“I feel like a part of a great spiritual family”: Sister Makryna, OSBM

June 1, 2023

We offer an interview with Sister Makryna from the Order of Saint Basil the Great, based in Melbourne, Australia. Sister shares her life journey intertwined with Ukrainian roots and talks about her meaningful religious service. You will learn how this inner calling has transformed her life and led to the decision to join the Basilian Sisters.

“I feel like a part of a great spiritual family”: Sister Makryna, OSBM

Through captivating narrative of Sister Makryna, you will discover her childhood, where she lovingly cherished the Ukrainian language, a precious treasure passed down by her ancestors. You will learn about the deep connection Sister has with Ukraine, which was born out of her sense of belonging to the homeland of her ancestors. Sister Makryna will also share her missionary work experience in Australia and her active involvement in the development of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community. We hope that reading this interview will give you a sense of grace and religious faith, where you will understand the importance of service and selflessness.

— Please tell us how you became familiar with monastic life and what prompted you to choose this path.

— I am happy to share. I first encountered the Basilian Order in my youth when my family visited a parish where Basilian Sisters resided. Their selfless service and dedication impressed me. I felt an internal calling to religious life and serving others. Gradually, through prayer, introspection, and the support of my family, I decided to join the Basilian Sisters. From a young age, I wanted to be a sister. When I was nine years old, I started studying at a school attached to the monastery of the Basilian Sisters because my relatives lived far from the city, and it was customary for children, especially girls, living far away to study at the monastery school and assist the sisters. During that time, our relatives brought many supplies from the farm, so the sisters had enough to feed us and all the other sisters. This is how we helped each other. I enjoyed being with the sisters, and on weekends, I didn’t want to go home because I wanted to be at catechism classes with the sisters. My mother always said about me, “I gave birth to her, but I don’t know where she grew up.” So, I can say that I have lived in the monastery since I was nine years old.

— Please tell me about your childhood.

— There were four of us in the family: two brothers and two sisters. My sister was born when I was already fifteen years old. My father used to say that he gave one daughter to God, and God gave him another one. And it’s true because now my sister takes care of my parents.

— Did you consider getting married besides joining the monastery?

— No, I never thought about it. I saw my path clearly with the Basilian sisters.

—  And did you take the name Makryna in honor of the sister of Saint Basil the Great?

— Yes, so that we always celebrate my name day (laughs). And my parents gave me the name Marta during Baptism.

— How did your parents react to your decision to join the monastery?

— They were pleased. All my relatives are very religious. The sisters often visited my parents or gave them rides so that they could visit parishioners. My parents knew about monastic life well, so they let me go. In Argentina, the Basilian sisters served in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, conducted catechism classes, and performed other ministries.

— Sister, despite being born and living in Argentina for a long time and now living in Australia for more than fifty years, your Ukrainian language is excellent! Who instilled in you a love for the Ukrainian language?

— My great-grandparents were Ukrainians. I always spoke Ukrainian with my grandmother and grandfather, and with my parents, it was already Spanish. But it was also influenced by the fact that the sisters conducted Ukrainian language dance and singing workshops, and we also sang carols in church, and I knew all the prayers in Old Slavonic.

— Have you been to Ukraine?

— Yes. It was an incredible feeling when I crossed the border of Ukraine as if I had returned to my native home. These feelings cannot be described in words. From childhood, our family prayed for Ukraine, and learned the Ukrainian language, although it was not easy because most people spoke Spanish around us. The meeting with Ukraine touched the depths of my heart. My sisters and I visited the Basilian sisters in Ukraine in 1994, specifically at the monastery in Brukhovychi. Somehow, it was easier for us to live in Australia than for the sisters in Ukraine since they lived in not very good conditions. So, we helped them rebuild the monastery with donations from Australia. We tried to cheer up the sisters in every possible way: telling jokes, singing… Once, a sister brought a songbook of insurgent songs, and I started singing those songs, everyone was surprised, wondering where I knew them from! I replied that if it weren’t for Ukrainian songs, I wouldn’t know the Ukrainian language. Then, at every meeting, we often sang insurgent songs. It was very difficult for us to say goodbye to the sisters from Ukraine because despite having different mentalities, customs, and even different food, our love for God and His people united us. I have very wonderful and warm memories from my three-year stay in Ukraine.

