His Eminence, our Archbishop Nikitas, during his ‘Bad Religion’ talk, recently taking place for the Archdiocesan ‘Orthodoxy 101 course,’ mentioned that ‘we do not become better Christians simply for having visited certain pilgrimage sites or particular monasteries…’ or solely concentrating on external factors, statuses or rituals.
When we stand before our confessor and open up to God about our particular sins and troubles, the list of ‘spiritual quotes,’ we may know of, pilgrimage sites we have visited, or external acts of piety, probably have no or very little relevance whatsoever. We, as young Orthodox Christians, tend to fall into this trap of ‘ triumphalism,’ trying to gain higher ground, claiming or proving that we are somehow better than our neighbour regarding our faith and Christian life. If we want to ‘go the extra mile’ with our own personal relationship with Christ we will do so, through acts of personal piety, through our prayer rule, through personal and humble struggle against sin, our ego, but in our own rooms, not desiring for our Christian struggle and efforts to be shown off or become apparent to those around us. Why?
‘…when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you…’ ( Matt 6:5-6 )
This is the greatest pilgrimage – life itself. Our daily routine, no matter the context or location, offers the opportunity to undertake the wonderful pilgrimage of our hearts towards the lover of humankind, Jesus Christ. Being in lockdown for such a long time has reminded us that wherever we may be, under whatever circumstance, we are to maintain peace and fulfilment in the Lord. ‘I have run to the fragrance of your myrrh, o Christ God, for I have been wounded by your love; do not part from me, o Heavenly Bridegroom,’ St Porphyrios proclaims. Saint Nektarios tells us ‘seek God daily but seek Him in your heart not outside it.’ It is therefore not necessary to seek holiness of life, faithfulness to the Lord’s commandments and dedication to Him, by travelling to certain places or seeking to find the ideal external factors. Perhaps we will never find such ideals. As we highlighted last week, Christ is found in our hearts, as we are in His images, as well as, essentially, in the common cup of the Holy Eucharist. We are often attracted to monasteries, to Mount Athos, to the recent saints of our Church who were predominantly monastics, to our ascetic and hesychastic tradition founded upon St Gregory Palamas’ understanding of us being able to partake in God’s uncreated energies. What can we, as young Orthodox Christians, take from monasticism? How is it relevant to us? Should it be?
As the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew recently exclaimed, ‘monastic life is applied theology!’ Dear sisters and brothers in Christ the majority of us will lead family lives when we sail through God’s precious gift of life, however all of us, living in the hustle and bustle of cities, in the chaos of daily lives and responsibilities, can take or apply certain aspects or elements of monasticism, for they are essential in our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Monasticism is founded upon the Gospel passage read on Sunday: ‘If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor… then come follow me.’ (Matt 19:21) It is based on a denial of self-centredness but on prayer, divine contemplation, self-sacrifice and offering – virtues we all are in need of.
The goal of monasticism is the voluntary submission to God’s will, or as it is written in the service of the tonsure, to : ‘Transfer all of your yearning toward heaven.’ We can truly take the richness of Orthodox monasticism and apply this preserved tradition of silence, of stillness and of simplicity in our family setting. Let us be that prayerful, peaceful witness amongst our group of friends at school or university and apply the richness, the dedication and the sacrificial love associated with Orthodox spirituality, within our daily lives.