of Pope John Paul II to Artists, n.14, April 4, 1999).
What a beautiful opportunity we have today to reflect on beauty: the Feast of the Transfiguration!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ordination Pilgrimage

We promised that we would share more about what we have been up to this summer, so here you are!  Earlier this summer (in June) we were blessed with the opportunity to take a pilgrimage (and it truly was a pilgrimage!) out West, with our destination being Las Vegas (of all places!) for the ordination of Fr. Diodoro Mendoza to the priesthood.  Fr. Diodoro is a good friend of ours and it was truly worth it to make the trip, by car, all the way to Las Vegas.

God provided in so many ways for us on our trip.  In His providence He arranged for places for us to stay with people we didn't even know (found through mutual friends), but who will now remain our friends.  He provided donations, great weather and so many memories.  He placed so many beautiful people in our path, connecting us, as He loves to do, with those who would inspire us and those whose lives He wanted us to touch.

The highlight of our trip was Fr. Diodoro's ordination and his first Divine Liturgy the next day, both at his home parish, Our Lady of Wisdom Byzantine Catholic Church in Las Vegas.  Our Church has been gifted with an amazing priest!  At Fr. Diodoro's first Divine Liturgy it seemed to us like he had been a priest for years--his celebration of the Liturgy and preaching seemed so natural to him--he was made for this! :)  It was also wonderful to spend time with the seminarians and all of the people we met.

On our way to Las Vegas we stopped at several National Parks, including Arches, Bryce Canyon, Zion and the Grand Canyon.  These excursions were blessed opportunities to enjoy the beauty of God's creation, spend some time in quiet contemplation and speak to other visitors who were curious about our way of life.  Some favorite memories include singing "O Joyful Light" at the Grand Canyon as we watched the sun set, hiking at Bryce Canyon and sitting in the silence of the desert at night at Arches National Park.

On our way out and our way back we stopped at Holy Protection of the Mother of God Byzantine Church in Denver and joined the parish for Divine Liturgy.  We loved meeting the parishoners and spending time with Fr. Michael O'Loughlin and his family.  Our final scenic excursion was Rocky Mountain National Park with Fr. Michael, and then we headed home.  On the way home we also stopped at Annunciation of the Mother of God Byzantine Church in Homer Glen, Ill., and joined the parish for vespers and Divine Liturgy for the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist.  God continued to bless us even as we returned home, introducing us to a beautiful family at the parish.  We enjoyed our last night of the trip with a cookout with Fr. Tom and these parishioners.

We thank all the amazing people who hosted us or supported us in various ways throughout our trip!  It was a much-needed and inspiring pilgrimage, and we will cherish these memories forever! 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

'Young and Faithful' – Girls’ Camp 2011

We hosted the 3rd Annual Life in Christ Girls’ Sleepover weekend July 14-17th and it was another great success!  Our theme was 'Young and Faithful,' which was artfully woven into all the activities by the guidance of the Holy Spirit (and some grunt work by Sr. Julie and Jessie).

Enjoying a meal together by the pond.
The girls were welcomed to the weekend into our new ‘lodge’ out back, the name given to the large tent, since we were finally able to camp out this year.  We began with a talk from Lauren Walter, a good friend of Sr. Julie and Jessie, who spoke of the power we have as young people to inspire and the beauty of the gift of our Catholic faith we have received, which we must remain faithful to as we grow.  Lauren’s talk was followed by a viewing of the movie A Walk to Remember, and afterward we discussed the importance that one person can have on the world just by remaining faithful to God.

Winning magazine design - 'Girl Talk'
Friday started off with a scavenger hunt to find the “10 Ways You Will Shock the World” with your faithfulness.  The girls scoured the grounds of the monastery to locate all the clues, which proved to be tough!  We REVEALED that the 10 ways to faithfulness are rooted in LOVE, which we looked at in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13.  Sister Celeste gave a talk on Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving, which led into a service project in which the girls wrote letters to elderly nuns in the area, thanking them for their many years of service.  We introduced and worked on a magazine cover project, in which the girls had to come up with a title, logo and articles for a magazine which would encourage other teens to stay 'Young and Faithful.'  We heard a vocations talk from Jessie, on her journey through high school, college and to the monastery.  We were blessed to hear a wonderful talk from Jon and Julie Hauserman about the wonderful vocation of marriage, followed by a great bonfire by the pond.

