"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
Even though I lived in France for three years while doing my doctoral studies, I never managed a visit to Mont Saint-Michel, the mysterious, mystical, and hauntingly photogenic abbey situated on a promontory just off the Normandy coast between Caen and St. Malo. But last week, in connection with the filming for my Pivotal Players series, my team and I made the pilgrimage. I first spied the mount from the backseat of the van, when we were still many miles away. It looked like a great ship, moored on the line of the horizon. As we got closer, the place became increasingly impressive, sometimes looming like a fortress, other times seeming to float on the sea. When we entered the gates this morning to commence our work, we stepped out of our world and into the Middle Ages. Our climb to the top—arduous and steep—mimicked that of thousands of pilgrims and monks and spiritual seekers over the centuries.
To grasp the religious significance of the Mount, we have to remember that it was built on the edge. Like the Irish monks who constructed their simple dwellings off the harsh western coast of their homeland, the religious who gave rise to Mont Saint-Michel felt that they were doing their work, quite literally, at the ends of the earth. Jesus told his disciples to proclaim the Gospel everywhere and not to stop until they had gone all the way. Cardinal Francis George loved to relate the story of his brothers in the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who, taking Jesus at his word, declared the resurrection to every village and hamlet in the Yukon, until they came finally to the people who said, “There’s no one beyond us.” Mont Saint-Michel was intended to be a monument to the thoroughness of the Christian missionary effort. Hence it was, to me, a vivid reminder that we need to pick up our game today and to go to what Pope Francis has famously termed the periferia, a border country more existential than geographical.
I have discovered now through direct experience, though I had certainly sensed it through photographs, that it is practically impossible to gaze at Mont Saint-Michel without falling into mystical reverie. I would challenge anyone to come here and walk the causeway leading up to the mount and not find himself beguiled into thinking of things higher and more eternal. The mountain itself, and then the architecture piled so exquisitely on top of it, draw the viewer’s eyes up and up, beyond this world. And when you climb to the top, you look out on the trackless and seemingly endless sea. From Plato, through Dante, to James Joyce, the trope of the open sea has been used to evoke the transcendent goal of the searching heart. The art, the sacraments, the doctrine, and the saints of the church are meant to lure us to the edge of the ordinary and to allow us at least a glimpse of that open sea of God’s eternity. They are, accordingly, the enemies of Charles Taylor’s “buffered self,” the modern person so thoroughly shaped by secularist ideology that she no longer hears the rumors of angels. It has always struck me as curious that a religious person is seen as somehow conventional and non-threatening, a little fussy Ned Flanders. Authentic Christians are in fact edgy folks, more than a bit dangerous. Mont Saint-Michel, standing on the border between heaven and earth, is just the kind of place those dangerous types like to go.
Finally, to understand this sacred place, we should remember its name and the figure who stands on the pinnacle of the spire, namely, Michael the Archangel. Michael is invariably depicted in the armor of a warrior, for he is the general of the angelic army that stood athwart the legions of Lucifer, who had dared to arrogate to himself the prerogatives of God. He fought, not with sword and spear, but with the unanswerable challenge of his own name: Micha-el (Who is like God?). Now we should recall that the Mount is situated precisely on the western border of Europe, looking out toward the setting sun. In the medieval imagination, the land of the setting sun was associated with the powers of darkness, which helps to explain why the great cathedrals of the Middle Ages were, almost without exception, oriented, situated toward the east. They symbolized the Church turned toward the light of the risen Christ and away from sin and death. So the stronghold, named for and topped by the fighter angel, and erected on the western edge of the world, represents the power of Christ’s Church turned against the forces of darkness, both visible and invisible.
As we were filming at Mont Saint-Michel, armies of tourists were making their way through the myriad nooks and crannies of the place. As they passed by altars, sanctuaries, and monastic cells used by monks long ago, many of them, I would venture to say, probably saw the ensemble as redolent more of Harry Potter than of St. Anselm. Come here if you can, or at least find a good photo of the Mount on the Internet, but don’t look at it in the manner of a tourist. Rather, see it as its builders would have seen it: as a beautiful and holy monument on the edge of the world.
Angels are not in fashion having been de-bunked by Science; but if we speak of extra-terrestrial intelligences, we immediately get everybody's attention and all kinds of people ready to believe what we say: which just shows how silly people are!
One problem is that we cannot distinguish between the activity of God in the world and the activity of angels, even though there is no difficulty in distinguishing satan and devils from God and people are fascinated by the whole subject of exorcism and preternatural horror. This is because, just like us, angels have no other role in relation to our creation than to do God's will and thus become his instruments. Angels are completely unnecessary for the fulfilment of God's salvific plan and neither are we; but God rejoices to create us, to fill us with grace, and to use us in the salvation of others, making us his instruments, just like the angels. If we did not know of the existence of angels through revelation, we would probably have guessed at their existence, simply from knowing something about the generosity of God and his prolific urge to create, to love and to use.
