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2008 Annual Women's Retreat
By Diane Wilczak

Sixty women from Orthodox parishes throughout the Chicagoland area gathered together at St. Luke’s on Saturday, March 22nd to hear Mother Gabriella’s gentle and compassionate words of Christian joy.

In speaking of the joy of being a Christian, Mother opened with a quote from Step 30 of The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus,

“Blessed is the person whose love for God has become like the lover’s passion for the beloved. Even more than hunger; thirst, which so torments one in the desert, expresses the desire for God. Hunger makes itself felt gradually and vaguely, but the raging of intense thirst is unmistakable and intolerable. No wonder the person who longs for God cries, my soul thirsts for the living God.”

Mother Gabriella explained that this thirst for God is within all of us. We have a human nature and by the grace of God our human nature is transformed and transfigured, making us more and more like God. This is our purpose in life. But when we turn our back on Him and neglect our thirst for God, darkness and despair take over. This is why there are so many troubles in the world. The dark side of life becomes prevalent due to the absence of God in our lives. But with God there is joy.

She further described three steps in the process of gaining this transformation.

Step 1. Purification. We are always working towards a state of purification, of purifying our senses and disciplining our lives. Purification requires great effort and sometimes pain. Purification requires change—a change of mind, a change of heart, and a change of habits. It takes courage, a strong will, and great personal effort. Taking part in the sacraments at this time gives us the power that is needed to bring about this change.

Step 2. Elimination. Through purification we begin to understand God and experience His divine Wisdom. The struggle becomes easier in stage 2 because we gain enthusiasm. The Holy Spirit takes over and we begin to interpret the world differently; we see the reason in God’s Plan.

Step 3 Perfection. When Divine Perfection is achieved, we receive God’s rewards. We feel the Grace of God and the joy of being in the presence of God. We accept God’s Will and we are at peace. We enter into the realm of beatitude. The perfect Will of God is to do good with all our heart, power and love. It is not enough to just do good. God also looks at the disposition of our heart as well. Attitude counts! We must have a joyful attitude in all we do.

As Mother Gabriella next spoke about inner beauty and meditation, her words wafted down upon us as the sweetness of incense during Liturgy. She explained that the attributes of God are present everywhere. Our minds should be like sponges absorbing this Godly joy for it causes man to be lifted up; it causes the soul to be free of the body; it flies toward heaven and relieves us from evil, and it raises us up above the cares of the world. In closing her explanation of joy, she left us with a quote from St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” +

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