Monasticism Interiorized - Printable Version
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- Solly - 02-05-2007
Peter, thanks for the thoughts here and at Monachos.
Your final suggestion is very much what I have thought about.
When I was a charismatic, there were no end of self-appointed ministry leaders, who seemed to have little to say in the long run, certainly not on the real issues.
When i was a calvinist, the idea of ascesis didn't figure, and there was still no one to turn to.
There are three counsels:
Well, we are poor, as a family, without even a car, but never poor enough, and I need to tackle some sacrificial giving, something I have always failed to do, especially when there are more books to buy!
This has been one of my biggest difficulties, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life. Not that I have actually done anything, but the desire is there, if only in jealousy for what I don't have, or fantasies about getting it, or delusions of grandeur about what I do have. And I don't mean just sexual matters of course.
For me this would involve a rule of prayer - which BOF have provided; some guided reading - for instance suggestions about two books to read; and as you suggest, spiritual direction on matters arising.
I am prone to putting intellectual pursuits before everything else, and even though I have cut back, yet the idea of not studying something theological, instead of doing something else - like praying! - is still a part of my 'addiction'. Even with only 1 hour at lunch time to spend on the internet, i realise it's time i could spend doing something else, like the midday prayers. I need to find a balance, and one that fits me: the crime of legalism is that I must fit into someone else's clothes!
Monasticism - John Charmley - 02-05-2007
Can I follow this up here rather than on Monachos - partly because like you, I have a horror of legalism, and occasionally some the posts there seem to tip that way, especially on subjects like this one.
I do wonder whether by setting it out in the way you do you aren't already thinking along lines that will lead to a legalism emerging; do you think that might be possible?
The three-fold division you mention is, perhaps, more porous than you imply, perhaps?
I think there is much sense (and experience) in Peter's suggested approach, and if we begin there we have an exercise in humility and repentance.
Let us take 'poverty'. What does that really mean? If we go the legal route then few in the west are poor compared to many in the so-called Third World. Is this not rather about an attitude towards material possessions? Is it not about sharing what one has and not letting material things become dominant in one's life? Had the Good Samaritan had no money he could not have helped the man fallen among thieves; but had he loved money and caste he would not have helped a Jew. How do we relate to money and material possessions?
Chastity. Are we not called to that within married life? Is there not a martyrdom of the self in the vocation of marriage and parenthood - is it not a trial of how we put the needs of others before ourselves? Is there not a world of experiences here which a concentration of traditional monastic life gives us no access to? We know that even Monks are tempted by the various passions of the flesh - but it is in resistance that we grow.
Obedience - not an easy concept for us in the west, attached as we are to our concept of freedom. But perfect freedom is to be found in the service of God, and in attuning out will to His - that is one of the great objects of the Christian life; and through a rule of prayer, and through contemplation on Him, and through the Church, one's thoughts are guided where He wills.
I don't know this begins to do any justice to what you are saying - but it may help begin a discussion.
- Fr Gregory - 02-05-2007
Orthodox ascetical theology is largely unknown and misunderstood ? in the West and in modern Orthodoxy (both Eastern and Oriental). It has tended to lapse into a form of legalism because that is always easier! The letter of the law regarding fasting, for example, is much easier than the real spirit. However, one might have thought the teachings of the Lord in the Gospels, as also those of the Fathers, might discourage those who want to carefully weigh ?tithes of mint and anise and cumin? [Mat 23.23]. If I strictly fast for five days and complete 1,000 prostrations, am I ?more spiritual? than someone who only fasts for three days and completes a mere 100 prostrations?
I hear a voice warning: ?Woe to you scribes and Pharisees?..?!
The spiritual or ascetical life is not about completing a check-list of tasks completed. The word ?ascesis? comes from the Greek for ?exercise?. Rather like a program of physical exercise, it requires adaptation for the individual (and in Orthodox tradition has usually been undertaken with the guidance of a Spiritual Father). Unlike a physical health and fitness regime, spiritual exercise also requires an interior intention.
Like a physical health regime, a spiritual health regime needs to be ?programmed? realistically. Telling someone who has no previous experience of spiritual discipline that he or she should begin with praying the full Hours every day, accompanied by 100 prostrations each hour?.is likely to have the same effect as any other excessive schedule: it?s likely t last for a few days and then be abandoned. Beginning gradually with realistic exercises (suited to the practical needs of the individual?s life) is likely to establish a sound foundation upon which an on-going program can be built.
The counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience can lead to a legalistic approach. I have enjoyed the lavish hospitality and luxury of monastic communities (Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox) who justified what to me was an extravagant lifestyle on the technicality that they did not actually own anything. Well, I?d be happy not to own anything so long as I had the use and benefit of everything!
