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Author Topic: So what's good about not being monastic?  (Read 2060 times) Average Rating: 0
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Cassiel
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« on: June 25, 2008, 06:12:20 PM »

This was fueled by the "Orthodoxy and Practicality" thread.  Someone commented that not everyone could be monastic because people had to be in the world to shed the light of Christ, make medical advances, and to reproduce.  Others pointed out that certain monastics hadn't been kept from making valuable contributions, "despite" their monasticism.  I have no desire to be a monastic: my one visit to a monastery terrified me (granted, I was not yet Orthodox at the time and probably ought to give it another shot - no one else at my church had this experience).  Yet it seems that monastics most closely fulfill the commandments of Christ, so if one can be one, it seems one should.

Yet I know that God must not intend every human being to be a monastic.  So, my question is, what good things to laypeople contribute to the world - what is their ministry?  How do I find a balance between knowing I'm a layperson and not of monastic caliber, and the fact that I should still be striving toward the model monastics give us?  I don't want to suggest that anyone is saying non-monasticism is just a necessary evil, but sometimes that is what I seem to hear.

[Potentially complicating issue which may or may not be relevant: sometimes I can not imagine how I will ever be saved, when monastics strive and strive and still seem to believe they are getting nowhere.  Like Abba Sisoe's quote on his deathbed that he had not even begun to repent.  Being in the world, you incur obligations, injuries, weaknesses, which interfere with that striving.  I know God is merciful and understands all that, but the fact remains.  Sometimes this thought drives me to the brink of despair.]
« Last Edit: June 25, 2008, 06:13:39 PM by Cassiel » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2008, 07:56:34 AM »

This was fueled by the "Orthodoxy and Practicality" thread.  Someone commented that not everyone could be monastic because people had to be in the world to shed the light of Christ, make medical advances, and to reproduce.  Others pointed out that certain monastics hadn't been kept from making valuable contributions, "despite" their monasticism.  I have no desire to be a monastic: my one visit to a monastery terrified me (granted, I was not yet Orthodox at the time and probably ought to give it another shot - no one else at my church had this experience).  Yet it seems that monastics most closely fulfill the commandments of Christ, so if one can be one, it seems one should.

I agree in a way, because, if you think about it, one of Christ's commandments (the one given to the rich young man) was to give up everything, all possessions, all property, all "mine" - and none of us is able to do that unless we enter a monastery. However, I am not that sure that it was a "commandment" - maybe just a "test" for the rich young man?

Yet I know that God must not intend every human being to be a monastic. 

Well, actually, the "verdict" was, "let him who can bear it, bear it." It could be understood in more than one way. One way is, we - the People of God - fall into two categories, one monastics and the other non-monastics (married, or single but living in the world); each category with its mission, each at least potentially good, each dignified, commendable; the belonging to either one is determined simply by one's ability to stand the peculiar pressures of being a monastic (celibacy for one). Another way is: Christ gave all of us the commandment to be absolutely withdrawn from the world, bare-naked poor (i.e. with no personal property whatsoever, and with no aim to attain any property), and absolutely celibate. It's just that some of us are worse Christians than other - some are strong (monastics), and other are weak. This can actually be deduced from St. Paul's words in 1 Cor. 7:1-2, 7-9, 25-38. No crime if you live in the world, marry, and gain property; but it's a weakness. Personally, I believe in the first interpretation, but I almost never see the known Orthodox authorities-theologians support it. Holy Fathers were unanimously saying that monasticism is a higher and better way to live (at least in what little I have read). I've seen only ONE author saying that actually, leading a married life can be a more difficult and honorable calling than living a monastic life (Prot. Fr. Sergius Bulgakov).

So, my question is, what good things to laypeople contribute to the world - what is their ministry?  How do I find a balance between knowing I'm a layperson and not of monastic caliber, and the fact that I should still be striving toward the model monastics give us?  I don't want to suggest that anyone is saying non-monasticism is just a necessary evil, but sometimes that is what I seem to hear.

