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Living in an isolated mountain cabin as an Orthodox?


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#1 Gregorik

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 07:31 AM

Hello all, this is my first post on this intriguing forum (which I've spent many hours reading already). This is not one of those "I kinda wanna become a monk" posts, as I have very specific quieries and concerns. A short introduction:

I'm a 38 yr-old Hungarian male, and while I have a strong Calvinist past and even worked as a curator at my church, I'm the archetypal "superfluous man" in this culture. Couldn't hold a job, a relationship, friendships, an apartment, and was already an outsider in high school. While distressing, none of this depresses me actually, as I regard it all as a calling.

 

I was baptized in 2003. As of 2014, I'm still quite new to Eastern Orthodoxy. Yet for about 2 years, I feel the strongest draw to practice hesychasm in a skete setting; in turn I feel an aversion to most secular or even 'Calvinist' things now, including forming bonds with secular people. I'm becoming less and less worldly, and this is not something I can help -- but I won't go into my spiritual and emotional struggles at this time. I find it hard to discern between the psychological and spiritual content of this overwhelming feeling of being called; but it surely disrupts my day job (film business) and my family life at this point. Obviously I need to avoid prelest

I've actually bought a cabin in the Eastern Alps (close to Salzburg) years ago and moved in here a while ago to be as close to nature and God as possible. My secular job allows me to conduct it through the net and 'snail mail'. So I live as a quasi-hermit in a forest cabin now -- yet I feel a sense of guilt and isolation, and a draw towards a skete setting instead.

 

I know this forum is frequented by numerous Orthodox monastics; please advise me. Should I deepen my current state and become a "full-blooded" Orthodox hermit, or seek out a skete somewhere in Central Europe? Is my love for nature and my aversion to major cenobitic communities prelest? I feel this is the dilemma of a lifetime.

 

In Christ, Andras



#2 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 05:30 PM

You make no mention of a spiritual father. A blessing is essential for the eremitic life, and it is given to few monks, let alone laymen. Who is your guide? If you are your own guide, you will fall into delusion and become lost. Love of nature is nothing to the point, and the fact that you feel a sense of guilt and isolation is surely telling you something. If you are drawn to the monastic life, seek the advice of a reliable spiritual father, ask a monastery to accept you as a novice, and then be obedient to your spiritual father and abbot.



#3 Gregorik

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 05:59 PM

Thank you, I did expect some scrutiny regarding my current lack of a spiritual father (I'm at the very beginning of my Palamist journey, as mentioned). Your linking of my sense of guilt and isolation with my lack of a spiritual guide is valuable, and I'm thinking about it as we speak... That said, I was hoping for a tad more sensitive welcome, but that's probably my prelest again. ;)



#4 Olga

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 11:06 PM

Adding to Andreas' very good post, you have barely dipped your toe into Orthodoxy, yet you speak of Palamite hesychasm, which only the very spiritually advanced are capable of?

 

If you do "feel a calling", find a monastery and, if the abbot allows you to do so, spend a few weeks there. Only by living in, and participating in the life of a monastery, which includes labour as well as prayer and contemplation, will it be possible for you and the abbot to discern whether you are suited to monastic life in the first place.

 

but it surely disrupts my day job (film business) and my family life at this point.

 

I do not wish to be intrusive, but could you please clarify what you mean by "family life"?



#5 Ben Johnson

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 03:04 AM

I agree.  Try a monastery and see what you and the leaders think.



#6 Gregorik

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 06:40 AM

Thank you. Well, I'm coming from a Hungarian-German Protestant mindset. Yes, Orthodoxy is unique in the aspect of a strict, rigid hierarchy and involving the requirement of asking for a blessing for just about every activity.

 

So after a decade of very Western-minded Protestantism -- which promotes autonomy on all levels, even spirituality -- I'm caught between what I interpret as a strong "calling" and this abbot-based hierarchy that is yet very alien to me.

But I've left behind Protestantism for a reason.

 

I was on the phone with an Athonite monk (who left Mt Athos after 20 years due mostly to the noise, if I understand) multiple times now, and I'll travel to the Serbian border to meet with him, God willing. He's become the Igumen of a small skete there.

 

 

Palamite hesychasm, which only the very spiritually advanced are capable of

 

Please define very spiritually advanced. Actually, the hesychast approach was used to be encouraged to Orthodox laymen in the world for centuries. Not anymore. It is now obscured and mystified.

