On August 18, 2014, the American nun Theocletia (Clara Thelen) fell asleep in the Lord at the age of 30. Here is her story.
THE PEACEFUL REPOSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS AMERICAN NUN THEOCLETIA
The Convent of St. John the Baptist on Mt. Kissavos (Ossa), situated just outside the village of Anatoli near the city of Larisa (Greece), is one of the most unique convents of this country. Founded in the tenth century, the monastery flourished in the mid-sixteenth century under the Abbot-Martyr Damianos the New († 1568). In the early 2000s the Athonite Elder Dositheos arrived at the deserted monastery and undertook the construction work of the new living quarters. It was the nuns, who are under spiritual guidance of the elder and under the authority of the active and prudent mother superior, Abbess Theodectia, who revitalized the abandoned monastic site. The convent’s distinctive feature is that its nuns are not only from Greece, but also natives of other countries—Austria, Australia, the UK, Armenia, Germany, Cyprus, Lebanon, Russia, the USA, Estonia, and Japan; and they hold some parts of the services in their native languages. Nun Theocletia of blessed memory, to whom our short narrative is dedicated, was among the nuns of this unique convent.
Clara Thelen, who was born in America in 1984, while searching for the roots of the Christian faith discovered Orthodoxy at this Greek Convent of St. John the Baptist in 2008. Following all the necessary preparations as a catechumen she was baptized and received the Orthodox name Photini on February 19, 2009. On Bright Week of 2013, she became a ryasophor nun and was given the name Theocletia. In the autumn of that year Sister Theocletia’s health deteriorated and after a medical examination she was diagnosed with cancer that affected her throat and digestive system. Then she underwent chemotherapy. In April 2014, on Thursday after Pascha, Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias tonsured Sister Theocletia into the Great Schema as she grew worse. On the following day the schema-nun was taken to the university hospital of Larisa, where she stayed for four months, radiating peace and optimism in spite of her extremely bad condition. Both the medical staff and numerous visitors felt that they were communicating and conversing with an angel not a human being. The convent’s nuns who were with her all the time witnessed that Nun Theocletia had a great patience and fortitude, and always took care of others. Her gentle soul became even gentler through her pain, and so she easily understood the troubles and sorrows of other people. She tried to dispel all of this by her radiant smile and unceasing repetition of the Jesus Prayer, turning grief into hope. The hospital ward where Sister Theocletia spent the final several months of her life was converted into a monastic cell, where an perpetual vigil lamp was lit, incense burned in front of holy icons, and Nun Theocletia herself prayed and practiced needlework in conformity with the monastic rule.
More than once the hospital doctors and nurses feared that her strength was ebbing away, but each time Nun Theocletia overcame her affliction by her incomparable smile that appeared on her grace-filled face over and over again. In July, Sister Theocletia’s condition deteriorated sharply. The doctors put an oxygen mask on her and alerted the convent sisters right away. As soon as the beloved Gerondissa Theodectia entered the ward, Nun Theocletia instantly tore off her mask and asked for Holy Communion, which meant that the Body and Blood of Christ became her daily bread and joy. After receiving Communion the nun was very lucid again and later told the gerondissa that at that moment she had ascended to the Lord Who said to her: “You will be with Me!” The nun felt a boundless peace and quiet, but she kept in mind that she would cause the sisters’ profound distress if she departed this life straight away. She said: “May Your will be done, O Lord!” And the Almighty prolonged her life (and, significantly, prolonged her stay with the other sisters) for an additional month. Early in the morning of August 18, 2014, Nun Theocletia peacefully commended her soul to her beloved Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed Sister Theocletia’s body remained soft and flexible right until she was buried at the cemetery of the convent where she had served with an infinite love and self-denial, leaving her mark on all the places and obediences. According to a large number of spiritual people (including those who didn’t know her personally) who prayed for Nun Theocletia, she not only found eternal rest but also had the boldness to intercede for others with the Lord. The faithful often come to the convent and ask permission to go and pray by the grave of Nun Theocletia on the territory of the cemetery.
It is amazing that her simple and open soul became spiritually mature within the short span of four years by giving herself entirely to God and thus achieving theosis, which is the goal of every Christian. Absolute obedience to the gerondissa, based on deep love and reverence, coupled with the refusal to judge others both verbally and mentally—these are the two virtues that, like two wings, helped Nun Theocletia’s soul reach heaven in such a short time. There she met the souls of the holy monks who had performed their spiritual labors on Mount Kissavos for many centuries (we sense the fragrance of their labors here to this day).
The sisterhood of our convent has a lot to learn from this humble soul, the “Novice Dositheus of our times”. We are relieved by our conviction that Sister Theocletia has become an organizer of our heavenly coenobitic abode, where she is waiting for all of us.
St. John the Forerunner’s Convent
Anatoli, Larisa, Greece
 A famous disciple of the Venerable Abba Dorotheos.
The tonsuring of young women and men is bittersweet. They physically separate from friends and family. They lose their christened and surnames and will not bear children.
As a rassaphore, Theocletia had her hair cut, donned a cassock and veil, and was admonished to chastity, poverty, obedience, perseverance, and stability (monks cannot leave the monastery without their senior’s permission).
Upon reception into the Great Schema, Theocletia took the explicit vow of death to the world.
Know, then, that from this present day you have been crucified and put to death to the world through the most perfect renunciation. For you have renounced parents, brothers, wife, children, forefathers, relatives, associations, friends, habits, the tumults in the world, cares, possessions, goods, empty and vain pleasure and glory; and you are renouncing not only those things which have just been said, but even your own life, according to the voice of the Lord which says: ‘Whoever wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ If therefore you truly seek to follow him, and if without lies you ardently desire to be called his disciple, from the present moment prepare yourself not towards ease, not towards freedom from care, not towards sensual pleasures, not towards anything else of those pleasures and enjoyments which are on the earth, but towards spiritual struggles, towards temperance of the flesh, towards purification of the soul, towards mean poverty, towards the good grief, towards all the sorrowful and painful things of that life according to God which brings joy. For you have to hunger and to thirst and to go naked and to be reviled and ridiculed, to be reproached and persecuted and to be tempted in many sorrowful things, in which things the life according to God is characterized. And when you suffer all of these things, ‘Rejoice,’ it is said, ‘for great is your wage in the Heavens.’
In October 2013, a friend of the nun’s visited the convent and took a number of photos.
And other than a short obituary in the Seattle Times, that is all I was able to find.
True monastics are a very different breed, and more people pursue the vocation than are qualified for it. The Antiochian Archdiocese started a convent, only to disband it within a couple of years. Monasteries are tough, strange places, and without strict obedience, prayer life and ritual, they quickly fall apart.
—Upon monastic tonsure, the sisters receive a cell rule of prayer, and every nun is charged with prayer as a duty. Our cell rule includes the so-called 500. As you know, monastics pray for the whole world, they pray for all people, and they are a mystery: Monks pray in secret.
I must note that our monastery is cenobitic, and laborious, and there are many people. Over the course of 120 years, the experience of total immersion in contemplative prayer has not been here. The prayer of the heart must be taken up with a blessing and under the direction of an experience doer of the Jesus Prayer. The older sisters say that the Lord hears the humble. First, we must learn humility…
“Cenobitic” monasteries are just communal monasteries, as opposed to hermitages, that is, eremitic monasticism. What the abbess means is that her nuns must work to feed and shelter the community and pilgrims and are therefore unable to live the life of total contemplation practiced by hermits.
So remember that, the next time you’re trying to fit in one Trisagion a day or go without meat on Wednesday and Friday.
May God and our Blessed Mother speed the Nun Theocletia to Beatitude!