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Ukrainian monks settle in Canada.

From the very beginning of Christianity monasteries have been regarded as the heart in the life of the Church; for every monastery is to be a spiritual centre, a meeting place with God. The entire life of the monks (or nuns) is directed towards the closest possible union with God through spiritual and physical works. With God's help, as much as possible, the monk unites himself with God, encouraging as many as he can to union with God. Therefore, although at times it may be disruptive for the monks, the monastery doors are open to receive guests, those who seek to have an encounter with God.

In March, 1999, a community of Ukrainian Catholic monks from Ukraine came to live at the former Trappist monastery (built 1981) in Hockley Valley near Orangeville, some two hours away from bustling downtown Toronto. Because of lack of vocations the Trappists transferred from their monastery in Orangeville to their motherhouse in Oka, Quebec.

Interested entrepreneurs offered large sums for this ideal property located on a hilltop and surrounded by 125 hectares of scenic woods, streams, and farmland. But the Trappists were faithful to their pledge that this always remains a monastery and that the graves of their departed brothers in the monastery cemetery would be reverently preserved. Their fervent and persevering prayers were answered in a way they could not have anticipated: a group of young monks in a distant land and speaking a language unfamiliar to them would cross the ocean to continue the monastic way of life in Hockley Valley.

Eastern rite monks

Who are these new monks? They are monks of the Eastern Church, steeped in the traditions of monasticism. They are monks of the Studite Rule. In 9th century Constantinople in a monastery named Studios lived St. Theodore, a great monastic leader. He wrote a Rule, based on that of St. Basil, but different from it in significant ways. The reform of St. Theodore the Studite (as he came to be known) spread to Asia Minor and the Slavic countries, Ukraine being one of them.

In contrast to the Rule of St. Basil, the Rule of St. Theodore stipulated that the monastic communities be relatively small, that there be an enclosure, and that there be continuous prayer, day and night. According to the Studite Rule the same monastery can include monks that live in community and those that live alone, hermits or pustinyky (solitaries). This is a very important aspect. Indeed it is to be expected that the older monks will embrace this life of a solitary, their communal life having prepared them for this vocation within a vocation.

Thanks to the efforts of Servant of God Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky, the Studite way of monasticism was renewed in Ukraine. The first monks of the Studite Rule were, in fact, guided by (then) Bishop Sheptytsky himself. In 1919 they were given a monastery in Univ, Ukraine as the entree to monastic renewal. Monasticism following the Studite Rule flourished, but was decimated by the Communist takeover of Ukraine in the 1940's. With the downfall of Communist rule in the early 1990's and the public restoration of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, monasticism of the Studite Rule has been restored and in less than ten years has shown vigorous growth.

The monasteries that follow the Studite Rule are not centralized. The monastery in Orangeville does not have enough members with final profession to be autonomous. Until this is the case, it is a branch of the St. Theodore Studite Monastery located in Kolodiivka, Ukraine (in the Ternopil Oblast). The hegumen (Superior) of the monastery in Kolodiivka (which has around forty members) also oversees the Monastery of the Holy Mother of God in Orangeville. There are plans to found new monasteries in Ukraine in the near future, thus decreasing the number of monks in Kolodiivka.

Formation

Each aspirant to the monastic life receives his formation in the monastery which he enters. The formation process encompasses three stages. The candidate receives a blessing and prepares for the next phase--to be a poslushnyk, one who obeys (listens). Usually at the end of a year he receives his ryassa (habit) and kamalavka (head covering). According to the Studite Rule, the monks retain their Christian names. At the end of three years, with much festivity and liturgical solemnity in a public celebration, he enters the final phase--final profession. He lies prostrate on the floor and then is clothed in the monastic garb. After being blessed, the following are presented to the monk: ryassa, belt, cross, Jesus beads, and the klubok--head covering with a veil. This monastic garb is important, for it symbolizes being clothed with power from God to wage spiritual warfare and, when worn with faith, protects against the assaults of the Evil One. Monastic dress is a constant reminder that one belongs to God and lives solely for God. It is also possible, however, that one entering the monastery wishes to remain an aspirant or poslushnyk for a longer time or even a lifetime. Respecting the needs of each individual, the Rule makes allowance for this.

The basis of the monastic vocation is prayer. With St. Paul the monk says: "I only want to know Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1Cor 2:2). The monk has no ambition save that of being identified with Christ Crucified. The life of a monk is Christocentric--centred on Christ and His Cross. Flowing from this is the second vocation of the monk: to offer hospitality, to share the fruits of his vocation of prayer with others. The monastery is a "small Church," and by accepting and receiving people the monks introduce them to the Church or deepen the love of their guests for the Church.

