Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Trappist monks ordained as transitional deacons amid joy of Advent

By FATHER JAMES STEPHEN BEHRENS, OCSO, Special to the Bulletin | Published January 10, 2019

Editor’s note: Father James S. Behrens, OCSO, offers this reflection on the Dec. 8 ordination of two monks as transitional deacons by Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger. The two will be ordained priests this summer.

CONYERS—Advent is the season during which we await the coming of the Lord. It is a time we are asked to prepare for his arrival by taking to heart the need to repent of our sinfulness and rejoice: God has blessed us with the gift of his Son. And through this gift we are sharers in the eternal joy that is divine life.

Bishop Bernard E Shlesinger III, foreground center, ordained Brother Cassian Russell, OCSO, left, and Brother Peter Damian Spera, OCSO, right, as transitional deacons at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers Dec. 8. The two will be ordained priests this summer. Photo By Father James S. Beherens, OCSO

Normally, we monks try and do the best we can to maintain the discipline that is asked of us during Advent. Basically, that means a change of pace, color and a more focused frame of mind at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. We try to be watchful regarding the momentum of each day, allowing it as much as we can to be slow enough so that we can better absorb the meanings given us in the readings from Scripture, our daily round of Offices and our daily celebration of the Eucharist. Our Advent wreath stands in our church aisle, its purple and rose candles gradually lit, one after another, with each successive week of the Advent cycle. Our vestments are purple, too, and are quite beautiful. All of this helps us and our guests better focus on all that Advent has to offer us, not least being the importance of waiting, waiting for what is truly good for us.

[How does one become a monk?]

During this recent Advent, something different and quite wonderful took place. You might say that the Lord revealed his love and presence to us through two very special men—men who have already shown a willingness to share their gifts with us in their years at the monastery.

Brothers Cassian Russell and Peter Damian Spera were ordained to the Order of Deacon in our Abbey Church on Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mother. Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III conferred up them the Order of Deacon. It was a beautiful ceremony.  Cassian and Peter are no strangers to the call or service, which was officially conferred upon them through the call of the church to serve as deacons.

Cassian is our sub-prior and is a great help to Abbot Augustine Myslinski. He also serves as master of novices and is of invaluable help to the Cistercian Lay Associates at the monastery.

Peter has worn many hats here, and has done so gladly and willingly. He presently serves the community as a cook. He also finds time to help in the Abbey Store and has previously helped the sick in the infirmary.

Peter and Cassian both serve as well on various committees that keep this community healthy and afloat. Peter gives of his talents to our Monastic Schola, which is demanding more time than usual these days since we are in the process of changing all of our music to that chanted by the monks of Gethsemani in Kentucky.

So the gift that is Christmas came, in part, a bit ahead of time this year. And it was a very festive and joy-filled arrival. We set a day apart and celebrated the ongoing journey of two monks, two brothers, two friends. And, to our added delight, there is more to come. God is good. God is generous. God holds good things in store for those who wait.

And so we shall wait, wait for June when the bells will ring once again, and Peter Damian and Cassian will be ordained to the priesthood.  That day will be like the joy of a Christmas Day in the June of a Georgia summer.