Annual Orthodox Women's Retreat Brings Blessings

Canadian Orthodox Messenger

Annual Orthodox Women's Retreat Brings Blessings

By Tonia Howell, St Nicholas Orthodox Church, Kamloops

For those of us who have been drawn back year after year to the Orthodox Women's Retreat, our expectations of the serenity of the grounds and gathering areas and of the care from the organizers and staff and of the wisdom imparted by the speaker and clergy, are faithfully filled to overflowing. For those who made their first retreat this year, I trust that their outward senses and inward being were touched by the beauty of both their physical surroundings and the messages intended for their hearts.

Our co-ordinators took seriously the saying, “A day hemmed in by prayer is less likely to unravel”, by providing for us evening, morning and mealtime prayers. Thank you to Matushka Barbara Eriksson and her choir for lending an air of the angelic to our praise.

Friday night is always a fine introduction to the weekend. We locate our sleeping quarters, meet our roommates, and taste the first-fruits of the kitchen fare —cinnamon buns beyond delicious. All this sets the stage for us to receive our speaker and begin the essential work of feeding our souls.

Presenter Carole Buleza —director of Christian Education for the Antiochian Archdiocese, holder of a master's degree specializing in religious education and author of curricula for Orthodox education— captured our attention immediately in the first session as she began to develop her theme of “Sharing the Faith Heart to Heart”. As occurred frequently throughout the weekend, she engaged us in participatory thinking, in this session encouraging us to compose a haiku poem on one of the great events of our belief, such as the Resurrection. She sought to instill in us a deeper love, joy, and excitement for our faith and a greater ease in using these as tools to naturally speak about it to others. Her mention of miracles as faith-builders provided for us another way to engage our listeners. One of her concluding thoughts was “If you are Orthodox [...] you live in your heart.”

 In the second session, Carole focused on making time in thoughts and prayer for God each moment of each day. Morning prayer is of utmost importance in “launching your day”. Our to-do list always needs to be subject to God's plans for us. She provided us with copies of the prayers used by Met. Philaret of Moscow, which voices that need so eloquently with the words “Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that your will governs all”. Recognizing that we will encounter those who frustrate us, the prayer also asks that we not “embitter or embarrass others”. We were challenged to provide ourselves with help/reminders to initiate prayer —establish routines (e.g. during dressing, pray to put on the whole armour of God, Eph. 6:11), use post-it notes and online devotions, memorize scripture, and practise the Jesus Prayer. The Diving Liturgy, liturgy meaning the work of the common people, is the culmination of our prayer life, in which we express so beautifully our praise to God and our petitions for others.

As part of our third session, we spent time in reflection upon our path of salvation, facilitated by a series of faith words —baptism, struggle, prayer, sacrifice, alms-giving, confession, wisdom and theosis—placed upon the floor. As we made our way from one to another, we considered how each had impacted our spirituality and had contributed to our present Orthodox Christian state-of-self before God. For many of us the journey was heart-felt as we do not often take the time to think of what is at the core of our being. At our final stop, we stood before the profoundly moving icon of the Holy Trinity written by Rublev. Tears were evident in many eyes as we in our unworthiness came face to face with the deep peace and love of our Lord.

Journaling was encouraged in the fourth session as a way of making ever-present our day by day walk with God. The thinking and doing that crowd our life often overshadow our remembrance of the precious gifts and little miracles from our Lord; keeping a journal can be an antidote for that as well as grounding us and moving us forward in our faith.

Carole's teaching methods of engaging us to actively answer her questions and to relate our faith journey stories, of organizing small group discussions, and of asking us to write our reactions to studying an icon helped us to articulate our faith in personal ways, which was the goal of her presentations.

The Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, served by Rev. Fr. Stephen Keaschuk, was a most fitting conclusion to our weekend as we  joined with our sisters in Christ in the moving worship and communion of the Eucharist. Father's homily, “Seeking the Face of God”, was very powerful. Quoting the Psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God”, he urged us to spend time daily (even five minutes) in wordless silence before our Lord. He ended by praying the beautiful Hebrew blessing upon us —“The Lord bless thee and keep thee: The Lord make His face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26).

Beyond those already mentioned, our gratitude extends outward. The Women’s Retreat Committee -  Joan Popowich, Ghada Ziadeh and Matushka Barbara Eriksson do an incredible amount of behind-the-scenes planning of all the retreat details. We thank Archpriest Fr. Taras Krochak from St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church who served the opening prayers for us on Friday night and for Dob. Donna Krochak who assisted Fr. Taras by leading the music that evening. As well, we extend our gratitude for the priests who sacrificed time away from their parishes —Archpriest Fr. Phillip Eriksson of Holy Martyr Peter the Aleut Orthodox Church and Rev. Fr. Timothy Chrapko of St. Vladimir's Ukrainian Orthodox Church who so patiently heard our confessions. In addition to those who tended to us spiritually, we must remember the Entheos Retreat staff who provided clean and neat living quarters and such fine cuisine.

In the years that I have attended, my appreciation builds each time. My “take-home bag” of blessings grows with each retreat. I look forward to an increase in God's abundance poured out upon us during the 2018 Orthodox Women's Retreat. Come next September and receive living water for your thirsty soul.