Glory to God for All Things

The Necessity of Monastics

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A month or so ago I received an email from a young protestant who wondered: “What good is monasticism?” His arguments and observations were pretty similar to others I’ve heard over the years. I recall my older brother once asking me, “If a hermit is in the desert and is very holy, what good does it do since no one knows he’s there.”

These questions, of course, come from our modern mindset in which good and bad are measured only on utilitarian grounds. Things are good if they are “useful.” Some of the worst ethics ever produced by the human race were utilitarian in character. In the name of “usefulness,” millions of people have been murdered. It is not a very useful category (forgive the pun).

A few brief observations:

  • I replied to my brother’s question “who knows they are there?” with “God knows and the demons know and tremble.”
  • When God came down to search out the truth of Sodom and Gomorrah, whether they were as wicked as reported, He agreed to spare the city for as few as 10 righteous men.
  • By the same token, the value of a very few righteous men or women is invaluable in the life of the world.
  • Finally, monastics bear witness to the Kingdom of God by turning away from the Kingdoms of this world. Their very rejection of utility is itself a Divine judgment on the nonsense by which we too often guide our lives.

I am a married priest, not a monastic, but I know how much we need them. Orthodoxy is a maximalist religion. We write canon law based on the maximum good (in most instances) and then, by economy, apply that canon to individual cases. I want monastics setting the bar higher than I can reach – so that I will keep reaching.

Our task as Christians involves the sanctification of all life and time – returning everything to its right relationship with God (or at least recognizing the sanctification of all life and time). Thus the world does not need the Church to be more like the world, but more like the Kingdom of God which reveals the truth of the world in Christ.

May the good God deliver us from the temptation of utility and help us to be useful to the Kingdom. The two can be very different things.

A final question: For the sake of how many righteous does the Lord spare our wicked world today?

30 Responses to “The Necessity of Monastics”

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  1. Adam says:

    Thanks for writing such logical and hopeful articles. Through your blog I find myself each day becoming more and more aware that Orthodoxy is everything it claims and more. God willing, I hope to start the process of being united to Christ in his One, Holy, Catholic Church.

  2. Thank you!

    Someone said very much the same thing in a comment on my blog, and my response was to query the utilitarian assumptions. I’ll try to put in a link to your post too, as I think you deal with it more fully. If you have time, perhaps you might like to have a look at the comment, and see what you think. How widespread is this utilitarian viewpoint? It seems a strange coincidence that someone should ask the questions one day, and you should respond the next!

  3. Margaret says:

    God bless you, Fr. Stephen, for writing this! I, too, am amazed that your postings address issues living in my mind and speaking to my heart.

    As I learn about the role of monastic life in Orthodoxy, I continually thank God. When we were catechumen, I greatly benefited from hearing Mother Melania (sp?) speak at a women’s retreat. We heard such encouragement and practical instruction in how to draw close and live in the God who loves us — we were an audience of mostly mothers, grandmothers and businesswomen present. Obviously God is present in this role and wills the monastic life to be a part of His Bride, the Church.

  4. Fatherstephen says:

    Adam,

    May God bless you on your journey!

  5. Alyssa says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    “I am a married priest, not a monastic, but I know how much we need them. Orthodoxy is a maximalist religion. We write canon law based on the maximum good (in most instances) and then, by economy, apply that canon to individual cases. I want monastics setting the bar higher than I can reach – so that I will keep reaching.”

    Since I was received into the church, I’ve been wondering (and asking around) about the view that monastics live an ideal. To be honest, instead of feeling inspired (which I do sometimes), I mostly feel defeated. If that is our ideal, then what are we waiting for? Why aren’t we all doing this? Why am I not doing this? Is married/family life somehow less holy? Are the rest of us just living 2nd class Christian lives? Why is it never the reverse? Based on reading Genesis, I would more likely think that married life is the ideal?

