REPORT ON THE ORTHODOX WOMEN'S RETREAT 2017
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 faithbuilders
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 Rt. Rev. Archpriest Fr. Taras Krochak from St. Vladimir’s
Ukrainian Orthodox Church who served the opening prayers for us on Friday night and for Dobr. 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 this September and receive living water for your thirsty soul.
Poster and registration form available on stvlads.com.
Christ being in our midst,
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Kamloops
ORTHODOX WOMEN’S RETREAT
September 16-18, 2016, Entheos Retreat Centre, Alberta
Another beautiful weekend in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains was enjoyed by 65 Orthodox women. All the attendees this year were from the three western provinces.
The following is a peek at the demographic that attended the retreat this year. There were ten mother/daughter pairs, two Matushkas, one Presbytera and one Dobrodijka. There were 20 different Orthodox Parishes represented plus two from Catholic Churches. Eleven women were first time retreat attendees and they were given special stickers on their name tags, to help identify them and to aid the rest of us to make them feel welcome.
Entheos Retreat Centre is located 20 km west of Calgary in the country, bordering the Elbow River. I have been told many times we are so fortunate to have this facility available to us, as it is unique. The peace and quiet is perfect for a Christian retreat. The staff at Entheos always provide delicious wholesome meals and the rooms are always clean and comfortable.
Guest speaker Father Michael Gillis is the priest of Holy Nativity Antiochian Orthodox Church in Langley, B.C. He converted to Holy Orthodoxy in 1996, with 85 other people who were part of a Pentecostal Church in Southern California. Because he was a leader in the little group that converted together, on the day he was Chrismated, then Bishop Joseph ordained him to the holy diaconate, so he could continue to help lead the community of St. Peter the Apostle Church in Pomona California.
In 2003 Father Michael was ordained a priest and assigned to Holy Nativity Mission in Langley, B.C., which has now grown to a full church of about 45 families.
He is the author of Praying in the Rain blog and podcast on Ancient Faith Radio.
He spoke to us on the topic “SEEING the WORLD as an ICON”
“We are all blind, but until we realize we are blind (and we like it that way), we cannot see very well the iconographic meaning of the world around us and engage it effectively for our salvation and the salvation of those around us.” There is always much more going on than you think you can see. Because you think you can see, you are actually blind. Paul said “ Let me see in a mirror darkly”. Humble ourselves and say “I really am blind, I don’t know what God is doing in my life, or my church.
Father Michael brought out the icon of the Theotokos holding the Christ-Child. He asked us to notice a range of things; the Theotokos looks like gentleness, meekness, self-control. She represents every mother, our mother. The Word of God comes to us in Jesus Christ, the scripture is the Word of God. The human heart can perceive spiritual reality. What does gentleness smell like? What does peace look like?. Why is it that icons can create a symbol that our hearts can say that is what love, peace and gentleness looks like.
Father Michael had many such thought provoking statements throughout his presentation. He said we are always asking the wrong question, the ‘why’ question. The correct question is ‘who’. What does this have to do with my relationship with God. We need to be at peace with our blindness.
Heartfelt thanks to retreat organizers Joan Popowich, Matushka Barbara Eriksson, and Ghada Ziadeh for all their hard work in coordinating another successful gathering of Orthodox women. God grant you many years.
Another wonderful aspect of this weekend are the book and icon tables. St. Anthony’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Edmonton Book Store, St Herman’s Book Store-Edmonton and St Nicholas book sales Calgary all contributed with a variety of books, icons, crosses, prayer ropes, etc. The prices are always affordable. I was told that there is hardly a markup, as the ladies that look after these book stores just want everyone to have access to affordable Orthodox materials.
Thank you to the following clergy who beautifully served throughout the weekend, Rt. Reverend Father Taras Krochak, and Reverend Father Timothy Chrapko, Priests St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Calgary, and Archpriest Father Phillip Eriksson, Priest of the Holy Martyr Peter the Aleut Orthodox Church, Calgary. Special thank you to Father Michael Gillis for serving Sunday Divine Liturgy.
May our Lord be with us all as we look forward to yet another Women’s Retreat next year.
The 2017 dates are September 15th-17th.
For further information, please contact Joan Popowich at email@example.com or
403-932-7724: registration forms will be available on www.stvlads.com.