Saturday we heard a talk from Ishani Peteya, one of our young adult facilitators, about her personal experiences in her faith journey.  We also heard from Jessie about the Samaritan woman by the well and the need to be overflowing with Jesus – just like a sponge in a bucket overflows with water!  Saturday evening, we had a prayerful evening in the Shrine Chapel across the street with a great reflection by Sr. Julie on the Jesus Prayer and an opportunity to participate in the Mystery of Repentance.
Divine Liturgy at The Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch.
We finished the weekend with a grace-filled hierarchical Divine Liturgy with Bishop John Kudrick, a nice lunch cooked by Mr. Richard Plishka and served by the boys’ camp participants, and an awards ceremony.  We were so thankful for the opportunity to spend the weekend with such beautiful young women and we look forward to seeing where the Holy Spirit leads us next year!

A special thanks to the following people who made this weekend possible:  Cathy McArdle, Rosalie Mendez, Ishani Peteya, Katherine Szczepanek, Fr. Dennis Hrubiak, Fr. Rich Plishka and Bishop John Kudrick.
Our traditional 'pyramid' picture!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Bless it Father!"

On the feast of St. Elias (Elijah), July 20, it is customary to bless vehicles, in remembrance of St. Elias' ascent into heaven in a fiery chariot.  After blessing the vehicles present in the monastery's driveway after the Divine Liturgy, the backhoe that was doing some work in the ditch drove by.  After shouts of, "Father! Bless the backhoe!" Fr. Rich gave the large vehicle a nice St. Elias day blessing.

We apologize for our lack of posting!  It has been a crazy summer!  But we promise to post soon about some of our summer happenings.  God bless you!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Life in Christ Girls' Sleepover Weekend 2011

Calling all teen girls!  The deadline is fast approaching to register for the 3rd Annual Life in Christ Girls' Sleepover Weekend, happening July 14-17th!  Registration is due by this Friday, July 1st, but if you are interested in coming and can’t quite make the deadline, please contact us via email at or give us a call at 440-834-0290 and let us know you are sending in your registration ASAP! 

TEN WAYS YOU’LL SHOCK THE WORLD: REVEALED! during our exciting adventure together as we learn and explore what it means to be ‘Young and Faithful.’  The weekend, open to teen girls, 13-19, is hosted by the nuns of Christ the Bridegroom Community in Burton, Ohio, and led by young adult women. Cost is $75; scholarships may be available.  Registration form and information available for download at  Can’t wait to see YOU there!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Please support our Pond Excavation and Repair Project!

Dear Friends,

Having a pond on the monastery’s back property has been a joy for us and our guests.  It is a peaceful place to pray and relax.  We treasure the variety of life and activity that a pond’s ecosystem attracts, including fish, turtles, frogs (LOTS of frogs!), blue heron and other aquatic birds.  A few guests have even enjoyed trying their luck at catching some fish, including some very young guests who learned a lesson about the power of prayer (especially prayer to the fisherman St. Peter)!  Children who visit the monastery are always attracted to the pond.

During the two years that we have been here, the pond’s aging drainage system has deteriorated at a surprisingly quick rate, especially during this exceptionally wet spring.  Water has seeped around the cement overflow drain and has eroded the ground most of the way around it.  The water therefore no longer drains out of the pond through the pipe, but flows around the cement slab and erodes the ground.  The erosion has created a deep pit that is very dangerous.  The draining water flows out of the other side of the dam, down the incline and floods our property and the neighbor’s property.  The grass can no longer be cut around this area of the pond because of the danger of collapsing ground.  The ground along the side of the pond facing the monastery is also eroding towards the building, and we believe that the ground may be saturated and causing the settling of the foundation on that portion of the monastery. 

We would like to fix this pressing problem this summer!  After receiving opinions and quotes from several pond excavators, we have chosen a project that includes:
  • Packing of clay around the existing cement overflow drain to fill and seal the pit and prevent future erosion,
  • Replacement of drainage pipe, with rerouting of pipe to channel water into the drainage ditch along the street,
  • Dredging of the inlet to slow the speed of water entering the pond and to reduce erosion,
  • Lining of the shore with small rocks to prevent erosion.

The project will cost approximately $5,000.  If you are financially able, we ask you to please consider making a donation toward this project.  Your donation will help to ensure that the monastery grounds will continue to be a safe and enjoyable place to visit.

If you have been blessed with the financial ability to make a larger donation, we would like to let you know that for donations of $500 or more we will have your name engraved on a bench that we will install near the pond after the completion of the project.  Donations may be made in memory of a loved one, if you choose.

