Although I’ve been posting notices of new materials on the Oriental Orthodox Tradition on my website in a thread created for that purpose, I’d like to begin also posting the content of various of those materials in separate threads so as to invite the contribution and thoughts of others on the subjects with which they're concerned.
Home Sweet Monastery
Retreating to a monastery once in a while is an age-old and popular practice amongst the Orthodox Christian faithful. On occasion such retreats are prompted by the pursuit of solace in times when the heat of the world reaches unbearable proportions; more curiously, however, are those times when monastic retreats are encouraged by the pursuit of that oft-experienced phenomenon of “feeling at home” at a monastery, which is typically suggested by the resent often felt towards the need to eventually farewell a monastery in order to resume the life of the world, and the strong nostalgia to return there upon return to the life of the world. The geographical disconnection of monasteries from busy urban centres of life, the sweetness of the melodic silence of the inner prayers of their ascetic inhabitants, the sacredness of the ground itself as being that which has been set apart wholly and exclusively for men who have consecrated their entire lives to unceasing worship of God, all serve to imbue the visiting pilgrim with a sense of serenity, peace, and clarity of mind and soul, which in turn serve to ignite a greater sense of consciousness of the Divine Presence in the pilgrim’s world and life; these are no doubt intertwined with the homely phenomenon, but that phenomenon is best understood when all these realities are placed in their fundamental context: the monastery as the place on earth which approximates Paradise to the greatest degree that this fallen world allows.
The conception and experience of monasteries as earthly instances of Paradise is deepseated in the life and mind of the Oriental Orthodox Church. The prominent collection of aphorisms pertaining to the early Monastic Fathers that has come down to us in the Greek tradition entitled, ‘The Sayings of the Fathers’ (the Apophthegmata Patrum), was curiously transmitted to us via the Coptic and Syriac traditions with the title, ‘The Paradise of the Fathers’ (Bustan el-Ruhban). According to Joachim Peerson, '[t]he phrasing of the monastic charters [of the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition] describ[e] the monastery as paradise within and surrounded by fire', which in turn reflects the idea of the monastic setting as 'a unique, separated place which is beyond the normal restrictions of time and place' ['From Foreign Import to Bulwark of Ethiopian Civilization' in: Asfa-Wossen Asserate (ed.), Äthiopien zwischen Orient und Okzident, 110]. The Oriental Orthodox monastic traditions are replete with references to the monks as Angelic representatives, or otherwise as those who have re-embodied Adam’s pre-fall bliss. One such tradition is the Coptic hagiographical account of The Life of St Onophorius, wherein the presence of monastics was regarded as having effectively transformed the barren Egyptian desert they so inhabited into paradise (trans. Tim Vivian, Journeying to God, 172-87).
Some have misinterpreted the "homely" feeling experienced when in a monastery, and the associated sentiments of peace, calmness and nostalgia, with a call to the monastic life. Such feelings and sentiments reflect more generally, however, and first and foremost, the soul’s inherent longing for, and belonging to, its eternal destiny: the Paradise which it was created for; the Paradise it rejected and was exiled from; the Paradise that has been re-fashioned for it by the redemptive work of our Loving and Gracious Saviour.
-----------------------------Original Source: www.erkohet.com