On Saturday, 20 November 1999, women from several Cleveland-area Orthodox parishes and neighboring churches gathered at St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio, for a day of reflection on the theme “With Faith and Love Draw Near.”
Father John Memorich, the host pastor, warmly welcomed the group to the church’s beautiful wooded setting. Kathy Kovalak, co-organizer of the day (along with Carol Singel), then introduced the first speaker, Matushka Myra Kovalak. Her talk was based on the bible story of Mary and Martha. She drew on her long experience in parish life to remind her listeners that they sometimes must struggle to balance their own spiritual lives just as those sisters did. She gave the example of being midway through singing a hymn during the Liturgy and having the anxious thought pop into one’s mind, “Did anybody remember to plug in the pot for coffee hour?”
Matushka Myra stressed the need to see that the practical things like preparing for the coffee hour do get done, while still opening ourselves to the voice of God through regular prayer and quiet reflection. Each one of us, she noted, has to put forth the effort to make these a priority in our often hurried lives. She offered her listeners a list of books and resources to help them to nurture their prayer lives. Then she reviewed the various kinds of service projects that parishes and women’s groups can undertake to give practical help to the people in their communities, where there are always so many diverse needs.
Matushka Valerie Zahirsky, the next speaker, described several women in the bible as well as in the history of the Church, from early the centuries to the present day. She spoke of how these women are useful examples for us, even today, because they faced circumstances and dilemmas not so different from our own, and still found ways to live in faithfulness to God’s teachings.
She also pointed out how some of the ideas being put forth in our culture from completely non-religious sources reflect, often unconsciously, the truth of Orthodox teachings. As an example she quoted a well-known secular psychologist who writes that people feeling separated from others because of actions they are ashamed of, must confess those actions and then be assured that they are still part of the community.
It is especially important, she noted, to find and share these examples with our young people in order to help them to see that the Church’s teachings are not irrelevant to our modern lives. On the contrary, these teachings answer deep-seated needs that are often not even recognized.
A two-part presentation by nuns from Holy Transfiguration Monastery was next on the program. First, one of the nuns spoke about the importance of prayer in our lives and what it is meant to accomplish. She used her own experiences of converting to the Orthodox faith and working to deepen her spiritual life as examples of what she meant. There are often surprises in store when we ask God to show us His will for us, she jokingly warned. “For example,” she said, “I never thought I would end up dressed this way—in the garb of an Orthodox monastic—and be speaking to you about prayer!”
She offered her listeners three different ways of making their own prayer lives stronger, including committing themselves to small efforts of daily prayer for one whole year. By giving these concrete suggestions, she reminded the women present that prayer is not something to talk about but to do.
Another sister followed with a presentation on what the Church Fathers have said and written about prayer. She shared many memorable quotations from the Fathers and urged her listeners to use these to develop their own prayer lives. She then showed a beautiful video on the daily life of Holy Transfiguration Monastery that included an informative description of Orthodox monasticism by their abbess, Mother Christophora.
Matushka Margaret Kappanadze, the final speaker, offered useful suggestions to help our families and children be strong in the faith and to resist some of the temptations that assail us so insistently. She called on her listeners not to avoid the culture, but to try to transform it. She then described the work of an organization called ZOE for Life! This is an Orthodox program that provides outreach to women in crisis pregnancy situations, and is one example of working to transform our culture with the love of Jesus Christ.