Exactly. If this (i.e. that non-monasticism is a necessary evil) is not an impression of ours but a truth of our faith, then the answer is obvious - get rid of the (seemingly) "necesary" evil, become a monk. If it's a faulty interpretation of our doctrine, then maybe it's not worth it to formulate your question like that. We simply should not strive to be who we are not, but, rather, should strive to be what we are and to be better at our calling. Love our wives, raise our children, cultivate our little piece of this universe (in a very broad sense - but indeed *our* piece), do medical advances, science, etc. etc. etc. Be God's "fellow workers," "sinergi," in our own way. And maybe we are no less of a model for them than they are for us...
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« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2008, 10:06:16 AM »

Yet I know that God must not intend every human being to be a monastic.  So, my question is, what good things to laypeople contribute to the world - what is their ministry?  How do I find a balance between knowing I'm a layperson and not of monastic caliber, and the fact that I should still be striving toward the model monastics give us?  I don't want to suggest that anyone is saying non-monasticism is just a necessary evil, but sometimes that is what I seem to hear.

Let's flip this: married life is a high and blessed life, only for those blessed enough to be able to endure it.  Not everyone is intended to be married, and marriage can/would be a detriment to those for whom it is not intended.

We can't get too caught up in comparing the two, unless we're unsure of our own path.  What most clergy will tell you is that Monasticism gets its high praise because of the constant focus on prayer, which is admirable, blessed by God, and certainly a difficult road for those who are determined to follow it (this doesn't apply to the pseudo-monastics that are actually sources of temptation for the holy ones).  However, married life is also blessed (as is the begetting of children - hence, why marriage is a sacrament), as is idiorrythmic celibate life (i.e. non-communal - those who are celibate but not monks).
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« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2008, 10:30:29 AM »

According to Acts, some of the first Christians had given up all material possessions but still lived in communities of this world. Also, according to the first epistle to Timothy, teaching abstention from marriage and certain foods is not the correct teaching of the Church. Thus, to my humble understanding, monasticism is not for everyone.

My two cents: God knows our proclivity and our gifts, our strengths and weaknesses, why, He is the one who gives them to us. It is up to us and His Grace, what we make of/with them. I think monasticism is a call, not everybody can undertake this struggle, this path. Not everyone gets the same cross to bear after all. I think the people who enter monasticism do feel a call, an attraction to it, it is not simply their own achievement  but rather it is a call to a cross. Other people´s cross is about serving God through serving other people and this is why they get families to deal with or a priesthood calling or both. I agree with Heorhij that we should strive to make the best of what we have.

I agree in a way, because, if you think about it, one of Christ's commandments (the one given to the rich young man) was to give up everything, all possessions, all property, all "mine" - and none of us is able to do that unless we enter a monastery. However, I am not that sure that it was a "commandment" - maybe just a "test" for the rich young man?

That was not a commandment. It was an "If you wish" condition. In the same story, Christ proceeded to say that what is impossible for man is possible for God, to Whom all things are possible. Things that are beyond our power, God can help us do. Our Church, from personal experience, teaches a middle of the road approach to life for those who are not monastics. No extremes. Monastics have their obligations to God  and to their community. Seculars have their obligations to God and to the rest of the world they live in. That the world may be an impediment to inner quiet and peace which helps in order to listen to God, is more or less a risk. My belief is that if the Church was founded in the world and we belong to the Church, we already have guidance as to how to live in this world without having to get necessarily out of it. The Apostles who founded the Church were not all celibate and were certainly not secluded, but fought the world, living in the world. With that I do not wish to oppose monasticism - on the contrary. I am just saying that the foundation of the Church made it possible for us to live in the world without being of this world.
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« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2008, 11:12:40 AM »

^Great post, Sophie. I agree with pretty much everything you said.