As N.T. Wright and other scriptural exegetes tell us that the Kingdom of God, or St Matthew's Kingdom of heaven, is a situation that is personified in Christ where heaven and earth become one, united by the Spirit: and angels and saints in heaven together with humans on earth celebrate in Christ a Liturgy before the throne of God. Thus, every day we sing "together with the angels and saints, holy, holy, holy..."
St. Michael, who ranks among the seven archangels, is also one of the three angels mentioned by name in the Scriptures, the others being St. Raphael and St. Gabriel. St. Michael is spoken of twice in the Old Testament, and twice in the New. The first reference occurs in the Book of Daniel (chapter x), where Michael comes to comfort Daniel after he has had a vision, and promises to be his helper in all things. In Daniel xii, Michael is called "the great prince who standeth for the children of Thy people." In these references Michael is represented as Israel's great support during the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity. Daniel, wise and holy leader that he was, wanted his people to understand that God had not forgotten them, and that, even though enslaved, they had a royal champion. In the New Testament (Jude ix), we are told that Michael disputed with the devil over the body of Moses; this episode is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.
In the Apocalypse (chapter xii) we find the most dramatic reference to St. Michael. Here John recounts the great battle in Heaven, when the wicked angels under Lucifer revolt against God, and how Michael, leading the faithful angels, defeats the hosts of evil and drives them out. In this role he has been painted by many artists, and the poet Milton, in book vi of <Paradise Lost>, recounts the famous struggle. Because of this victory, St. Michael is revered in Catholic tradition and liturgy as the protector of the Church, as once he was regarded as the protector of the Israelites. In the Eastern Church, as well as among many theologians in the West, St Michael is placed over all the angels, as prince of the Seraphim. He is the special patron of sick people, mariners, and grocers; in Asia Minor many curative springs were dedicated to him. His cult has also been popular in Egypt, Rome, France, and Germany. His emblems are a banner, a sword, a dragon, and scales. The name Michael is a variation of Micah, meaning in Hebrew, "Who is like God?"
Saint Michael, Archangel. Scriptural Saint. Celebration of Feast Day is September 29
Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers
Troparion & Kontakion The Synaxis of the Chief of the Heavenly Hosts, Archangel Michael and the Other Heavenly Bodiless Powers: Archangels Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Selaphiel, Jehudiel, Barachiel, and Jeremiel was established at the beginning of the fourth century at the Council of Laodicea, which met several years before the First Ecumenical Council. The 35th Canon of the Council of Laodicea condemned and denounced as heretical the worship of angels as gods and rulers of the world, but affirmed their proper veneration. A Feastday was established in November, the ninth month after March (with which the year began in ancient times) since there are Nine Ranks of Angels. The eighth day of the month was chosen for the Synaxis of all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven since the Day of the Dread Last Judgment is called the Eighth Day by the holy Fathers. After the end of this age (characterized by its seven days of Creation) will come the Eighth Day, and then “the Son of Man shall come in His Glory and all the holy Angels with Him” (Mt. 25:31). The Angelic Ranks are divided into three Hierarchies: highest, middle, and lowest. The Highest Hierarchy includes: the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. The six-winged SERAPHIM (Flaming, Fiery) (Is 6:12) stand closest of all to the Most Holy Trinity. They blaze with love for God and kindle such love in others. The many-eyed CHERUBIM (outpouring of wisdom, enlightenment) (Gen 3:24) stand before the Lord after the Seraphim. They are radiant with the light of knowledge of God, and knowledge of the mysteries of God. Through them wisdom is poured forth, and people’s minds are enlightened so they may know God and behold His glory. The THRONES (Col 1:16) stand after the Cherubim, mysteriously and incomprehensibly bearing God through the grace given them for their service. They are ministers of God’s justice, giving to tribunals, kings, etc. the capacity for righteous judgment. The Middle Angelic Hierarchy consists of three Ranks: Dominions, Powers, and Authorities: DOMINIONS (Col 1:16) hold dominion over the angels subject to them. They instruct the earthly authorities, established by God, to rule wisely, and to govern their lands well. The Dominions teach us to subdue sinful impulses, to subject the flesh to the spirit, to master our will, and to conquer temptation. POWERS (1 Pet 3:22) fulfill the will of God without hesitation. They work great miracles and give the grace of wonderworking and clairvoyance to saints pleasing to God. The Powers assist people in fulfilling obediences. They also encourage them to be patient, and give them spiritual strength and fortitude. AUTHORITIES (1 Pet 3:22, Col 1:16) have authority over the devil. They protect people from demonic temptations, and prevent demons from harming people as they would wish. They also uphold ascetics and guard them, helping people in the struggle with evil thoughts. The Lowest Hierarchy includes the three Ranks: Principalities, Archangels, and Angels: PRINIPALITIES (Col 1:16) have command over the lower angels, instructing them in the fulfilling of God’s commands. They watch over the world and protect lands, nations and peoples. Principalities instruct people to render proper honor to those in authority, as befits their station. They teach those in authority to use their position, not