Saturday I went to a woman’s retreat at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary in South Canaan, PA, which is about 90 minutes north of where I live.
The weather was spectacular with a lovely warm breeze and blue skies. I arrived in time to attend Divine Liturgy at the monastery chapel, which I have never done before. To listen to the monks chant was beautiful. It was a peaceful start to the day.
I found the retreat to be good but not as much so as last year. Perhaps it is unfair to compare, but there you have it. There were about 75 women in attendance. I thought that was a very nice turn out.
I have mixed opinions about the Retreat’s speaker who was Mother Raphaela, Abbess at Holy Myrrhbearer’s Monastery in Otego, NY. What she had to say “formally” on the topics was brief. After her little “speech,” she basically held an open forum and accepted questions from the group. That in and of itself wasn’t a bad thing. It was interesting to learn what is on people’s minds.
The first session she spoke about the Holy Theotokos and necessity of women in creation. She said that spiritual mothers are very important in the church and must keep their focus on ‘motherhood.’ I felt this was a good point because I understood that she meant we are to focus on the caring and uplifting of our community friends. This is also important for spiritual fathers amongst the laity, but of course the focus was on women since the retreat was for us.
She expressed frustration that there are no Orthodox North American female saints. I thought this was an interesting point and one I had not really considered. I spoke to Fr. Tim today about this statement and he agreed. He said no doubt there are more than a few candidates that could be considered and ought to be brought to the attention of the hiearchs. I’m not sure how you do that nor do I have any idea of who might be considered. Any suggestions out there?
Probably the most important things I got from the first session were the points she made:
1) Of those people who are the most holy, they are the most non-judgment people she ever met. This confirms for me that I am the least holy and have a long way to go!!
2) Regarding weeping icons, they wouldn’t weep if there wasn’t a reason. A weeping icon is not a reason to be triumphant or braggart! It is reason to be sober and ask the important question ‘why is the icon weeping?’ ‘What are we supposed to be paying attention to?’
3) I asked myself why I was resistant to Mother Raphaela. I found her ‘chip on the shoulder’ tone grating, but I realized that issue may be more about me than her. So I continue to reflect on that.
The second session was called Mary and Martha: Which would you rather be? Mother Raphaela pointed out that we should think “both/and” not “either/or” when it comes to Mary and Martha and what they do.
We must work at having balance in our lives. Say “no” to things in our lives (TV, computer, sports). The constant barrage of noise in the world prevents us from silence which is very important.
She said “Many of us are functionally atheists. How do we know this? By asking/examining what our knee-jerk reaction is when something bad happens in our lives. Is it one of ‘Thanks be to God for ____ because it is for my salvation?’ or is it one of ‘Oh MY GOD!! No!'”
We need to make very specific choices in our lives in order to pray. She said “TAKE YOUR MIND BACK!” And that prayer is a relationship with God not necessarily something we ‘do.’ And with any relationship, it require conversation (prayer). We must reorient our lives to be in prayer all the time.
I was encouraged by her suggestions regarding prayer: pray while you’re doing something. That ‘counts’ as it were. Someone suggested saying the Trisagion prayers while brushing your teeth or while vacuuming.
We also spent time as a group in absolute silence. That was very helpful to practice that.
I found myself thinking that I would like to “go on retreat” like my aunt and dad used to. Go away for a weekend to a monastery or whatever, truly retreat, and pray and have counsel with the priests, etc. I’ll have to look into that sometime.
The second session was much more beneficial to me.