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Author Topic: How does Ascetical Practice differ for Monastics?  (Read 1504 times) Average Rating: 0
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Anastasios
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« on: August 12, 2008, 11:20:35 PM »

This discussion has been split from the thread concerning
Halloween


Pravoslavbob


Quote
How often does monastic literature peal forth condemnation of Christians in the world, who, it is said, can scarcely be saved .  Is it because its authors are virtuous?  Is it perhaps not an accident that such a central ideal as arete^ (excellence or virtue) has so little representation in the NT, but so much in the monastic literature?
Cum grano salis, DanM

Monastic literature goes both ways; it is highly self-critical as well. How difficult it is for anyone to be saved when we prefer ourselves to God's mercy.  These strict statements are often hortatory; exhortations given the situation on the ground is far from ideal.

I think the NT is full of ascetism. Be ye perfect and all that. I think Fr George explains it well:
http://www.romanity.org/htm/flo.01.en.the_ascetic_ideal_and_the_new_testament.01.htm
« Last Edit: August 14, 2008, 01:21:50 PM by Pravoslavbob » Logged

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DanM
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« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2008, 10:10:32 AM »

I think the NT is full of ascetism.

I quite agree.  However--
Sticky point 1:  Asceticism seems to be pursued (or at least exhorted) professionally in the monastery.  Asceticism, like love, is an amateur's game; no one should ever love professionally.
Sticky point 2:  Monastic professionalism in asceticism has quarrel with what we read in the Bible, OT or NT and in the early fathers.  Is there a reason why the prophets kept saying that God abhors fasts and feasts?  Why in his last discourses Our Lord inveighed so heavily against the prfoessionalism of the Pharisees?  Why St. Paul railed against man-made rules and pointed out the limited value of bodily asceticism?  (My guess:  given a choice between a scary life of love and a safe life of religious routines, most people opt for the routines.)
Sticky point 3:  Professional asceticism seems to overshadow other facets of the faith.  E.g., one hears from priests, not just monastics, that it is more important to keep a fast than to eat what a non-Orthodox puts on the table.  Let God's command always take precedence over man's!
I do not think that these points can be hammered out by posts or even by candid discussion, as they are really answered individually by everyone every day.  To the extent that they can be discussed, they should probably be discussed in a different forum.
DanM
« Last Edit: August 14, 2008, 01:10:46 PM by Pravoslavbob » Logged
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« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2008, 03:26:53 PM »

Sticky point 2:  Monastic professionalism in asceticism has quarrel with what we read in the Bible, OT or NT and in the early fathers.  Is there a reason why the prophets kept saying that God abhors fasts and feasts?
Maybe you should read the passages in context to find out.

Quote
Sticky point 3:  Professional asceticism seems to overshadow other facets of the faith.  E.g., one hears from priests, not just monastics, that it is more important to keep a fast than to eat what a non-Orthodox puts on the table.
Interesting observation, considering that even some of our greatest, most "professional" ascetics taught otherwise.
« Last Edit: August 14, 2008, 01:11:02 PM by Pravoslavbob » Logged
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« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2008, 10:08:39 PM »

I quite agree.  However--
Sticky point 1:  Asceticism seems to be pursued (or at least exhorted) professionally in the monastery.  Asceticism, like love, is an amateur's game; no one should ever love professionally.

I think you are creating a false dichotomy between amateur and professional, and I am unsure about your apparent dismissal of the monastic experience as "professional" and something that should never be done professionally. Is that what you are really saying or did I misunderstand you?

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Sticky point 2:  Monastic professionalism in asceticism has quarrel with what we read in the Bible, OT or NT and in the early fathers.

I don't buy that for a minute.

Quote
Is there a reason why the prophets kept saying that God abhors fasts and feasts?  Why in his last discourses Our Lord inveighed so heavily against the prfoessionalism of the Pharisees?

That has nothing to do with monasticism.

Quote
Why St. Paul railed against man-made rules and pointed out the limited value of bodily asceticism?  (My guess:  given a choice between a scary life of love and a safe life of religious routines, most people opt for the routines.)

