"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Monday, 12 September 2016

THE MONASTIC VOWS by Archpriest Demetrius Basalygo of Minsk (Russian Orthodox) plus LITTLE VICTORIES by Abbess Euphrosinia (Laptik) of St Elizabeth,s Convent Minsk

St Isaac the Syrian once said, «Monasticism is the paradise».

We often think of the paradise as a place somewhere in the sky, but this is not exactly right. The Paradise, the Kingdom of God is first of all a relationship between God and people and the world in the end of history. Essentially, the three monastic vows — chastity, voluntary poverty, and obedience — are a way to describe this relationship.

The Vow of Chastity

The vow of chastity is a way of dealing with people, which implies that I can no longer belong to anyone specific, I have to outgrow my natural affections. I must wrap up the entire world and everyone in it with my love; I have to learn how to love people like Jesus loved them.

The Saviour said that people will not marry in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a state of love and unity; it is a place where everyone is fully open to others. The afterlife won't be like a today's good family where there are, for example, a husband and a wife, and they have children, and they have a very special and unique relationship based on love, while they relate to all other people in a different way.

The Kingdom of God is the state of love and unity with everyone. Possibly, this is an answer to the question why we venerate holy families who became monastics in the end of their earthly lives. They had been growing spiritually so well together that they managed to overgrow their personal relationship in the end. Essentially, this is how they fulfilled the Gospel commandment, «If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple» (Luke 14: 26). Those who don't overgrow their natural relationships, those who don't go further than that in their relationships of love and unity, cannot be disciples of Jesus. Every person must become our brother and sister, our mother and father — this is our calling. This is what the Heavenly Kingdom is like.

It seems to me that this is what the vow of chastity is about. If someone says, «It is for Your sake, O Lord, that I have renounced the joys of family life, so it's on You to grant me the entry into the Heavenly Kingdom», this is naïve. On the one hand, we regard this vow as a given, and on the other hand, it is our task to grow in love, in openness, in self-sacrifice for every other person. As long as an individual grows up and overgrows their natural relationships, she becomes a citizen of Heaven right here on earth.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (Bloom) recounted the story of a novice on Valaam who had had a very difficult obedience of a lumberjack. However, he would refuse to make vows for a long time. When they asked him, «Why? You have been doing your job for so many years!» — he would reply, «I can't be a monk because my heart cannot contain the whole world and everyone in it yet. My heart is too tight». This example may be an answer to the question what exactly the vow of chastity means.

The Vow of Voluntary Poverty

The second monastic vow is that of voluntary poverty. Again, this is something that fits into a description of the Heavenly Kingdom, where there isn't anything we could call ours. You can't but recall a story told by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh about a pencil stub he owned, which no one ever wanted to claim, and the feeling of property he discovered in his heart with regard to this apparently normal fact and the struggle he had to endure because of that. Voluntary poverty is a state of mind. Nothing can be separated from the Kingdom of God, from this total self-sacrifice, even this pencil stub. You won't be able to claim anything exclusively for yourself in the Kingdom of God.

The Vow of Obedience

The vow of obedience consists of full openness, absolute trust and loyalty to God. This is how we imitate Christ and his obedience towards God the Father. There is no egoism, egocentrism, selfishness, and therefore no separation and death in God's Kingdom.

Monasticism is a testimony that the Kingdom of God is near and it is already in our midst. However, everyone who walks this path still has to grow in order to implement the Gospel commandments and monastic vows in their own lives so that they become the law they wholeheartedly follow. Perhaps, this is when a person can realise from their own experience that «monasticism is the paradise».

All Christian ascetic practices have the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Liturgy, as both their beginning and their end, as the revelation, the epiphany and the communion of the life of the age to come. It is through the Liturgy that the Church experiences things that the world has yet to experience when God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor. 15: 28), when we will be united. The Liturgy is the gift of unity from above. This Sacrament trumps everything that still separates us — time, distance, and death. We become part of the final God's plan about the world; we have unity and communion with God and with all the saints, living and reposed.