Unfortunately, I keep hearing from some of my compatriots that what Christ said to the rich young man was a commandment, and if we live in the world, we should beg the Lord and the Theotokos to forgive us that we are such bad Christians...
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« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2008, 11:27:02 AM »

I don't think there is much of a gap from the spiritual writings of the saints and our regular secular life.  When I open the Philokalia I can't find anything that doesn't drastically challenge me or turn me upside down.

I think the spiritual writings of the saints cover much more than any self-help book could.  Nevertheless, I've found all kinds of articles on Orthodox websites about marriage and job conduct and the like.
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« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2008, 11:35:06 AM »

Quote
I agree in a way, because, if you think about it, one of Christ's commandments (the one given to the rich young man) was to give up everything, all possessions, all property, all "mine"

Maybe this also has a Buddhist tint to it, in that we should be ready to give up what belongs to us to people who need it, to be unattached to it the moment we acquire it.
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« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2008, 02:09:16 PM »

In a catechism of our church there is an instruction within the 5th Beatitude: "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."         Q#205: What is it to be merciful?  A1. To perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy.   A2. To forgive injuries and offences when power for vengeance is given us.   A3. To relieve the sufferring of others.   A4. To be compassionate and unselfish, and not to exact the full measure of the law, which may sometimes become an instrument of oppression in the hands of the unmerciful.                Mercy is one of the chief attributes of God; Christian perfection consists in becoming like unto God, Who is all-merciful. It is the quality of mercy in the true Christian that stands in such glorious contrast to the selfishness and vindictiveness of many non Christians. God will be merciful in His judgement of our sins accordingly as we are merciful in our dealings with our fellow men.    From: A Catechism of the Christian Doctrine of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church c.1949 by the Syrian Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese under the imprimatur of the late Metropolitan Antony Bashir. Such is an aspect of instruction of proper Orthodopraxis for us layfolk living day to day. Hope this is helpful, God bless.
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« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2008, 02:18:07 PM »

In a catechism of our church there is an instruction within the 5th Beatitude: "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."         Q#205: What is it to be merciful?  A1. To perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy.   A2. To forgive injuries and offences when power for vengeance is given us.   A3. To relieve the sufferring of others.   A4. To be compassionate and unselfish, and not to exact the full measure of the law, which may sometimes become an instrument of oppression in the hands of the unmerciful.                Mercy is one of the chief attributes of God; Christian perfection consists in becoming like unto God, Who is all-merciful. It is the quality of mercy in the true Christian that stands in such glorious contrast to the selfishness and vindictiveness of many non Christians. God will be merciful in His judgement of our sins accordingly as we are merciful in our dealings with our fellow men.    From: A Catechism of the Christian Doctrine of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church c.1949 by the Syrian Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese under the imprimatur of the late Metropolitan Antony Bashir. Such is an aspect of instruction of proper Orthodopraxis for us layfolk living day to day. Hope this is helpful, God bless.

Two questions: (1) what does it have to do with the original topic, and (2) are you serious when you are saying that "it is the quality of mercy in the true Christian that stands in such glorious contrast to the selfishness and vindictiveness of many non Christians?" (How about "it is the quality of mercy in the many non-Christians that stands in such glorious contrast to the selfishness and vindictiveness of many Christians, whether these latter consider themselves, or are considered, "true" or "not true"?")
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« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2008, 02:23:35 PM »

^Great post, Sophie. I agree with pretty much everything you said.

Unfortunately, I keep hearing from some of my compatriots that what Christ said to the rich young man was a commandment, and if we live in the world, we should beg the Lord and the Theotokos to forgive us that we are such bad Christians...