— So, during your time at the monastery, you’ve been to Argentina, Ukraine, and Australia?

— Yes. I also visited Poland. It’s a funny story because I was supposed to fly from Ukraine to Australia but I missed the flight because I was finishing my potato pancakes in Bruchovychi (laughs).

— I guess you didn’t lose anything.

— Yes, it turned out for the better because it allowed me to visit the sisters in Poland. I had the opportunity to visit many interesting places there, such as churches, museums, and other architectural landmarks. Additionally, when we were flying to Ukraine, we also visited Rome, specifically our motherhouse and the Church of St. Sophia. It was a wonderful time. But the greatest gift from God was the tickets to Ukraine.

— That’s one of the advantages of monastic life — wherever you go, you have your home, you have your family.

— Yes, and I always experience that.

— Sister, please tell our readers about your mission in Australia. What kind of service do you perform?

— In Australia, we work in communities where help and support are needed. We have a kindergarten in the monastery for Ukrainians, which operates every Saturday. We also prepare children for their First Holy Communion, teach them about the Liturgy, and provide catechesis. Our task is to be with those who need our help, regardless of their status or background.

— What challenges do you encounter in your work in Australia?

— One of the main challenges is cultural diversity. Australia is a country where people of different nationalities and cultures live. We try to understand and respect each culture and work with people, providing them with proper support. Also, like everywhere else, there are difficulties and needs, but we strive to be here and help those who need it. Moreover, in the modern world, spirituality is neglected, people only see with physical eyes and forget about the spiritual aspect, resulting in fewer children attending church.

— In your opinion, what is the reason for this?

— The reason is that parents primarily focus on the material well-being of their children rather than their spiritual well-being. They don’t teach their children to pray more, they don’t have icons or prayer ropes at home. Parents have the most influence on children, and a lot depends on them, including whether the children will become Christians or not.

— Can you share a special story from your work in Australia?

— Of course! One of the most memorable stories is related to our work with youth. I remember, in the past, we used to organize youth gatherings and develop programs to support young people. I recall a young boy who had problems at school and was involved in undesirable company. He changed after participating in our programs. He found support, gained skills, and began to show his potential. Seeing such positive changes in young people is very important to us.

— That’s a fascinating story! What do you personally enjoy most about your work in Australia?

— What I enjoy most is witnessing the positive changes in people’s lives that we help. Seeing people unlock their potential, find themselves, and change their lives for the better inspires me and gives me the strength to continue our mission.

— How has monastic life personally impacted you? What changes have occurred in you since joining the order?

— Monastic life has had a profound impact on me. It has taught me to appreciate simplicity, humility, and devotion. I have had the opportunity to deepen my spirituality by devoting more time to prayer and contemplation. Living in a community of sisters helps me grow in love, tolerance, and mutual understanding. I feel part of a large spiritual family.

— Do you often change your place of residence?

— Not often. We usually don’t change our place of residence, except for the occasional trips I mentioned. Otherwise, we stay in Melbourne. We also have a monastery in Sydney where six sisters live. There is a state kindergarten near the monastery, so the sisters with relevant professional education work there, taking care of 38 children. We often visit our sisters in Sydney, have fun spending time together, and have five days of common recollection once a year. We often meet for shared recreation even beyond our cities, like in Perth or Tasmania.

— How do you deal with the difficulties and challenges you encounter in your monastic life?

— When faced with difficulties and challenges, I rely on my faith, prayer, and the community of sisters. We support each other, share our impressions and experiences, and seek wisdom in the Word of God.

— How do you envision the future of your ministry in Australia? What plans and dreams do you have?

— I see the future of our ministry in Australia as a continuation of our mission to serve others. We continue to work with children, feeling responsible for their Christian lives, and continue to work with those who need support and assistance. My dream is to see how our work helps people find their vocation and unlock their potential to serve God and the community.

