Grace in Argentina
By Judith Jolma
Originally published in ByziKids Magazine, Jan. 2022
Tucked in the foothills of a South American mountain, a dirt road winds through an open gate leading to The Byzantine Catholic Monastery of the Transfiguration. The monastery is isolated and quiet, surrounded by lush vegetation, scenic landscapes, and water. Families come from far distances, sometimes leaving their homes at 5 in the morning, to attend Divine Liturgy in the Curamalal mountains in Argentina.
“It is a curious thing to see,” said María Reyes de Herrera, “In the congregation, there are truck drivers, engineers, and people who do many different things. We are all native Spanish speakers, but here we are chanting the Liturgy in Slavonic and Greek.”
Founded less than 20 years ago, the monastery is home to two priests and a monk. They grow their own food and medicine, study iconography, and welcome a steady stream of guests. This is a paradise, and children especially love to spend time here.
Last year, the monks asked Miss Maria and her husband to help with the children who visit. “You should see the children attend liturgy,” she said. “They all sing! Even the 2-year-old! He sings!” Miss Maria believes it is important for the children to be happy and to feel at home. The children in response love attending Divine Liturgy.
“Catechesis is not something that happens in a moment,” Miss Maria said, “but must be drunk like mother’s milk in every moment. Children must live in the catechism and not be taught something in a little lesson as if they are done when it is over. They suckle like mothers milk.”
Of course, she knows that children learn their faith first at home. However, all of the families who come are of Latin rite origin and are new to Byzantine traditions. They need some help when teaching their children.
The first lesson is to stand. This is how they learn what is important, and about reverence, and about presenting yourself before God. So the first catechism is attending Liturgy. Miss Maria said the little girls like to turn their backs to the altar. “They want attention. They twirl or chatter. But we teach them to face the altar. To be present to the mysteries,” she said. This leads the children to a deep love and sense of belonging in the presence of God.
One girl’s grandmother could not believe how much the children love attending liturgy: “They go there, and they are just so happy!”
Thirteen children regularly attend Liturgy, although others frequently visit. Most of these children are cousins. One young man was adopted by his parents at age 7. He received Baptism and Chrismation at the monastery and now serves as an acolyte. It seems as if the children would not rather be in any other place.
“Children can be easily distracted,” Miss Maria said, “but not when they are in Liturgy. In Liturgy, they stand, and they sing, and they do not want it to end.”
Miss Maria smiles when she talks about two girls (ages 10 and 13), who endlessly ask Miss Maria for more lessons. When parents are unable to attend Liturgy on feast days, one of the girls asks someone to bring her to church. So Miss Maria picks her up and brings her to the Monastery for the day.
The monks also love the children and do special things with them. “Let’s all go for a walk,” said Fr. Dionisio Flamini one lovely morning after celebrating Divine Liturgy and sharing a meal. So they all walked together, letting their souls drink in the peace and joy near the water and tranquil landscapes.
Fr. Dionysius often reminds Miss Maria that the child’s body is small but has a soul. “The soul understands all. Speak to the soul,” he says.
Following that advice, the priests and monks lavish the children with playfulness and love. For example, a rainstorm threatened to ruin a much-anticipated celebration planned for the Feast of St. Nicholas last year. Instead, Brother Johnathan Garbalena, who is an excellent baker, saved the day. He made cookies with elaborately frosted decorations, placed them in a trunk like a treasure box, brought them out after liturgy, and surprised the children.
These are the simple ways to speak to the child’s soul. It is in the love and in the joy and in taking mutual delight in each other. And in response, the children know they are loved, and they come to Liturgy to share that love with Christ and each other.
ByziKids Magazine is a pan-Eastern Christian, grassroots, monthly publication dedicated to the celebration of Byzantine Orthodoxy through the eyes of our children. We are not affiliated with any particular Church or jurisdiction, but welcome and strive to encompass the teachings and traditions common to all of Byzantine Orthodox-Catholic Christianity.
As a contributing editor for ByziKids, it is my pleasure to share these articles with the Sophia Homeschool community as well. Although Sophia Homeschool serves all homeschooling families regardless of faith or affiliation, I think you will enjoy this delightful publication. I hope to share these articles with you each month as a regular feature here. Enjoy!
By Judith Jolma, Founder of Sophia Homeschool.
Sophia Homeschool teaches parents how to homeschool. Learn more about our training at Sophiahomeschool.com
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