From an interview by Despina Prassas with Mother Raphaela (Abbess of the Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery – Otego, New York)
D.: What counsel would you give to a woman contemplating the monastic life?
M.R.: That is a very difficult question, because I have learned that every single woman who comes or is thinking about the life or doesn’t know she is thinking about the life but is brought here for who knows why, is different. And there are no recipes.
I would say the most important thing is simply to work on growing before God, and I use those words very advisedly. It is not just becoming more “pious” in a way that means that a woman comes here woefully unprepared to give her whole life to God: she has her little church life, and the rest of it she doesn’t consider good enough or holy and sacred, and she tries to bring in just that part of herself. But you can’t live twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks a year with the same women and just bring in a little part of yourself. It doesn’t work. The other parts are always there. I would just try to live as normally as you can before God. The monastic life is living with other people and working hard. I would say try to live as balanced and as whole a life as you can. If you are trying to be somebody other than yourself, if you are trying to deny who you are, you are not going to make a good nun, because a good nun is somebody who is facing the whole of who she is before God, with all of her gifts and all of her limitations.
Some people look at the monastic life and ask themselves how can they possibly squeeze themselves into that small space. But the true monastic vocation is getting rid of the limitations you have placed on yourself and is actually a much broader environment than the world, something that people don’t realize. I think every sister here has had the same experience I did coming into this life – I don’t want to be quite that big, I don’t want to grow that much, I don’t want to be that large. And it is not an escape. We don’t have the escapes that most people have in the world, without even realizing it. If I’ve had it with my sisters, I can’t just hop in the car and go see a movie. I can’t “veg” out in front of the television. We’ve taken solitaire off the computers. We don’t play games here. There are a lot of escapes that we don’t have. We have had women come here who after twenty-four hours just have to leave. They can’t handle it. It is too scary. It takes a physically and mentally healthy woman. We are all slightly neurotic; everyone is. But there has to be a basic health in order to survive here.
So, I think the main thing to say to a woman is to grow just as best as you can, and if you think you’ve got a calling, visit monasteries. It is a lot of work but a lot of fun.