Never underestimate the enduring power of winter in upstate New York. While mountains of snow still covered the grounds of Saint Nicholas Convent in Constantia, New York the hearts of twenty women were warmed through prayer and fellowship at the Lenten Retreat taking place indoors Friday March 13 – Sunday March 15, 2015.
Participants began to gather at the Convent throughout the day before. While priest Daniel Meschter and matushka Irene travelled by car from Delaware some came by air from Chicago and Washington, DC. However those who had to travel the greatest distance were our honored guests Mother Justina and Mother Barbara from the Convent of Saint Elizabeth in Etna, California.
When the idea of a women’s retreat was suggested the thought of inviting Mother Justina to give a talk came immediately to mind. Having met her on previous visits to her convent I knew her strong faith and storytelling skills would enable her to offer a spiritually edifying lecture. And she did not disappoint; though the title of her talk “Growing Up Orthodox in Sweden” sounds rather pedestrian her presentation was anything but boring and trite. All were moved by the description of the events in her father’s life which led to his conversion to Orthodoxy (raised a Lutheran, he is now the retired G.O.C. Bishop Johannes of Sweden), as well as the trials she went through growing up Orthodox in strongly secular and socialist Sweden. Along with her account of Orthodox life in Sweden Mother Justina also left us with some words of Metropolitan Cyprianos she had gleaned on her visits to his monastery in Greece on the role of women in the church. All are invited to listen to her talk here: www.dropbox.com/s/q1e5l7c5jgwhxk3/Mother%20Justina.aiff?dl=0
Not nearly as eloquent, (perhaps burdened by the worries of hosting the retreat while wondering whether the roof might cave in from the heavy snow!), but buoyed by the goodwill and kindness of her guests Mother Agapia managed to offer a few words on women saints of Palestine. Her love and knowledge of the Holy Land were evident as was the love for her paternal grandmother. Much like the description of Mother Justina’s mother these women provided examples of the path Orthodox women can take today to not only strengthen their own faith but more importantly provide an Orthodox haven for their children in these decidedly un-Christian times.
While words have their place it is in worship that are faith is most strengthened, so along with the talks a full cycle of services took place during the retreat. We are grateful to Fr Daniel as well as choir directors Celeste Englehardt and Elizabeth Priebe who led us through a varied selection of services in three short days.
With their help a pre-Sanctified Liturgy was served on Friday morning and that evening Matins with the Commemoration for the Departed was held, wherein the names of all the departed remembered at the Convent are read. Lisa Priebe took up the challenge of preparing that evening’s rather unique Matins which combines aspects of the funeral service with the Lenten order of services. Friday afternoon she gave a short explanation of how the order of this particular Matins differs from others.
Following the talks on Saturday those were not called away to their parishes for the coming services for the Veneration of the Cross remained at the Convent and participated in the Rule for the Preparation for Communion, went to Confession and then remained for the All-night Vigil, and Divine Liturgy the following morning.
(thank you to mother Barbara and Lisa Priebe for photos)