    Economia makes more sense to me in terms of God’s overall ideal–as we never really live up to it. The monastics inspire me in the sense that they show that living a holy and Godly life here on earth is possible (or at least more possible than I was previously ever led to believe as a protestant) and that we can know God. And I’m very grateful for the prayers of the monastics on behalf of our world. I don’t see them in a utilitarian way I don’t think. We are all working out our salvation.

    But does “ideal” not by its very nature imply ideal for everyone? Help?

    I apologize if this is too much for the blog setting. If so, please feel free to move on, and we can talk about this more another time.

    Thank you,
    A.S.

  6. Mark says:

    Your penultimate paragraph is especially helpful in exposing both the promise and limitations of any discussion of “utility.” If we expand our horizons beyond the “one-story modern universe” to include the reality of heaven and hell, angels and demons, and the coming Kingdom… well, then, all sorts of things may be “useful” – like the intercessions of hermits in the desert, the lighting of candles, the sign of the cross, as well as acts of charity and self-discipline that are rebuffed or unnoticed.

    As you note, those “useless” things may be profoundly useful in the working out of our salvation and the witness of the Kingdom of God. May God deliver us from thinking that we know what’s useful and enable us to be faithful and longsuffering!

  7. Father,

    While I agree that we need monasticism, I also see the wisdom of what Fr. Schmemann (of blessed memory) called a “monasticism without the desert.”

    To be sure, monastics provide a powerful witness of forsaking the kingdoms of this world for the Kingdom of Christ, but no more so that the married couple living the faith on a daily basis with all the temptations and distractions of modern life.

    Monasticism is certainly a God-blessed path to salvation and union with Christ, but so is the ascesis of marriage, and so is the “monasticism without the desert” many faithful believers struggle for every day in their work toward salvation.

    I guess I get nervous when monasticism is somehow held up as the “angelic life” as oppossed to the living of the life of faith in the midst of the “desert” of modern America. I also fear “guruism” which can sometimes rear its ugly head.

    Monasticism is important and valuable. Thank God for our precious monks AND thank God for those who struggle daily outside thr monastery in this present desert.

  8. Fatherstephen says:

    Alyssa,

    I do not think the monastic life is a model of the “ideal” life. Christ is the only model for any of us. But, by necessity, someone who is not incumbered with the world can fast and pray in a manner that I probably cannot in my life as a married man. This doesn’t make one state superior to the other. There are aspects of marriage and family that are not available to the monk, a different form of ascesis, but it is not necessarily superior to the life of a monk.

    (Incidentally one of my children, when she was a teen, said she thought of our home as a monastery with me as the abbot – if that were so then we had a badly run monastery :)

    The ideal for each of us is Christ. Christ within you the hope of glory, to quote St. Paul. In whatever position or station of life we find ourselves, we seek to live into Christ.

    But there is a necessity for monasticism, just as there is a necessity for married people.

  9. Fatherstephen says:

    Barnabas,

    I think I affirmed this in my answer to Alyssa. The monasticism without the desert was also a favorite topic of Evdokimov. I generally gathered from Evdokimov that he expected to see monasticism in its traditional form disappear. But he was writing in a different time. Thus far, monasticism has been flourishing again, either postponing Evdokimov’s vision or showing it to have been mistaken.

    I do not think that it’s “useful” to compare or measure married life and the monastic life. Both are more like each other than not.

    Let me build the case a little more formally. One of the problems of the criticism of monasticism is the argument from utility (as I wrote about above). Monasticism, if anything, refutes this argument by its very nature.

    Marriage could easily be justified by its utility, but I think this is a mistake as well. If anything, monasticism helps reveal the true nature of our life with God (that it is not a utilitarian life). By the same token, the purpose of marriage is not utility either – but the service of the Kingdom. It’s why we crown people in weddings.

