Prayer as a Means to Make Christ the Center of our Life at All Times

St. Ignatius Women’s Retreat - Living Prayer

Mother Magdalena from the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA, was the speaker at a Fall retreat at St. Ignatius Antiochian Orthodox Church in Franklin, TN. She spoke on prayer and life in the monastery.

November 2012

Prayer as a Means to Make Christ the Center of our Life at All Times

Mother Magdalena talks about 3 forms of prayer: 1. Communal/Liturgical prayer. 2. Personal prayer time. 3. Continual prayer.

November 21, 2012 Length: 42:36





Mother Magdalena: I ended by talking about [how] we have to do our part because he’s waiting for us. He’s waiting for us to turn to him, but it’s not always easy to know what our part is. In this section we’re going to talk about prayer, and prayer is an essential aspect of our responsibilities as Christians. You can tell I quote Fr. Hopko a lot; we get sermons from him a lot, so we get this wealth of information. Anyway, he tells this story that he went to seminary, he went to graduate school, he got all these degrees, he wrote all these books, and he’s highly educated. After that, he realized that what he had learned was what his mother had taught him when he was five years old, which is: Say your prayers, go to church, and don’t forget God.

The Church gives us three forms of prayer: Say your prayers, go to church, and don’t forget God. The first one, “Go to church,” liturgical, that’s the communal worship that we do in church. The second one is the personal time where we have our own personal prayer time, morning and evening. The third time is the rest of the day: “Never forget God.”

So [on] the first one, liturgical, we’re not going to spend much time, because you’re church ladies. You all go to church, and you understand. We go to church, this communal worship. We go partially to have our own needs met, but, even more important, we go to constitute the body of Christ. That’s where the body of Christ coalesces on earth, at that particular time, is in the church during the church service. So we have all the different liturgical cycles.

The second one is personal prayer. Now, there’s many of us—I don’t want to say most of us, but many of us, anyway—that are like the little boy, when the priest asked him, “Do you say your prayers every day?” said, “Oh, no! I don’t want something every day!” Has anybody here ever felt like your day is like running a marathon? And you just get up and you start 60 miles an hour right there, and you go through your day? The personal prayer time, at the morning and the evening, that is—if you’re going to run a real marathon and you just get up and go to the starting line and the gun goes off and you start running, you’re going to get cramped pretty quickly. Likewise, you get to the end of it, and unless you cool down, unless you walk and cool yourself down, let your body settle down, you’re going to also get pretty sick. So it’s the same thing with our days. The personal prayer time that each one of us has bookends our days, so it’s the warm-up and the cool-down.

The warm-up, however you want to do it, to say the prayers: I don’t give a rule of prayer for two reasons: one, I’ve never been blessed to, and secondly, you need to do that in the context of your life. Sometimes we do tell mothers, if you’ve got three little kids that are under the age of four, maybe you have time to wave at your icon in the morning… That’s your prayer! But if you’re 70 years old and a widow, you have a little more time. Maybe you can spend half an hour or 45 minutes and really do what is an incredible gift to your whole community, which is to take all the members of your church and pray for them every day. That is such a gift.

The personal prayer has to be really tailored to your individual circumstance. It’s very good to talk to your priest about it, because we tend to fool ourselves. Either we think we can do too much, or we can do a little more and we’re a little bit lazy. By talking to your priest about it and getting a prayer rule, which can take two minutes, it can take a half-hour, whatever it is, but it’s that time in the morning, it’s the time we tell God, “I may forget you, but don’t forget me! I want to give my life to you this day. I want you to be there,” so you kind of set up the parameters for your life, and then you go out and live it.

Then at the end of the day it’s the cool-down time where you say, “You know, I really wanted to do this. I didn’t do a very good job. I meant to talk to somebody and it just didn’t go that well, and this is why I was a little bit angry or a little bit impatient,” or whatever. So you have your time to kind of cool down and talk to God, go over your life with the Lord, say your prayers, ask his blessing to go to sleep, ask his forgiveness. So your days begin and end with him.

The third time: what about all the rest of your 24 hours? That’s the part that gets interesting. That’s the part that we don’t talk much about, but in the monastery, that’s what we do. We try to turn our entire life into prayer. So prayer gets taken out of the realm of being a task, being a thing to do that I have to set time aside for, and it becomes a way of life. This [is] where we really have a chance to walk with Jesus, and we have various things that we’re taught in the monastic life that are simple exercises, but they really work. By doing those, we develop that sense of holiness, the sense of the presence of life in our lives, so all of our acts and words can have that.