With these words St. Athanasius the Great summed up the aim of monastic life: God became human so that humans can become deified. This transformation especially takes place during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the reception of the Holy Eucharist, God Himself.

The Mother of God is an example for every monk to follow. Every moment of her life was dedicated to serving the Lord. It is precisely in this humble and hidden serving that her true greatness lies--and this her children can emulate.

Daily routine

The Monastic rule of St. Theodore Studite stipulates that the day be divided into three equal parts: prayer, work, rest. But in effect, the entire day is one of prayer, liturgical prayer communally, or private prayer, during work or rest.

The monastic day begins at 3:30 a.m. with the sound of the monastic bell. Liturgical prayer begins at 4:00 a.m. with Matins, Lauds, and the Divine Liturgy, lasting until 9:00 a.m. The monks then have their first meal in common. After breakfast, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., the monks go to their various tasks as assigned by the Superior. They may also have lectures during this time. At 4:00 p.m. the bell calls everyone to Vespers, after which comes the second and final meal of the day. The day ends with Compline, a reading of the Monastic Rule, examination of conscience, and mutual reconciliation. The monastery does not receive guests on Friday, in order to provide for a time for deeper prayer, a stricter fast, silence, and communal sharing. During the course of the day there is uninterrupted prayer. Monks with some "free" time make the "Divine Watch": praying in the chapel for the other monks and for the whole church and world. Thus a constant stream of prayer is sent up to God.

According to the hegumen of the Monastery, Father Hryhoriy Planchak, who resides in the monastery of St. Theodore the Studite in Kolodiivka, Ukraine, and who periodically visits his monks in Orangeville, there are no big plans for the monastery here in Canada. All is left in the hands of the Lord. The Monastery of the Holy Mother of God is not the fruit of planning by the monks in Ukraine. In fact, there were other plans, but (in his words), "God mixed us up with His plans, that we come to Canada. We must be open to His will and accept all that God asks of us. Our mission is to bring the love and the light of God to our people, to all who come seeking for Him."

This article is based on an interview on December 17, 1999, with Father Planchak, who was visiting the monastery until early January, 2000. The writer of this article and some twenty others came for the first live-in weekend retreat to be conducted at the Monastery by the monks of the Studite Rule. At this time conferences are being given in the Ukrainian language only--the monks are studying English, and no doubt in the future will be able to give retreats for their guests in English as well. Two of the brothers are proficient in the English language and thus are able to minister to English-speaking visitors.

At present there are eleven members in the monastic community at Orangeville, including a priest, a deacon, and an aspirant to the monastic way of life according to the Studite Rule. The aspirant is from Manitoba.

Heart of the town

In the early history of the Church many towns had their own monastery. The prayers arising from this spiritual centre--the heart of the town or village--had the power to help the people surrounding the monastery with their spiritual problems. The monks at the Mother of God Monastery in Orangeville wish to continue this tradition. They also are committed to continue the tradition of prayer and hospitality begun by the Trappists. To show their monastic solidarity, Trappist monks, former members of the monastery, came from Oka, Quebec, to participate in the official opening and blessing of the Monastery on September 18, 1999, by Bishop Cornelius Pasichny, OSBM, Eparch of Toronto.

A visit to the monastery can be an occasion for deepening one's faith life or for becoming converted to the life of faith. This does not come about so much by brilliant preaching but by the gentle, joyful presence of the monks. After being in the presence of the monks for a time, one sees that their austere and challenging way of life, in particular their life of prayer, has transformed them. One gets the impression that they have their priorities in order, that they are in harmony with God, neighbour, self, and nature. A guest at the monastery returns home filled with hope that a Christian life is possible, that it "works," that it is the greatest treasure one can have. Seeing is believing.

In keeping with the long monastic tradition of hospitality, the monastery has a ten-room guest-house wing, where retreatants and guests are housed all year round. Private retreats are self-directed. An atmosphere of prayerful silence and quiet is provided, which allows the individual to enjoy a reflective stay. A hospitality room is available for guests to enjoy a conversation if they wish. Retreatants are welcome to join the monastic community for the Divine Praises (Divine Office). Divine Liturgy (the Eucharistic celebration) is celebrated each day. Generally the daily honorarium is $30.00, which includes meals. Guests need bring only their personal effects. To make arrangements for a private retreat, please call the monastery at (519)941-9428, fax: (519)941-6510, or write to Mother of God Monastery, Hockley Heights, #5, Orangeville, ON, Canada L9W 2Z2.

Sister Victoria is a member of the Congregation of Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate. She resides in Toronto.
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Author:Hunchak, Victoria
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2000
Words:1929
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