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Report from the Midwest Antiochian Women 4th Annual Retreat

Roberta Royhab writes:

Dormition of the Mother of God Orthodox Monastery, in Rives Junction, MI, is “a place that serves the spiritual needs of the Orthodox Christian community in the United States,” their website reads.

Dormition was a perfect place—a holy place, a “retreat” from the stress of the secular world—for the Midwest Antiochian Women’s retreat that was held there the weekend of May 15-17. The monastery for women is located on 120 acres in a rural area of south central Michigan.

His Grace Bishop MARK of the Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest joined us on Friday and for a half day on Saturday. Fr. John Abdalah of Pittsburgh, PA, Spiritual Advisor for Antiochian Women-North American Board, served as Retreat Master.

Following Friday evening services and a light supper, Fr. John began his presentation with an informal meeting with the 15 women and a teen-aged girl who had arrived on Friday. In addition to His Grace, Fr. Daniel Daly, of Grand Rapids, MI, who serves as Spiritual Advisor for Midwest Antiochian Women, and a young man, a university student from Pittsburgh who was visiting the monastery with Fr. John, participated.

“What metaphor (comparison, image) from Scripture do you think you most represent?” Fr. John asked each of us. Each woman responded individually about her life and work in ministering to her family, church and community. He discovered that all the women were involved in caring ministries in the world around them.

Saturday morning began with services starting at 6:30 AM for the women staying at the monastery’s 24-bed guesthouse. An additional some 25 women, another teen-aged girl, and Fr. Paul Albert of Sylvania, OH, arrived before or during the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy which began at 9 AM. At brunch Mother Abbess Gabriella welcomed everyone and talked about the importance of the monastery to the life of the Church. She added that “women have a great sense of responsibility.” Also, she said that it was fitting that this “Sunday of the Samaritan Woman” was dedicated to women.

Fr. John continued his presentation on “Our Priestly Vocation” at 12 PM. We are all baptized into Christ, we have taken on Christ…we are baptized into Christ’s priesthood, he said. This brings with it great responsibility. He continued to help each of us answer the question, “How do we know what our priesthood is going to be?”

He began with a description of the priesthood of ordained priests and consecrated bishops. “We need to know what the priest’s function is in order to help us understand what our (your) own job as ‘priests’ is.”

Fr. John discussed the following functions of priests: bringing Communion to the people; explaining the Gospel through preaching; hearing Confessions (do your friends “confess” to you?); shepherding the flock/helping the people gain perspective (and goals) and move in that direction; helping people understand the forgiveness of sins; helping the poor (both spiritual and material poverty); teaching obedience; serving as an icon of Christ.

Ordained priests are not “paid” for their work, Fr. John explained. We support them, they have the time and energy to minister, and they are living among us. The ordained priest is doing “priestly” things for the community, you are his unpaid staff.

If you think you are called to a certain ministry, study and prepare for that ministry, Fr. John advised. “If God wants you to do something, He will let you know…We all have a need to express our priestly job.”

He concluded that “the priesthood of Jesus Christ is not just something of the priests and bishops. It is for all of us.” The ordained priest is a “senior priest,” the president of the community.

After Fr. John’s talk, Mother Macrina led us on a tour of the monastery. A light supper and the Saturday evening Vigil followed. Fr. Roman Braga of Dormition Monastery served Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, which was followed by an Agape meal.

Fr. John also is Dean of St. George Cathedral in Pittsburgh, teaches Priestly Formation for the St. Stephen’s program, and is Editor of The Word magazine.

Women who attended the retreat were from Antiochian parishes in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Idaho. Several women other jurisdictions of the Holy Orthodox Church joined us as well.

Other Midwest Antiochian Women officers who attended the retreat were Margaret Simon, Vice-President/Project, Sheryl VanderWagen, Recording Secretary, and Kh. Elfriede Daly, Public Relations and Humanitarian Coordinator.

-Roberta Royhab, President, Midwest Antiochian Women