This is where your homework comes in. Everybody, got your journals open? Because I’m going to give you homework. This is homework that’s not going to be another task, is not going to take any time. You’ll see what I mean. I’m making you a promise. You’re not going to have ten things to do “and I have to do my homework.” No, it’s not that kind of thing at all. The rules are that you have to pick—I’m going to give you three things—you have to pick one. Not two and not three, because we’re not microwave people that can instantly make things happen and change ourselves. We take time, just like kids take time to grow, and they’re this and this and this, and by the end of the year they’re here from here, and “when did that happen?” We’re the same kind of way, and our hearts and souls, it’s the same kind of a thing.

What I’m going to do is to encourage you to pick one of these things and to say, “For the next year, this is going to be my spiritual exercise. I’m going to commit myself to doing this, going to put some heart in it, [and] ask the Lord to help me with which one I pick.” Then at the end of the year, you can pick another one, because by the time that year is over—this is the guarantee—that, if you’ve really given yourself to that exercise, it’s going to be so much a part of you you’re simply not going to stop doing it. You’re going to feel that Christ is closer to you, that you have more of a sense of his presence in your life. That’s what these things are aimed for. That’s the purpose, the goal of these things.

The first one… I’ll go over them, so you can write these down and then the one of the things you can do during your free time, your journal time, is to think and pray. If you really want to risk, you can ask somebody else, like your husband, which one you should pick of these. Sometimes we don’t see ourselves that well. Sometimes we pick the one that we already know how to do, get a little easy one. So however it works for you in your hearts, what you want to do. “Lord, what you want me to do.” However that works for you in terms of your decision-making.

The first one is to ask Christ to bless everything that we do. So every time that you start a task, no matter what it is, you say, “Lord, bless me.” If you are in a situation in which you can make the sign of the Cross, you make the sign of the Cross. It’s that simple. Now, that doesn’t take any time. You can make the sign of the Cross while you’re going to get the vacuum cleaner. Whatever little prayer you want—“Christ, have mercy on me. Bless me to do this.”—that’s what you do. Sometimes what this enables, this particular exercise helps us to bring Christ into every aspect of our life, no matter what it is.

We know we want him in the big. If I’m going to decide: “Do I want to marry this man? Do I want to change jobs? Do I want to buy this new house?” Those things, we’re kind of used to asking Christ to help us with, but “Do I want peanut butter or tuna fish for lunch today?” Fr. Roman, one of our spiritual fathers, he says, “If you’re making a sandwich, have Christ next to you.” All the little things that we do, whether we’re sitting with a friend, whether we’re playing a computer game… It’s very interesting, for instance, if you’re playing a computer game, and you don’t want to ask Christ to bless you… well, that’s something good to pay attention to. Maybe it’s not an appropriate time for me to be doing this.

By doing this, we make our lives into a home for God. We acknowledge that all we have comes from him, and that his involvement in our life makes a difference to us. This is from Mother Catherine, [who] was a nun in England; she passed away. She says, “The smallest detail in life we can turn into a present for God, over which he rejoices, and in his joy makes it great.” In other words, we can welcome the smallest event exclusively as from his hands, receive it as a token of his tender love for us, and use it for him. That’s the point of this asking Jesus to bless everything that we do.

The second one is to give thanks to God for everything, no matter what. We thank God for every experience, every encounter, every piece of news, everything that comes our way. This exercise brings us to more of a trust in his presence, a trust in his providence, that he knows what he’s doing, and it acknowledges that his care, his loving care, can transform everything. It’s based on the crucifixion, which is the most evil of acts that ever could be done, but that most evil of acts became our salvation. So if he can take even his crucifixion and turn it into something good, he can take anything in our lives and turn it into something good.

If we had been at the foot of that cross, we couldn’t imagine how could this possibly happen; how could that possibly have been good. But it is.

