The Angelic Life-Orthodox Christian Monasticism

Holy Prophet Jeremiah

Beloved brothers and sisters in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,


I stand before the doors of Thy temple, yet I do not put away evil thoughts. But do Thou, O Christ God, Who did justify the publican, and did have mercy on the woman of Canaan, and did open the doors of Paradise to the thief, open unto me the abyss of Thy love for mankind, and receive me as I come and touch Thee, as Thou did receive the sinful woman and the woman with an issue of blood. For the one received healing easily by touching the hem of Thy garments, while the other, by clasping Thy most pure feet, carried away absolution of sins. And I, a wretch, daring to receive Thy whole Body, let me not be consumed by fire; but receive me, as Thou did receive them, and enlighten my spiritual senses, burning up my sinful errors; through the intercessions of her that seedlessly gave Thee birth, and of the heavenly Hosts, for blessed are Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.


On May 1st Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: New Righteous Holy Martyr Akakios of Mt. Athos; Holy Prophet Jeremiah; St. Panaretos, Archbishop of Paphos; Saint Philosophos of Alexandria; St. Mary of Crete; Saint Tamara, Empress of Georgia; St. Nicephoros of Chios; Holy Martyr Savvas; St. Ultan, founder of Fosse; St. Macarius, Metropolitan of Kiev; St. Vetas of Persia; New Holy Martyr Efthymius and Ignatius; St. Paphnutios of Borovsk; St. Gerasimus of Boldino; St. Isidora, fool-for-Christ of Tabenna.

NEW RIGHTEOUS HOLY MARTYR AKAKIOS OF MT. ATHOS. Saint Akakios was a Christian from the town of Neochorion near Thessaloniki to the early 19th century. His Turkish master abused him to the point that Akakios finally renounced his faith and became a Muslim. After some time, however, Akakios felt such great remorse that he became a monk at the Hilander Monastery on Mt. Athos. At one point, his pious and very poor mother told Akakios that since he had voluntarily denied Jesus Christ, he must now voluntarily and bravely receive martyrdom for Him. St. Akakios listened to his mother, and with the blessing of his spiritual elders of Athos, he presented himself to the Muslims of Constantinople and was beheaded for denying their faith. His skull is now on Mt. Athos at the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Martyrs, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Holy Epistle Lesson: Acts 8:5-17
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. John 6:27-33


"Let us then, be humble and be rid of all pretension and arrogance and silliness and anger. Let us act as Scripture bids us, for the Holy Spirit says, 'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man of his might, or the rich man of his wealth. But let him that boasts of the Lord; and so he will seek Him out and act justly and uprightly.' Let us firmly hold onto this commandment so that in our conduct we may obey His Holy words and be humble. For Holy Scripture says 'On whom shall I look except on him who is humble and gentle and who trembles at my words". [Saint Clement of Alexandria]


Part II.

The father of Saint Gregory Palamas, Constantine, lived a life for stillness as a Senator and member of the Imperial Court in Constantinople. The essence of this kind of life is detachment from worldly passions and complete devotion to God. This is why Saint Gregory Palamas says that salvation in Christ is possible for all. "The farmer and the leather worker and the mason and the tailor and the weaver, and in general all those who earn their living with their hands and in the sweat of their brow, who cast out of their souls the desire for wealth, fame and comfort, are indeed blessed."In the same spirit Saint Nicolas Kavasilas observes that it is not necessary for someone to flee to the desert, eat unusual food, change his dress, ruin his health or attempt some other such thing in order to remain devoted to God.

The monastic life, with its physical withdrawal from the world to the desert, began about the middle of the third century. This flight of Christians to the desert was partly caused by the harsh Roman persecutions of the time. The growth of monasticism, however, which began in the time of St. Constantine the Great, was largely due to the refusal of many Christians to the more worldly character of the now established Church and their desire to lead a strictly Christian life. Thus Monasticism developed simultaneously in various places in the Southern Mediterranean, Egypt, Palestine, Sinai, Syria and Cyprus, and soon after reached Asia Minor and finally Europe. During the second millennium, however, Mount Athos appeared as the center of Orthodox Monasticism.

