Monday, December 1, 2014

The orthodox monastic life

Christian monasticism inaugurated by hermit St. Anthony of Egypt in 305, when he organized ascetic hermits in primitive monastic communities, was continued by Anthony's disciple, Pachomius, who introduced communal monastic life. Between 358-364, St. Basil drew up the rule that still governs Christian religious communities, including the Orthodox Church. Both monks and nuns are required to take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and to devote their lives to prayer and work. The goal of this way of life is the achievement of personal salvation or union with God through a continual spiritual battle with temptation.

Monasticism spread quickly throughout the Byzantine Empire in the 4th-7th centuries, flourished in the 16th century in all Europe, and recorded a revival of interest in the 19th century.

Most monastics are imitators of Christ. Like Christ, they fast. Like Christ, they live the life of poverty, both in what they wear and what they possess. They do, therefore, spend time thinking about food and clothing, but this in the strange sense of thinking how best not to think of these.

They are careful not to eat that which invites gluttony or attachment to food, but to partake of the "daily bread" that provides for sustenance. They are worried about clothing that might move them away from the hem of the Savior's garment, which we all touch, entreating Christ to clothe them in His righteousness. And all of this monastics do for the very purpose of salvation. It is precisely the search for salvation which prompts them to be concerned about such things.

As Christ was obedient, so, too, the monastic is obedient. While some converts enter into the Orthodox monastic life wishing to reform the services and to discard this or that "typikon", most Orthodox monastics follow the typikon of their monastic superiors, linking themselves to an on-going succession of spiritual power that affects, indeed, the roots of salvation itself.

Orthodox monastic life involves a system which contemporary psychologists call a "feed-back loop." By attention to externals, we affect internals; and by the restored internal state, external attributes are affected. Endlessly linked to one another, internals and externals interact with one another to the point that they are no longer separate. The humble spirit manifests itself in the humble face; the sweet countenance in the sweetness of spirit; and the contrite heart within a contrite act. Grace brings what is inside out and what is outside in. Grace molds, blends, and transforms.

Last parts from "Orthodox Tradition", Vol. 6, No. 4, 1989.