Thursday, September 30, 2021

God grant you many years, Mother Natalia & Mother Petra!


The life profession of Mother Natalia & Mother Petra on Sunday was an incredibly beautiful day of grace, as these two new stavrophore ("cross bearer") nuns committed their lives completely to Christ as their Bridegroom. 

If you were not able to experience the profession in person or via live stream, the video is still available for viewing. Here are some links you can use to experience this unique service of monastic profession:

Video of the live stream (the actual profession service begins at 38 minutes into the liturgy)

Liturgy booklet

Also, you might enjoy the commentary by Matt Fradd about his experience attending the profession. It will make you chuckle, give you a taste of the profession, and help you to relate it to your own life.

We will share more about the life profession (and photos) later!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

A Letter from Sr. Natalia

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Beloved Friends and Family,

As I was praying very intentionally with the profession service on my pre-profession retreat, I was moved to share part of those reflections with all of you. I find that there is a common misconception at the tonsure of a monastic that I’d like to clarify. I know that some come to this service thinking, “Wow. How beautiful! This woman is giving up all the goods and beauties of the world for the sake of the Lord. This is the epitome of virtue. Of holiness. She is entering the life of holiness.” There are truths in all of this, but really none of these capture the fullness of what a monastic tonsure is, and I think they can even distract us from the reality of what you will witness today.

As Sr. Petra and I come down the aisle in our simple white garment (which we will be buried in some day), we are barefoot. Hair untied. Hands crossed across our chest as though they were bound. Because at this point we are bound—by our own sin. We walk down the aisle totally poor, with nothing to offer but ourselves. And as we make our three prostrations (a sign of penance), the hymn being sung is not “Here Comes the Bride,” but it is the troparion of the Prodigal Son. Proclaiming our deep sinfulness, and our deep need for mercy. I remember when a monk, who has been fully professed for many years, gave a retreat at our monastery. He said, “When you are making that final prostration, and you are praying to be received into the ranks of the penitent, your prayer should be, ‘Lord, I need this life of healing. I need this life of recovery.’” This is very similar to what St. John Climacus writes in the Ladder of Divine Ascent, “Let no one, by appealing to the weight and multitude of his sins, say that he is unworthy of the monastic vow...Where there is much corruption, considerable treatment is needed to draw out all the impurity. The healthy do not go to a hospital.” At the ordination of a Byzantine deacon or priest, when they receive each article of their vestments, the priests and people cry out, “Axios!” meaning “He is worthy!” You will notice today that when Sr. Petra and I receive each article of monastic clothing, the priests and people cry out, “Lord have mercy!”

Please don’t misunderstand me. Though this is a day in which Sr. Petra and I enter the ranks of penitents and promise a life of self-denial, it is by no means a gloomy day. On the contrary, it is a day of great rejoicing. But I firmly believe the joy is that of Luke 15:7, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” In this sense, today you are all joining in with the rejoicing of the angels over two sinners who desire to transform their prodigal pursuit of sin to the prodigal love of their Bridegroom.

Please pray for us that we may fully embrace this life of joyful penance. And be assured of our prayers for each of you as well.

In Christ our Bridegroom,

Sr. Natalia

See the previous post for more information about the upcoming life profession of Sr. Natalia and Sr. Petra on Sept. 26.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Announcing the Life Profession of Sr. Natalia & Sr. Petra on Sept. 26!

On this feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, we are full of joy to announce the life profession of Sr. Natalia and Sr. Petra as stavrophore ("cross-bearer") nuns on Sunday, September 26! After several years of discernment as rasophore ("robe-bearer") nuns, these two nuns are answering the call of the Bridegroom to commit themselves to Him in the monastic life for the rest of their lives, taking up their crosses and following Him in all of the sorrows and joys of this prophetic vocation. Please pray for them in these final days of preparation!

Though capacity restrictions in the church prevent us from opening the Divine Liturgy to the public, you are invited to join by watching the life stream of the service on our Facebook page, beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. You do not need to have a Facebook account to view. The video will also still be available afterward for viewing.