This experience of the Church is always the answer to the question of genuine unity, which the world is seeking so desperately and which it cannot find anywhere. The Holy Fathers used to say, «My life is my sister. My salvation is in my neighbour». If we don't understand the experience that brought about these words, we will never understand St Isaac the Syrian who said that monasticism is the paradise. These words will be just another quotation from an outside authority figure, a saint. As long as we don't engage with the experience of life in the Church, expressed in its theology and worship, the words of the saints will remain alien to us.

by Abbess Euphrosinia (Laptik)

How can you say something in such a way that people would understand it properly? You may be saying one thing but people would understand it differently.

There are certain points that we fail to appreciate. When you try to talk about them, people hardly comprehend it. For instance, there is a sermon after an akathist but some sisters sit and talk. I know that there is an audio recording. However, you are not listening, you are talking. Why not stand and listen like everyone else?

I believe that these things — these small efforts — mean a lot, even though they appear to be insignificant. If we indulge ourselves too much, we may lose much more. Such behaviour leads to emptiness and weariness. In contrast, the Lord rewards us with joy even for the tiniest victories, which make up a great joy.

The dreams and intentions I had when I came to the Convent have started to materialise only recently. Elder Sophrony (Sakharov) used to say that if you win a thousand times and lose just once, you feel upset but if you lose a thousand times and win only once, you think you are a hero.

I would like each one of you to hear that because this is how we can become more deeply rooted in the Church tradition, which is what we often talk about. The Church has existed for more than two thousand years. We have the Holy Scripture and the Holy Tradition, which is transmitted by word of mouth and helps to preserve the orderly life of the Church and its worship practices.

Why do we look so pathetic in comparison with old ladies? Because they stand the entire service on crutches, while you, although you are still young, are looking for a seat. We don't have less strength than that old lady. She is persevering, whilst we are negligent. The Lord is capable of healing us if we really want it, and if we put more effort into such things.

For instance, when we go on a procession with the cross and icons, some young sisters are too lazy to go with us. Why? Well, don't justify yourself by saying that the abbess does not go, too: I may need to skim through some books to get ready for tomorrow's Liturgy. You must do your best. You are responsible for what you are doing before God. This is very important.

We have a spiritual father, and the Lord has blessed him with a global all-encompassing vision. However, there are some basic things that we also have to pay attention to. They are essential to make our spiritual lives wholesome and full. They must be self-evident but we ignore them. Father Sophrony used to say that there are no things that are too insignificant to be worth our attention, for greatness lies in small things. This is why it is so hard for us to tolerate one another. This is why we are so impatient and annoyed. When you make someone else do what you are expected to do yourself - it means that you are careless, corrupt, and whimsical. What I say now is not an attempt to condemn anyone. Not at all. We are all guilty of it. We should learn to sympathise with each other and support each other. We simply have to admit our shortcomings, grieve over them and admonish ourselves. When I'm saying this, I don't exclude myself, for I am guilty, too.

I had a very illuminating experience not long ago. I learned the Saviour's words, "I was in prison, and ye came unto me. . . I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat" (Cf. Matthew 25:35-40) from my own experience. I was driving and I saw a man indicating that he needed a ride. He was visibly drunk. Several cars had driven past him. I stopped and thought, "Wow, I've stopped!" (Laughs) Our ride was short. He talked all the time; he almost wept and asked me to pray for him. You know, people often feel inclined to repent after drinking some alcohol, and besides, I was wearing the habit... When he got out of my car, I felt as if it was Jesus who had visited me in such an unfathomable way. The feeling was so vivid! I had never had such an experience, even when I visited the hospital unit. I was so surprised! Even though that person was drunk and talked nonsense… Christ is near, and you spend your life without noticing him.

December 18, 2015


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