My dear family,
I am writing with some very good news to share - next month I will be tonsured to the little schema. The abbess and the elders have decided it is the time for me to take my vows and become a full nun. This is very exciting for me, as it is something I have long hoped for. It is in truth a wedding, and as with any wedding, it is both the culmination of years spent in developing a relationship as well as the beginning of a new life.
Over the many years of my spiritual journey you have all been supportive - although I suspect that you wondered at times what had gotten into me. I am sure you remember how in my college days I rejected the Church, seeking to find truth elsewhere. I tried everything I could find as long as it was not Christian: humanistic psychology, New Age, yoga, and all the rest, even paganism. But I didn't find truth and instead got very muddle-headed and chronically depressed. Every path I tried claimed to be "the best" way to self-knowledge, self-actualization, perfection. How could this be, that all were "the best?" Years of spiritual searching left me empty, and, even though surrounded by fellow-seekers, very lonely. I well remember the days in which I hit bottom. They were very dark. And into that dark, cold loneliness, on one chilly October night a ray of light pierced my heart. Jesus in His infinite gentleness and mercy came to call me, called me to return to His fold, to His rest. He filled my emptiness with the sweet knowledge of His love. Why me? I haven't a clue. I was even worse than the Prodigal Son, who at least came to his senses and of his own volition returned to his father. I hadn't even realized what I was missing. Perhaps it was your prayers that drew Christ's mercy upon me, you who had grieved over me all those many lost years. You certainly were overjoyed when at long last I returned to the Church.
This was good but still I yearned for more. I could not "get enough" of Jesus. So I started thinking about monasticism, but for you this seemed to be going too far. You asked was it really necessary, the life of a nun seemed so hard and somber. To make such a choice - to become a nun in full habit in these days is rather like paddling upstream! So along with my announcement, I thought to give you - with quite a broad brush - a brief explanation of my choice, hoping also to help you understand the rich, abiding joy that is in this life.
There is an explanation of why someone would become an Orthodox monk or nun that I really like. The first part is, "A monk or nun is one who has given up the good gifts of God": understanding that marriage, family, career, ownership of property, etc. are gifts from God means the monastic affirms their intrinsic value. The monk/nun recognizes these as being good. In other words a person who is a misanthrope or a social misfit isn't likely to make a good monastic, nor would someone who generally can't cope with life. So why would anyone voluntarily walk away from such a life with all its rewards and fulfillment?
The full explanation is: "A monk or nun is one who has given up the good gifts of God in order to possess God Himself." I have only one reason for choosing this life: because I have experienced in a very small yet real way the reality and presence of Jesus Christ. And that reality contains within it such sweetness, joy, love, and light that all life's other choices pale in comparison. The Orthodox monastic life offers the concrete opportunity to experience the Kingdom of Heaven in this life - even just a foretaste of which is enough to claim all one's loyalty. I am not here because the "lifestyle" suits my taste - in fact living in such close proximity with a group of women not of one's choosing can be a bit daunting! Nor do I think this life is "politically correct" - celibacy, obedience, black habit, and all! I am here solely because Jesus in His particular, individual love for me has given me to know that it is pleasing to Him. In His infinite kindness and gentleness He has chosen for me the monastic marriage. All of which is not to give the impression that I float through life on a rosy cloud. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." To become pure of heart is the work of a lifetime, and a difficult work at that. But being a nun offers me a chance to die to my old self, to offer genuine repentance for the sins of my past life, and to be reborn, clothed anew in Christ Himself.
I want to invite you to the wedding feast! I want you to rejoice with me, to share this prodigal's "fatted calf." And I need your prayers so that when the day of my tonsure comes I may be found worthy to be numbered among the five wise virgins, and enter into the joy of my Lord. I look to seeing you!
Love in Christ,
Your daughter and sister