Friday, March 14, 2014

Mother Thekla (Awad) and the Monastery of St John the Baptist

Arabic original here.

Mother Thekla Brings Life Back to the Historic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Enfeh through Renovations and Building New Sections

by Zeina Isa

The historic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist is located in the town of Enfeh, on the ruins of a Byzantine church. Nearby are stone crypts that go back to the early centuries of Christianity. Over the years, this monastery has undergone many changes. For many years, the monastery was ruined and abandoned. The people of the village would visit it once every year to celebrate the feast of its patron on July 7. In 1974, work was begun to renovate the monastery by people from the town and zealous youths. Then, in the 1980's, the Orthodox Youth Movement undertook additional renovations in order to turn the monastery into a center for the Movement's gatherings and activities. Between 2005 and 2006 the stones of the church were cleaned and put in order and the icons were restored. This was done by Metropolitan Elias Kurban of thrice-blessed memory.

Father Germanos Abdallah Tadros, who lived until 1920, was the last abbot of the monastery. He was from the town of Enfeh and there still exist prayer books copied by his hand. It is worth mentioning that two of these manuscripts exist at the Monastery of Saint Jacob the Persian in Dedeh, al-Koura. Today, after the passing of many long years, Mother Thekla (Awad) lives there. She herself is a daughter of the town and was assigned by Metropolitan Ephrem (Kyriakos) of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies as abbess of the monastery. He has also delegated a special committee to oversee the work of restoration, building new buildings and improving and beautifying the surrounding lands.

At the end of last year, during my visit to the town, I met with Mother Thekla, who received me with an eager embrace and spoke to me about her work in the monastery, her future aspirations and her spiritual life. She took me on a tour of the monastery and explained its history. She showed me to a small crypt under the sanctuary that contains three stone sarcophagi. The monastery's reception hall goes back to the Middle Ages, when the Crusaders built an oil press there.

Mother Thekla completed her postgraduate studies in 1979. In that year, she abandoned everything in this world in order to pray for the world. She entered the monastery where she stayed for 17 years and then, by divine providence, she moved to the United States, where for 13 years she undertook missionary activity among the Arab community and other communities. On July 7, 2010 Metropolitan Ephrem (Kyriakos) asked her to return to take over leadership of the abandoned Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Enfeh and to establish a women's monastery there.

After her return and with the blessing of Metropolitan Ephrem, Mother Thekla set up a workshop for repairs and undertook many improvements, including preparing furnishing a room in the old building for receiving visitors from among the faithful and holding spiritual retreats. Perhaps her most important achievement was building the Saint Elizabeth House for nuns. She hopes, when it is completed, to attract nuns who want to share in life at the monastery so that monastic life will once again return to it. For this work, Mother Thekla relies entirely on donations and so work is being completed slowly, "The plan is being completed with the help of benefactors, one step at a time, by God's providence."

When I asked about her reason for choosing the monastic life, Mother Thekla replied:
"Everything is passing, but Jesus' love remains forever. When I graduated from university and wanted to take up monasticism, it raised a stir in town. Many people wondered why, believing that I was wasting my future and my life. But at  that time I was wondering within myself, 'Married life will give me one family, but monastic life will give me a countless number of families and this is the Lord's will.'"

She added, "The spiritual father Porphyrios would always repeat the saying 'Sanctify the time'. He would pray for us in the monastery and he had three hopes: that a monastery for women be built before his death, that the monastery's bell be rung every hour so that the Lord will be remembered no matter where the nuns are, and-- his final hope-- that the word of the Lord spread throughout the world through the use of new technology, that would allow the nuns to help members of the flock through prayer and advice. I would like to live out these three hopes with the blessing of Sayedna Ephrem, the pastor of the monastery and its spiritual father. We must seek out Christ through the Jesus Prayer which the fathers repeat, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me Your sinful servant.'"

During her time in the United States, Mother Thekla undertook missionary activities and strove to help members of the Arab community and foreigners spiritually and materially. She felt people's pain and became familiar with their problems, "The Lord Jesus solves problems. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. My strength is perfected in Christ." After returning to Lebanon, she stayed in contact with members of the flock in the diaspora through modern technology, which made it possible for her to help all those seeking spiritual advice and prayers. "Every era according to its own requirements. In this era, we must open the horizons of thought and use the internet to communicate with all who love God and the Church."

Through her hard work and perseverence, Mother Thekla is trying to realize those three hopes. As much as is possible, she tries to knock the simandron every hour, even as she lives alone at the monastery, hoping that the day will come when some nuns will share her life there after the completion of the Saint Elizabeth House for nuns. Mother Thekla does not hide her love for the land and for gardening, since she has a garden with many types of vegetables and trees, including "Olive, for the production of holy oil, rose for the production of rosewater, and lavender." As for the vegetables, they're for the consumption of the monastery's inhabitants.

Since moving to the monastery, Mother Thekla has been searching for a simandron to replace the simandron that had been lost, in order to praise the Name of the Lord every hour. Now, for the first time, there is also a bell at the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist, which was installed on Saturday, November 16.

Today the monastery attracts many faithful visitors from various places, especially on the feast of its patron on July 7, when there are prayers and vigils.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for translating my article.I only just discovered it today.
Zeina Issa