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The nature of monasticism


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#1 Anna Stickles

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 09:11 PM

I couldn't figure out where to start this thread as it didn't seem to fit under any of the sub-categories under monasticism which are geared more toward practical issue rather then the theory of what monaticism is and means, but I thought that the last couple of posts in the American Orthodoxy III thread deserved their own thread and maybe the moderators could move those posts here, or if need be move this thread under its proper topic.

There can be no "inner" monasticism without "outer monasticism" - nor can there be the "outer" monasiticism without "inner" monasticism....

Not everyone is a monastic - those who are not "external" monastics are also not "internal" monastics but rather have a separate calling. Does St John of Kronstadt, for example, ever refer to himself as an "inner monastic" - no, he knows his place is to live and work in the world as a married priest (irregardless of the unique character of his marriage). Some here will recall Fr Averky - a monastic priest (and my good friend). He would often tell me that he was "a poor monk" because he lived too much in the world and not enough in the monastery (despite the fact that he lived a very pious and righteous life).

I will concede certainly that there are certain qualities of a monastic life that should be evident in non-monastics, but those qualities are not "monastic" but are universal (it just so happens that they are more visible in the focused and concentrated life of the monastery). However, to say that one can be "monastic" in an inner fashion without being an exterior monastic is, to me, not truly possible.


I really appreciate Fr David's comments here because initially I disagreed with what he said, but thinking about it I was able to see the place where the universal calling vs the specific calling, the inner vs the outer meet. One of the questions I think that I have been failing to answer rightly is "What is the calling of the monastic?"

I have often thought that the calling of the monastic was a calling to prayer, and yet to pray and have communion with God is a universal calling. Asceticism and the striving for our healing by grace is also a universal calling. So in what is monasticism unique?

It seems to me that the monk is called to be an icon of Christ in a special way that those living in the world are not. Christ lived in poverty, Christ was a virgin, Christ was perfectly obedient to His Father. Now in as much as all monks take these vows and strive to live by them, they are in this mode of living an icon of Christ in this way.

However, it is also the universal call to all Christians to become icons of Christ, to allow Christ to transform us so that we can say with Paul "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

We often talk in terms of 'fullness' in Orthodoxy and it seems to me that the person who is living as an icon of Christ both in mode of living and in transformation of the person is the fullest possible expression of this icon. However, we cannot deny that the monk who falls short of the inner transformation is not still an icon by virtue of his monastic praxis, and we have to admit that those who are not monks and yet who obtain to a level of Christ-like virtue and spirit are still icons of Christ by virtue of their transformation.

Hopefully, these comments open up some additional discussion, and this thread can be a place where the different ways monasticism has been understood by the Church can be commented on.

#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 01:20 AM

Not being a monastic, I feel reticent to talk about what monasticism means to the monastic, but I think I can say a word or two about what monasticism means to those not so-called.

Monasticism as an institution was born when being a Christian became easy. They are, in one sense, warriors against complacency. For us, they make us reexamine our own lives and values. They give us something to strive for, they are humility in that no matter how "good" we may think we are, no matter how "spiritual", we know that there are those who exceed us, so that we do not become complacent. They show us what is possible if we strive. Monasticism is a statement, a sign pointing out that there is more to the world than what we see, pointing out that this fallen world is not all there is. They are the "professional" spiritual athletes, we are the amateurs. Not everyone is called to be a Pro, but we can all be athletes and not spiritual pew potatoes.

Monastics do not "hate" the world, but they love Christ so much that they "die" to the world to better be with Christ. They are harbingers of heaven, living the angelic life now, not content to wait until after physical death. They are the angels we can see.

Or so it seems to this bear of little brain.

Herman the Pooh

#3 Father Serafim

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 01:56 AM

[Monasticism as an institution was born when being a Christian became easy.......]

The late Archpriest Lev Lebedev from Kursk takes Fr Alexander Schemann to task over this idea that monasticism began with the Empire becoming Christian. As Fr Lev points out, and I agree, monasticism/asceticism begins with the Theotokos, St John the Baptist and Our Lord Himself. It was not born out of a reaction against secularization of the Christian faith. It is at the very essence of our faith, not something extra that certain people are able to follow. I am not taking the Bear to task, but your opening sentence sounds like the modern misunderstanding of monasticism. As Father Sophrony used to say - a Christian in an ascetic. Monastics don't marry, they live under a vow of poverty and obedience. Non-monastics generally marry, should live simply and certainly be obedient to the Church and Holy Tradition. Hieromartyr Valentin Sventsitsky wrote of monasticism in the world. He was a celibate priest not a monk.

#4 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 08:25 AM

Father bless,

Thank your for the clarification. Forgive me if I have misstated or misunderstood. Yes we certainly have the Theotokos and the Baptist as examples that existed long before St. Anthony ventured into the desert. But all early Christians had a 'remedy' for complacency. When they became complacent a marauding Saul or a fiddling Caesar would come along and force the issue, "what is really important to you"? Monastics answer this question by dying to the world without physically dying. Their example is a reminder to us non-monastics as well. When confronted by the reality of monasticism we have to ask ourselves the same question: "What is really important to me?" In examining monasticism we are also examining our own lives.

