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.

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