Thursday, November 19, 2020

"To hold the fire in your hand": St. Barlaam of Antioch

St. Barlaam of Antioch (d. 304): Feast day – November 19

By Sister Petra

My first year in the monastery, when I heard the story of St. Barlaam of Antioch read in our chapel before Vespers, I was captivated—tears came to my eyes, and a sense of exultation lifted my heart.  I re-read his story after the service, and began asking for his prayers from that day. Every year since then, I’m more deeply moved by this martyr and father in the Faith. And I’m realizing that, like me, most people have never heard of him.

His story begins in a fashion typical of the early martyrs; he stands out only for his age: Barlaam an old man, in his 90s. During the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian in 304, he was dragged before the governor and urged to cast incense before the pagan gods of the empire. Of course, he refused, so his captors devised a way to mock the elder: They placed burning coals and grains of incense in his hand, certain he would drop the embers, thereby allowing them to deride him by saying that he did, after all, cast incense before the gods. Instead, Barlaam responded with the stillness of faith: holding the burning coals in his hand, he stood unyielding as his hand burned away. Some accounts say he then rendered his spirit to the Lord, others that the governor, enraged, killed him. Either way, this martyr’s love was tried by fire and proved worthy.

St. Barlaam has a special significance for me in my vocation. He is an emblem of the faith and trust required to remain in the purifying fire of monastic life. He offers me an image of celibate love: to hold the fire in your hand in faithfulness, and to refuse to drop the fire under the pressure of our society. But, most of all, a line from a homily of St. John Chrysostom pierces my heart with the meaning of this saint’s sacrifice: He “was both the altar and the priest and the sacrifice.”  We—all of us, not only monastics—are called to offer as priests the sacrifice of our very selves on the altar of our bodies.  

Telling my spiritual father about this saint one day last year, I burst out, “It’s impossible—impossible! Nobody could do that! Nobody! Yet—he did!!!” By the power of the Holy Spirit burning in him, St. Barlaam scorned the enemy’s fire and entrusted himself, body and soul, to the Lover of Mankind. May each of us allow the same Spirit to consume us, that we, too, may be radiant torches testifying to the luminous reality of Divine Love.  

Note on this icon: This past summer, my friend Mother Pelahia worked with me on this icon of St. Barlaam of Antioch.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Thank you for your amazing generosity!

We are thrilled to announce that a total of $96,018 was donated for our Virtual Bridegroom's Banquet! We are incredibly grateful, and amazed that such an amount was raised even though we were not able to hold an in-person event! 

Other than a couple of brief drops in the internet during the live-streaming of Vespers, all the technology worked well on the night of the event. The pre-recorded event video, which premiered after Vespers, is still available for viewing. You can also watch the video "Bethany: Supporting Spiritual Fatherhood" separately.

We are really close to reaching the maximum $100,000 matching funds! There are still a few mail-in ballots (oops, we mean donations) coming in, but we're not sure how much the total of those will be. The matching donor has extended the match until the end of the year, so if you missed the chance to make a matching donation by the day of the banquet, you can still send one in or donate online (choose "Bridegroom's Banquet 2020" as the fund in step 4). Thank you so much!

We are deeply grateful for your financial and spiritual support, which makes it possible for us to live our life of prayer and hospitality. We are praying for you and your intentions, and we hope that our life here is a gift and help to you in your life.

Your support also makes possible our upcoming chapel renovation project. On Monday, we had a meeting with the engineers who will be working on the specs. We are getting excited! There is a lot of work ahead of us in getting quotes, making decisions, etc., but your generosity is making the project possible! We hope that many of you will be able to pray with us in our renovated chapel in the coming years. 

God bless you all!

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Today is our Virtual Bridegroom's Banquet!

Event Schedule

Event Program Booklet: includes the text and music for Vespers, as well as all needed links for the event

All times Eastern Standard Time

4:45 p.m. Live-streamed Jesus Prayer in silence from our chapel

5:00 p.m. Live-streamed Vespers (Evening Prayer) from our chapel,

followed by a live greeting from the nuns

Location: Our Facebook Page (click on the live video)

                (You do not need a Facebook account to view)


6:00 p.m. Pre-Recorded Program

Location: Video on our YouTube Channel (or click on video below)

  • Introduction by Mother Gabriella

  • Invocation by Fr. Michael McCandless, Vocation Director for the Diocese of Cleveland

  • Premier of the video “Bethany: Supporting Spiritual Fatherhood”

  • Remarks by Fr. Michael McCandless

  • Opportunity to donate

  • Thank you from Mother Theodora, Hegumena 

Visit the Event Page for more information. Thank you for all of your love and support!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Why-We-Give Wednesday

Enjoy this week of fun activities on our Facebook page leading up to our Virtual Bridegroom's Banquet this Sat. Nov. 7! Earlier today, for "Why-We-Give Wednesday," we read messages from three of our biggest benefactors on a live-streamed video. We also share them with you below. We are so grateful to these benefactors for their beautiful words, which will encourage us to persevere. And we are so grateful to all of our benefactors, and to those who cannot give in a material way but who pray with and for us.

