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.