Several women from he women’s group at our parish, St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis, participated in a hybrid/virtual women’s retreat Saturday morning, hosted by our diocese, The Diocese of Miami and the Southeast (DOMSE).
The speakers were Bishop Nicholas and Shell Klein, a deacon’s wife and member at All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. The speakers and all the participating women’s groups from numerous parishes in our diocese were together on Zoom, for which we are so thankful! Each parish’s women’s group gathered in parish halls and homes, so it was a hybrid event.
The women who participated at St. John gathered in our parish hall for coffee and breakfast snacks and wonderful fellowship, as we participated in the virtual retreat.
Shell Keim did a terrific job administrating the event, pulling together all the women’s groups on Zoom, and sharing speaking duties with Bishop Nicholas. She came up with the title for the retreat, playing off a popular hashtag: #currentstatus . . . “Your Current Status is Salvific.” She and Bishop Nicholas talked about how we can find peace and grow closer to God IN THE PRESENT MOMENT. As Bishop Nicholas said, “We need to have a constant focus on life that doesn’t change. That focus is God. When we keep that focus our situation doesn’t affect us as much.”
Stories of Two Women Saints
Shell told stories to contrast the lives of St. Mary of Egypt and St. Thekla. St. Mary’s current status was the desert, whereas St. Thekla was running for her life from those who would kill her. A mountain opened and hid her safely. But are we prepared in our lives if the mountain doesn’t open? What about when we ask God for things and the answer is “no”? Bishop Nicholas said we should always say, “Thy will be done” when we ask for things, and to “keep the door open for God.”
The Prayer of St. Ephraim
Both Shell and Bishop Nicholas talked about how the prayers of the church have us covered, including the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, which has three parts that point us to God:
O Lord and Master of my life, TAKE FROM ME the spirit of sloth despair, lust of power, and idle talk.
But GIVE rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. (We are asking for virtues.)
Yea, O Lord and King, GRANT me to see my own sins, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.
Bishop Nicholas spoke about the importance of being quiet, and encouraged us to try to sit quietly every morning for 5 minutes BEFORE PRAYING and just be quiet and listen for the voice of God. (He does this for 30 minutes every morning.) The world is a noisy place, and unless we are intentional about finding quiet, we only hear the world’s voices.
Decades of Our Lives
Shell asked us all to take a few minutes to write down the significant things that happened to us in each of the decade of our lives—whether traumatic, sad, or celebratory and happy. Later she asked if anyone wanted to share one of those events, and several women from different parishes did. It was an opportunity to reflect on how God has been at work in our lives. When I wrote about my seven decades, I saw a thread—that my whole life has been about seeking healing from abuse, and finding degrees of healing through various means, such as pilgrimages to monasteries, studying iconography, cultivating close friendships, surviving cancer and a life-threatening car wreck, and throughout most of those decades, WRITING.
Barbeque, Blues, and Beatitudes
I look forward to meeting Shell and other women from our diocese in person at our annual Parish Life Conference—“Barbeque, Blues, and Beatitudes,” which our parish is hosting June 15-18 here in Memphis. Our keynote speaker is Father Stephen Freeman, pastor emeritus at St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Father Stephen is well known for his popular blog, “Glory to God For All Things.”
Our women’s groups will have a book club gathering during the conference, where we will be discussing Mary as the Early Christians Knew Her: The Mother of Jesus in Three Ancient Texts by Frederica Mathewes-Green.
Orthodox Calendar . . . Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Pascha
As I write this, the Orthodox Church is approaching Palm Sunday while Western Christians are approaching Easter this weekend. This is our final week of Great Lent, and I’m looking forward to Holy Week (April 18-23) and Pascha (Orthodox Easter) April 24, when we will greet one another with “Christ is Risen!”