The Virtual Bridegroom's Banquet is our online benefit event that includes live-streamed Vespers, the premier of our new video: "Bethany: Supporting Spiritual Fatherhood," and a chance for your donation to be doubled! Please visit the event page for more information.


We support Christ the Bridegroom Monastery because we all need this community of faithful prayer to continue and grow. The world needs to see that not all nuns are stern and forbidding, or solemn and sorrowful. These brides of Christ are joyful, loving and full of fun. They make it clear that, like Christ, they love you with all your faults and failings. You know this for sure when they hug you. Their poustinias provide a refuge for people to be alone and encounter God. Their hospitality is unbounded. They have nothing but what they are given, but they take that gift, bless it, and multiply it for a starving world.


There are very few places in this busy world where we can go find silence.  And even in those places of silence, fewer still are those that are specifically created to bring the silence of listening to the voice of God.  Christ the Bridegroom Monastery is one of those places.  I suspect that each person who has had the wonderful opportunity of spending time at the Monastery will have a story of meeting God in silence.  And finding that same peace in some way reflected in the nuns of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery.  My story is simply one of many. 

 I believe that God is working here, at the monastery, in ways that are distinct.  And powerful.  I believe that God has created this place of silence as a refuge from the world of distractions that we have created around us.  This monastery is not a “nice to have” – it is critically imperative for the sustainment of the Christianity that has been passed down to us by our Holy Fathers.  I believe that it was for this reason the Desert Fathers left the comforts of the cities to enter the desert.  To secure the Christianity that flourishes in quiet and sacrifice.  To experience God’s grace rather than just our personal comfort.

 It is a privilege for me to support Christ the Bridegroom Monastery.  I am thankful to God for the role that the nuns play in my life.  I am hopeful that we will have a long and Christ-filled relationship for many years to come!


It is no coincidence that God has given us a beautiful gift to increase and enrich our spirituality, but one that is also dependent on us to sustain it.  Christ the Bridegroom Monastery has had an enormous impact on the spiritual development of many parishioners, priests, seminarians and religious, both in the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Byzantine Church, throughout the United States and Canada.  To sustain themselves they are totally dependent on the gracious financial contributions of those around them.

There is another reason we support the Monastery.  It is impossible not to fall in love with these nuns.  There is something about them, their pure hearts, their kindness, their joy, their selflessness, and their love for God and His people.  We can’t get them to say an unkind remark about anyone, even a politician, even after drinking a bit of scotch (and the Lord knows I’ve tried).  They see the goodness in people, that part of us that is made in the image and likeness of God.  They are patient with our failings and faults, like a mother with her child.

Finally, there is one more thing we should notice about this Monastery.  Haven’t you wondered how someone could pray for 5 or 6 hours a day or more.  Recently a missionary priest explained to me that prayer is a grace we receive from God.  We need to pray for this, and God will give us the grace to pray as we should.  Christ the Bridegroom Monastery is a powerful witness to that spirituality and the impact it can have on a world in desperate need of the graces extending from it.  Bishop Robert Barron in his Catholicism series, points out how Hur and Aaron supporting Moses’ arms as he prays over the battle between the Israelites and Amalekites, is a beautiful depiction of the Church.  Like Hur and Aaron, we laity play an essential part in God’s plan by supporting these nuns so they are able to pray for our salvation.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Meet-the-Nuns Monday

Enjoy this week of fun activities on our Facebook page leading up to our Virtual Bridegroom's Banquet this Sat. Nov. 7! Today's posts for "Meet-the-Nuns Monday" are compiled below. The Virtual Bridegroom's Banquet is our online benefit event that includes live-streamed Vespers, the premier of our new video: "Bethany: Supporting Spiritual Fatherhood," and a chance for your donation to be doubled! Please visit the event page for more information.

Mother Theodora

Patron saint: Blessed Theodore Romzha

Feast day: October 31

A few of my saint friends: St. John Paul II, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, St. Martha of Bethany, St. Mary of Egypt, St. Symeon the New Theologian

Interests: Sacred Scripture, Iconography, Gardening, Canning, Painting, Cooking, Sewing

One of my favorite quotes: "I belong to my Lover, and for me He yearns." Song of Songs 7:11

An Interesting fact: I used to teach ballroom dancing.

Where I grew up: Niles, Ohio

Mother Cecilia

Patron saint: St. Cecilia, virgin-martyr of Rome

Feast day: Nov. 22

A few of my saint friends: St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. John the Baptist, St. John of the Cross, St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia, St. Mary of Bethany, St. John Paul II

Interests: Prayer, silence, nature, taking walks with Jesus, writing poetry, painting icons, watercolors, camping, skiing, photography, saints, spiritual motherhood, adventures.

