Friday, August 29, 2014

"Do not send me any more messengers..."

It is fitting that today, as we are only two days away from the end of the Byzantine liturgical year, we celebrate the feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist.  It is the end of the liturgical year...John's work is done...he now gives up his life and allows Jesus to take the leading role.  John has spent his life preparing himself and others for the revelation of the Messiah.  He has pointed Jesus out to the people of Israel.  They will no longer need any more prophets; they have now been given the Messiah, the Son of God, Himself!

In his Spiritual Canticle, St. John of the Cross writes of this longing to receive the fullness of God Himself:

Ah, who has the power to heal me? 
now wholly surrender yourself! 
Do not send me 
any more messengers, 
they cannot tell me what I must hear.

Jesus calls John the Baptist "the greatest born of woman," but even this greatest man to be born pales in comparison to the Son of God.  John is the "friend of the bridegroom"--the "best man," as we would say at a wedding today.  John says,
"He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full.  He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn 3:29-30).
Just as the "best man" isn't the one the guests come to see and honor, John cannot tell us what Jesus has come to tell us, but as he decreases he can point to Jesus.  As we come to the end of the liturgical year, what do we need to let go of--whether external or internal--in order to receive the Divine Life that God is offering us, so that everything about ourselves draws others to God?

In the monastery, at the start of the liturgical year we receive from Mother our "obediences"--our tasks, or chores--for the year.  Some of these obediences we enjoy and some are a struggle for us!  By trying to carry out these obediences faithfully and joyfully, we empty ourselves and allow God to fill us.

Let's all make an effort to let go of something at the end of this liturgical year, and at the start of the new year, September 1st, let's ask God to fill us with His love in a deeper, more complete way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Learning from a real pilgrim

The special guest and speaker for this year’s annual pilgrimage at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch (across the street from our monastery) this past weekend was Pilgrim George, a gentle man with the rare vocation of pilgrim.  Pilgrim George, originally from western Pennsylvania, received his calling as a life-long pilgrim at the end of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem as a young man.  In the past 43 years, he has walked 41,000 miles through 43 countries.  His presence, words and example helped the participants of this pilgrimage weekend to come to understand the freedom of trusting in God to provide for all that is necessary.

The pre-pilgrimage activities which our monastery led, allowed pilgrims to come early to celebrate the Feast of the Dormition and to help with setup for the weekend.  This small but energetic group enjoyed celebrating the vigil service for the Feast of the Dormition on Thursday evening, August 14, which included vespers, matins and the burial procession for the Mother of God.  Friday’s schedule included Divine Liturgy, volunteer work and free time, vespers, singing around the campfire with Pilgrim George, and compline. 

On Saturday, after matins and some additional setup work, the pilgrims were shuttled over to St. Edward Catholic Church in Parkman, Ohio, where others joined us to learn the meaning of pilgrimage and to experience this metaphor for the journey to heaven as they walked the 3.5-mile route to the shrine.  “This is a time for silence and prayer,” said Pilgrim George, and this reflective spirit truly permeated the hearts of the approximately fifty pilgrims as we spent our time walking in moments of silence or in singing hymns or the Jesus Prayer.  “We will follow the cross, and no one is to go ahead of the cross, just like we cannot go ahead of Jesus in our life,” Pilgrim George said.  Pilgrims took turns carrying the cross, and all arrived safely at the shrine, grateful to see the welcoming sight of their goal: this holy ground.  After the walk, a young woman commented to us on the long-standing tradition of pilgrimage in Europe and how she felt that she entered into that experience as she walked to the shrine. 

The annual pilgrimage weekend officially began with the blessing of pilgrims on Saturday evening, followed by vespers.  The evening continued with the Akathist to the Mother of God, a talk by Pilgrim George around the campfire, campfire snacks and compline.

Sunday brought the largest number of pilgrims to the shrine.  The day included matins, a talk by Pilgrim George, an anointing service and Marian hymns, and the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, at which two men of the eparchy, Gene Senderak and Philip Dinsmore, were ordained to the minor orders.  Of course, pilgrims also enjoyed delicious meals served at the cafeteria and a chance to spend time with friends and meet others from the Eparchy of Parma and beyond.  The weather was beautiful!  

Sunday was also a day dedicated to prayer for the suffering Christians in the Middle East.  Our theme, "Rejoice, O you who have born the Guide of the Lost," was especially appropriate, and Bishop John reflected on this in his homily.  Particularly for those of us who spent the whole weekend at the shrine, it was an experience of learning to surrender to God, to spend time in silence with Him, to follow Him who guides us and provides for us, and to pray for those who have had to leave everything for the sake of following Christ.

The Christians in the Middle East who have had to leave everything are clearly utterly dependent on God.  But aren't we also?  It is simply more difficult for us to see this truth.  "A pilgrim signifies one who is free from over-attachments to people, places and things," said Pilgrim George.  "If we remember that our goal is heaven, then we're not so devastated when we 'lose' the things that give us security here on earth.  We thank all who made this experience of pilgrimage possible and all the pilgrims who enriched our experience of prayer and God's love!  Enjoy more photos here!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Ten days until the vigil of the Dormition!

We would like to invite you to a beautiful vigil service in celebration of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Mother of God.  This is a type of service called the "all-night vigil" because it includes the services of vespers (evening prayer) as well as matins (morning prayer) for the following day.  In some monasteries and parishes, the "all-night vigil" is celebrated every Saturday evening and/or on the evenings of major feasts.  The "all-night vigil" for the Feast of the Dormition is extra special because, in many ways, it parallels the Holy Week services commemorating the death and resurrection of Christ.  It even includes a burial procession during which the priest carries the shroud of the Mother of God over his head, just like he carries the shroud of Christ on Great and Holy Friday and Saturday.  During this procession, the faithful follow with lighted candles and chant passages from the Song of Songs!  (We at Christ the Bridegroom Monastery, of course, love this aspect of the vigil!)  The shroud is then placed in the tomb which is surrounded by flowers, and all come up on their knees to venerate the Mother of God.  The vigil service will be held Thursday, August 14, at 7:00 p.m. at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch, 17486 Mumford Rd. Burton, Ohio (across the street from our monastery).  How long will this service be, you may ask?  Our answer is "timeless," but if you do need to know in earthly terms, it will probably last between 2.5 and 3 hours. :)

Flowers are blessed on the Feast of the Dormition in remembrance of the story that has come down to us today regarding the occurrence of the falling asleep of the Mother of God and her being taken up bodily into heaven.  Tradition tells us that the apostles were all gathered together at the death of Mary...all except Thomas.  When Thomas arrived, he wanted to venerate her body, so the tomb was opened.  However, her body had been taken up into heaven, and the tomb was instead filled with flowers!  Flowers will be blessed at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy on Friday, August 15.  All are welcome to join us for Liturgy at 10:00 a.m., also at the shrine.  You are also welcome to bring flowers for the blessing!

The vigil and the Liturgy on the feast are part of the pre-pilgrimage activities for the annual pilgrimage at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch.  Visit this page for the full schedule, and if you are able, please consider joining us for at least part of the pilgrimage! 

This is the feast, "...not only of Mary, but of all human nature.  For, in Mary, human nature reached its goal.  One week after the start of the liturgical year, we celebrate the birth of the most Holy Virgin.  Two weeks before the end of the liturgical year, we celebrate the death and glorification of Mary.  Thus, associated with and subordinate to the cycle of Jesus's life, the cycle of Mary's life manifests the destiny and development of a human nature which is entirely faithful to God" (The Year of Grace of the Lord).