Donations should be sent to:
Pond Excavation & Repair Project
Christ the Bridegroom Community
17485 Mumford Rd.
Burton, OH 44021
Please make checks payable to: Diocese of Parma Monastery Fund, and indicate that your donation is for the pond project.  With questions, feel free to call us at 440-834-0290.

May our Bridegroom bless you abundantly for your generosity in this time of need!

Sincerely in Christ the Bridegroom,

Sr. Celeste, Sr. Julie and Jessie
Christ the Bridegroom Community

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Thank you to our Spring Work Day volunteers!

Spring 2011 Work Day
Our annual Spring Work Day was a huge success (one of the most productive work days yet!), thanks to our energetic group of dedicated volunteers, largely young in age, and thanks to God who, despite the rainy weather forecast, kept the rain away until we were finished working!  In the evening we prayed vespers in our chapel and ended with a delicious cookout/potluck.  Thank you again to all who helped!  Please click on the photo album to see more photos from the day.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Girls just want to be NUNS! - Jessie's Entrance Day

“Listen, O daughter, give ear to my words:
      Forget our own people and your father’s house.  
So will the king desire your beauty:  
     He is your lord, pay homage to him.”
– Kathisma VI, Stasis 3, Psalm 45

These were some of the first words I heard during vespers on Sunday, May 22, a day that I will remember for the rest of my life – my entrance day.

Hello, my name is Jessie Houck and I am the new postulant of Christ the Bridegroom Community! If you didn’t see Sr. Celeste’s post several weeks ago, I am from Akron, Ohio. My home parish is St. Francis de Sales. A former tax accountant turned postulant, I am the newest member of our growing community and could not be more excited to be here!

Sunday was such a wonderful experience for me. I was able to attend mass for the last time at my parish, I joined my parish family for an ice cream social and then we packed up the last few items and hit the road – Burton or bust. My parents and I arrived in time to help with a few last minute preparations before vespers. We were able to spend some quality time with everyone before vespers began. God could not have planned a more beautiful afternoon.

Pure. Paschal. Joy.
The whole vespers service I felt as though the world had slowed to a halt. The room was filled with people who care not only for me, but also for our community, so the love was almost palpable. As I knelt before Bishop John and listened to the words he prayed over me, I felt this great peace well up from within me. Sr. Julie assisted me with the official ‘scarf placement’ (good thing we practiced!) and that peace just seem to overtake my whole body.

Bishop John gave a wonderful reflection on how often we think of the Holy Spirit as ‘coming upon us’ or ‘covering us’ like the scarf on my head, when rather dwells within our being and flows forth to those around us. It was a surreal experience to hear him speak those words while I felt exactly that happening to me! Since it was the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, I felt as though I was meeting Jesus by the well – or the monastery, as the case may be – and He was seeing me just as I am. Broken. Sinful. Unworthy, but made worthy through His Death and Resurrection. Upon seeing me, Jesus didn’t want to quench my thirst with just any water, but The Living Water. And after encountering Him, I left my water vessels or possessions behind to tell everyone of The Living Water that has quenched the thirst of my soul and is now overflowing!
Jessie's Pastor - Fr. David Bline, Jessie and Bishop John.

Your grace is power, your will forever, your love is a river; overflow in me. – Matt Maher, Overflow

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

“Loose my debt as I un-loose my hair”

A reflection by Sr. Celeste about her tonsuring

Behold the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night. Blessed is the servant He shall find awake (Bridegroom Matins Troparion). The entire Lenten journey was one of vigilance, patient waiting and expectation. With zeal, we tried to keep the oil lamps burning like the five wise virgins, when even in their sleep they kept vigil for the Bridegroom’s coming (Mt 25:1-13). Deep in our hearts we echoed the words: “I was sleeping, but my heart kept vigil” (Song of Songs 5:2). We waited patiently with confident expectation that God will fulfill our needs and deepest desires: “Indeed, while following the way of Your judgments, O Lord, We have waited for You eagerly; Your name, even Your memory, is the desire of our souls” (Isaiah 26:8).

During the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Holy Wednesday, the stichera revealed a stark contrast between the harlot and Judas Iscariot: O misery of Judas! He saw the harlot kiss your feet, and he harbored plans to betray you with a kiss. She unbound her hair but he was bound with anger…

While the sinful woman was bringing myrrh, the disciple was conspiring with the lawless. She rejoiced to expend the costly myrrh, while he hastened to sell the Priceless One. She recognized the Master, the Master from whom he drew away; she was freed, but Judas became the enemy’s slave; how awful his callousness, how great her repentance. Grant us such repentance and save us, O Savior, who suffered for our sake.