  10. I was told by the priest who brought us into the Church, Fr. Nicholas Dotson that Orthodoxy is not an either/or faith but a “both/and” way of life because it is holistic and inclusive if you will…
    There is no you have to be one thing or the other in Orthodoxy.
    Monasticism in the United States is still considered exotic and foreign and any number of things that the average American just cannot see the need to be, when in fact it is the ultimate Christian expression of love and devotion to Jesus Christ.
    On the blog Ancient Church there is a wonderful posting by Mother Ephrosynia of the Convent of Lesna, France; called: Monasticism in the 21st Century: A Viable Alternative or a Forgotten Ideal? here is the part that has always touched my heart:
    “We do give up a lot in monastic life. My arms have ached after holding my friends’ children, knowing that I would never hold my own. But the Lord has given me many children of the spirit amongst the young novices that I work with in the monastery. A monastic will never know the special intimacy and closeness that is the blessing of an Orthodox marriage. And a married person will never know the spiritual kinship of a monastic community. There are no vacations from monasticism, no sick days, no time off. But every day is a feast.

    “Monasticism”, one of the Optina elders said, “supports the entire world. And when there will be no more monasticism the Dread Judgement will be upon us.

    And for those of us that are drawn to this way of life there simply is no other way to live. One writer described it like this: “Some people are very single- minded by nature. And there are ideas that permeate the lives of such people down to the very last detail. Everything beautiful, joyous and of consolation in this life is overshadowed for them by the memory of one thing, by a single thought: that of Christ Crucified. No matter how bright the sun might be, how beautiful nature, God’s creation is, how tempting faraway places might seem, they remember that Christ was Crucified, and everything is dim in comparison. We might hear the most beautiful music, the most inspired speeches, but these souls hear one thing: Christ was Crucified, and what can ever drown out the sound of the nails being hammered into His flesh? Describe to them the happiness of a family life, of a beloved husband or wife, of children, but Christ was Crucified, and how can we not show the Lord that He isn’t alone, we haven’t deserted Him. There are those that are willing to forget everything in the world so as to stand by His Cross, suffer His suffering and wonder at His Sacrifice. For them the world is empty, and only Christ Crucified speaks to their hearts. And only they know what sweetness they taste still on this earth by sharing in the eternal mystery of the Cross and only they hear what He says to them when they come to Him after a life full of incomprehensible hardships and inexplicable joy.
    Lesna Monastery, Provemont, 5/18 December 2000.
    St. Sabbas the Sanctified”

    I encourage everyone to read the whole of this article
    http://evlogeite.com/?page_id=25

    Our martyrdom comes in many forms, we must support our monastics especially because understanding is low in this country.
    Christ is Risen!
    the handmaid,
    Mary-Leah

  11. Karl Thienes says:

    I agree with Barnabas’ point of view and sympathize with Alyssa’s confusion.

    While I don’t think Fr. Stephen is guilty of this here, I do think a certain idolization of the monastic life (and often a fetishization of certain exterior monastic forms) is rampant in our contempory Orthodox discourse and results in the type of disconnectedness that Alyssa feels and an effective abandonment of a more holistic synthesis between monastic life and the parish/married life.

    In 10 years of being Orthodox, I’ve found in almost every parish that either monasticism is treated as an historical oddity and dismissed out of hand or is elevated almost to the point of idolatry and envy. Where is the understanding and preaching that both monasticism and the married life lead to salvation and have things to teach each other, but that each has its own very particular forms, mindsets, practices, and unique opportunities that are not always compatible with each other?

    I think it is an overstatement to claim Evdokimov or Schmemann wanted “monasticism in its traditional form disappear.” As Schmemann pointed out in his journals, what he wanted to disappear was not the monastic life but, as he put it, “the whole vaudeville of klobuks, cowls, stylization, etc.” In other words, it is the guy in the parish who never bathes, who wears 5 prayer ropes, grows a beard and thinks if you don’t do every kathisma during Matins or less than three metonias before an icon, you aren’t really Orthodox. We all know that guy, and he is getting his misconception from somewhere.

    Evdokimov wrote of what he called “interiorized monasticism”, which is very similar to Schmemann’s concept of “monasticism without the desert.” Here, the virtues and wisdom of the monastic life are not simply mimicked and thus distorted, but mindfully practiced in ways that integrate into and intimately support the very holy and unique struggles of contemporary urban/married/parish life. I think these are ideas worth exploring.

