Over President’s Day break, my mom and I were invited to go on a women’s church retreat. The retreat was at the St. Mary & St. Demiana Convent of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese in Dawsonville, Georgia. For those who may not know, the Coptic Orthodox church is right alongside the Catholic church in that it is one of the oldest, most rooted churches in history. The word “Coptic” actually comes from the Greek word for “Egyptian.” Brought from the apostle, Mark, the Coptic Orthodox church carries the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East. With this being said, it is embedded in rich history and traditions.
The St. Mary & St. Demiana Convent is a place for women who have walked away from their lives and have devoted themselves to a lifetime of serving and worshipping God in peace and solitude. The estate was on a beautiful, quiet lake, isolated from everything.
What was most inspiring to me about the nuns was their contentment in being fully satisfied in nurturing a relationship with Christ. Their days consisted of prayer, quiet time with God and work to be done around the church site. Some were in charge of running the bookstore, others for cooking, others for cleaning, etc. Our group was able to see and get a taste of what it was like to live in a convent.
Another thing I noticed about the nuns is that they were truly glowing. We use the word “glowing” nowadays as a way to compliment someone’s physical appearance, such as their “glow up” or their “transformation” after a break-up. However, these nuns did not have any “makeup highlighter” that suggested their glow, but they were all glowing from within. Each of them was genuinely so happy to be serving and speaking with our group.
A mother named Mother Dolecki spoke to us on the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is merely things that are temporary elements of this world: a large social media following, the newest shoes, the must-have makeup product. Even sometimes with people, we find that we seek security in in our lives that can quickly fade and we go search for something else. Each of us tends to search for happiness rather than joy, even though happiness is only temporary. However, joy is internal peace, confidence, rest and unity that can truly be found in Christ. Especially as women, oftentimes we get confused with the two because of society’s expectations that have been placed on us. She asked us, “Why do we tend to look for happiness when it doesn’t give us full joy?”
She also used the metaphor of a house that is only yours. Picture each room filled with prized possessions, people, careers, etc. There is, therefore, no space for God to rest. She planted a question, asking us, “What are the things in your heart that you need to let go of so that you can experience full joy?”
A sister named Sister Gabriella spoke about her journey to monastic life. She said that she was stubborn as a teenager and was only going to church and Sunday School because it was something she had to do. She had believed the misconception that Christians were not allowed to have fun and, thus, only were allowed to be sad and miserable with their lives. As she got older, she realized that being Christian is not a burden, but the most beautiful offering you could give back to Jesus for the price He paid for our sins.
Sister Gabriella stated that females are determined. We all have a determination in us and it is one of our most valued advantages. Whatever we are determined to do, Sister Gabriella suggests that we do it out of Christian love.
Mother Demiana had stated that for her, things started to lose value in her life as she approached her life as a nun. Her successful career had no longer fulfilled her, the money she was earning had no value, the search in finding a husband had no importance, etc. All she wanted was to be love. Not to be loved by someone, but IMITATE LOVE as a daughter of Christ.
The sisters and mothers of the convent reminded us all of how little importance a social media following, outfits or trendy restaurants have in comparison to a nurturing friendship with God. Rather than being so focused on the tangible, worldly pleasures in my life, I was inspired to “become love” in my own life and spread Christian light to those around me.
“Let all that you do be done with love.” 1 Corinthians 16:14
“that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love” Ephesians 3:17
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8