Your sister in Christ
St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Calgary, Alberta
Eighty-two like-minded women gathered together to worship, learn and share in each other’s lives on September 18-20th 2016 weekend. Every year this Orthodox Women’s Retreat is held at the Entheos Retreat Centre located approximately 20 kms west of Calgary, Alberta, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
The majority of the attendees were from Alberta, but many traveled from British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and one even as far away as Chicago, Illinois.
Guest speaker, Mother Melania is the Superior of Holy Assumption Monastery in Calistoga, California in the beautiful Napa Valley. The theme of the retreat was “The Powers and Passions of our Souls: How our souls were meant to function, what went wrong and how to heal it.”
There are three parts to our Soul. One part of our soul is the Nous, which is the Eye of the Soul that sees God. We need to be clear and pure in heart to see God. Disorder of our Nous means needs of desire and needs of anger are out of balance. They get distorted because of darkness and sin. We are born with our souls out of alignment and what we do with that misalignment, do we clear the Nous or not, is what matters for our salvation.
Second part of our Soul: the appetitive or desiring power, which is the power of our soul that brings us closer to God.
Third part of our Soul is the incensive or arguing power, which is the fighting part of our soul against, what gets in the way of seeing and becoming closer to God.
Mother Melania spoke in four separate sessions on this topic. She gave many examples with bible stories and referencing the struggles of the lives of our Saints. It is impossible to summarize Mother Melania’s approach to the Powers and Passions of our Souls in one paragraph. I cannot even begin to do her topic justice. Instead I would like to share with you some Mother Melaniaism’s or “words of wisdom”.
- Virtue is Grace of God in us, and we need God to nail down the virtues, practise virtues, or fake it till you make it. In other words if I want to throttle someone, I act kind! Watch what happens in me!
- Even a little bit is progress: even if it feels like changes are not happening, be sure that changes are happening.
- To correct, repent! What is important is taking the next step from where you are, not someone else, or where you think you should be.
- The ladder of divine ascent is a ladder, not a pole vault.
- But never stop trying, if you stop, for sure nothing is going to change.
- Avoid the all or nothing approach because this will miss the mark.
- Watch who you hang out with, your social circle…..pick your peers, look at who your peers are and who you trust.
- Be more generous with your time for Godly purposes.
- God allows us to suffer consequences of our actions directly or indirectly: so that we can heal, and strengthen our humility which amounts to in part our realization of the consequences of the bad stuff we did.
- Stay true to the acknowledgement that we are a mess and need help from God: let go: joy in belief and faith in God will pick us up: faith that in His tenderness, His teaching us in ways that we can learn.
- God’s idea of what is good for us is not necessarily our idea of what is good for us.
- There is enough to do at the early stages, stay at kindergarten level, don’t worry about moving into graduate school and attempting things at a level you’re not even at, just stick at your level.
- Heavenly treasure…the man that has the most is the one who has nothing….because whatever he gets, is a gift.
- Every person has 2 dogs in herself/himself, the good dog and the bad dog. The winner is the one you feed the most. If you just starve the bad dog it will get angry, so you must feed the good dog.
- If you can thank God for everything that goes right, He can give you a context when things go wrong.
Heartfelt thanks to retreat organizers Joan Popowich, Matushka Barbara Eriksson, and Ghada Ziadeh for their dedication and the countless hours spent in coordinating another successful gathering of Orthodox women. May God bestow His bountiful blessings upon you as you continue this special ministry! Each participant received a butterfly, a memento of a spiritually nourishing and uplifting weekend. We look forward to the next retreat, which will take place September 16-18, 2016 at Entheos. For further information, please contact: Joan Popowich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 403-932-7724; registration forms will be available on www.stvlads.com.
A special acknowledgement and thank you to the following clergy of Calgary’s Orthodox community who served the various services and were available to hear confessions.
Reverend Father George Dahdouh, Priest Annunciation Antiochian Orthodox Church. Reverend Father Timothy Chrapko, Priest St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and Archpriest Father Phillip Eriksson, Priest of the Holy Martyr Peter the Aleut Orthodox Church.
I would like to close with yet one more Mother Melaniaism.