One of my favorite quotes: (A story from the desert fathers) Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said: “Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do?” The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: “Why not become fire?”

An interesting fact: So far, I am the only nun in the monastery named after a female saint!

Where I grew up: North Royalton, Ohio (near Cleveland)

Mother Gabriella

Patron saint: St. Gabriel the Archangel

Feast day: July 13 - Synaxis of St. Gabriel

A few of my saint friends: St. Dorotheos of Gaza, St. Francis de Sales, St. Jane Frances de Chantal, St. Teresa of Avila, Servant of God Catherine Doherty, Servant of God Walter Ciszek, Servant of God Fulton Sheen

Interests: Hiking, kayaking, reading, painting icons, The Awkward Yeti, Calvin and Hobbes, hugs, watching sports, people!

One of my favorite quotes: Relying on God has to begin again everyday as if nothing had yet been done. -C.S. Lewis

An interesting fact: I was at St. John Paul II's beatification AND canonization! 

Where I grew up: New Franklin, Ohio (near Akron, Ohio)

Mother Iliana

Patron saint: St. Elias (aka the prophet can read about him in lots of places in the Bible)

Feast day: July 20

A few of my saint friends: St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, St. Philip Neri, St. John the Beloved, St. Peter the Apostle, Hosea the Prophet, St. Michael the Archangel, because each of these saints has touched my life in a very particular way and drawn me to receive the Father's love.

Interests: Ask any of the nuns and they'll tell you, I have a lot of "favorites!" That means, I also have a lot of interests (which are my favorites). I'm interested in all things beautiful and have loved art since before I can remember. I love drawing, watercolor, and painting icons, or going to the art museum to see everything (with a soft spot for French Impressionism). Baby faces, fall leaves, and sunsets cause me physical pain (because they are beautiful). I'm also always interested in eating ice cream and talking about prayer, saints’ lives, and funny stories. I love swimming, braiding hair, and watching movies or documentaries. I love to be outside whenever possible, especially hiking in the woods, and to laugh. I also love reading lots of books especially ones by Michael D.O'Brien and Elizabeth Goudge)! I should probably stop now, as I've only listed about the first 0.005% of my favorite things.

One of my favorite quotes: Some monks came to see Abba Poemen and said to him: "Tell us, when we see brothers dozing during the sacred office, should we pinch them so they will stay awake?" The old man said to them: "Actually, if I saw a brother sleeping, I would put his head on my knees and let him rest."

An interesting fact: When I was a kid I would watch a Mother Teresa of Calcutta documentary (the 1986 one narrated by Sir Richard Attenborough) religiously (pun intended), probably hundreds of times. I'm not sure, I just remember being obsessed. I was drawn to her love for God in a powerful way and I remember aching for His love when I watched. In 1996, when I was just a teen, I had the chance to meet Mother Teresa. I happened to be at the right place and right time and she held my hands and spoke with me. I'm completely convinced that she's praying for me in my vocation today.

Where I grew up: Silver Spring, MD

Sister Natalia

Patron saint: St. Nathanael (Bartholomew) the apostle

Feast day: June 11 in the east, August 24 in the west

A few of my saint friends: St. Photina, St. Mary of Egypt, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassatti, Bl. Bishop Theodore Romzha, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Ephraim, St. Nicholas

Interests: Reading, Hiking (especially 14ers), Climbing trees (or anything, really), Watching Star Trek

One of my favorite quotes: "God is not a deceiver, that he should offer to support us, and then, when we lean upon him, should slip away from us." -St. Augustine

An interesting fact: I lived in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for two years!

Where I grew up: I've moved over twenty times, but my last (and favorite) residence before entering the monastery was Colorado. 

Sister Petra

Patron saint:  St. Peter the Apostle

Feast day:  St. Peter in Chains (January 16)

A few of my saint friends:  St. John Henry Newman, St. Thomas More, Julian of Norwich, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Joseph, St. Barlaam of Antioch.

Interests: Reading, Gospel Nonviolence, the Inklings, England, hiking and biking

One of my favorite quotes:  "Therefore I will trust Him.  Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away.  If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.  My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us.  He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about.  He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me--still He knows what He is about." (St. John Henry Newman)

An interesting fact:  Raised Wesleyan, I was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2009.  Since then, I have made four pilgrimages:  an Inklings pilgrimage to Oxford, England; a Flannery O'Connor pilgrimage to Milledgeville, Georgia; a St. Joseph pilgrimage to L'Oratoire de Saint-Joseph du Mont Royal in Montreal; and a Holy Land pilgrimage with all the nuns.  Before I die, I hope to make pilgrimages to see the tilma of the Virgin of Guadalupe, pray at the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in England, and walk the Camino de Santiago.

Where I grew up: Indiana