Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

We hope you all are having a merry Christmas! May we become more aware each day of Christ born into our hearts, dwelling in us and in our neighbor. 

(We meant to post this on Christmas, but we were having such a wonderful feast day that we forgot. It's a good thing we have a whole festal period for Christmas wishes! Let's be persistent in the joy of Christ's birth into our brokenness!) 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Conservation of Love -- a reflection and poem by Mother Natalia

As we finish up the Nativity Fast, we wanted to make sure we shared this beautiful reflection from Mother Natalia with you. She wrote it for our eparchial magazine, Horizons. Even though the fast is now coming to a close as we are now in the prefestive days, we hope it will bless you and give you some inspiration as we prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ. 

When I was studying engineering physics, a basic concept that often came up in our courses is
that of the conservation of energy. Simply put, this law indicates that energy can be neither
created nor destroyed; it just is. And this energy that exists is merely converted from one form
into another. So if I need solar energy, I can’t just create it out of thin air; I have to harvest it
from the energy source that is the sun. Similarly, when I convert one kind of energy into another
–kinetic energy into thermal energy – it can go from kinetic into thermal energy, but it doesn’t
just disappear into nothing.

I was reminded of the principle when an engineer visited the monastery to go on poustinia.
During this personal retreat he shared this idea: In the universe there exists not only the law of
conservation of energy or the conservation of mass, but there is also the law of the conservation
of love.

This concept struck me and stayed with me, so much that I took it to prayer with me on my own
poustinia. This concept that brought together two of my great loves – physics and the spiritual
life – brought together for me two passages from the apostle John. At the beginning of his
gospel, he writes about God’s creation of the world: “All things came to be through Him and
without Him nothing came to be” (John 1:3). And then in his first epistle, he tells us that “God is
love” (1 John 4:8). Everything that was created exists in God, and it is good, and it was created
in love by Him who is Love.

As we enter into the Nativity fast we are given an opportunity to re-order our loves. But as we do
so we must not fall into the trap of thinking that rightly ordered love means to turn away from
food or drink or other material things because they are bad. These are good gifts given to us by
our good Father. But they lose their goodness when they become the object of our love as
opposed to a gift received in love. Nor does love of God in the Christian life mean turning away
from human love/love of neighbor. Quite the contrary! As we read throughout scripture,
especially in Matthew 25, the very act of loving our neighbor is loving God. C.S. Lewis reminds
us that our desires are “not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about
with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants
to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a
holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (The Weight of Glory).

God placed in us a desire for the infinite; this desire is like a magnet inside of us drawing us back
to Him, because only He – the infinite – will satisfy our deepest longings. When we turn our gaze
from God, we divide our love among other things, or worse, we place our infinite desire on finite
things, turning them into little gods. This not only gets the proper order of things wrong, flipping
it on its head, it also means that I’m not loving all of these things and these people with fullness.
We have to go back to the law of conservation of love: I can’t just create love out of thin air. I
have to harness it from a pre-existing energy source, and St. John tells us what – or who – that
source is: God. “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His
Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another” (1
John 4:10-11). I must first go and receive from the Source, and having done so, I can and must
transfer that love to the world around me: to my neighbor and to my daily work.

The Nativity fast is, as all fasting periods are, an opportunity for us to refocus on where we are
directing our love and our desires. Are we willing to sacrifice passing or temporal pleasures for
the sake of conserving and appropriately directing love? In order to receive God’s love, we have
to remove all those little gods that distract us from him; temporarily removing them so that we
can return to them with a proper love, a love without idolatry.

Conservation of Love

Nothing brought into being
can just slip into non-existence.
And all that is,
ever has been,
or still is to come,
came into being through Love.

Thus love must be conserved,
even if it changes form.
It can move
from God to mammon
to sex, food, or sleep.
In each, love aches for the Good.

But the ache isn’t enough.
We must pursue love
in its purest form.
For when spread out,
we find a disintegration,
each separation feeding into destruction.

