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MONASTICISM



 

 

 

THE MEANING OF MONASTIC LIFE

Monastic life is a school to cultivate STILLNESS and train oneself for contemplation.  The monk stands unimpeded in the presence of God without any anxiety holding him back; he spends his life with God.  

The major concern of the desert as a school is our thoughts and feelings:  "We must take the greatest care over our feelings and our thoughts in the hard and prolonged work of renouncing inner desires as we stand before God to pray."  In the desert, the Christian realizes that renouncing not only possessions but also the desire for them is central; that selfishness is like a serpent coiled around the heart creating illusions of empty cheerfulness and vain sadness. The work in the desert consists of prayer to God and the stripping of this illusory self so that the true image of God within us may be revealed.  

Asceticism is not the practice of long fasts, vigils, silence, etc. but the act of Repentance, the metanoia, which consists of turning away from the cultivators of the ego TOWARD the eradication of the self-will.  The long fasts and vigils are meant to lead to the interior act of repentance.  So the desert-dwellers were known primarily for their ". . .fervent love and great discipline."  So the CELL of the monk was the furnace in which the monk was purified. . .and found God.  

The monks, however, were not the main actors in the desert; it was the everlasting faithfulness of God, i.e. that God fulfills all His promises if you live the fullness of the Gospel  The monks were not made gloomy by their asceticism; precisely, because of their asceticism, they were more alive and approachable.  Even their physical appearances were not shabby but reflected the vibrant new life within them.  So John had a "a bright and smiling face".  Bes was "gentle and serene".  Anmmonius welcomed his guests with a feast.  Didymus had a charming countenance.  Apollo was cheerful.  Happiness was not an option. . .it was a monastic obligation.  

The desert was a place where monks lived,  separated in their cells but united in unaffected love.  They practiced the greatest  virtue of the common life--the refusal to pass judgment on others.  Even Abbots refused to see their inferior's faults with the hope the inferiors would see them themselves.  In the desert, the layman goes in pursuit of the " . . .only one thing necessary" . . .paradise.

Historia Monachorum



 

(05-09-05)

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