You are forcing a dichotomy where none needs to exist. And St Paul is the one that talks of beating his body into submission. Have you ever read the Apothegmata by the way? Specifically the chapters on Hospitality, Humility, Patience, and Charity? The Desert Fathers were very concerned with the spirit of love.

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Sticky point 3:  Professional asceticism seems to overshadow other facets of the faith.  E.g., one hears from priests, not just monastics, that it is more important to keep a fast than to eat what a non-Orthodox puts on the table.  Let God's command always take precedence over man's!

I've never had a priest tell me that. I have seen in writing one priest who recommended that but he was in a minority. Still, we should not use that as an excuse to break the fast. We can explain beforehand that we have dietary restrictions and no one in polite society would be insulted. If we find ourselves in a situation of hospitality, then accept the hospitality and mention it in confession. This is really not a big issue.


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I do not think that these points can be hammered out by posts or even by candid discussion, as they are really answered individually by everyone every day.  To the extent that they can be discussed, they should probably be discussed in a different forum.
DanM

How do you reconcile your theory of professional asceticism with the received Orthodox tradition which highly praises monasticism?
« Last Edit: August 14, 2008, 01:07:56 PM by Pravoslavbob » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: August 14, 2008, 09:55:39 AM »

Maybe you should read the passages in context to find out.
Interesting observation, considering that even some of our greatest, most "professional" ascetics taught otherwise.

Since this is veering off the subject of H-ween, it would be more appropriate to discuss these points in another setting.
DanM
« Last Edit: August 14, 2008, 01:11:43 PM by Pravoslavbob » Logged
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« Reply #5 on: August 14, 2008, 10:00:44 AM »

I think you are creating a false dichotomy between amateur and professional, and I am unsure about your apparent dismissal of the monastic experience as "professional" [etc.].

It is my fault that we are off the topic. 
If this possibly risky topic deserves a discussion, it should not be under the aegis of H-ween. 
DanM
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« Reply #6 on: August 14, 2008, 10:03:29 AM »

The moderator of this forum can split the posts as necessary then. I'm definitely interested in hearing your view.
« Last Edit: August 14, 2008, 01:09:53 PM by Pravoslavbob » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: August 14, 2008, 01:32:14 PM »

The moderator of this forum can split the posts as necessary then. I'm definitely interested in hearing your view.

You may be giving my opinions too much respect.
In the following exchange, I beg of you to keep in mind Monimus' dictum that all is opinion.  Such a sweeping claim cannot possibly be unexceptionably true, but the mere recollection of it helps me stay balanced about my own thoughts.  When you and I argue back and forth, then, please do not imagine that in my attempt to express clearly and cogently this or that opinion, I am implicitly claiming infallibility, inerrancy etc.  It is my firm conviction that clarity is the best friend of truth; the more clearly I express an error, the more likely I am to realize it.  (The higher an ape climbs a tree etc.) 
Finally, I see your by your title that you are a priest.  Do you prefer for me to address you as such or maintain the oddly impersonal air of this kind of forum? 
(My main reason for avoiding these kinds of forums has been the problem that so much communication is non-verbal, and it is very tiring to be misunderstood and to misunderstand others--those annoying smiley faces are actually useful.)
DanM
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« Reply #8 on: August 14, 2008, 02:08:25 PM »

Dan,

I agree with you that these types of forums can be oddly impersonal and much is missed from non verbal communication.

You can address me as who I am; Fr Anastasios. Here is a picture gallery of my recent priestly ordination.  http://picasaweb.google.com/anastasios0513/PriestlyOrdinationAlbum2

As a bit of background, I was born a Protestant but became a Catholic through the example of some Hispanic friends of mine.  But I found out later that I had not investigated Orthodoxy, and that it deserved a full treatment, so I went to St Vladimir's Seminary and completed my MDiv.  While there, I decided to become Orthodox but I became concerned about certain ecclesiological issues and hence was baptized with my wife in the Old Calendar Church. I was recently ordained a priest.