    So often the monastic life is held up, not simply as an example of one type of Orthodox life that a few are called to, but as the only legitimate Christian experience. Rather, we should be “equip[ing] the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:12); a ministry that is not to be found in cenobitic monasticism for most of us, but life in the parish, life in the home, life in the world.

  12. Fatherstephen says:

    Gee everybody – I didn’t say it was better – just that it’s necessary – clearly instituted by God – not based on utility. Karl, I did not say that Evdokimov or Schmemann wanted it to disappear. Evdokimov simply thought that it would in the modern world and be replaced by “interior monasticism.” But I think that this is not happening.

    It certainly isn’t to be idolized or idealized. It is quite interesting to me that just as thousands of parishes churches have been reopened in Russia, so have hundreds of monasteries. Orthodoxy there is growing again and in the form it had for centuries.

    The American experience has been fairly unique in its formation, with monasticism only gradually being visible. But in most Orthodox countries, parish church, monastery, all are just part of what Orthodox Christianity looks like.

    And, for the time being, we have all kinds of silliness in parish life and probably will for some time to come until we mature as a church in this land and become more stable. But we live now in the situation as we find it.

    I’m not saying there isn’t and shouldn’t be a balance. Of course there should. We’re not there yet. But just because some people idolize monasticism or fetishize some practices associated with it is not a reason to refrain from speaking of it in the traditional manner of the Church.

  13. Karl Thienes says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    You wrote, “Gee everybody – I didn’t say it was better – just that it’s necessary.”

    I’m not sure where anyone in this thread is disagreeing that monasticism is necessary. Protestants like your original interlocutor may have questioned its ontological importance, but we Orthodox aren’t. And I certainly don’t think anyone is saying we shouldn’t talk about it.

    I think my questions are more along the lines of : “How is an Orthodox layman’s relationship with monasticism supposed to be experienced in ways that are beneficial for both the monk and the laymen? Can we laity develop an ‘interiorized monasticism’ that transfigures and *translates* the lessons the important insights the monastery teaches us or is the monastic life limited to the exterior circumstances of traditional monastic life? If not, how does is this translation occur? Etc….”

    And my comments certainly shouldn’t be read as an attack on you. That is why I prefaced my thoughts with, “I don’t think Fr. Stephen is guilty of this here….”

  14. Karl, thanks for the clarification and I apologize for being a little sensitive. I have some funeral duties later today and I’m probably a little anxious as always. It’s an old habit of about 25 years. Forgive me.

    I think the discussions you suggested are outstanding. I will dig around for some things to post that might be useful in promoting that discussion.

    My experience this summer at St. John the Baptist Monastery in Essex was truly amazing. I had been told that it is one of the healthiest monasteries in the West – and though I’ve not been to even a fraction of the others, I can see why someone would say that. I recommend it to any who can get to England.

    I will say that the experience taught me more about the Jesus Prayer than 20 years worth of reading. And it taught this without any books or “teachings” on the prayer. It was simply being with the monks and nuns twice a day for 2 and a half hours of the Jesus Prayer. There (as in most monasteries) the tradition of the prayer continues.

    It may sound like a small thing, but even the pace of the prayer was different. I realize in hindsight that my use of the prayer over the years has been too fast, too anxious. I learned a “pace” of the prayer that is part of the legacy of Mt. Athos through Fr. Sophrony.

    Today when I pray the prayer, I can “hear” the prayer as it was prayed there and I find that I enter again into that same experience. Simply as a living repository of experienced knowledge, there is no substitute for such places.

    This is traditionally one of the roles of monasteries among many others.