Since the Resurrection, God’s providence in allowing his Son to suffer became abundantly clear to us. It’s not an easy exercise, and we don’t always want to do it. One time I was all dressed up like this, it was right after church, and there was something I wanted to do, and I was going to do it, and I had been told not to do it by my abbess and by spiritual father, but I wanted to do it. (You can see what’s coming, right?) So I set out to do it, and I went out one of the doors of the monastery, and there was a small stair, and I was looking for somebody, so I was walking quickly, so I walked down that stair. Got to the bottom of the stair; I was between a car and a truck in the driveway, stepped on a rock, and went flying forward. The only reason I saved my nose was because I was flat, was because the whole weight of my body was taken on my fist. I’m lying there. Not only was I in the driveway, in between a car and a truck, nobody could see me, I was in a pile of sawdust, because the maintenance man had been sawing something, and there was a lot of sawdust there.

I couldn’t move, my foot hurt like crazy—I found out later I had broken a bone in my foot—I bruised these ribs, and I’m lying there and I go: “Lord, you tell me I’m supposed to say thank you, so: Thank you.” But there was nothing in me that felt “Thank you.” Well, after things kind of calmed down and I got my foot taken care of and all that sort of stuff, I started to look at it and I thought, “Yeah, you were going to do your own will, that you had been told not to do.” So the Lord needed to bring me up short. In this case, he needed to do something dramatic, because I was clearly being disobedient.

You know things are not always quite that obvious, but sometimes giving thanks is very difficult. We had one lady who took on this exercise, and I saw her a year later and she said, “I did. You know what happened the first thing I got home? I found out that a young man that we know who was having trouble with drugs threw himself under a train car. How do I give thanks for that?” Well, sometimes you have to work at it; you have to figure it out. You have to give thanks for the life of that young man, that God maybe took him now because who knows what would have happened later. Death is never an accident. If the Lord didn’t want to take that man, that boy at that point, he wouldn’t have taken him; he would have lived. For some reason, the Lord knew that that was the exact right time to take that boy’s soul to heaven.

We see in God’s providence, we look for God’s providence, when we do this, so this is not… Well, none of these are easy, but this one sometimes in particular it gets a little bit hard. There’s a college student that took this exercise, and after a year he wrote an article in the OCF paper. He said:

Halfway through the year I was discussing the talk and the homework with my dad. I explained to him that it was quite fitting that I chose to give thanks to God because I was having a very excellent year. My father interjected with a perplexing comment: “It’s the other way around. Even though you’re having trials, you’re having a good year because you’re thanking God.”

So is your glass half-full or half-empty? I’m thanking God, so, yes, it’s good. So giving thanks to God for everything is the second exercise.

The third exercise, the first time I heard it made me mad. This is something that I picked up from Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos in one of his books. The exercise is: Be a bee, not a fly. The fly is the one, in a room like this that’s full of flowers and one pile of dirt, and the fly finds the pile of dirt. The bee, you can figure that out, right? It goes into a room that’s full of dirt with one flower, and the bee finds the flower. The first time I heard it I was so clearly a fly… Elder Paisios, he’s very definitive about this. He says, “You’re either a bee or a fly. You’re not half one and half the other.” So I was clearly a fly, and I didn’t like it.

The point of this exercise is to always look for the positive in whatever happens. It gives us a way out of our judgmental and critical thoughts about people. You can have this steady little murmur in the back of your head, which is one of the situations I deal with. You’re always sort of judging somebody, like: “Why is this person doing that? She’s wearing a green dress today; why a green dress?” Little things like that. “She put onions in my food. I hate onions.” I have to keep my mouth shut, and I’m awful at it. “Oh, yeah. We’ve got onions again in the food.” Well, I don’t hate them, but I don’t like them.

It helps us to forgive those who sin against us, because maybe somebody did something that actually hurts us. Let’s figure out how we can get them off the hook. One nun comes in and she says something sharp to me, and it’s like: “Where did that come from?” Then I start thinking, “Well, where did it come from?” Then I realize she just got the news that her uncle is dying. Okay, she’s a little bit not quite herself today. I can forgive her for that. I can live with that, and I can not get bothered by the sharp thing she said to me. So we look at the things that would normally upset us or hurt us, and we try to figure out what’s behind that. How can I let this person off the hook so that I can not get upset and angry and judging them?

We have to be a little bit careful about that, because there are things… If there’s a woman that’s being abused and she’s being beat up by her husband… There are limits to that in terms of letting someone off the hook. That’s just plain old wrong. We don’t have to call a sin right. That’s not the point of this exercise. If somebody clearly and obviously committed a sin against me, I don’t have to say it’s right. I have to forgive, but I don’t have to forget, and I don’t have to do this mental gyration inside of myself to try to make believe that that person didn’t commit a sin.

