Why a Monastery?
“I am a deer. I have listened to the angels of Heaven, when they wash their wings in my tears. In ancient times the white deer told me that He, the All-meek and All-merciful One passed over the earth and transformed the earth back to Paradise. Wherever He stood, Paradise appeared. Out of Him unto all beings and all creation there would flow boundless goodness and love, gentleness, mercy, meekness, and wisdom. He walked over all the earth and brought Heaven down to earth. They called Him Jesus. We saw in Him that man can be wondrous and exceedingly beautiful only when he is sinless. He shared in our sorrow and wept with us. He was with us and against those human creations: sin, evil, and death. He loved all creatures gently and compassionately; He embraced them with a divine longing; and He defended them from human sin, human evil, and human death. He was, and has forever remained--our God, the God of the sorrowful and saddened creatures, from the smallest to the greatest. He--our Lord and God! He--our sweet consolation in this bitter world which is passing and our eternal joy in that immortal world which is coming...” (St. Justin Popovich, A Deer Lost in Paradise)
This quote was written by a 20th-century Serbian monk who is now regarded as a saint. We all can feel of what he writes. Something is desperately off-balance. The pressure to meet deadlines created by jobs, bills, and debt forces us to turn off our hearts and become more like robots than persons. Our hearts are dormant. Advertising and entertainment boast of wonderful bliss, only to find shattered dreams and lives. The need is for a deep reversal, a re-orientation, a rediscovery, a rebirth. This is the meaning behind the word “repent”, metanoia.
This is what monastic life is all about. The prophets of ancient Israel culminating in the Prophet and Forerunner John, the Baptizer of Jesus Christ, lived and taught this way. The apostles James the Brother of God and John the Theologian were early models of this kind of stillness. The Mother of the God-Man, the Virgin Mary, lived and modeled such a life.
After the period of general persecution of early Christianity, in the 4th century, thousands moved to the caves and deserts of Israel, Palestine, and Egypt to continue the nearness to the Holy that so many had experienced during the persecutions. Holy Ones like Antony, Pachomius, and Macarius of Egypt, Moses the Ethiopian, Mary of Egypt, Sava of Jerusalem, George of Palestine revealed a way of restored humanity, a God-humanity where ferocious animals and humans became tame in their presence. They had been restored to the likeness of the “first-formed man”, a reference to our primeval parents in a place of Paradise.
From North Africa and the Middle East this movement spread throughout east and west. Often, villages sprang up around the monks and nuns. These embers of early Christianity were enough to rekindle the ancient ways of Christ in entire cities and regions.
Eventually, Mt. Athos, in Northern Greece would become the center for Orthodox Christian monks throughout much of the known world. To this day, on that 45 mile-long peninsula, there are over 150 monastic communities with close to 1,500 monks. Transformed humanity is not merely an ideal. Their prayers are beams of light sent out for peace, protection, guidance, and wisdom for the entire world.
With the blessing of Bishop +LONGIN of the Serbian Orthodox Church, a new community of monks and a relocation of an established community of nuns will be praying and working in northwest Missouri. The men’s community is called Holy Archangel Michael and All Angels Skete. The women’s community is called St. Xenia Sisterhood. Through your prayers and kindness, the mercy of God, and with help from above, it is our hope that the timeless embers of Christ can be fanned into a flame of love for our region.
Reflections on monasticism:
Acquire inner peace… and thousands around you will be saved. (St. Seraphim of Sarov)
Mortals, escape with me from a false world!
Christ calls. Away! Life be our voyage fair,
Safe riding o’er the surge of cares and lies!
One quest alone employs the lonely Monk,
How he may reach the Haven of true peace,
Where never comes the strain of breaking hearts.
O happy life, all music, free from sorrow!
Where is the prudent seeker of true gain who
Will part with all the world and choose the Cross? (St. Theodore the Studite)
“Separation from the world enables those who love God to love the world more than those who live in the world” (Middleton, Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit, p. 23)
“Very different is the monastic way. Obedience, fasting, and prayer are laughed at, yet they alone constitute the way to real and true freedom: I cut away my superfluous and unnecessary needs, through obedience I humble and chasten my vain and proud will, and thereby, with God’s help, attain freedom of spirit, and with that, spiritual rejoicing!” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, from Elder Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov)
“The perfect monk voluntarily shoulders the universal responsibility for the evil that exists in the world. In this way he also sees the salvation that is offered by Christ as his own personal salvation. Placing himself beneath all people and considering himself the first among sinners, he encounters Christ’s gift as a personal gift.” (Georgios Mantzaridis, Ph.D., Universality and Monasticism)