  15. Andrew says:

    “As angels are a light to monks, monastics are a light to those in the world.” – Saint John of the Ladder

    Monastics live the angelic life as an icon of the age to come. Thus, their state of life is “higher.” This doesn’t mean that marriage is bad, dirty, corrupt, or any of those silly things. No, marriage is a means of salvation for the majority of people and is blessed by the Church. Monasticism, however, is the fullest expression of taking up the Cross and dying to the world. These men and women forsake all to focus on repentance alone. In countries with a living Orthodoxy the pious faithful understand this, and there isn’t a big inferiority complex about it (I’m not aiming this at anyone here). The pious in the world and those in the desert support eachother in a harmonious, symphonic way, calling out with joy, attesting to the Resurrection of Christ.

    Monasticism is essential to the life of the Church; it is a guard against complacency, heresy, and the ills of secularism that we in the world have to wage a bloody war against. The monastics help support us most of all by their prayer and experience in spiritual warfare, and also in the example of their life; simplicity, brotherly love, and repentance – these are the ways of the Christian life, married or monastic. They always show that there is more that we can do in our Liturgical life, in our prayer life, and in the way we deal with eachother. There is always more sacrifice and more grace. This is why I think it is a good idea for seminaries to be attached to monasteries… but that is a different thing we could go into.

    There is one Christian life that all are called to live, one of fasting, prayer, and repentance. The monastics are like the pro’s of this… they live a life totally devoted to it (ideally) without the distractions that we have to face in the world; they are like Shaq or other NBA players. They hone in on training themselves up for the Game. However, this does not mean that we can’t play basketball. We may not be able to focus 100% on training, but we can still learn to play. We can learn layups, free throws, dribbling, etc. Maybe some of us can learn to dunk and do intricate dribbling tricks. We are all called to play the game according to what we are given, and as long as we multiply the talents given to us we are blessed in the Kingdom.

    I recommend going to monasteries and being edified by our brothers who try to live the angelic life. And especially, pray for them!

  16. Karl Thienes says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thanks for that follow up. It is certainly a shame that we Americans have scant access to monasteries and thus have a more academic engagement with monastic thought and practice.

    Speaking of St. John’s in Essex — we had Sister Magdalen at our parish several months ago for a retreat. Her books, such as “Conversations with Children” are simply stunning in their depth, but meeting her and listening to her was a real treat. She was thoroughly steeped in the monastic life but was imminently practical, poignant and “real.” What was so enjoyable about listenting to her was that she clearly understood the actual realities of lay life and could thus effectively and authentically communicate her wisdom gained as a monastic.

    Perhaps that is one step — simply more person to person contact between monks and laymen; each sharing with the other the realties, struggles, and joys of their respective lives in Christ and in the Church.

  17. Fatherstephen says:

    I spent an afternoon along with a lay friend of mine in conversation with Sr. Magdalen at St. John’s. It is a conversation I will treasure. Incidentally, she really likes America in a British sort of way. She is truly one of those quiet giants of prayer. She is currently translating some of Fr. Sophrony’s work (I think). I look forward to it.

    Following up on Andrew – in most Orthodox countries, things like exorcism are more often conducted in a monastery than in a parish, just because “some come out only by prayer and fasting.” And this is just a tip of the iceberg. I’d like to have that kind of resource near my parish.

  18. Andrew says:

    Monasteries are oftentimes a place of intense rehabilitation of spiritual ailment and physical ailment that oftentimes a parish isn’t quite equipted to handle.

    By the prayers of Elder Joseph and Elder Sophrony (among the countless other saints who intercede for us) we are having a boom of monastic life in America that will continue with time. Young parish priests are being instructed by the spiritual sons of spiritual giants at places like Saint Tikhon’s and Holy Trinity. The monasteries of Elder Ephraim are flourishing, and I think his spiritual sons and daughters will establish even more once he has gone on to his repose. This will be a wonderful thing; also with the foundation of monasteries by other jurisdictions, we will have a wonderful chorus of monastic fathers who will rise up in our own backyard. This is what will bring about a truly Orthodox Church within America… American Church Fathers, bishops from the monastic ranks of American monasteries, priests who are given guidance by experienced Elders, pilgrimages, etc. This has the possibility of uniting the faithful around homegrown saints in a beautiful way.