If we’re always looking for things that are positive, it’s harder to hold a grudge, and it gives us the strength to pray for others in all sorts of situations. Sometimes… Well, I’ll leave that there. We look for God’s hand in everything.

So we have three exercises here. We ask Jesus to bless everything we do. We give thanks to God for everything, no matter what. And we look to making ourselves a bee rather than a fly.

Each one of us can make a huge difference in our world. You just look throughout history and you find numerous examples of people who have left a great stamp on the world. One person, and if that person hadn’t been there, the world would be different, whether good or bad. It can be both, either way. We, as people, each one of us can make a huge difference.

I shared with you a little bit last night about Mother Alexandra and her life. Sometime I wouldn’t mind giving a talk about her, but anyway you can read the book. I want to talk about what she did for me, how her life made a difference for me. After she was exiled and she came to America, she put her children through school, she became a nun—I told you about this—but she never forgot this country, and she wanted to give this country a gift, and saw the spiritual poverty in this country, and felt like the Lord was calling her to make a monastery, to start a monastery. That was her gift to the United States, for all that this country had done for her and her family.

She didn’t have any money. Yeah, she was royal family, but the Communists had taken everything that she had when she left Romania. She had 24-hour notice and one truck. Whatever she could fit in that truck, and they looked over that to make sure she didn’t take anything that belonged to the state that was too valuable. So she didn’t have much, but she came here anyway, and she started the monastery and it was really hard. The first ten years were very difficult. Women came and went. “They comes, but mostly they goes,” was her saying. But she was faithful. People told her to give it up, stop, it’s not working, do something else. She said, “I did my duty as a princess, and now I’m doing my duty as a nun.” She stayed.

After ten years, we had another abbess come, Mother Benedicta; she came from Romania because things weren’t developing. So Mother Alexandra was basically kind of sidelined in favor of Mother Benedicta [who] had lived in a monastery since she was nine, so it was fifty years by the time she came. In Romania that was one of the things you could do. She went to live with an aunt, and then when she grew up she became a nun, actually was tonsured. She really set the typika, and then American women started coming. But Mother Alexandra stuck it out. She didn’t leave anywhere; she stuck it out then, even in that.

Ten years after that, she died. She’s buried in our monastery. We call it being “planted” in the monastery, so she’s “planted” there. She’s rooted in our monastery. We now have a monastery of ten women. We have thousands of people that come visit us every year. We have this journal that goes out to thousands of people every year. The monastery itself has had a great impact. It’s given me a home, so for me this is where the Lord called me to be. Her sticking it out and her being faithful to her God in what he asked her to do has allowed all of us to receive the fruits of that. One person. So we all have that ability.

There’s a balance to that, too. There’s a saying in the Church: “The only thing we can do by ourselves, totally all by ourselves, is go to hell.” If we’re going to be saved, it’s always in the context of community. I’ll go back to the Church and what we started talking about. We have in mind that it’s our calling to co-create with God, but not as an unconnected individual. It’s through the prayers of the whole Church. In the monastery we have a practice: we never put our name on anything. Somebody says, “Who cooked this?” We just say, “The sisters.” Or, “Who wrote that?” It’s a little bit harder now. I can’t say “the sisters” are up here talking, but basically we try to do that, because the understanding is that if those other nine nuns were not home doing their work and praying for me, I couldn’t be up here doing this. It’s through their prayers and through the grace that I get from them that I can do this. As individuals we make an incredible difference, and it’s done in the context of the Church and the community.

In The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which is a book that’s rather difficult to read, but it’s a real classic, he gives an example of what it’s like to be alone versus being in community. That’s the wild mustangs. He talks about wild mustangs, because they lived in the desert, and there must have been such horses there. He said one wild mustang can run pretty fast, but when they join a herd, they can run much faster. We definitely find this out in the monastery, that we can go, because we live in the community of like-minded people, we can grow much faster and deeper in our life in Christ. We are limited in our life in Christ only to the extent that we refuse to accept all he wants to give us, that we refuse to trust his wisdom and to remain in his body.

