Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Monk Talks

Last night, Wes, B, and I went to over to the lecture hall in UK's library, and heard Hieromonk Alexander (that means he's a monk who's also ordained a priest...not all monks are priests), from the Holy Cross Hermitage Monastery in West Virginia, give a talk. The title of his talk was something like "The purpose of Orthodox Monasticism in the World Today". Interestingly enough, the purpose of monasticism in the world these days is much the same as it has always been: To produce saints as efficiently and quickly as possible.

He gave an overview of the history or monasticism, showed us slides of various famous Orthodox monasteries, including St. Catherine's in Egypt, which is one of the oldest monasteries, and is located at Mt. Sinai.

He also gave brief intros on some of the men and women who, in recent past, have been great spiritual monastics.

-The monastic life was developed as a radical way to keep the gospel commandments as thoroughly as possible. "If you want to be perfect, sell all you have and give it to the poor and come follow me."

-The state of monasticism is a barometer for the health of the Church. If the Church is healthy, monasticism will be thriving, that is to say, she will be cranking out young people who WANT to become monks and nuns.

-There are two aspects to the monastic life: the exterior, and the interior. The exterior is the only part a visitor to a monastery can experience, and includes all the prayer services, the work, etc. The interior aspect of monasticism is the journey that each monk or nun is taking as he or she is "alone with God". This involves dying to one's self and living for Christ.

The audience at the talk was an interesting mix of Orthodox faithful and UK students. Some were there to get extra credit for such things as their philosophy classes, etc. And of course I recognized a good many faces, too.

What I took way from it was a keen sense of "different yet the same". Our goals, as lay persons, ought to be the same as that of a monastic: To become a saint. That's a pretty radical goal in life. And I think that monasticism can teach us, also, how to "climb that mountain". It is said that we are all climbing the spiritual mountain. The monastics are heading straight up the side, while those of us still "in the world" have a path that circles the mountain like a cork screw. This is probably true. I don't really think that non-monastics can claim to be doing anything akin to what a monastic does, or if we are, it's such a small portion of what they do. Different in intensity, if not in intent.

But we can be spurred on towards those good works that gain us the Kingdom, and the example of the monastic way can help pull us along. Perhaps, then, as we choose to become less distracted, more focused on the things holy, more attuned to the things of God, our winding path up the mountain will at least be a steeper winding path, with fewer turns. And always, this Way of following Christ is the way of repentance, whether one is a lay person or a monastic.

Here's a way cool trailer for a film they are making.

Some things for me to mull over, just in time for lent.


james said...

By the way, I ran your comment about monks shooting straight up the mountain as compared to the rest of us by another Orthodox Christian and he said he couldn't quite agree with the quote on its face (so to speak). Like me, he said we have no way of knowing what monks/nuns experience.

I remember when I used to attend this little mission in a small town and folks had the audacity to declare Blessed Seraphim Rose a heretic for espousing a doctrine that has never been declared heresy by the Orthodox Church (just disagreeable to some folks of Wesleyan-Armenian heritage). I wonder if he shot right up the side of the mountain. I doubt he'd say he did.

I remember a saint who was a monk (can't remember his name) who declared that he wasn't sure if he had ever begun to repent when someone praised him on his death bed for all his rigors.

They're human too. That's all I was saying.

Alana said...

I don't THINK I said that monks are all going straight up the mountain...just that the way of monasticism is a path that leads that way. But not all who are monastics are truly on that path, just like not every person who comes into the Orthodox Church is truly on that path. It is not mine to judge. (And no, I'm not even obliquely referring to you here, even though I know you won't believe me when I say it.)

But my POINT is, the monastics DO have more opportunities to in, they literally have carved more time into their day dedicated to prayer and have placed themselves into a context where they have accountability on that score, and they have voluntarily given up many of the distractions that those of us in the world have not voluntarily given up, and that we therefore have to struggle with. I did NOT say that they do not then also have internal passions against which they must battle or that their minds don't wander while at prayer. Of course they do. I also did not say that those on the monastic path are without sin, or that no monk or nun ever falls into sin.

And of course it is always possible to find anyone who shares any opinion, on either side of any issue, so I don't quite know what your point is. Perhaps the analogy with the mountain is a poor one. You are not the only one to "call me on it".

And by the way, I don't know of anyone at that little mission parish you used to attend who thinks they got it all right all the time. If you have problems with anyone there, it should be dealt with face to face in person and not behind their backs or on blogs.

I think of the saint you mentioned all the time, and his story gives me great courage on my path towards repentance. I never ever said that monastics are without sin.

And please, forgive me for any offenses against you.