Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Journey through the Great Fast.. with us!

Bishop John hard at work recording.
If you are looking for a daily reflection for Great Lent and would love to hear the sound of our voices, be sure to check out The Eparchy of Parma's website for a new Great Lent podcast!  The recording is of the book Journey Through the Great Fast, published by the Office of Religious Education of the Archdiocese of Pittsburgh. We worked with Bishop John to record the prayer for each of the reflections, so be sure to check it out!

Jessie and Mother Theodora practicing for their audio debut.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Everybody Gotta Suffa

Why do we suffer?  This question has been plaguing me the past few weeks as there have been several deaths within my friends and family.  And it’s a totally legit question.  Why, on earth, do I have to endure suffering?  If I truly believe in and live out the Gospel, that I am a beloved daughter of God and Christ desires me to be His Bride, why would He then allow me to feel pain?  In the words of one of my favorite people, Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, “Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.”

As Fr. Stan Fortuna sings in his song “Everybody Got 2 Suffer”:
You think that you the only one that got to suffer?
You think that you the only one with pain to suffer?
Everybody got a thing they gotta suffer.
Rich or poor don’t matter gotta suffer.

The first time I heard this song, I was in high school and my best friend was going through a truly difficult time in her family.  We used to play this song over and over listening to the words – I have gone so far as to memorize them! – because this song helped to put our suffering into context.  Everyone suffers.  Look around you.  Whether it’s your next door neighbor or you read about it in the paper or maybe it’s in your own home, suffering exists.  You didn’t get in to the college you wanted, you develop a terminal illness, someone in your family passes away unexpectedly.  While these are different kinds of suffering, they are all painful to the person experiencing them – and as my mom always said, you never minimize another person’s pain.

For a Christian though, suffering is not the end of the story.  There is hope.  As Pope Benedict XVI says in his encyclical Spe Salvi (In hope we are saved), “It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.”

Christ gives our suffering meaning.  In fact, He became incarnate with the explicit purpose of suffering and dying for us on the cross.  “Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way—in flesh and blood—as is revealed to us in the account of Jesus's Passion” (Spe Salvi). He came to suffer with us in our humanity and for our sake to reunite us with God the Father.  Jesus loves us to death – literally!  And the completion of this love is found in the promise of the Resurrection.  As we say in the Hymn of the Resurrection, “We bow to Your Cross, O Christ, and we praise and glorify Your Holy Resurrection!...Through the Cross, joy has come to all the world.”

As we enter the Great Fast, we are reminded more concretely and intentionally that suffering is a part of our earthly life.  As Christians, we enter into periods of fasting and prayer to remind us that life’s pleasures and food do not alone satisfy our deepest desires – only Christ can truly satisfy us. The key to this fasting and prayer is that it is done with purpose!  No, we are not entering a TV show called “The Biggest Loser: Eastern Christian Edition” – we will leave that to the celebrities.  We embrace this every-day, voluntary suffering to unite ourselves with Christ’s suffering for us, and to offer our bodies in a tangible and deliberate way, both for our sake and for the whole world.  We endure this momentary affliction because of the promise of Pascha.  We know that by death, Christ has trampled eternal death and opened the passage to everlasting life.  “The present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads toward a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey” (Spe Salvi).  Heaven is our goal and it is definitely worth waiting and working for!

Everybody gotta suffa, but Christ came and endured the Passion on Great and Holy Friday so that our suffering may not be in vain but may be in light of the Resurrection.  May this hope fill our struggles during the Fast and spur us to endure our daily crosses in anticipation of the Pascha to come.

Let us begin the time of this bright Fast, 
giving ourselves to spiritual struggle.  
Let us sanctify our soul and purify our flesh.
Let us not only fast from food; 
let us also abstain from every passion and cultivate spiritual virtues.
And let us faithfully persevere in this, 
so that we may be worthy to see the holy Passion of Christ our God
and the joy of His holy Resurrection.
Cheesefare Sunday Vespers

Friday, February 17, 2012

A retreat at Holy Resurrection Monastery

Recently we visited Holy Resurrection Monastery, an Eastern Catholic community of monks, in their new home in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin.  This village is named after one of the great Eastern saints, St. Gregory the Theologion (St. Gregory Nazianzen)!  In October of 2011, the monks moved to Wisconsin from their original location in California.  We were excited by the move because it meant that we could financially afford to make the trip to visit!

Father Maximos and Abbot Nicholas

We enjoyed seeing the historical sites of the village with Abbot Nicholas, entering into the monks' beautiful services, spending time in silence with our Bridegroom, partaking in Father Moses' delicious meals, and sharing in some conversation with our new brothers in Christ!  (We were also amused by watching Alberto, the peacock who decided to make his home on the grounds two weeks after the monks moved in!  Peacocks are symbolic of the Resurrection!)

It has been so life-giving for us to continue to build relationships with monastic and religious communities, especially in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches.  Each community lives out their vocation of union with Christ in a slightly different way and has practical and spiritual wisdom to teach us.  This is so important for us as our young community develops.

We thank all the monks for their warm hospitality and fatherly love for us!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Winter Work Days Coming Up!

We are excited to get started on the renovations of our future guest house, gift shop and poustinia across the street from the monastery!  These connected buildings were formerly used for such purposes as rectory, convent, office, etc.  They are humble in size, but full of potential!  We will need many hands to help us transform these rooms into welcoming places for retreatants, discerners and guests to stay, the gift shop into a usable space to sell our homemade goods, religious articles and books, and the beautiful wood-paneled attic into a prayerful poustina for silent retreats.

Future gift shop ready for renovations!
We have scheduled two winter work days on Saturday, February 11, and Saturday, February 18, to begin the project!  We will just be scratching the surface...literally!  We hope to sand the paneled walls in the guest house and prime them.  We will also begin to clean up the poustina and gift shop areas, as well as other projects.  Here are the details for both days:

Saturday, Feburary 11
Prep Work Day
10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Lunch is provided
Please RSVP: 440-834-0290 or
Come whatever time you can!  Wear old clothes and bring an electric sander if you have one!

Saturday, February 18
Winter Work Day
10 a.m., Vespers at 5 p.m., followed by [meatless] potluck dinner
Lunch is provided; please bring a meatless dish to share for dinner (the day falls during cheesefare week)
Please RSVP by Wed. Feb. 15: 440-834-0290 or
Come whatever time you can!  Wear old clothes!

We hope you can make it on one of these days to share in these exciting projects!