It’s for us to beg God every day for the grace and the strength and the wisdom to be worthy of these gifts. We pray every day that the Holy Spirit be with us and guide us. This is such an important prayer. The Holy Spirit is who teaches about God, who teaches us, who brings us into this relationship. We need to pray for the Holy Spirit. Matushka Juliana Schmemann said one time that she was asked to give a lecture on the Holy Spirit. She said, “How do I know? I don’t know!” She sat down and she started praying and she started reading and she worked it up, and she said at the end of that time she and the Holy Spirit were friends!

There are a lot of people in our day and age [who] live the life of an average, good Christian. The Lord loves them; they love the Lord. But really, frankly, given the state we live in today in the world, we need more than that. We need women like you who are willing to give yourselves to him, to be martyrs for him. We’re entering into that age, I think, where the martyrdom… There’s an old monastic saying that in the end times that the people who believe in God, who simply believe in God, are going to be doing greater ascetic works than the monks of the fourth and fifth centuries. I think we’re entering in that time now where we don’t live in a Christian culture, so just to believe in God is a great work, a great labor. That’s what Lord needs.

Fr. Stephen was talking last night about the women being the backbone of the community, and this is true. Your unity, how you are together, with each other, how you treat each other, how you love and you care for each other is going to have a direct effect on your whole church life, and how everybody else experiences life in your church. It’s just extremely important, what we’re doing here today; for you to come today, for you to take the time to be together is a greatly blessed work for Christ. I know within my heart how pleased he is.

In the strength of this unity, let that desire grow to bring all people whom you come in contact with into his saving grace. Allow yourselves that kind of martyrdom, to give up yourself, to give up your own will, to be there for him. Allow that to shine forth from you so that you can impact everybody that you come in contact with. There’s another saying—I’m full of sayings, I guess, today—“Preach Christ in everything that you do, and if necessary, use words.” Some of you might have heard that one. Just by how you walk down the street, you’re preaching Christ. Everything that you do, no matter what it is, you’re preaching him. As Metropolitan Bloom said earlier, every encounter we have is either towards salvation or against salvation, for both people involved.

Metropolitan Anthony says:

At every moment we are faced with insurmountable situations. If only we brought prayer to bear upon such situations, we would find, with the passing of each day and each hour, more opportunities than we ever imagined of making our prayer become and remain steadfast. Do we sufficiently remind ourselves that our human vocation transcends all human possibilities? Are we not called to be living members of Christ’s Body, to be in some way, both collectively and individually, an extension into our time of Christ’s incarnate presence? Are we not called to become participants in the divine nature?

Therein resides our human vocation, expressed in its most essential form, and in addition to all this our vocation is as far-reaching as the will and action of God. We are called to be the presence of the living God in the whole world of his creation.

This takes courage. It takes humility. It takes joy; it brings joy. And then we can rest on the Lord’s words to his Father: “Father, I pray that they all may be one, as you are in me and I in you; that they also may be in us; that the world may know that you have sent me.”

So to summarize what we’re talking about: God is real. We are real. God is a real Person. We are real persons. The devil is real, and when we encounter him we turn to Christ. God counts, and we count. We count! We’re important. God wants us to know him. We want to know him. God is faithful to us, and we are called to be faithful to him. It is this that makes our life count as being lived worthily. When the time for our own departure from the world comes, death will be for us a small step. There will be no fear. We’ll be like the son who recognized the father; he embraced the daughter who recognized the embrace, and we’ll be able to give ourselves fully and freely and complete to him and for the rest of eternity.

That’s all it’s all about. So we don’t have too much time for questions, but if you have… Then I have to give you your questions for your journal.

Yes? She wants to know, if she doesn’t have time to do her personal prayer in her morning and she’s praying as she’s going up and down the elevator or whatever, is that cheating? Well, it’s only cheating in that you’ve forgotten your personal prayer. You should be saying those prayers up and down the elevator. That’s part of turning your life into prayer. Some of you might know about the Jesus prayer. You might have heard about the Jesus prayer, and the point of that is that that fills your mind when it’s not filled with anything else.

Some people say it’s supposed to fill it all the time, but I haven’t figured that out. Mother Benedicta, she would say in her heavy Romanian accent—she sewed vestments for priests—“I have to cut out this material! I have to pay attention! I can’t be having this prayer going in my mind! I have to measure! I have to do all this kind of stuff.” But she’s doing it for God. The point is not to have those words necessarily always in your mind, but every time you have a free minute. When you’re setting a personal prayer rule, even if you have your personal prayer rule be the minimum that you do is two minutes in the morning. It’s very rarely that you don’t have two minutes; we have to be honest with ourselves.