- As peer pressure is a very strong influence in one’s life, one of the most important things you can do is pick your peers. Be around like-minded people.
Sisters in Christ, see you all at the upcoming 2016Orthodox Women’s Retreat.
St Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Congregation
On September 16-18, 2011, seventy three Orthodox women gathered at Entheos Retreat Centre in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains for a weekend of spiritual renewal, growth, and fellowship. The majority of the participants were from Alberta (Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Cochrane, Spruce Grove, Andrew, Smoky Lake), but there were representatives from communities in Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, North Battleford, Borden) and British Columbia (Vernon, Abbotsford, Victoria), as well as two guests from California. The theme of the eleventh annual Orthodox Women’s Retreat was “Healing Wounds, Strengthening Relationships.” The main speaker was Matushka Yvonne Lysack from Christ the Saviour Orthodox Sobor in Ottawa. Matushka Yvonne holds a B.A. Honours, a Certificate of Theology, and an M.A. (Pastoral Studies-Individual Counselling). Recently retired from a private counselling practice, working from an Orthodox Christian perspective, she is currently enjoying full-time parish work. Clergy from the Orthodox parishes in Calgary served the various services throughout the weekend and were available for hearing confessions.
Session one dealt with the first and most important relationship, that of the Holy Trinity, and what can be learned from it. The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are co-eternal and reciprocally contain one another; they are in an eternal relationship and are eternal love. God is perfect unity while maintaining distinctness. This teaches us that we can be distinct and have different roles, yet at the same time be equal. Equality is not achieved by having the same function. Creation was an act of love of all Three Persons of the Trinity.
The theology of love was the focus of session two. God is the source of love; we love because He first loved us. God loves us and does not turn away from us, despite our sins and fallen nature. Love has no bounds. It is humble and extends to our enemies, which is a complete reversal of the standards of the world. Love extends to all creation. We love because we see in a person one who is made in the image and likeness of God. Love is not based on someone fulfilling our wishes and expectations. In this way, love is a reflection, an attitude, a commandment, rather than an emotion. The foundation of all our efforts must be love.
The third session gave practical suggestions for strengthening relationships with the parish priest. These included praying for the priest and his family and for their protection daily, respecting the priest’s personal space, and helping to reduce stress and prevent burnout by assisting with lay ministries. The priest is the icon of Christ in the parish, and, as such, he should be esteemed because of his work. Each priest has his own strengths, ministry, and style. We must thank God for our clergy.
Session four explored Orthodox marriage. Marriage is a path to union with God; a couple loves God by loving each other. Marriage is a sacrament and a sign of the relationship between Christ (the bridegroom) and the Church (the bride). It is an eternal bond, not just “till death do us part.” Marriage is not a legal sanction, nor is it an agreement to live together. In marriage, the couple establishes a domestic church and are co-workers with God in creation through the raising of children. A more mature love develops after the romantic phase. Conflict will occur, but it must be resolved with open and honest communication and listening to each other. Your spouse is the person with whom you are travelling on the road to salvation, the person through whom God manifests His love.
Spiritual Fatherhood/Motherhood was the topic of the final session. Most often, elders are monastics who guide us along The Way. They teach as much by their silence as by their words, and they have the power to transform the environment through healing and the casting out of demons. Being an elder requires a deep love. The relationship between a spiritual child and a spiritual father is one of trust and obedience. This was most interesting, as we do not yet have a very well developed tradition of elders in North America.
The sessions were interspersed with free time, during which participants were able to enjoy the beautiful grounds of the retreat centre or spend time in prayer and reflection. Each attendee was presented with a specially designed embroidered bookmark made in Constantinople, a beautiful memento of a wonderful weekend.
Many thanks to retreat organizers Joan Popowich, Myra Reinheimer, and Ghada Ziadeh for their dedication and the countless hours spent in coordinating another successful and spiritually uplifting gathering of Orthodox women. Theirs is truly a labour of Christian love! May God bless you with His bountiful riches as you continue this special ministry! We look forward to the 2012 retreat, which will take place September 14-16 at Entheos, where we will again renew old friendships, make new ones, and celebrate the faith that unites us. For further information, please contact: Joan Popowich at email@example.com
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32
Respectfully submitted by
St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Congregation
Calgary Alberta Canada