This past Sunday April 24 Pascha Sunday, the day of Resurrection, 60 Minutes aired a marvelous and very well done video documentary on the Holy Mountain, Mt. Athos, in Greece. Mt. Athos is the heart, the center, the core, the spiritual hub, the catalytic center, and source of Orthodox piety, wisdom and holiness for more than 1,500 years. The 2,000 plus monks who inhabit this peninsula of Greece are living a monastic way of life today exactly as their fathers and brothers have done before them for millennia, since continuity and Holy Tradition are the normative guides in both biblical theology and in Orthodoxy. Their goal can be found in 2 Peter “…to become partakers of the Divine Nature…” Being an Orthodox Christian, I was both thrilled with the reality that a segment like this would be seen by millions of people unfamiliar with monasticism and Orthodoxy, and of course, I am quite biased.
So on Monday I wanted to read what everyone else thought about it, scouring blog posts and comments to hear what both ‘normal’ non-religous and evangelical people, thought of the documentary. What an uproar I found! Reactions ranged from one of two extremes: First, there was “Great! Thank God! What a wonderful example of prayer and holy living in these modern and unholy times.” and the second, “Terrible, what a waste of lives. All these monks do is selfishly pray, they don’t care about anyone other than themselves… etc” So which is it?
Great or terrible?
Thus “hospitals” and “emergency rooms”! You cannot understand monasticism unless you know about hospitals and ER units. In the European West, the Church through the centuries thanks to the influence of Rome, and Roman Law and Government, took on a persona of a juridical “court room”. Mankind is guilty, God is the angry judge, Christ is the defense attorney and the church is the courtroom if you will, where a verdict is declared and a punishment is meted out. The Orthodox Church has a vastly different view. For us, as well as for the apostles and Fathers, the Church is not a legal, forensic, juridical court room, but rather a hospital, where men, women and children, who suffer from the maladies and afflictions of the passions, and sins in this world, can go to receive uncreated grace through the Mysteries of the Church, to receive life, health and ‘prescriptions’ whereby they can heal, and live fully as new creatures in Christ. Now if the Church is the place where we go for healing and sustenance for healthy spiritual living on a weekly basis – then the Monastery, including and most especially Mt. Athos, is an Emergency Room – a CCU critical care unit for those times and moments in life when only critical care will do.
“All those monks do is pray.” “What good is that? “They do nothing to help people like Jesus did?” Herein lies, again, one of many differences between evangelicalism and Orthodoxy in terms of understanding and ecclesial worldview. Monasteries are emergency rooms, places of single (monos) focused holiness, prayer, mercy, spiritual guidance, deliverance and disciplined sanctity lived by monks and nuns who in turn constantly pray for us….! They intercede at all hours of the day and night for the world, through liturgy, prayer, fasting, counsel, spiritual advice…they give to us… and when we are asleep they pray… when we are lazy in our faith, they live it fully, and intercede for us to return again to the church… They stand vigil for us, for the world and her leaders, all day and all night long. They are the front line, the elite troops, the special forces in the spiritual battle being waged every minute of everyday against evil and the forces of darkness in the world.
“And what do they do beyond that?” As if that were not enough? Well…when we are burned out, broken down, and busted up, their emergency room is the place that we can go to renew, revive, and re-capture the passion and holiness of living the faith. Through their merciful hospitality, the monastery is an ‘oasis‘, an island, a safe haven in the midst of a crazed and chaotic world, whereby we can go, and be healed in soul and body. Where we can see holiness, breathe holiness, and believe again that it can be not only for them, but also for me. Their work is loving us, guiding us, and most importantly praying for us that we live the faith, that we finish the race, that we in turn live the monastic way in this world.
And what is that monastics do that we are all called to do? (for a monastic way of life is not just for monastics)
Pray. (without ceasing)
Fast. (until the Bridegroom comes again)
Works of mercy. Spiritual and bodily works of compassion for the sick, suffering, and the wounded.
Tell me. “What else is there more important than these?”
So for ongoing spiriutal health, find the mysteries of grace in the Church each week. But the next time, you need emergency care (at least several times a year!) you can find it within the walls, lives and hearts of monastic men and women all over the world – who stand watch for the world, who live fully the lives that all of us are fully called to live.
To find a monastery nearest you go HERE