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.