The counsel of poverty is not about possession or ownership, but about attachment. A poor man can be as greedy and as attached to possessions as a rich man. A rich man can live a spiritual life free from attachment.
An excellent basic introduction to Orthodox ascetical theology is found in: A Monk of the Eastern Church [i.e. Fr Lev Gillet] ?Orthodox Spirituality: An Outline of Orthodox Ascetical and Mystical Tradition? (originally published by SPCK, London, 1945 but available in other more recent editions). For those wanting to read further, the following are recommended:
Tito Colliander ?Way of the Ascetics: The Ancient Traditions of Discipline and Inner Growth (St Vladimir?s Seminary Press, Crestwood, 1985)
[Metropolitan] Kallistos Ware ?The Orthodox Way? (originally published 1979, available in various editions)
George Maloney ?Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. An Introduction to Eastern Christian Spirituality? (Crossroad Publishing, New York, 1997)
- Solly - 03-05-2007
Wisdom requested and wisdom I received!
I am mindful that ascesis is merely a strategy, a means, to a further end, not an end in itself - which can be the issue with legalism, espeically where a theology of spiritual growth/sanctification is missing.
for myself, too, I have to take note of a factor I have only become fully apprised of in the last 6 months, and that is that I suffer from a mild form of bi-polar disorder, or manic depression. What seemed to me to be a character flaw, and one I strugled with, turns out to be a more deeper chronic condition. It manifests itself in my conceiving a new project - usually intellectual - going at it with all pistons firing (usually racking up a credit card bill as i buy every book on the subject I can) until, after a shorter or longer space of time, i crash and burn, and go into a depression. It was only because I hit a major depression last year, the worst since my 20's that I learned the pathology of my condiiton. This is why i am not rushing into all this, and am somewhat glad i don't have a church to near, so i can grow into this. Otherwise I tend to get an inflated head, with little other change. Nice and easy does it, is most surely my motto, and with a wife and 4 children (three under 7), and a small house with little space for privacy, that is how it will have to be anyway.
As far as the three counsels go, i use them as an illustration, as I am reading Evdokimov's book at the moment; but even he puts them in context, and says that times change, and so the implementaiton of the counsels change.
What I am seeking, by being open here, and asking for guidance, is to avoid a DIY approach. Although some have seen me as something of a polymath in theological matters on other sites I frequent, yet I am self-taught, with all the eccentricities and ommissions that brings with it. And i have never known someone with a truly rounded understanding of theological and spiritual matters to put me right - in the nicest possible way :wink:
I am starting with the BOF Handbook. The shorter daily prayer, and the readings. The Jesus Prayer, especially as I walk to and from work - interspered with intercessions for others. Fasting will take time, certainly in the week, due to the 6 mile round trip I do, but I will try and start with a morning fast on wednesday and friday. The giving I mention is not to rack up points, to to try and deal my acquisitiveness, something that goes into the red when I am afflicted, and which always pops up as pay day comes around, and I check my list of books and CD's to buy. Of course, it is a quesiton to ask, can I still buy these things, if i am not attached to them! :twisted:
Anyway, thankyou Father, and friends for the help so far.
I have Colliander's book on a download form St Vlad's so I will check that out. The Ware book, like the Matthew the Poor book mentioned the other day, is probably too expensive at the moment. I have seen Lev Gillet's book on the Jesus Prayer. Is that worth reading?
monasticism interirized - kirk yacoub - 04-05-2007
Quite a few articles written by Matta el-Maskeen (may his soul be blessed)
are available to be read on the Coptichymns website, with some brief but interesting comments on the "monastic" way.
Another interesting figure to find out about is the medieval Byzantine lay mystic Nicolas Cabasilas who is often misrepresented as stating that all necessary mystic food comes from the Sacraments.
- Solly - 04-05-2007
Fr Gregory, many thanks for these helps, and the pointer to CopticHymns - I see there is some writings by Matthew the Poor, which will suffice until I can get his book. I didn't relaise he was a contemporary writer.
monasticism interiorized - kirk yacoub - 14-05-2007
Some food for thought. The great Greek poet Constantine Cavafy once made this note:
"Monks see things which we do not see; they see visions from the
supernatural world. They chisel their soul by solitude and
contemplation and reticence. We coarsen it by congregation,
absence of thought, and pleasure. That is why they also hear things
which we are unable to hear. When someone is alone in a room,
he can clearly hear a clock tick. But when others enter the room,
and conversation and interaction begins, he ceases hearing it,
though the ticking is no less accessible to his hearing."