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Monastic Tips for Self-isolation

“Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.” (Isaiah 26:20 ESV)

The entire world is experiencing the impact of COVID-19, the Novel Corona Virus pandemic. It is commonly said that one of the Chinese words for crisis can be interpreted as opportunity. With the limiting of so many being able to go out, we invite you to discover the opportunity to go in. To go in to the place of the heart. Over the coming days, we will be posting wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the Church regarding the values to be found from times of silence, solitude, and reflection.

Isolation: The Furnace and the Cloud

The cell of the monk is the furnace of Babylon wherein the Three Children found the Son of God, and it is also the pillar of cloud wherefrom God spake with Moses. (St. Anthony)

Paradise of the Holy Fathers, E. Budge, Vol II, p. 14

When the three youths, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, failed to worship the false gods of Babylon, they were bound and thrown into the fiery furnace. They trusted in God’s deliverance, even if that deliverance came through death. They were committed to only serving the One True God. (Daniel 3:17-18).

Yet while in the flames, Nebuchadnezzar the king saw four men, not three! He declared, “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Daniel 3: 25).

The Son of God was with them! They were bound with ropes and thrown into the fire. But in the fire they were loose and walking with the Son of God. St. Anthony likens this to the cell of a monk. When you first go in, you find its fire. But, when you stay there, you find it has led to freedom from the attachments and bonds from before. It leads to a depth of communion with the Son of God. The old things that bound you are no longer there!

The second allusion used by St. Anthony was the pillar of cloud. When the children of Israel saw the cloud on top of Mt. Sinai it appeared as fire and smoke (Ex. 19:18-20). Moses had been up there for weeks! Surely he couldn’t have survived. But from the midst of the darkness of the cloud came the voice of God. He received the Law, the Word -- the Oracles of God (Ex. 20:1-22). As a result, when he came down, the people recognized from the brilliant light reflected from his face that he had been in the presence of the Holy One (Ex. 34:29-35)

He went in to the darkness seeking God and when he came out his face was illumined with God’s grace and glory. Once again, St. Anthony likens the cell of a monk to the dark cloud. But after seeking God in the midst of the difficult time, you emerge with grace and freedom.

These two references, the furnace and the cloud, can be applied to our current time. When we are isolated, we come to face the limitations of our old forms of coping. Our convenient economic systems with the ease of shopping, ease of travel, ease of contact suddenly come to an abrupt pause. It is like the furnace that confronts our fears. We realize we have been bound.

So we want to find a deeper way. When we are willing to go through it, releasing our trust to the Son of God, we come out with our bonds cut and we realize we have gained a new sense of freedom.

There will be benefit and self-knowledge to whatever degree you can take advantage of this time of voluntary isolation. May it lead to true freedom for all of us.

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