What Christ said to the rich man was a spiritual prescription for him - he had asked what was needed to attain heaven, and when Christ gave him the answer, he said that he already follows the commandments, is there anything more?  Any answer beyond general is then specifically directed to those asking - if it were a poor man who was angry at the world for his poverty, the prescription may well have been different (something along the lines of "you must love the rich man").  Yes, we are not to hoard our possessions, but instead give from what we have for others' benefit.  But that doesn't preclude us from, say, having a home, or having a family.
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« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2008, 02:32:26 PM »

Two questions: (1) what does it have to do with the original topic, and (2) are you serious when you are saying that "it is the quality of mercy in the true Christian that stands in such glorious contrast to the selfishness and vindictiveness of many non Christians?" (How about "it is the quality of mercy in the many non-Christians that stands in such glorious contrast to the selfishness and vindictiveness of many Christians, whether these latter consider themselves, or are considered, "true" or "not true"?")
It seemed as if the OP is having a dilemma in sorting out how to live the Christian life and I provided a piece of official Orthodox info (an archdiocesan catechism) that provided some instruction to a layperson in the basics of living day to day. It was not meant to discard the call to monasticism but most of us are not. I only quoted the catechism, perhaps their wording in a place could be better but these are not mineand I would hope in our modern times we can filter between what is best and perhaps not as good in the words of another generation.
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« Reply #11 on: June 27, 2008, 09:50:49 AM »

Monastism is an outward act. It is a means not an end.  The Objective of Orthodox Christianity is Theosis, not monastism.

The one who leads you to outward action, leads you to outward action but the one who leads you to God leads you to God. If you study the Gospel of Christ, Jesus tried to lead us to universals, not particulars.

Everybody is different and has a unique make-up which is determined by personality, personal life experience, environment etc etc.  This why it is highly recommended that one finbd a spiritual father who is inspired by the Holy Spirit, so one can find an outward means to help one attain this inward reality of theosis, that is specific for you as an individual.

So there is no one outward act (monastism vs married life etc) that better than the other, the issue is which one is best for you as an individual.

Monastism can be one's oneway ticket to hell, similiarily marriage or any other outward act, but each one of these could be one's oneway ticket to heaven, and theosis, depending on the individual.  And our Lord knows best.

I leave you with the words of St Theophan.

The Essence of Christian Life

People concern themselves with Christian upbringing but leave it incomplete: they neglect the most essential and most difficult side of Christian life, and dwell on what is easiest, the visible and external.This imperfect or misdirected upbringing produces people who observe with the utmost correctness all the formal and outward rules of devout conduct, but pay little or no attention to the inward movements of the heart and to true improvement of the inner spiritual life.  They are strangers to mortal sins, but they do not heed the play of thoughts in the heart.  Accordingly they sometimes pass judgments, give way to boastfulness or pride, sometimes get angry (as if this feeling were justified by the rightness of their cause), are sometimes distracted by beauty and pleasure, sometimes even offend others in fits of irritation, are sometimes too lazy to pray, or lose themselves in useless thoughts while at prayer.  They are not upset about doing these things, but regard them as without significance.  They have been to church, or prayed at home according to the established rule, and carried out their usual business, and so they are quite content and at peace.  But they have little concern for what is happening in the heart.  In the meantime it maybe forging evil, thereby taking away the whole value of their correct and pious life.

Let us now take the vase of one who has been falling somewhat short in the work of salvation; he becomes aware of this incompleteness, and sees the incorrectness of his way of life and the instability of his efforts.  And so he turns from outward to inward piety.  He is led into this either by reading books about spiritual life, or by talking with those who know what the essence of Christian life is, or by dissatisfaction with his own efforts, by a certain intuition that something is lacking, and that all is not going as it should.

Despite all his correctness he has no inner peace; he lacks what was promised to true Christians, ‘peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. xiv. 17). Once this troubling thought is born in him, then by talking with people who have knowledge he will come to realize what the matter is, or he may read about it in a book.  Either of these things will enable him to see the essential defect in the order of his life, namely his lack of attention to the movements within himself, and his lack of self-mastery.

He understands then that the essence of the Christian life consists in establishing himself with the mind in the heart before God, in the Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit: in this way he is enabled to control all inward movements and all outward actions, so as to transform everything in himself, whether great or small, into the service of God the Trinity, consciously and freely offering himself wholly to God.”

(Theophan the Recluse – Art of Prayer)

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