Beloved brothers and sisters,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
A CONTRITE PRAYER TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
(Saint John Chrysostom)
O Jesus Christ, the Good Name above all names, my sweetness, my longing and my hope, You became man for us and in wisdom planned and assigned everything for our salvation. With all my heart, O Lord my God, I confess to You. I bow down upon the knees of my body and my soul and recount before You, my God, all my sins. May I hope that You too will incline Your heart to my supplication and will forgive the irreverence of my heart. Amen.
STRIVING TO LIVE A CHRIST-CENTERED LIFE: FIVE REASONS TO VISIT A MONASTERY
by Matushka (Presbytera) Constantina Palmer
Journeying by boat to visit their beloved spiritual father, Constantine Palamas-the father of Saint Gregory-suddenly realized he and his family had forgotten to bring food with them for the monastery. While his wife and five children looked on, he raised his voice in prayer and put his hand into the sea; immediately he caught a massive fish. Taking it out of the water, he glorified God for the miracle. Out of his great admiration and respect for the monastic life, Constantine Palamas worked a miracle so that his family would not arrive at the monastery empty-handed. In this way, and in countless others, he instilled in the hearts of his children a firm love for and reverence of monasticism.
This practice of going into the wilderness to seek a word from a holy monastic is a tradition well established in the Church as early as Christ's own times. Saint John the Forerunner (Baptist) was the first monk, and was sought out, as Saint Andrew of Crete testifies: "The Forerunner of grace dwelt in the desert and all Judea and Samaria ran to hear him." He, like many of our prophets before him, preached amendment of life. The central difference between him and the prophets, however, was that Saint John would become the first and greatest "Father of Monasticism." Generations of monastics would take his way of life, his asceticism, his bold dedication to discipleship to Christ as the epitome of the monastic life, and they would follow him. "Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist" (St. Matthew 11:11).
The radical lifestyle of Saint John the Baptist changed the world, especially the Christian world, because many who came after him decided to imitate him and live outside the cities solely for Christ's sake. Thus, slowly the monastic life was established, and those in the world began to look to it as a shining example of the Christian lifestyle. It is an indisputably great and ancient practice of those living in the world to make pilgrimages to monasteries. Below are five of the many reasons one should:
1. Spiritual Direction
Finding a spiritual guide who has the will and mean to guide and direct a believer in his endeavor to live the Gospel precepts in his daily life is not an easy task. It requires prayer and discernment on the part of the seeker, a humble disposition, and an openness to the will of God. This is because once the believer asks a priest or monk to be his spiritual father, he enters into a relationship with that person that cannot easily be dissolved, and which will have everlasting effects on his spiritual life. "A spiritual father...becomes the means of leading the life of men out of hell (by the negative effect of their passions), and into pure Christian life and spiritual freedom." Thus, the goal should be to find a spiritual father who not only preaches Christ, but lives like Christ. As Monk Isaiah wrote to nun Theodora: "The Holy Spirit is for everyone; but in those who are pure of the passions, who are chaste and live in stillness and silence, he reveals special powers."
2. Spiritual Conversation and Action
One of the greatest benefits of visiting a monastery is the spiritual conversation and activity pilgrims are able to take part in. At a monastery, spiritual stories and uplifting anecdotes abound. Although many monastics shy away from conversation with pilgrims for a variety of reasons, given the appropriate circumstance a conversation with a monastic can reap a multitude of benefits-not to mention conversations with fellow pilgrims...
Furthermore, many monastics, despite not living in the world any longer or dealing with its struggles and temptations, have great wisdom to share. Not only did they also once live in darkness (St. Matthew 4:16), but they have a wealth of experience from speaking with pilgrims who confide in them. Through prayer and reading, the monastic manages to help the pilgrim with a bit more clarity and even a new perspective...
The fallen human soul is predisposed toward pride. This is something that occurs with the monastic as much as with the layman. When the Christian keeps his prayer rule faithfully, observes the fasts of the Church, or attends church services regularly, the soul is inclined to become puffed up. The antidote is finding better examples than oneself of Christian dedication to remind the proud soul that she is lacking in virtue.
Humility is a virtue that the monastic and layman ought to strive for above all else, for as Saint John Cassian says, "Humility of soul helps more than everything else; without it no one can overcome lewdness or any other sin." And so, the layman makes pilgrimages to monasteries in order to draw the soul away from the distracting world and into an environment of stillness and prayer, where the atmosphere is conducive to taking stock of one's life alongside that of a dedicated monastic, and to allow the grace of the monastery to help him see his own sinfulness...
And so it is with the pilgrim from the world. In the stillness of the monastery, he is able to reflect on his failings. Whether it be in comparing his spiritual life with the monastic who left all things behind to live "alone with God alone", as Geronda [Elder] Porphyrios was wont to say, or simply due to slowing down and reflecting on his faults, the pilgrim returns to the world with greater humility of soul...
The command to imitate Christ is found throughout the Gospels. He is the image of perfect obedience, extreme humility, utter chastity, and life of poverty. To be sure, if a believer only ever read the Gospels, he would be informed how to live a Christian life. However, because man is weak and in need of examples, the monastic life illustrates the Gospel commandments lived out to their perfection. Thus the layman has before him a pragmatic example of how the teachings of the Lord are upheld and practiced. In turn, he emulates those things in an appropriate and prudent way, just as Saint Paul encourages: "what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things be practicing; and the God of peace shall be with you" (Phil. 4:9).
There is much to be learned and gained from spiritual books, practical guides, and the wisdom of the desert Fathers and Mothers. However, nothing compares to the spiritual benefit brought about by actually being around someone who shares in the grace of God in a deep and intimate way. For whether or not he has "the words of life," his prayer, his patience, and his virtue are enough to form and inform the humble-hearted that seeks his unique, if silent, wisdom. Abba [Father] Dorotheos writes: "It is said that a certain brother asked an elder, 'What shall I do, father, in order to fear God?' The elder [geronda] answered, 'Go and cling to a man who fears God and from the fact that he fears Him, he will teach you to do likewise."
The only difference between a Christian living in the world and a monastic living in a monastery is that monasticism "rejects any kind of compromise and seeks the absolute", whereas the layman struggles as best he can in the midst of the distracting world. Both are acceptable and blessed by God. Both ways are only successful by the grace of God. The layman should not be disheartened by his struggles in "the darkness of the world" (Eph. 6:12). Rather, he should take courage that he is upheld by the prayers of countless monastics, as Bishop Nikolai of Lavreot has stated: "The life of the faithful is supported by the prayers of the monks. This is elucidated by the very fact that the faithful take refuge in such prayers. Just as Moses stretched out his hands and the Israelites conquered the Amalekites, so the monastics lift up their hands to God and we, the faithful who are struggling in the wilderness of this world, conquer the noetic Amalek." And more significantly, the layman should take courage that "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20).
[Please note: This most wonderful article of Matushka Constantina is much longer. However, I took the liberty to abbreviate it and to make more concise for you all.]
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God