Yet herein lies the paradox
that when love is focused
singularly on Love,
we find it permeates
even sex, food, and sleep…
when in everything we seek You.

The forms can be deceptive,
for really, there are only two:
I can love You
or love myself.
And each day, hour, moment,
You offer me this choice.

Friday, December 16, 2022

The End of Our Wandering and Today's Feast


Glory to Jesus Christ! 
Happy Feast of the Prophet Daniel and the Three Holy Youths! This is a feast we get pretty excited about at our monastery (well, at least the nuns who write the blog posts do!). 

As we are now in the final stretch of the Nativity Fast, we'd like to let you know what life at the monastery has been like lately. 

Since Sister Onuphria's Tonsure, the big focus (which we are striving to keep secondary to our life of prayer and hospitality) is the finishing of our chapel. As you can see, things ended up behind schedule, but we are so pleased to now be settling into our beautiful chapel. It's a really amazing place to pray already, and it's not even totally finished yet. 

The chandelier was finally installed! However, like us, it's not perfect yet. When we turned it on, some of the wiring acted up, and many of the lights aren't working. We're getting that fixed though, and we're on our way to, at least physical, illumination. 

On Saturday, a small crew of us did a preliminary cleaning of the chapel, just to get it into a condition that we could consistently pray in there and not get covered in saw dust. The protective layers that covered the floor for months were removed that morning, and when each of us saw the chapel free from construction equipment for the first time, we all exclaimed various versions of "WOAH!" and couldn't help but laugh with joy at how amazing it looked. As we dusted and vacuumed and swiffered, we were getting closer and closer to the end of our months of wandering in the wilderness (praying in a tent for a couple of months, and then the chapel for a brief stint, and then our living room for a little more than the last month). We were able to put out our new altar cloths, and set the tetrapod up again. 

When we finally entered the chapel to pray Great Vespers, it was so good just to get back to the normal routine of donning our monastic chapel garb and venerating the icons (something that we have not been able to do consistently for months). It feels good to be home. 

On the other hand, there are still many details to finish and icons to hang and many new things to figure out. It's a wonderful place to pray, and at the same time, as we are praying the services in there, we are confronted by our humanity and have to struggle to be in the moment and not to get caught up in planning out everything that needs to be done or worrying about which lights to turn on at different times. 

This week, we've settled in even further with a very thorough cleaning (thank you very much to those who came to help us!), and hopefully, Christmas decorations will go up very soon. We've moved in all of the large furniture. And best of all, we'll have the Eucharist reserved in our tabernacle again starting Sunday (something we haven't had in months). 

The Feast of the Three Holy Youths: 

There's a really wonderful explanation of Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael's faith in The Winter Pascha by Father Thomas Hopko. We'd like to share it with you, as something to reflect on on this awesome feast. 

"Nowadays there are many, even among Christians, who say that to have faith in God is to make claims on the Lord, to be assured of His actions on behalf of the earthly well-being of His people and to count on His deliverance in very human ways. They say that those who do not express their faith in this way are actually weak in faith, doubting the divine promise of the Lord. But such an attitude, sometimes referred to as the 'name it and claim it' approach to faith in God, has nothing in common with the faith of the three holy children. 

"The three young men who were confronted by the wicked king of Babylon did not claim that the true God would save them from death in the flames. They surely believed that He could, but they did not insist that He would! Just the contrary. They bore witness to the fact that their God does whatever He wants. It was none of their business what He would or would not do, and it was certainly not the business of the king. They trusted their God in everything. If it was His will to deliver them, they were ready for that. But if it was His will that they should perish in the flames, they were ready for that as well! For they believed that whatever God did, He was still the God in whom they could trust for their ultimate victory. And no matter what God did, they still, under whatever circumstances, would not worship the idol that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. In a word, according to the witness of the three young men, real faith and genuine trust in God makes no deals and no claims. It is completely and totally ready, as was shown supremely in Jesus, to accept whatever the Father wills and provides, knowing that His faithful ones will never be put to shame. Only such faith can change fire into dew and deliver from death."

May we grow in true faith this feast!