Monday, December 24, 2018

Candles and feta cheese: Greek monastery nuns 'working around the clock' prepping for Christmas

Christmas preparations are both spiritual and material, say the nuns at a monastery in Lachute, Que.

Monastery website

Sister Macrina, who lives at Virgin Mary the Consolatory monastery, says the most important thing about the holiday preparations is preparing your heart. (CBC)

Tucked away in the Laurentians near Lachute, Que., 22 women are frantically working — painting artwork, making candles and producing feta cheese, all by hand.

It is as busy as Santa's workshop, except the 22 women aren't Santa's elves —​ they're Greek Orthodox nuns.

They live in the province's only Greek Orthodox monastery, Virgin Mary the Consolatory, and have been getting ready for Christmas for weeks.

"The purpose of the nativity is for Christ to be born in our hearts. So the preparations have to be preparing the heart," says Sister Macrina​.

The monastery bells need to be warmed up so they can be played in the winter. (CBC)

Other preparations go even further back: since Nov. 15, the sisters have been fasting by abstaining from food such as eggs and milk.

The nuns, some of whom are from Montreal while others from as far away as Lebanon, also bake five loaves of sweet-tasting bread, which they offer to the church.

Take a trip inside the Greek monastery

CBC News Montreal
Greek monastery nuns prepping for Christmas

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However, not all the celebrations are purely religious. The monastery grounds span 235 acres and the nuns have buildings for making cheese, devotional candles and religious artwork.

Sister Theodora says the nuns have been "working around the clock" getting ready for Christmas.

Sister Theodora is originally from Montreal's Park Ex neighbourhood. (CBC)

At the cheese factory, the nuns are making a special feta cheese where they spice the curds with special Christmas flavours.

The nuns create Greek feta goat cheese, which is sold in grocery stores. (CBC)

In the candle shop, special Christmas candles made entirely out of beeswax are produced by hand.

"We try to offer to God whatever is most purist," says Macrina​.

The nuns make the candles they use inside their church. (CBC)

In the workshop, the nuns have been hand-panting Byzantine style icons. Sister Theodora says the icons are to "transport the person's mind and heart to Christ."

On special feast days, the nuns will bake 5 loaves of bread. This is done to commemorate the section in the Bible where it says Jesus feed 5,000 people with 5 loaves. (CBC)

Sister Theophano says the preparations keep everyone busy.

"It is a stressful time of year because there are a lot of preparations and, of course, very limited time to do them, but the joy of the nativity coming dissipates​ everything and brings joy into our hearts."

Inside the workshop, where religious icons are made that are sold in the monastery gift shop. (CBC)