— Sister, in the modern world, there are fewer and fewer vocations to monastic life, whether in Ukraine, Australia, or any other country. In your opinion, is it still possible to hear the call of God in the 21 st century? And if so, how can one hear it?

— From my experience, there have been a few girls who had a vocation to the monastery, but they were the only children in their families, and their parents saw them in married status, so the girls listened to their parents. I also know women who are 60–70 years old, who already have a family, children, and grandchildren, but they feel that they are not in their rightful place because they lost their vocation. I believe that the main problem is that young people are afraid to try. When they feel called to the monastery, they are afraid to come and try if it is what the Lord is calling them to. I would recommend young people to dare and take risks.

— What does a young girl need to do if she wants to enter a monastery? Are there specific criteria?

— First of all, nationality is not important for the calling. Also, in order to discern whether it is your calling or not, only two things are important: not being married, meaning not being married, and coming to learn more about monastic life. This can be a girl from the age of 16 or an unmarried woman of older age or a widow. As for single women, they don’t necessarily have to wear a habit or adhere to the rules of the monastery. We gladly invite them to join us in prayer or to assist us in our ministry.

— Sister, could you tell our readers about your daily routine in the monastery?

— We wake up at 5 am. We immediately pray the Morning Prayers and the First Hour, then we have half an hour of meditation on the Word of God, followed by breakfast. Afterward, we go to the church for the Liturgy. Then we have working time, apart from working with children, we also work in hospitals and nursing homes. We also take turns in the kitchen. At 2 pm, we pray the rosary for Ukraine. Then we have a tradition of drinking Argentinian tea, mate, during lunch. Afterward, we have work around our house: working in the garden, cleaning the house, and so on. After that, we pray the Evening Prayers. After the Evening Prayers, we watch the news about events in Ukraine, and after 9 pm, we have a quiet time when we can either read a book, pray privately, or attend to personal matters. The only rule is that after 9 pm, we observe a time of silence.

— Sister, do you have any days when you can wake up later than 5 am? Since it’s not easy, is there at least one day a week when you can rest more? Because I know that some monasteries have such rules.

— No, we don’t have that. We wake up at 5 am every day. You get used to it over time.

— What if a sister falls ill?

— For example, I recently had surgery on my leg and couldn’t walk or perform heavy work. However, it was difficult for me to stay in bed or just be in my room. I dedicated this time to God, went to the chapel, and prayed. This way, time passed more quickly, and it was beneficial for my soul. I am accustomed to the work and routine of our monastery, so having too much rest is difficult for me (laughs). Of course, if someone among the sisters falls ill or there is a need for it, we can have time for rehabilitation.

— Sister, do you experience spiritual crises? We often refer to them as spiritual deserts. And if so, how do you deal with them?

— Of course, they happen. We are all human. The most important rule is prayer. Prayer cannot be neglected because when that happens, various temptations, doubts, and negative thoughts start to attack. The evil spirit attacks the soul, and prayer is the best antiseptic against it.

— What is your favorite quote from the Holy Scripture?

— I really like Psalm 23, especially its opening lines: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” These few words hold a deep meaning that can be pondered upon greatly. Ultimately, just like the entire Bible. I also love to pray the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

— And finally, sister, summarize in a few words what the monastery and life in it mean to you.

— The monastery is my home. The Lord gives a special blessing to every nation and chooses people for His service, for the Church, and for others. A person feels this calling in their heart, understands what needs to be done for their neighbor, and how to give love to children. Such service, of course, tires a person and exhausts them because we are all living human beings, but this work also brings great satisfaction. Above all, it is joy, because just as Christ responded to the apostles who left everything and followed Him, promising them a hundredfold reward, we also left everything and everyone and followed Jesus, knowing that we will receive a great reward. And that is the most important thing.

— Thank you, sister, for this insightful conversation and for your service. We wish you continued success and blessings in all your endeavors.

— Thank you for the conversation as well. May the Lord help us in everything we do!