Something in the morning is important to start out with. If that’s what you’re starting out with, two minutes, that’s fine. If you’re doing it faithfully, then you’re soon going to want to do three minutes, and then maybe after six months you’ll do four minutes. Prayer feeds itself. It builds on its own. To have that foundation is very important.

One thing that everybody can do without fail, very easy to do, is the first thing when you wake up in the morning and you kind of remember your name and who you are, is to make the sign of the Cross. The last thing you do at night, you do the same thing. You get in your bed and you’re falling asleep; make the sign of the Cross. That’s a prayer in and of itself, too. Even no matter how sick you are, you can still do that.

Q1: My excuse in the morning for not praying is that I can’t concentrate, so I wait till my brain is [...] able to concentrate, because I feel like if I stand in front of an icon and I say my two-minute quick prayer in the morning, I’ll be thinking about having coffee or whatever. So my prayer isn’t in my heart, it’s just coming from my mouth. Do you know what I mean?

Mother Magdalena: That’s where things that can be very personal—who you are in the morning… I usually get up in the morning and I get dressed. I don’t immediately say my prayers; I get dressed and say my prayers. I’ll tell you—this is a little bit of a tangent—the importance that we put on personal prayer in the morning: each nun has her own prayer rule. We don’t do copycat, cookie-cutter kind of stuff. We each have our own prayer rule in the morning that we do before we go to work, and our work is to walk down the hall to church for two hours. That two hours in church does not take the place of my few minutes in my icon corner, just me and my God. That’s the kind of importance that we put on personal prayer. Now, if it works for you, as long as you do your prayer and you have a routine that you do that in, whether you do it before or after you have your cup of coffee… That’s a moot point. The point is: are you starting out your day? The point where you’re starting out your day is [when you should pray].

One of the things at the monastery we try to do is, when the kids come to church, we get them to do things like light a candle or put the candles out. We don’t have a priest for a lot of our services, so the nuns do the censing, so we have those little hand-held censers that we give to kids, and they follow the nuns around. It’s so cute, because it’s like these little ducklings helping out with their little censers—they’re not lit! We put a couple of pieces of incense in them, so that they can look like hers. The nun’s, of course, is lit, and they go around and do that. Except the boys—man, talk about the difference between boys and girls! The girls, they’re quite happy to do that. The boys, they look in and fly around and say, “Where’s my smoke? I want smoke!”

Or we bring them up to read or we help them to carry a candle or something like that. Maybe there’s something that he can do that’s his job when you’re doing your prayers, whether it’s to make the sign of the Cross or however you have your prayers constituted, but something to bring him in, give him a place. Otherwise, if he’s listening, if he’s being quiet, what difference does it make if he’s playing with his truck? It’s going to go in anyhow. The prayers, they’re going to take root inside of him, because he’s going to have heard them time and time and time again. Each child is an individual, has to be worked with as an individual in terms of what’ll work for them or not, but it’s not so important that every child that’s that age has to stand like this… They can’t. That’s not their nature. It’s not who they are at that point.

I would say to try to bring him into that in some way, give him his thing that’s his to do, and don’t worry. As long as he’s being quiet, then don’t worry about it. Then, naturally, maybe things will grow from there. Maybe you’ll get yourself one of those little censers and let him wave it. We have the kids make the sign of the Cross when they’re going around the church like that. That’s what the nuns do with the hand-held censer, because the nuns use a hand-held censer, too, not the one on the chains. Yes?

Q2: The second option, of giving thanks to God for everything, would you recommend that we do that saying or just thinking? Is that something that we keep to ourselves or…?

Mother Magdalena: Depends on your context of what you’re in. It doesn’t matter. The point is what’s in your heart, whether it’s coming out of your mouth or not, it depends if it’s an appropriate situation to do that in. The heart is where it counts.

Q3: I have a question about “Preach Christ in all you do, and if necessary use words.” I’ve always been confused about Orthodox evangelizing, if I’ve stepped over a boundary… The older I get, the less I tend to have boundaries. [laughter] It happened that yesterday a serviceman came to the house and he was late on his phone and he apologized because he was talking to his doctor. I said, “Are you okay?” because he looked worried, and he took off his hat and showed me the bumps on his bald head which were from cancer. I immediately got out the St. John Maximovitch oil. I offered it to him genuinely, and he seemed open, and it kind of went from there. He said, “I don’t understand the Roman Catholics with their ‘worshiping Mary.’ ” “Of course you don’t,” I said. We had a little conversation, and it wasn’t a bad conversation, but is it okay to… I don’t quite understand what’s proper. Is it okay to just be yourself, or should we hold back?