The harlot recognized you, the Virgin’s Son, as God. She wept for her lamentable deeds and begged you: Loose my debt as I un-loose my hair. Love me as I love You, though I deserve your hatred; and together with publicans I will acclaim You, Benefactor and Lover of mankind.

Bishop John helps Sr. Celeste to her feet
“Loose my debt as I un-loose my hair.” Whoa. My heart leaped and ached at the same time. It was seeking repentance and I keenly realized when I sang that verse, that I was about to take the role of the repentant harlot seeking His love and forgiveness. I was going to literally “unloose my hair” before the Bridegroom for tonsure.

My hair had grown long in the last couple of years. When I removed my scarf and pulled off the elastic, my hair fell onto my shoulders and into my face. I felt an overwhelming sense of liberation and humility as I came forward and knelt before Bishop John. I heard Bishop John’s voice as he prayed, but did not comprehend the words; instead I found myself kneeling before the Lord. The tears of compunction that welled up in my eyes washed Jesus’ precious feet. His feet were anointed with the myrrh of desire to do only His will, then dried with my hair in love. I, like the harlot in Matthew’s gospel, was helping Him to prepare for His passion.

The woman who had fallen into many sins, sensing your divinity, O Lord, assumed the myrrhbearers’ role and mourned, preparing you with myrrh before your burial. She said: Woe is me…Incline to the groaning of my heart as you bowed the heavens when you emptied Yourself. I will kiss Your immaculate feet and wipe them with the hair of my head, those feet whose steps Eve heard at dusk in Paradise and hid herself in fear. Who will search the multitude of my sins or plumb the depths of your judgments? Do not despise me, your servant, O Savior of my soul, for your mercy knows no measure.

After the tonsure, Bishop John reached out his hand to help me up. As I took his hand and rose up I felt like I was being lifted up into new life. As I rose, I could not help but see Jesus’ loving gaze in Bishop John’s eyes and felt redeemed and at peace.

Sr. Julie being received into the novitiate
After my tonsure, he blessed my habit and gave them to me. Before my tonsure, Bishop John prayed over Sister Julie, blessed her habit and gave it to her. Sr. Julie and I left the chapel to don our habits as everyone sang the Bridegroom Troparion.

I waited more than two years to wear a habit again. What a blessing. It felt wonderful to wear the habit again. It also was another piece of the puzzle put in place as we strive to live out our monastic life and follow our typikon:
The nuns will wear a uniform habit, of the traditional eastern style. The habit is an exterior manifestation of an interior reality which humbly celebrates the fullness of monastic life. It invites others to enter the nun’s relationship with Jesus Christ.

The habit contributes to the nun’s endeavor to live her vows: Poverty – The nun enjoys the simplicity of the habit which alleviates unnecessary concerns about what to wear or excessive possession of clothing (Mt 6:31). Chastity – The habit covers the body, revealing the sacredness and reverence of the body made in the image and likeness of God. Obedience – The habit is a constant reminder of a life of joyful repentance and dying to self, in passionate pursuit of union with Christ the bridegroom.
After the Liturgy, we were overwhelmed with joy! I felt very giddy, intoxicated with joy and those present shared this joy with us. The celebration continued with a Lenten meal amid smiles, laughter and prayerful wishes.

Though I shared the role of the repentant harlot preparing the Bridegroom for His passion with tears and myrrh, I anticipated the mixture of tears, myrrh and joy of the Resurrection that the Myrrhbeares would soon share with the world.

Pious women ran in tears to You, O Christ, bringing myrrh to you as dead; but instead, they adored You in joy as the living God and announced Your mystical Passover to Your disciples. (Resurrection Matins Ode 7).

As we continue to keep vigilance, patiently wait on the Lord and anticipate His grace, we pray for vulnerability to do His will and not to interfere with the guidance of the Holy Spirit by our particular demands or expectations of how it should or will be revealed. We pray for perseverance to be vulnerable to the Bridegroom’s desire for us and always be open to His gifts as we wait for His coming, keeping our oil lamps full and burning.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Blessed John Paul II, pray to God for us!

