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