Mother Magdalena: No, I wouldn’t hold back, but it is okay to be yourself. That’s the clue, is to be yourself.

Q3: But is it okay to give holy oil to somebody who’s not Orthodox?

Mother Magdalena: Sure. As long as it’s not unction oil, which you probably wouldn’t have in your house anyway. That’s something that’s on the altar.

Q3: I’m down to one bottle, anyway. [laughter]

Mother Magdalena: Yes, it is okay to do that kind of thing. As you say, we’re at different places at different times. We have one nun, Mother Galena; she’s from Kansas. I don’t know if it’s something… We tease her because of “Kansas friendly.” She goes out, and no matter where she goes, she comes home with names for our prayer list. She comes home with best friends. She sits in the airplane… I can be sitting in the same airplane with her—this has happened—she’s been sitting in the seat right in front of me. By the time we got off the airplane, she was great friends with this guy. She knew everything about him. The guy I was sitting next to, I hardly said hello to, because it’s just not my personality. We tease her. It’s like: “Okay, who’d you meet now?” We don’t even quite know how it happens. A lot of it has to do with personality. It has to do with age. Matushka Juliana, she just doesn’t care; she doesn’t care what anybody thinks. She just says it. She figures she’s 89, so she can get away with it!

Q4: When she gets on her “need to tell somebody” platform, it’s not just to [get] that book and beat them with it. It’s more of loving you and letting you know you’re misguided, and here’s what I know; see if it helps you.

Q5: Sometimes I feel wrong, because my mother, coming from that kind of generation was raised under the Communists. We never talked the way I talked.

Mother Magdalena: That’s true, you didn’t. We see that with Romanians.

Q5: After I do, I’m a little unsure.

Mother Magdalena: I think the important thing there is the discernment you’re talking about. You’re checking out what’s going on outside of yourself, and you’re asking yourself, “Is this a good thing to do right now?” and then you’re paying attention to the person that you’re doing it with, and if the door is open, walk through it. If it’s not open, then you don’t walk through it.

I’m getting the high sign from Jane. I need to get you your journaling questions. I have three questions for you, and they’re kind of involved, but you can take what you can choose. This is not sort of homework, so whatever you want to do with them, or some question that I didn’t come up with.

The first one has to do with: What does it mean to want God in my life? What does that mean to me?And what do I do to prevent him? What do I do to keep him out? That was what Fr. Stephen was talking about last night. What kind of blinders do I put on? Along with that, to ask ourselves the question: the relationship, am I slave or a servant or a daughter?

Q6: We already did that.

Mother Magdalena: Oh, sorry.

Q6: Can we start with number one?

Mother Magdalena: That’s all number one. [laughter]

Q6: That’s more than one!

Mother Magdalena: I’m trying to give you options.

What does it mean to want God in my life? What do I do to keep him out? What kind of blinders do I put on? Then, my relationship with him: am I a slave, a servant, or a daughter?

Number two: Which homework assignment do I think I want to do? Which homework assignment, of the three, do I think I want to do, and what do I hope will happen if I do it? Repeat it? Okay: What homework assignment do I feel attracted to? Even if you don’t feel like right now you want to… You’re thinking. Maybe you’re thinking about all three of them, and “I like this about this one,” “I like that about that one.” Then, what do I hope will happen if I take this particular one?

Sorry. I should have written these out, typed them out and given to you. Obviously I didn’t on the airplane! [laughter]

Okay? What one person made a difference in my life? Think about somebody who made a real significant difference in your life, and ask: What about that person enabled them to help me change? And how can I do the same for others? Think about someone who made a difference in your life, some one person who made a difference in your life, and what about that person enabled them to help you to change? What was it about them? For example, with Mother Alexandra, it was her faithfulness, her doing her duty or sticking it out that really helped and gave me that image of somebody, so when things go bad for me—she stuck it out, so I can stick it out. Then: How can I do the same for others?

I would ask that when you do these, when you go out to your journaling session, that you give each other the space to think quietly, so try not to do too much talking.

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