Monastic Tips for Self-isolation

April 3, 2020

 

In Peace Let us Pray

 

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.

 

Today, let’s reflect on some common troubles that emerge when we live together, but have some of our former comforts withdrawn. For instance, the comforts of a relaxing a drive, a calming coffee at a coffee shop, window shopping at a mall, browsing books at a bookstore, going to a movie, going to a common playground where the kids can release their energy to name a few. But when we are in a space with others, even our loved ones, we can occasionally ‘get on each other’s last nerve.’

 

Of course, these things never happen at a monastery, right? Wrong! Consider the following story of Abba Nicetas, one of the early Desert Fathers.

 

Abba Nicetas said of two brothers that they met with the intention of living together. The first thought within himself, “If my brother wants something, I will do it,’ and the second thought the same, ‘I will do the will of my brother.’ So they lived many years in great charity.

Seeing this, the enemy set out to separate them. He stood at the entrance to the cell, appearing to the one like a dove and to the other like a raven. The first said, ‘Do you see that little dove?’ The other said, ‘It is a raven.’ They began to argue and to contradict one another, then they stood up and fought till they drew blood, to the great joy of the enemy; and they separated.

After three days they returned and came to their senses and each asked the other’s forgiveness. They recognized that each of them had believed the bird to be what he had seen and recognized that their conflict came from the enemy. So they lived to the end without being separated.

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. by Benedicta Ward, SLG, p. 157, 1975, Cistercian: Kalamazoo

 

Often it’s better to lose an argument, and win the war. Stating our opinion in a dogmatic way over non-essential things often opens the door to the spiritual enemy coming to disturb our peace and that of our home or community. But to win the war is to preserve peace, love for your brother or sister, and strive for a lowly attitude toward the other. .

 

With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:2-3, KJV)

 

In the Orthodox Church, when we begin the services, the Deacon or Priest, chants, ‘In peace, let us pray to the Lord.’ It is so important that we come in peace with others and ourselves when we pray. This is why we are quick to ask God to forgive us, as well as the other. Our Lord taught us the power of prayer in unity.

 

Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. (Mt. 18:19, KJV)

 

The Greek word for agree is symphoneo, from where we have the word, symphony. Many parts flowing in harmony is the idea behind this united, answered prayer. So, we can see why the enemy seeks to disturb us with little things and get into arguments – to keep us from prayer! (cf. 1 Pt. 3:7; 4:7) Prayer together for the world, our leaders, the sick, the suffering, for our families is the special work and offering of the Church. Let us keep the ‘big picture’ in front of us.

 

Abba Macarius said, ‘If we keep remembering the wrongs which men have done us, we destroy the power of the remembrance of God. But if we remind ourselves of the evil deeds of the demons, we shall be invulnerable.’

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, B. Ward, p. 136

 

The same Abba Macarius said, ‘If you reprove someone, you yourself get carried away by anger and you are satisfying your own passion; do not lose yourself, therefore, in order to save another.’

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, B. Ward, p. 131

 

Let us keep then the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and, from this powerful place of peace, let us pray.

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