A friend has asked me to post the following comment in reply to the article:
"This article is one of my favorites, containing a great deal of wisdom, and is one everyone should read, and ponder, before seeking a blessing to make a pilgrimage to a monastery.
I agree with Nektarios that "It is not good to have zeal without knowledge,
nor to be hasty and miss the way." (Proverbs 19:2), which is the exact point that Hieromonk Jonah makes in the article. Many miss the great spiritual benefits to be derived from visiting a monastery through yielding to what the subtitle refers to as "the temptations of monastic maximalism". However, the author is not arguing against visiting monasteries, but rather for reflecting and visiting in the right spirit before doing so.
All of us have seen in parishes and on message boards the Bill/Vasili type of character portrayed in his opening segment. The sort of young man who read all the Orthodox books in the space of six months, and understood none of them, because he lacked the spiritual maturity to do so. Yet he felt he had the knowledge, because he read it in the pop-Orthodoxy books...or picked up a copy of the Rudder...or the Canons. So, he knows it all. And we all know that our immediate response on seeing such a character either in literature or in life is to cringe, as they are narrow minded and judgmental to a fault, most somehow having missed the command to be strict with oneself, and forgiving with others. We cringe when we feel their eyes upon us, not because we feel we have done anything "wrong" but because we know their presence annoys us so that we will instantly fall into the sin of judgment for our feelings of annoyance at the "outward piety" of these displays...see the quote about Madonna on Saturday Night Live, and Judging everyone else in sight to justify Bill's own sins, if you want to know what I mean...So IF we are lucky, we can view these people as opportunities God provides us with to learn how to overcome the sin of judgment. If not, they provide us with another reason to grit our teeth, and confess judgment at our next confession.
BUT! Never fall into the trap that visiting a monastery in search of the Living Water is wrong. The article makes certain things clear that so far no one has mentioned.
"Monastics have a different calling: to be “not of this world,” and to structure their lives solely by the Gospel, and by the traditions of the Church, especially the liturgical cycles. It is very important to remember that there is no difference between the services prescribed for a parish and those of a monastery. There is no difference in the rules of fasting, prayer, or piety. The main difference is that people in parishes are engaged in the world, and monks are not. The monasteries are critically important to the life of the parishes: they constitute the reservoir of the living Tradition, in its purity, where people can experience the Gospel lived out in a radical way. Monasticism can inform their lives, inspire faithful laity to greater dedication of their lives to Christ and the Gospel, and provide a place of healing and spiritual consolation." (Bold my own)
In parishes, what has frequently happened is that due to either poor pastoral care, or small mission parishes, etc, services are either reduced, or eliminated, or abbreviated (no, I am not falling into the trap as in the article...some priests tell you outright they see no reason to have Vespers since "no one will come", when they have 30 or forty people asking for the service, who are deeply disappointed and go elsewhere). There are priests who think that if they tell people the proper rules of fasting, THEN exercise "ekonomia" in the individual's circumstances, people will be "scared away" from the Orthodox faith, because it is "too hard" or not realistic. So, they say, "Only monks do this". The fact is, that anyone who reads about his faith knows this is not so...and a small wedge of distrust begins to grow. Why was I told this thing that is not true? So...people begin to jurisdiction hop...or badmouth their jurisdiction, or, if they do none of these, but quietly wait for a more liberal priest to retire, say...they may visit monasteries for a weekend or two here or there, and seek the spiritual advice of a Geronda or Gerondissa at the monastery there as their spiritual father or mother. There is nothing prideful about this, in a situation where there are genuinely bad priests, or in a case where one's parish priest is not yet qualified to hear confessions, as in the case of the GOA, where a priest is not immediately eligible for such upon becoming a priest. It is not prelest to do such. In a case where one is aware that one is receiving poor spiritual advice, it is important, in a spirit of humility, to seek out a canonical monastery, and obtain that which one's soul needs. Now, that is an important task, and not to be assumed lightly, as a spiritual father is one you are placing yourself under obedience to, and whom you must obey, not one whom maybe if you feel like it you will listen to occasionally. naturally, this search takes time, and is not a matter of Bill/Vasili's "worthy of my obedience" but one who is willing to take you on, and who you are comfortable with! Regarding that "And sometimes people will go to a monastery or spiritual father who has been disciplined by the Church, and disregarded the discipline. (Recent case in point...Burning Bush "Monastery" in Mississippi and its self-proclaimed Hegumen Elia...parenthetical my own). Then the pilgrim-turned-disciple gets caught up in the self-justification of the errant elder, which in some cases has created a schism." Oh, indeed so! Americans especially like to crawl places looking for "gurus"...and the more "radical" the better.
"The priestmonk may appear to be more “spiritual” because he is in church for six or eight hours a day, and has few other responsibilities. Try to do that with a family, and dozens or hundreds of parishioners to serve! The asceticism of being in the world and serving Christ, whether as priest or layperson, is equally as great as that of a monk in a monastery. It takes as profound a “spirituality” to do it. But the details will differ with the circumstances." Here the author and I agree on some points, and disagree on others. I agree that the spirituality must be profound, but disagree when a priest in the world fails to teach the true faith, on the grounds that only a monk would say that. Or do that. Teach the truth, then allow the exception. But always tell the rule first. If not, the laity does have the canonical right to judge that a priest is not teaching the faith correctly, and refer the matter to the bishop.
Now...The author's most valuable point...and one I think he should turn into a full novel on its own:
"5 Ecclesiastical Gossip
A last great temptation is to get involved in gossip about people, places, practices, and especially the “issues” confronting the Church. Whether it is who is doing what, how they serve this or that service and with whom, or the like, which is all gossip; or whether it involves the greater problems confronting the Church, such as ecumenism, the calendar, or what they are or are not teaching at such and such a seminary; there is very little fruitful and much more that is sinful in all that idle talk. The Lord said that we will be accountable for each word.
Not only does this gossip involve judging people, especially hierarchs, clergy, and teachers who will have to answer for themselves before God; it distracts us from the one thing needful: to pursue our own salvation. We are only accountable to God for our own salvation, not for issues which we can have no effect on. One of the saddest things is that monasteries tend to attract people who in the name of being serious about their spiritual life fall into this delusion, while all this kind of gossip and factionalism actually destroys their souls.
It is bad enough that people talk about such things in person; many also read whole publications that are essentially scandal sheets. The Internet is perhaps the worst vehicle for such gossip. This is nothing other than ecclesiastical pornography. It must be avoided at all costs!"
Those who seek the blessing of their current spiritual father, if they have one, to go one pilgrimage to a canonical monastery, for the refreshment of their souls, seeking to draw closer to God through a retreat from the world, fuller prayer life, and fuller fast, will indeed find themselves blessed. All should do so, at least twice a year, in my opinion. It doesn't mean you come back like Bill/Vasili...or that the monks sign you up on a list for their guru-du-jour...but it will strengthen your spirituality as nothing you have ever encountered before has done. In this regard, listen most to those who have made pilgrimages to these monasteries.
Blessed Lenten journey!"