Icon from Bridge Building Images
It was a joyful day yesterday as we watched on television the beatification of Pope John Paul II, an extraordinary man we never met but one who we feel that we know and is interceding for us and for our monastery.

When we first began to write our typicon (rule of life) over a year ago, I volunteered to attempt to draft up an outline based on the topics found in other monastic typica that we were looking at, while Sr. Celeste worked on writing some of the sections that we knew we would be including.  I sat down with my computer and prayed.  I decided to pray to Pope John Paul II.  And before I even finished my prayer, a book on the table caught my attention.  It was Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter Orientale Lumen (Light of the East).  This was the apostolic letter that Bishop John had quoted from extensively in his letter announcing and summarizing his vision for a monastery in the Eparchy of Parma.  The words of the pope in Orientale Lumen regarding Eastern monasticism are beautiful, and his call to its revitalization, especially in countries of the diaspora, such as the United States, is clear:
With regard to monasticism, in consideration of its importance in Eastern Christianity, we would like it to flourish once more in the Eastern Catholic Churches, and that support be given to all those who feel called to work for its revitalization. (27)
As I looked over the headings for the outline of this apostolic letter, I realized that each of the topics we needed to address in our typicon would fit under the headings the pope used in his letter, such as "Between Word and Eucharist," "A clear look at self-discovery," "A person in relationship" and "An adoring silence."  As I typed out each heading, the outline for our whole typicon came together easily!

It is through Orientale Lumen and through our own personal prayer to Blessed John Paul II that we feel his intercession and support for us.  And so we are bursting with joy at this big step in the Church's confirmation of his holiness!

Although we only watched the recording of the beatification that my mom had taped for us, we were so excited for our soon-to-be-postulant, Jessie, who was THERE in St. Peter's Square!!!  She seized this opportunity to take an exciting trip before she enters!  She stayed up all night outside the square, with many other pilgrims, so that she could get inside the square in the morning for the beatification.  This is the picture she emailed us from her cell phone.  With 1.5 million pilgrims there, it is amazing that she got such a great spot to witness this historic event.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Christ is Risen!

Bearing torches let us meet the bridegroom, Christ, as He comes forth from His tomb; and let us greet, with joyful song, the saving Pasch of God.  (Ode 5, Paschal Canon)

Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!

Wow, what a crazy and awesome couple of weeks it has been!  We could write numerous blog entries about it, (and maybe we will) but we have to start somewhere.  On Palm Sunday weekend we hosted the eparchy's young adult retreat and welcomed into our home a wonderful group of joyful young adults.  They all enjoyed learning more about discerning God's will for their lives during talks by young adult Cyril Pinchak, SJ, (from my home parish) a Jesuit scholastic.  Bishop John celebrated the Divine Liturgy on Palm Sunday at the Shrine chapel across the street and joined us for a closing brunch.

That evening, our friends Michelle and Chrysostom from Raleigh, North Carolina, drove in to stay with us for the beginning of Holy Week.  Our soon-to-be postulant, Jessie, was also able to stay with us all week.  On Monday morning Bishop John celebrated Bridegroom Matins in our chapel, and a few parishoners from the Cleveland area joined us as well.  We just love this service! (I wonder why...)  Fr. Stephen Titko graciously made the trip out to the monastery from Parma multiple times during Holy Week to celebrate the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, Bridegroom Matins and Matins on Great and Holy Friday with the twelve Gospel readings.  It was such a gift to be able to pray many of the services in our own chapel.

Great and Holy Wednesday was a big day for us!  Bishop John celebrated the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, during which I was received as a novice, Sr. Celeste was tonsured a Rasophore nun and we both received our new habits.  Some family members and friends were able to join us, and the joy was just bursting!  Sr. Celeste is working on a reflection about this experience to share with you.  For me, it was an awesome experience to receive my habit.  I truly feel embraced by Christ!

Sr. Celeste, Bishop John and Sr. Julie

On Great and Holy Thursday we attended vespers and the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil at the Cathedral in Parma, at which Bishop John washed the feet of twelve altar servers.  On Great and Holy Friday we prayed Matins with the twelve Gospel readings, the Royal Hours and attended the vespers and burial service at St. Andrew parish in Mentor.  On Saturday we prayed Jerusalem Matins, finished preparing our paschal foods, packed up the car, drove to the airport to pick up Rosalie--a friend from California staying with us for Pascha and Bright Week, got locked out of the car (oops...that was my fault!), talked to some people in the parking lot as we waited to be rescued, managed to be only 15 minutes late to vespers and the Liturgy of St. Basil at Holy Spirit church in Parma, drove up to Holy Ghost church in Cleveland where we thought we would have an hour and a half of peace before Midnight to arrange our paschal foods in our basket and have some quiet, but instead found ourselves in the midst of frenzied last minute preparations and helped out as much as we could! 