Again, I am not saying this is the purpose of monasticism, but I find it a very helpful secondary aspect. Sometimes we need angels we can see. At least I know I do.

Herman

#5 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 03:44 PM

I'm not sure that the relationship between the Christianisation of the Empire & the rise of monasticism as presented is completely mistaken. Especially, if as all the posters here already point out, we recognize that monasticism is consistent in spirit with what came before in the early Church. However we should turn the whole argument around in a positive way rather than the negative way it is often presented. In other words rather than seeing monasticism as a reaction against the secularization of the Church it is more authentic to see it as the way in which the ascetic & martyric spirit of the early Church maintained itself amidst new social conditions.

As any monastic of today should be able to tell you: if they went to the monastery for negative reasons, especially in hatred of something (ie family, friends, even the world if it is truly negative) they would not last very long at all in the monastic life. Instead the monastic life is inspired by something positive that one aims for.

I don't see why this would have been any different in 4th century Egypt or Palestine or Syria. And there is no other way to explain the positive relationship which the laity have had with monasticism from that day to this.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#6 Owen Jones

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 04:43 PM

From 1 Corinthians:


7:8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.
7:9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

St. Paul is the one who really gives us a model of monasticism through his teachings and his personal life.

#7 Rick H.

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 05:25 PM

From 1 Corinthians:


7:8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.
7:9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

St. Paul is the one who really gives us a model of monasticism through his teachings and his personal life.



I have been reading about Met. Anthony Bloom lately, and in my introduction to him and his work, it seems that he was clearly a monk without a monastery initially. And, as I consider the above, it seems equally clear to me that the Apostle Paul, the one sent, was also a monk without a monastery especially in his personal life.

I am reminded of the words of Met. Anthony now as he speaks of the highest End:

"To attain his highest end, the created being must then open himself to God, transcend his own limitation, and expand to the limitless dimension of the Uncreated. But besides this ontological task, another has devolved on man ever since his Fall; having become less than man, he must rebecome what he originally was, before he can accomplish his vocation and fully respond to the call of his God."

'In the End the Beginning'

#8 John W.

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 05:36 PM

Excerpted from:

A Discourse for Those Living in the World
by Dr. Constantine Cavarnos

Full text here: http://www.orthodoxi...ivingworld.aspx


Angels are the light of monastics, while the monastic state is a light for all men. —St. John Climacos

The exaltation of monasticism in my discourse on the monastic life* does not mean that one can attain sanctity only in monasticism, in a life far from the world, that those living in the world cannot become holy and be saved. By world we mean cities, hamlets, and villages, where there are, among the inhabitants, many irreverent people, sinners, slaves of passions and unrepentant folk. Their bad example, the temptations which they present, the uproar and the troubles that they create—these things render exceedingly difficult the attainment of holiness for those who are struggling for it. Moreover, for those who have spouses and children, their manifold cares serve to divert their attention away from exacting askesis. Despite all of that, however, the attainment of sanctity within the world is not impossible. We have already noted, in the lecture which preceded my discourse on monasticism, that there are other paths, paths within the world, which lead to holiness. The Prophets, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the Hierarchs, and the Righteous largely struggled within the world. How did they achieve divinization, holiness, and salvation? The God-bearing Fathers of the Church answer us. Many references are not needed. A few passages will suffice.

The divine Chrysostom says: Even a man living within a city can imitate the life of monks. Indeed, even a man who has wife, and who is occupied with the demands of his household, can pray, fast, and learn contrition. For those who were first taught by the Apostles, even though they were living in cities, showed the same piety as those who lived in the deserts, again, others, such as Priscilla and Aquila, ruled over workshops [this case, they were tent-makers]. Also the Prophets had spouses and homes, as did Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the great Prophet Moses, and these things did not hinder them at all with regard to virtue. Let us therefore imitate these people, and let us continually offer up thanks to God, and let us constantly praise Him. Let us cultivate selfmastery and all of the other virtues, and let us bring into our cities the way of life which is sought in the deserts.

And the blessed John of the Ladder observes: Some people carelessly living in the world inquired of me: How can we, who have wives and are taken up with social cares, lead the solitary life? I replied to them as follows: All of the good works that you are able to do—do them. Speak evil of no one. Do not tell lies to anyone. Do not boast to anyone. Do not hate anyone. Do not be absent from the Divine Services. Be generous to those who have need of help. Do not offend anyone. Do not take that which belongs to another. And be satisfied with that which your wives give you. If you do this, you will not be far away from the Kingdom of Heaven.

Again, the divinely-inspired Symeon the New Theologian writes: Those who find themselves amidst the masses of men and amongst the disturbances of the world, if they nonetheless conduct themselves as they should, will find salvation, and become worthy of receiving from God great blessings..