    A monastery is a sort of nexus, a hub. People from all different nationalities and jurisdictions go there and are mutually edified, and discover their common life in Christ. Some stay and become monks, and others take home the way of prayer and spread it to their families, parishes, and communities. I think the beginnings of this are happening in America.

  19. Eusebios says:

    Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for what I consider a gentle reminder that we have those persons in our Church who have set themselves aside to lead lives of intense prayer and fasting, and that it is by those prayers that the world is held together.
    I personally do not possess the grace for this vocation, nor necessarily the desire, but I have learned through a fair deal of experience to appreciate it.
    I have had the privilege of attending a parish where there have been monasticd present, and have also visited at both St. Tikhon’s and a tiny monastery, St. John the Theologians in Hiram, OH. I remember distinctly being able to pray Matins and Vespers at St. John’s during Lent in 2002, and though there were but 3 monks present, I came away realizing that it was the simple prayers of simple monastics in hundreds of monasteries like St. John’s that literally held the world together, kept it from flying apart at the seams.
    I understand the points that others have made as well, but know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my own life has been immeasurably enriched through my encounters with “the angelic ranks”

  20. Coroebus says:

    Father, you wrote about the significance of what you learned about the Jesus prayer at St John the Baptist in Essex. I too have been fortunate to visit there — twice, if only briefly each time. And even more than the experience of the Jesus prayer itself — I too have been helped by recalling that (usually) English-accented voice slowly, deliberately saying the prayer earnestly yet with scarcely any emotion — is my memory-in-feeling of the special humility and joy of the place. Such humility and joy to experience, to savor, and to carry back with me to my mundane daily life. Can we possibly be grateful enough to those whose lives are dedicated to communicating such grace to those whose lives they touch!

  21. Alyssa says:

    Wow, that was quite a flurry of responses. I appreciate all of the various and thoughtful replies, and especially the clarification on not making the monastic life superior to married life.

    FWIW, I’m a single mom of two relatively young children and there has been a lot of giving up of self for the sake of others in ways I never would have imagined before I had kids, and definitely not before I became single with kids. Now being single at this point wasn’t my personal choice really–but it sure has been a lesson in dying to self–one which I must face every single day with almost every thing I do/every decision I make.

    Admittedly, I’m quite different from the monastics because again, I didn’t choose this life I’m living now (I think Fr. Stephen addressed that issue in another brilliant post yesterday), though they have voluntarily chosen their life of asceticism. But there is a certain amount of repentance I do each day as I look at the faces of my son and daughter and consider the pain they must endure/face because of their parents’ sin. And as awful as divorce & its consequences have been, part of me thinks that it has been for the salvation of my soul. I pray that it will work out for the salvation of my children’s souls as well.

    Perhaps because of this I have been somewhat sensitive (or over-sensitive?) to talk of the monastic life in ways that make it sound grand & the life of the regular folk not so grand (not that Fr. Stephen has done this, I was originally just asking for simple clarification). But the fact is I have listened to some people talk as if living anything less than the monastic life is really just less.

    Thankfully, another priest clarified for me that though we are not all called to be monastics, we are all called to be ascetics. And coincidentally, he used the home as metaphor for the monastery–though in his case, his wife was the abbott. He told a monk he was visiting recently that he was pretty sure his abbot was more demanding than that at the monastery–because his wanted to know his every thought, emotion, movement, etc. Well, he said it better & more graciously than I am, but you get the idea. :)

    I agree with the suggestion that those who grew up around monasteries seem to have a more integrated view of life in the church than let’s say…us converts. At least that has been my short experience in the local parish. I remember being confused when I first started reading the biography of St. Seraphim of Sarov—I just didn’t know what to make of it or how to interpret or apply it. But as I went on I just became grateful that so many people were able to benefit from his life of dedication to God, for his prayers on our behalf, of the spiritual insights he was able share with us passed down through others. And I was amazed to read of him being physically transformed as well as being internally transformed. By the end of the book, his life gave me hope. And he felt like an old friend and guide. And I’m happy to see him each time I enter our church.