Ah...but what a beautiful celebration of Resurrection Matins and Divine Liturgy for Pascha!  Holy Ghost church, in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, has been closed for a year and a half, but it is being reopened as the new site for the Bishop Emil J. Mihalik Byzantine Catholic Cultural Center and hopefully a new men's community!  Resurrection Matins and Divine Liturgy that night were the opening events for the church's new future.  We processed with candles around Lincoln Park and then entered the church now radiant with the light of the Resurrection, singing Christ is Risen!  Youth Choir director Bryan Scotton had put together a choir made up of voice students from local colleges, and the four-part harmony was beautiful!  As we came out of the church after Liturgy at 3:00 a.m., the birds were already singing...(they must have known it was Pascha!). Everyone's baskets were blessed downstairs and we enjoyed the delicious foods we had given up for forty days, as much laughter was shared, especially among the young people.  We were thrilled to be a part of the joy and excitement, and we ask for your prayers for Fr. Richard Plishka and those who are and will be helping with this new venture.  We can't wait to have a brother community!  (We hope it is in God's plans!) 

Needless to say, after getting to bed at about 6:00 a.m., we slept in a little, and then got ready for a visit from Sr. Celeste's sister Charmaine and her family.  We enjoyed the afternoon with them, complete with an impromptu Resurrection procession around the monastery with the kids, a delicious dinner and an egg hunt!  After resting a little, we trekked back out to Cleveland for Agape Vespers (and some more eating!) at Holy Ghost church. 

It took a couple of days to recover, but Bright Week has been much more restful!  We are so grateful to our Bridegroom for the joy He has given us as He has come forth from the tomb, raising us with Him! 

Thanks to Jessie's parents, we now have a video camera and captured many clips of action from Holy Week and Pascha.  I am now attempting to edit them into a short video to share with you.  Unfortunately our computer is a little slow for the editing program, but as long as I don't throw the computer out the window, hopefully we can share it with you soon!  Christ is Risen!!! 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lights, Habits, Action!

Sr. Julie, Claire (co-host) and Sr. Celeste
Recently we enjoyed a little Lenten retreat in the Chicago area at Annunciation parish in Homer Glen, Illinois.  The evening we arrived, Fr. Tom Loya, pastor of Annunciation parish, asked us if we would like to be on the radio with him the next day!  He was filling in that week for Fr. Anthony Bus, host of a live radio program in Chicago called Winds of Change.  We didn’t want to turn down such a good opportunity, so we agreed.  We had a blast talking about being brides of Christ, spiritual motherhood and Lent in our first live radio appearance!  The archived show (episode #123) can be heard for a limited time on the Show Archives page of the Winds of Change website

Darlene and Sr. Julie cutting out habit pieces
Currently we are busy preparing for the Byzantine young adult retreat we are hosting this weekend, cleaning and preparing for Holy Week and Pascha, and finding fabric and sewing our official habits!  A huge thank you goes out to Paula Plishka from Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, for sewing our formal habits, and to Darlene Hritz (Sr. Julie's mom) from North Royalton, Ohio, for sewing our casual and work habits.  It has been quite a challenge for us and our dedicated seamstresses to find good, usable fabrics, and to work with the patterns we had obtained to adjust them to fit us!  As with many of the projects we have tackled, it was much more difficult than we envisioned!

Our habits will be blessed and given to us by Bishop John in a private ceremony on Great and Holy Wednesday.  It will mark our formal acceptance into the novitiate, and Sr. Celeste will also be tonsured as a Rasophore nun (a "nun of the first degree").  A Rasophore nun does not yet make any formal vows, but she promises to live all aspects of the monastic life.  She will receive, in addition to the basic habit, a riassa (outer garment worn for liturgical services) and the monastic belt.

We look forward to the intense and beautiful prayers of Holy Week that will increase in us the longing for Jesus, who we will soon meet coming forth from the tomb "like a Bridegroom!"  All are welcome to join us on Holy Monday for Bridegroom Matins, celebrated by Bishop John at 8:00 a.m. (see the "Events" tab).  You’ll hear from us again on our blog after Pascha!