 

 

I do not wish to be intrusive, but could you please clarify what you mean by "family life"?

 

Secular family life in general. The thing that Protestants usually label family life.



#7 Olga

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 09:25 AM

Orthodoxy is unique in the aspect of a strict, rigid hierarchy and involving the requirement of asking for a blessing for just about every activity.

 

 True enough for monastics, but not for laymen. Moreover, Orthodoxy often uses the principle of economia, a lessening of strictness of practice, which takes into account a person's individual circumstances.

 

Secular family life in general. The thing that Protestants usually label family life.

 

One criterion for entering monastic life is that you have no personal responsibility for the care or upbringing of other family members, such as children or other dependents. People who are married but without dependent children are not free to abandon their spouse to enter monastic life, unless it is with the full and free consent of the spouse.



#8 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 10:03 AM

Please define very spiritually advanced. Actually, the hesychast approach was used to be encouraged to Orthodox laymen in the world for centuries. Not anymore. It is now obscured and mystified.

 

Gregorik, the Orthodox spiritual life is generally reckoned to involve long years of struggle, whether a person be a monastic or not. Hesychasm, as usually thought of, is practised by monastics but the laity are also called to try to engage in this kind of prayer and many do. The aim is theosis, union with God, and that is the aim of everyone. There is no 'formula', no one-size-fits-all prescription even though writers indicate a generally accepted method of practising hesychastic prayer. The person living and working in the world may attain to theosis just as a monk may. God and His Church recognise the uniqueness of each person which is why even those with years of experience still have a spiritual father. My late spiritual father was a Greek bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate but even he had a spiritual father (Elder Sophrony of Essex). One can find both laity and monastics practising hesychastic prayer in Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Russia, and elsewhere. It is not obscured nor mystified but it is indeed mystical. What characterises Orthodoxy is its retention of and indeed stress upon the mystical.

 

A person setting out on the spiritual life is recommended by his spiritual father to read certain classic books for beginners/novices such as Discourses and Sayings by Abba Dorotheos of Gaza. You should try to have a programme of reading. It is true that an authentic spiritual father is not easy to find nowadays, and there are many men who hold themselves out as such but are blind guides (cf Mathew 15:14). One looking for a guide has to pray humbly to find one.



#9 Gregorik

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 10:44 AM

True enough for monastics, but not for laymen.

 

If I would intend to remain a layman, I'd live in the midst of Budapest or Vienna as we speak, approaching and taking part in the local Orthodox parish. I'd also be married with kids for several years. But I've taken certain initial steps to recede from the world at large. Including living and job arrangements. As all of you pointed out, I now need to see a (priest)monk ASAP. But giving away my freedom and will to an abbot will be tough to swallow. Again, "Freedom in Christ" and Sola Gratia are pivotal notions and sentiments in Protestantism.

 

 

What characterises Orthodoxy is its retention of and indeed stress upon the mystical.

 

Which is by far the main thing that attracted me to Eastern Christianity. 

 

 

The person living and working in the world may attain to theosis just as a monk may.

 

I absolutely disagree.

 

My late spiritual father was a Greek bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

 

Yes, he was Archimandrite Symeon of Tolleshunt Knights; he had a number of lay spiritual children which is great, but also suggests that he possibly had precious little time for each of them (due to the numbers), let alone daily meetings. I'm in the very initial stages of seeking a spiritual father whom I can see several times a week, if possible.

Thank you for the advices. (I'll be back with more comments or questions later, provided that Olga doesn't choose to moderate me.)



#10 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 10:59 AM

The person living and working in the world may attain to theosis just as a monk may.

 

I absolutely disagree.

 

How can you disagree when you do not know? I have known ordinary people in the world who attained to theosis and heard about others.

 

I was not referring to the late Archimandrite Symeon.



#11 Olga

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 11:55 AM

The person living and working in the world may attain to theosis just as a monk may.

 

I absolutely disagree.

 

If your view is correct, it would not be possible for any layman to become a saint. Yet, throughout history, countless people, men and women, married and single, who lived and worked in the world, and did not meet their earthly end through martyrdom, have indeed been glorified as saints by the Church.