From this brief biographical account, you will see that my presuppositions will automatically be somewhat different than yours, but I consider myself a person of goodwill and would like to understand what you are saying. I also do not consider myself infallible in any way and try each day to become a clearer thinker, a better prayer, and a more loving individual.

Fr Anastasios
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« Reply #9 on: August 15, 2008, 12:50:29 PM »

Dear Father,
Your path and mine were parallel until you went to seminary and I went to Cath. Univ. of Amer., where I did become Orthodox at last (in 1988).  Interesting!

Here is Thesis 1 with its struts.  My aim, as I have said already, is to be as clear as possible about my opinions, not to be as papal as possible. 
Note the following points.
1.  I say “amplified,” not “invented.” 
2.  I say “weakly attested or radically redefined,” not non-existent.
3.  “Weakly attested or radically redefined” are capable of being used as weasel-words.
4.  I propose a Thesis 0 merely to specify clearly an important premise of Thesis 1.  Naturally, it is not easy to pin down the beginning of monasticism.  Does Elijah the Prophet count?  St. John the Forerunner?  There are references to abstainers from marriage, meat and alcohol from day the sub-apostolic times on.  I prefer to use the term monasticism to refer to institutionalized asceticism as opposed to the ad hoc, idiorhythmic asceticism attested to by NT and subsequent early documents.

Thesis 0.  Monasticism is a later development of Christianity. 
Thesis 1.  Monasticism amplified practices which are weakly attested or radically redefined in pre-monastic Christianity.
Thesis 1.  Strut 1.  Monasticism amplified lengthy fasts which earlier were ad hoc (excepting the W & F fasts).
Thesis 1.  Strut 2.  Monasticism amplified the numerous rationales and incentives have been attached to fasting.
Thesis 1.  Strut 3.  Monasticism amplified the emphasis on physical asceticism (but did not pioneer asceticism!).
Thesis 1.  Strut 4.  Monasticism amplified the emphasis on celibacy (but did not pioneer celibacy!).
Thesis 1.  Strut 5.  Monasticism amplified guruism.
Thesis 1.  Strut 6.  Monasticism amplified (mystical) silence.
Thesis 1.  Strut 7.  Monasticism pioneered the doctrine that souls can be delivered from Hell by monastics.
Thesis 1.  Strut 8.  Monasticism amplified the introduction of non-Orthodox texts and doctrines (e.g., the life of the Buddha [St. John of Damascus] and characteristically Catholic Spiritual Exercises & Spiritual Combat [St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain]).
Thesis 1.  Strut 9.  Monasticism amplified the redefinition of the norm (married Christians living in the world) as in some sense inferior and the exception (eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven) as in some sense superior.
Thesis 1.  Strut 10.  Monasticism amplified the notion of flight from the world in contravention to explicit teachings in the NT.

As for how this thesis will be handled, I expect roughly. 
I advise all interested parties that I am posting this thesis for everyone to critique it, but am chiefly interested in critiques which refer to facts that are verifiable by the normal means of research.  Ad hominem (personal attacks"  "You are not spiritual enough"), ad verecundiam (appeal to authority:  "My spiritual director says so"), petitio principii (circularity:  "Of course St. John did not write the life of the Buddha!  If you look at the book carefully, you won't find Gautama Buddha's name anywhere in it") etc. must be studiously avoided.
Cheers, DanM
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« Reply #10 on: August 15, 2008, 01:40:45 PM »

I would imagine that enough doctoral (both PhD and DTh) theses have been published on ascetism and monasticism except that such theses aren't easily accessible to the laity or written in a way which is understood easily by the laity.
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« Reply #11 on: August 16, 2008, 03:35:51 PM »

I advise all interested parties that I am posting this thesis for everyone to critique it, but am chiefly interested in critiques which refer to facts that are verifiable by the normal means of research. 

I also beg of correspondents to limit their critiques to one strut per post, unless (as might easily happen) one strut is too closely related to another. 
DanM
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