  22. Fatherstephen says:

    The prayers of parents for their children, according to the Wedding Service, is the foundation of homes. Your children have in you and your prayers their foundation. I literally think my life was saved by the prayers of my father-in-law who was praying for his daughter’s husband since the day she was born. His two daughters married clergy (the other is presbyterian). His youngest son is Orthodox and his other son could be someday (I think and pray). Two of his grandchildren are married to Orthodox priests, and the others aren’t old enough yet for these things to be manifest. But the prayers of parents are indeed powerful.

    I would also agree that no sacrifice is greater than that of parents for their children. When you read the life of St. Silouan his estimation of his father’s own spiritual maturity is staggering. I’ll make a post of it – perhaps tonight. Give us something to enjoy.

    By way of a small celebration and thank you – Glory to God for All Things passed it’s 150,000 view this morning – all this since October. I am deeply grateful for the community who passes through our web portal (or something like that). May God bless all of you.

  23. Jack says:

    Thanks for the Father Sophrony reading suggestions. Prayers for the illumination of the catechumen please!

  24. Meg says:

    I think it’s a little silly to compare monasticism and the married state. You put your life into God’s hands, and let Him point you in the right direction, period. In my case, it was the married state, which still shocks me, since marriage was *never* part of my Master Plan — but obviously, it was part of the Master’s Plan. So how could it be “less” than monasticism? At the same time, it’s clear that He does call others to the monastery, so how could that be “less” than the married state? He puts us where we need to be in order to grow in Him, that’s all!

  25. I’m a Protestant, but it seems to me Protestants often miss the point of monasticism. Yes, St. Athanasius says Christ was crucified so all could see it. But his argument (if I remember correctly) is that otherwise we would not have believed it, not otherwise it would not have been effective. So I don’t see any reason why our taking up our cross must be seen. Are we not united in Spirit even when absent if the flesh? We hardly see the Blessed Virgin’s cross, yet the Fruit of her womb is Salvation.

  26. Father,

    Please don’t assume my comments were a denial of the importance of monasticism. Far from it.

    In fact, it was at a monastery and through the direction of monastics that helped me into Orthodoxy. It was these same monastics that warned me about the temptation to fall into guruism from a monastic setting.

    In this very healthy spiritual Orthodox monastery here in the good ol’ USA I came to appreciate what my former Protestant life was missing by not having a catagory for monasticism. They taught me that the whole point of the monastic life is both spiritual health and intimacy with Christ. Their calling, their grace was in this monastic life for the blessing of the whole Church.

    I am grateful to God that He gave me the opportunity to have at least a small taste of this blessed work of the monastic life and for these monks who influenced me for the Orthodox faith.

    Isn’t there a story of a desert monk who thought himself far advanced in the spiritual jpurney only to be told of a couple in the city who were more advanced that he in the spiritual life?

    This isn’t to say one path is better than the other. Only to suggest that the best path is the path that will best move each of us toward a full, intimate, and healthy spiritual life in Christ where we enter most fully into His life through the ascesis of the faith.

    B

  27. kevinburt says:

    As I have come into Orthodox in the married state, while I originally found monasticism a bit troubling, it has actually become yet another points of joy for me in my journey. To see a religion that takes seriously the example of Christ and some of the rather ascetic admonitions of St. Paul is refreshing, especially as it also encourages me to practice ascesis in ways practical while married, and also that my own calling is valid and to be strengthened.

    An Orthodox friend of mine recently pointed me to a great essay by F. Georges Florovsky on the Ascetic Ideal and the New Testament. I apologize if someone else has already posted it on this blog, but here it is just in case they haven’t:

    http://www.romanity.org/htm/flo.01.en.the_ascetic_ideal_and_the_new_testament.01.htm

  28. Fatherstephen says:

    Kevinburt,

    It is indeed an excellent essay. I don’t think it’s been posted here before. For my two cents, you can almost never improve on Florovsky.

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