From these passages of St. Chrysostom, St. John of the Ladder, and St. Symeon, we indeed learn of the possibility of sanctification for those living in the midst of the world, as well as several presuppositions, with examples, for the realization of this possibility. St. Chrysostom indicates, among other things, that those living in the world may imitate those who strive in the desert—the monastics. In the passage from St. John of the Ladder, which followed that of Chrysostom, there was no reference to monks as objects of emulation. However, at another point in the Ladder, he makes the following relevant and important comment: Angels are the light of monastics, while the monastic state is a light for all men.

This was believed by St. John (Chrysostom), as we have noted, and by St. Symeon the New Theologian, as we shall now see. In the same chapter where he maintains that those who find themselves amidst the masses of men and the disturbances of the world, if they nonetheless conduct themselves as they should, will find salvation, St. Symeon offers as an example of this a certain youth, who lived in Constantinople and had the care of looking after a house and carrying for the servants and freemen. But he had as a spiritual guide a most holy elder, who lived in a monastery. The spiritual Father counselled him well and gave him a small order to fulfill: as well, he gave him a book by St. Mark the Ascetic, in which he writes of spiritual law. The young man began immediately, with great eagerness, to fulfill the command which the elder had given him, and to put into practice, with doubtless hope, that which he had read in the book by St. Mark. And what did he do? He always followed his conscience, and did all that it told him to do, not disregarding a single thing. He followed the commandments of God. He read many psalms. He made many prostrations. Mentally he recited the prayer. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, as many times as he could. With this work that he did, he was made worthy to lift his mind up to Heaven, where he cried out to the Mother of Christ for compassion; and through her intercessions, he was atoned before God and there came down upon him the Grace of the Holy Spirit....

What St. Symeon says points out, on the one hand, the great worth, for one living in the world, of having a very virtuous, wise, and ascetic spiritual Father, and, on the other hand, the great worth of being eager to apply that which he tells one to do. Orthodox Christians have perceived the value of having such an elder from the earliest times. And all who have had the zeal to succeed in the inner, spiritual life, and to acquire the Grace of the Holy Spirit, sought to find such a guide. When they found such a guide and could not visit him personally, they corresponded with him. This was done by men of all social levels—even kings— in days when the contemporary anti-monastic sentiment was non-existent....

Also very helpful in the goal of the sanctification of those who live in the world are pilgrimages to monasteries with exceptional spiritual traditions, such as the monasteries of the Holy Mountain; the Monastery of St. John the Theologian on Patmos; the Monastery of Longovarda on Paros, where the eminent spiritual Father Philotheos Zervakos shined forth in our own days: the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Aegina, known throughout the Greek world for the reputation of its founder, St. Nectarios the Miracle-worker and Metropolitan of Pentapolis and the Monastery of All Saints on Kalymnos, where the important spiritual Father St. Savvas the New, contemporary of St. Nectarios, strove for twenty years.Through confession at these centers of spirituality, through participation in the moving services of the monks or nuns, and speaking with them, a Christian living in the world is aided by calm refuge from his worldly cares, by being purified, by rediscovering himself, and by tasting of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

#9 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 05:37 PM

We need to be very careful though about speaking of the monastic virtues- poverty, obedience and virginity- in the sense that these apply to all of the faithful.

There is a commonality of these virtues for all with the monastic life. There is a way in which in a sense all are called to follow one ascetic life in Christ.

But yet monasticism is a unique calling distinct in the way in which it can be so directly dedicated by those called to it. Bishops are monastics- and yet their specific charism of the episcopacy is distinct from this. Laity too also follow the common virtues of the Church- but not in the way monastics are called to.

So monasticism is something distinct within the Church and a specific calling. Without this sense we risk losing the very witness to us monasticism is set up to be.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#10 Anthony

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 08:46 PM

I have found this article by Professor G. Mantzaridis useful on some of the points raised here.

Incidentally I originally found this on the inspiring website of Decani monastery in Serbia; but when I tried to link to it I found it was down. I have found another version on the rather strange-looking site just linked to, but was wondering what has happened to the Decani site.

#11 John W.

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 03:04 AM

I have found this article by Professor G. Mantzaridis useful on some of the points raised here.

Incidentally I originally found this on the inspiring website of Decani monastery in Serbia; but when I tried to link to it I found it was down. I have found another version on the rather strange-looking site just linked to, but was wondering what has happened to the Decani site.


Anthony,

Here's a link that I have for Decani: http://www.kosovo.net/main.html

John

#12 Anthony

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 11:53 AM

Thank you, John, I had noticed it was back on-line. And the article I meant is back here.

#13 Robin Elizabeth

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Posted 26 February 2009 - 08:12 PM

"I have been reading about Met. Anthony Bloom lately, and in my introduction to him and his work, it seems that he was clearly a monk without a monastery initially."

I think that this was because of the circumstances of the world at the time. For example, there are a number of instances where men and women in post-revolutionary Russia lived the monastic life without a monastery. It was the only way, not just in Russia, but any place where monasteries were suppressed. Although I can't imagine that there is much justification for that kind of monasticism in modern America. Not only are monasteries allowed here, but there are a number of them to choose from in just about every jurisdiction.




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