Monasteries uphold the domestic church, and the domestic church is illuminated by the monasteries.

he community of the Christ the Bridegroom Monastery in Burton, Ohio.

Robert Klesko | ncregister.com

It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a particularly trying year, especially for people of faith. We’ve been separated from our churches, from the sacraments, and from the spiritual nourishment of kinship and community. This year, especially through Lent and the Easter season, life felt especially dry and arid for many. It was within this desert of isolation that a stream of living water was opened up by my favorite Eastern Catholic nuns — the nuns of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery in Burton, Ohio.

The Monastery of Christ the Bridegroom is about a 45-minute ride southeast of Cleveland. It was founded in 2009 and was recently raised to a sui iuris monastery of eparchial right in 2019 by Bishop Milan Lach of the Eparchy of Parma (Ruthenian). The monastery is headed by Mother Theodora, who serves as hegumena (abbess) and currently has three “life-professed” members (also called stavrophore or “cross-bearer”) and two rasophore (“robe-bearer”) members. I was privileged to meet and spend time with Mother Theodora when she appeared on EWTN Live in July 2019. It was clear from my time with Mother that she is a woman who is in love with her vocation and deeply in love with Christ the Bridegroom.

It’s fairly uncommon, among Eastern Catholic monasteries, to identify the community ethos through the image and theology of Christ the Bridegroom. But when you spend time with the nuns, it becomes clear that it is a perfect fit! The striving for union with God, which is the singular occupation of monastic life — and indeed, all Christian life — is well encapsulated by marital imagery. Sister Petra, one of the rasophore nuns, explains:

The Bridegroom is the One Who pursues our souls and beckons us as His Bride, the Church into union with Him, “Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!” (SOS 2:13) He calls us to union, yearning to penetrate every recess of our hearts with His life-giving Spirit, to bring forth in us spiritual fruit that will last for all eternity. To encounter Christ as Bridegroom is to know yourself sought and desired by God, purchased by a Love “stern as death” (SOS 8:6) It is to respond with the total gift of yourself to the God-Man, Jesus Christ; to know yourself claimed in love. Of course, this union becomes reality in prayer (we call our cell rule the hour of private prayer we each offer each day in our own cells our “spousal prayers”), through which we learn to hear His Voice and reveal ourselves to Him. The Bridegroom is the Fulfillment of all desire, but we in this world we are as yet only espoused to Him: the consummation will only be realized in Heaven. Thus, to turn to Christ as Bridegroom is to live in hope, with faith that “hope does not disappoint us” (Rom. 5:5).

This love of Christ the Bridegroom has produced spiritual fruit for several thousand recently through the monastery’s outreach during Lent and Holy Week. When the churches closed, the nuns (by way of a providential penance) took to building a guide for the domestic Church for Lent and Holy Week (now expanded beyond the Paschal season). Mother Cecilia, who spearheaded the monastery’s efforts, explains:

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Teachings of Christ

“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 ESV)

Holy Forefathers

Through faith, O Christ, you justified the Forefathers, * betrothing through them in advance the Church of the gentiles. * The Saints exult in glory, * for from their seed came forth a glorious fruit: * she who gave birth to You without seed. * Through their prayers, O Christ God, have mercy on us. (Troparion, Tone 2)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

You did not honor a hand-depicted image, O thrice-blessed ones, * but defended by the undepicted Being you were glorified in a trial by fire. * And, standing in the midst of unbearable flame, you called upon God: * “Hasten, O Compassionate One, and speed to our help, * for You are merciful and You can do whatever you will.” (Kontakion, Tone 6)

(Second Sunday Before Christmas)

Saint Nicholas of Myra

The truth of your deeds has revealed you to your flock, * as a rule of faith, an image of meekness, and a teacher of abstinence. * Therefore, you attained the heights through humility, * and riches through poverty. * O Father and Hierarch Nicholas, * pray to Christ God that our souls may be saved. (Troparion, Tone 4)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

In Myra, You were shown to be a servant of the sacred things, O Holy Nicholas, * for, fulfilling the Gospel of Christ, you, O Venerable, laid down your life for your people, * and saved the innocent from death. * Therefore, you were sanctified as a great initiate of the grace of God. (Kontakion, Tone 3)

Random Proverb

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7 ESV)

Pray Without Ceasing

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

The purpose of the advent of the Saviour, when He gave us His life-giving commandments as purifying remedies in our passionate state, was to cleanse the soul from the damage done by the first transgression and bring it back to its original state. What medicines are for a sick body, that the commandments are for the passionate soul.

St. Isaac of Syria