Below, you can read about the two nuns and about the meaning of the profession service. Also, on the podcast, "What God is Not," Sr. Natalia will be explaining the profession service for the next few weeks, beginning with this week's episode which will be released tomorrow, Sept. 15.

Sister Natalia
entered the monastery in 2015 and has been a rasophore nun since 2016. As a military kid, Sister Natalia grew up in a variety of places from Cuba to Denver.  She earned her B.S. in Engineering Physics from Colorado School of Mines.  Her route to monasticism passed through urban missions both with A Simple House of Sts. Francis and Alphonsus and teaching high school math.  Though her role in the monastery is wide, she spends much of her time coordinating all the guest logistics involving our poustinia retreat houses, ensuring visitors are received with hospitality.  Sister Natalia and Father Michael O’Loughlin co-host the podcast “What God is Not” that focuses on Byzantine Catholicism and Mystery.

Sister Petra entered the monastery on the Encounter of our Lord in the Temple in 2017, and was tonsured on the same feast in 2018.  She earned a B. A. in History from Indiana Wesleyan University, and an M.A. in History from John Carroll University.  Prior to her entrance, she worked as the secretary of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Circleville, Ohio.  Raised Protestant, her path to the Byzantine Rite led her through the Roman Rite: she was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2009.  Among her varied monastic obediences, she assists in coordinating poustinia retreats and serves as librarian.  She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, and biking.

The Meaning of the Profession

When people ask us what changes at our life profession, we often joke, “Well, then I’m stuck here and can’t leave!”  In reality, though, the rite of profession formalizes and makes permanent the nun’s interior commitment to live her life in an exclusive union with Jesus Christ.

The liturgical rite for the tonsuring of the stavrophore (“cross bearer”) nun, situated in the context of Divine Liturgy, is adapted from the Great Euchologian.  It marks the commitment of the nun to remain in the monastic life of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery for the rest of her life.  Prior to being made a stavrophore, the nuns relinquishes all money, possessions, property, etc.  Three themes are woven throughout the profession service.  The first theme is the espousal of the nun to Christ as her Bridegroom.  As our Typikon explains, “Monastic chastity is the renunciation of the human marital embrace and the blessing of biological children, in order to exclusively embrace nuptial union with Christ the Bridegroom, which is blissfully real.”  As a symbol of this union, the nuns of our monastery receive a wedding band with “ICXC” engraved on it.  The stavrophore nuns will no longer be addressed as “Sister,” but as “Mother” in recognition of the fruitfulness of their spousal union with Christ.

The second theme is that of a second baptism.  The service runs parallel to the baptismal ceremonies of the third and fourth centuries (when Christian monasticism was first established).  The Desert Fathers believed that those who enter the monastic life receive the same grace given as Baptism—that is, the remission of sins.  The nun is unclothed (that is, clothed only in a white robe) as though about to be baptized by immersion, signifying that she is to “put off the old man and put on the new.”  She makes three full prostrations upon entering the church, analogous to the three plunges into the baptismal font.  The vows are taken in response to formal questions, as at Baptism.  She receives, as do the newly baptized, a candle—which is her actual baptismal candle if she still has it.

The third theme is the Return of Prodigal.  The profession service mystically enacts the drama of the return of the Prodigal to his Father’s house.  Entering barefoot and bare-headed, the nun approaches the bishop, who represents the Father, in poverty and repentance.  The tropar of the Prodigal Son is sung as the nun walks toward him and prostrates three times.  The bishop takes her hand and lifts the nun from the third prostration, clothing her, putting sandals on her feet and a ring on her finger (Luke 15:22).

Our monastery prays a chapter of the Song of Songs at the end of Compline each night.  These verses capture the Bridegroom’s call to which stavrophore nuns respond with a single-hearted, all-encompassing, “Yes!”  “Set Me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm; For stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion.  Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away…” (SOS 8:6-7)  Whatever sufferings the future may hold, our Bridegroom’s love will be our constant support.