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
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
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.” +