By Carol Rose Hranek

This past weekend, April 1-2, we were blessed to help Fr. Joseph Veresh host a retreat with a women’s group from the International Theological Institute in Trumau, Austria. He chose as his text “’The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” by St. John Climacus. St. John was a hermit for many years in the monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai and it was there that he wrote this very poetical work. Starting with a vivid image of the ladder, Fr. Joseph explained the means by which one can ascend the rings of this ladder and be united with God spiritually here on earth, while we await to be with Him in heaven, our final destiny. This Lenten theme concerning the importance of renouncing the world, fighting our vices and passions, and seeking to practice virtue with the help of God’s grace, inspired the retreatants. The spiritual atmosphere and the glorious spring weather in Gaming were very conducive to meditation and prayer. Many of the students enjoyed the presence of God also while hiking around the Kartause, going to the waterfall or doing the Stations of the Cross.

Saturday evening was dedicated to Our Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, by singing and praying the “Akathist Hymn,” which in the Byzantine tradition is a way of expressing the mysteries of the rosary by chanting them. For a brief moment, I felt as though we were touching heaven. The gentle, sweet and harmonious voices filled the vault of the Byzantine Chapel, as each of us, one by one, placed a lit candle before the icon of our Lady and venerated it. In these symbolic gestures we rededicated ourselves with great love to Our Lady asking for her continual maternal protection and guidance.

On Sunday during our closing Divine Liturgy, Fr. Joseph encouraged all of us to learn from Jesus who is “meek and humble of heart.” “Meekness as an unchangeable state of mind, which remains the same in honor or dishonor, and humility that recognizes and understands our dignity yet nothingness before God, are a good team,” he said. And, “Only in and through the love of Jesus Christ can we practice these virtues and be united to God.”