But where does this "Angelic life", as monasticism is also called--because it aspires to imitate the Angels who are always praising and magnifying God--touch the outside world, the earth? On very many facets. A monastery is primarily a center of prayer and prayer is something the world has always stood in need of, never more so than today when so many people working at so many diverse tasks have little time for prayer. The monk prays not only for himself but for everybody living and dead. To put it in a nutshell, he is a specialist in prayer just as a soldier is a specialist in war. "Human nature" says V. Lossky, "must undergo a change: it must be more and more transfigured by grace in the way of sanctification, which is not only spiritual but also bodily--and hence cosmic. The spiritual work of a monk living in a community or a hermit withdrawn from the world retains all its worth for the entire Universe even though it remains hidden from the sight of all." The man of the world looks upon the man of the cloister with misgiving, somehow feeling him to be a living reproach to worldliness, an unnatural man, almost inhuman. But this is far from true. Because the monk aims at selflessness, he is ever ready to hear and understand his neighbor's joys and sorrows, whatever they may be. His advice is free of personal desire and unburdened by prejudice. Strongly conscious of his own human frailty he does not set himself up as a judge over other people, but seeks to be a brother in the true sense of the word and to forgive Seventy times Seven. But also he does not compromise with sin; he serves the one Lord alone and thus is utterly dependable.

The monastery gate is widely open to all men's needs ready with comfort and sustenance both spiritual and physical who may knock at its door, Saint or sinner. The monk sees in every man the Image of Him Who said, "In as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me" (St. Matthew 25:40). The monk is simply a man who has laid all aside, completely and for good, to follow Christ wherever He may lead...Monasticism began to exist when mankind began to exist and it will disappear with the disappearance of mankind. For monasticism is not an institution, not an organization, not a historical phenomenon, but it is something elemental, the same sort of elemental thing that love or art or religion is. "There is not and has never been a movement that has set before itself such a high ideal as Christianity --the complete transfiguration of mankind--in all the domains of life.

What is an 'elder' (Gk. 'Geronda'), or in Slavonic, 'starets'. He is a monk who has shown outstanding spiritual discernment and wisdom, to whom others, both monks and lay people, come for guidance. He can be a priest-monk but quite often is a lay monk. He is not specifically ordained for this work, but is guided to it by direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, which comes to him after many years of prayer and meditation.

The Geronda must not be confused with the hermit monk who lives in a cave in some wilderness far removed from the monastery. The hermit allows himself no cooked food and is rarely visible to the eyes of men. Monks who with the permission leave the monastery to become hermits do so for life, except for Sundays and Great Feasts when they come to partake of the Holy Mysteria (Sacraments). The monk's ideal is entirely to forget himself and truly worship God and love Him with all his heart, and all his soul and all his mind and all his strength and love his neighbor as himself" (St. Matthew 22:31). To him Jesus Christ is the Redeemer, the Deliverer, the One Who makes him whole again, putting him upon the path man was created to walk upon, leading him beyond what Adam was before the fall, making him strive towards what the Holy Fathers of the Church so startlingly called "deification" or "theosis," remembering that "God became man, that man might become God."

The purpose of the Monastic Rule is to safeguard the monk in his daily life, helping him, through obedience, to keep unceasing vigil upon his inward integrity so that the union of heart and spirit may become for him a reality and lead him, as far as this is possible on earth, to union with God. It is primarily the rule of the order of Offices and also covers the obedience of intellectual and manual work: work, let us not forget, is itself a prayerful activity with the ascetic end in view of overcoming our rebel nature and to keep us from idleness which is so harmful to the spiritual life. Monks are the athletes of God, and as Saint Paul says must run with patience the race that is set before them (Hebrews 12:1); effort without discipline leads nowhere. It is only by patient, deliberate striving that the soul can hope to perfect itself and come closer to God. The rule is, be it in the eremitic or cenobitic life, of paramount importance, its virtue lying in it being kept.

This rule, governing all monasteries, is basically founded upon the primitive rule of Saint Basil the Great, itself a synthesis of the foregoing monastic life of the Desert Fathers. This rule has become an integral part of the spiritual tradition of the whole Orthodox Church; it was gradually adapted throughout the centuries, down to our day, by Saint Savvas, the Studites, the great Athonite tradition of the 14th century.

The person, man or woman, who enters monastic life, tries to leave his or her old self behind, with all the old joys and sorrows, virtues and sins, and starts a new life, seeking to find a new relationship so all things and people in Christ, to whom he vows his life. The taking of the monastic Vow and Habit are but a repetition and amplification of the baptismal vows. In the beginning there were no stages in monastic life, no postulates or novices but simply monks. Today monasticism is a progressive process the postulate looks forward to becoming a novice, the novice to receiving the habit and going on to full profession which may take many years or, which he may not reach at all. There is no prescribed time lapse for each stage, but at least three years must elapse before full profession, and the monk must be over thirty years old. The Vows are four in number: stability, obedience, poverty and chastity.

[to be continued]

With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George