#12 Michał

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 11:57 AM

Playing a hermit is not a solution to your lack of social skills despite it may seem easier than living in a society. I've heard many abbots require potential monks to try to live as a monk "in the world" to discern whether they are suitable for monasticism or not. If they manage to do that, they will be accepted as novices. Such a jump into deep water as you intend will most likely result in swift and total failure. Hbr 5, 12-14 comes to mind. Learn to crawl before you start to run.

 

I won't rewrite what others wrote about the necessity of having a spiritual director because that's obvious.


Edited by Michał, 02 September 2014 - 11:59 AM.


#13 Gregorik

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 12:11 PM

Playing a hermit is not a solution to your lack of social skills

 

This is one weird comment for multiple reasons, including strong patronizing. Anyway, I assure you that my social skills are excellent, and have nothing to do with my "playing a hermit". Full disclosure: I've had more than 20 girlfriends in the past 2 decades, and used to work as a casting director among other things. I intimately know the ways of the world, I just had a change of mind. 

Your other suggestions are helpful.



#14 Olga

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 12:18 PM

Gregorik, Michal may well have been referring to this statement of yours in your opening post:

 

Couldn't hold a job, a relationship, friendships, an apartment, and was already an outsider in high school.


#15 Gregorik

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 12:29 PM

Gregorik, Michal may well have been referring to this statement of yours in your opening post

 

 

Well, maybe I could have used less dramatic and less evocative language in my first post -- if it makes me misconstrued now as a dysfunctional drifter straight from a Dostoevsky novel (see also the 'superfluous man' reference). ;)



#16 Olga

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 12:39 PM

Choosing one's words carefully is as important as humility and obedience to someone pursuing the sort of life you seek, as it is, indeed, for people living in the world.



#17 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 03:57 PM

Gregorik, if, as seems apparent, you feel unaccepting of and uncomfortable with any of the remarks which have been posted so far, consider how you might cope with the monastic life in which complete obedience and humility are pre-requisites. One does wonder why you brought such a deep and personal question to a forum which all the world can read; might it not have been better to discuss your thoughts with a priest who knows you? Pastoral guidance should come from such a man. Please, though, be assured that everyone here says what they say with your best interests in mind, but some of us know from experience that clear and direct answers are often needed to questions such as that you have raised.



#18 Gregorik

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 04:59 PM

consider how you might cope with the monastic life in which complete obedience and humility are pre-requisites

 

Thanks, you raise a good point here...

 

One does wonder why you brought such a deep and personal question to a forum which all the world can read

 

...and a worse one. Internet forums have a 2-decade-long history of processing very personal questions from several kinds of people. In fact, this very forum has a long history of "help me" or "support me" topics. The late hieromonk Fr. Averky used to give extremely helpful and heartfelt advice on these boards. And there's always a good reason why some people choose to bring some personal topics to certain forums. There was in fact something called the "Information Revolution", and it did embrace this notion. In short, it was not unreasonable from my perspective to hope for replies that would perhaps match the candidness and wamth of my original post. Apparently, these are not qualities that you, Andreas, embrace in any of your posts that I've read, but I for one found your replies here mostly helpful in a dry, English way. Perhaps other seekers will too. So thank you again.

 

And a warm thank you to Olga who directed me to Fr. Vereshack (or rather him to me). He is now the third experienced monastic with whom I'm in personal conversation, God willing.


Edited by Gregorik, 02 September 2014 - 05:13 PM.


#19 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 06:08 PM

Yorkshiremen like me are noted for being straightforward! But this is an area where straight talking is appropriate. Besides, it is not possible to guess the tone in which something posted is 'said'. But do be aware that a spiritual father may not be the avuncular character you perhaps envisage.



#20 Gregorik

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Posted 04 September 2014 - 10:25 AM

Yorkshiremen like me are noted for being straightforward!

 

So are Hungarians like me. That shouldn't exclude the possibility of candidness and warmth, especially in the area of spirituality.

 

But do be aware that a spiritual father may not be the avuncular character you perhaps envisage.

 

That may be so, and you're right that I'm not bound to like that (initially). If I prove to be too flamboyant or untamed for the setting, I'm in for a culture shock, which is all the better.

Again, I feel compelled to refer to Fr. Averky who, even after 30 years of monastery life, encouraged joviality and good-natured fun. He even talked about a fellow monk who was disliked by all due to his "ice cold" heart and aloofness.






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