for personal glory and gain, but to honor God, and to spread word of Him, for the benefit of those under them. ARCHANGELS (1 Thess 4:16) are messengers of great and wondrous tidings. They reveal prophecies and the mysteries of the faith. They enlighten people to know and understand the will of God, they spread faith in God among the people, illuminating their minds with the light of the Holy Gospel. ANGELS (1 Pet 3:22) are in the lowest rank of the heavenly hierarchy, and closest to people. They reveal the lesser mysteries of God and His intentions, guiding people to virtuous and holy life. They support those who remain steadfast, and they raise up the fallen. They never abandon us and they are always prepared to help us, if we desire it. All the Ranks of the Heavenly Powers are called angels, although each has its own name and position by virtue of their service. The Lord reveals His will to the highest ranks of the angels, and they in turn inform the others. Over all the Nine Ranks, the Lord appointed the Holy Archangel Michael (his name in Hebrew means “who is like unto God”), the faithful servitor of God, as Chief Commander. He cast down from Heaven the arrogantly proud Lucifer and the other fallen spirits when they rebelled against God. Michael summoned the ranks of angels and cried out, “Let us attend! Let us stand aright before our Creator and do not consider doing what is displeasing unto God!” According to Church Tradition, and in the church services to the Archangel Michael, he participated in many other Old Testament events. During the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt he went before them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Through him the power of the Lord was made manifest, annihilating the Egyptians and Pharaoh who were in pursuit of the Israelites. The Archangel Michael defended Israel in all its misfortunes. He appeared to Joshua Son of Navi and revealed the will of the Lord at the taking of Jericho (Josh 5:13-16). The power of the great Chief Commander of God was manifest in the annihilation of the 185 thousand soldiers of the Assyrian emperor Sennacherib (4/2 Kings 19:35); also in the smiting of the impious leader Heliodorus (2 Macc. 3: 24-26); and in the protection of the Three Holy Youths: Ananias, Azarias and Misail, thrown into the fiery furnace for their refusal to worship an idol (Dan 3:22-25). Through the will of God, the Chief Commander Michael transported the Prophet Habbakuk (December 2) from Judea to Babylon, to give food to Daniel in the lions’ den (Dan. 14:33-37). The Archangel Michael disputed with the devil over the body of the holy Prophet Moses (Jude 1:9). The holy Archangel Michael showed his power when he miraculously saved a young man, cast into the sea by robbers with a stone about his neck on the shores of Mt Athos. This story is found in the Athonite Paterikon, and in the Life of Saint Neophytus of Docheiariou (November 9). From ancient times the Archangel Michael was famed for his miracles in Rus. In the Volokolamsk Paterikon is a narrative of Saint Paphnutius of Borov with an account of Tatar tax-gatherers concerning the miraculous saving of Novgorod the Great: “Therefore Great Novgorod was never taken by the Hagarenes... when... for our sins the godless Hagarene emperor Batu devoured and set the Russian land aflame and came to Novgorod, and God and the Most Holy Theotokos shielded it with an appearance of Michael the Archangel, who forbade him to enter into it. He [Batu] was come to the Lithuanian city and came toward Kiev and saw the stone church, over the doors of which the great Archangel Michael had written and spoken to the prince his allotted fate, ‘By this we have forbidden you entry into Great Novgorod’.” Intercession for Russian cities by the Most Holy Queen of Heaven always involved Her appearances with the Heavenly Hosts, under the leadership of the Archangel Michael. Grateful Rus acclaimed the Most Pure Mother of God and the Archangel Michael in church hymns. Many monasteries, cathedrals, court and merchant churches are dedicated to the Chief Commander Michael. In old Kiev at the time of the accepting of Christianity, a cathedral of the Archangel was built, and a monastery also was named for him. Archangel cathedrals are found at Smolensk, Nizhni Novgorod, Staritsa, at Great Ustiug (beginning of the thirteenth century), and a cathedral at Sviyazhsk. In Rus there was not a city, where there was not a church or chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael. One of the chief temples of the city of Moscow, the burial church in the Kremlin, is dedicated to him. Numerous and beautiful icons of the Chief Commander of the Heavenly Hosts are also in his Cathedral. One of these, the Icon “Blessed Soldiery,” was painted in the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. The saintly soldiers, Russian princes, are depicted under the leadership of the Archangel Michael. We invoke Saint Michael for protection from invasion by enemies and from civil war, and for the defeat of adversaries on the field of battle. He conquers all spiritual enemies. Holy Scripture and Tradition give us the names of the Archangels: Gabriel: strength (power) of God, herald and servitor of Divine omnipotence (Dan 8:16, Luke 1:26). He announces the mysteries of God. Raphael: the healing of God, the curer of human infirmities (Tobit 3:16, 12:15) Uriel: the fire or light of God, enlightener (3 Ezdras 5:20). We pray for him to enlighten those with darkened minds. Selaphiel: the prayer of God, impelling to prayer (3 Ezdras 5:16). He prays to God for mankind. Jehudiel: the glorifying of God, encouraging exertion for the glory of the Lord and interceding for the reward of efforts. Barachiel: distributor of the blessings of God for good deeds, entreats the mercy of God for people. Jeremiel: the raising up to God (3 Ezdras 4:36) On icons the Archangels are depicted in according to the character of their service: Michael tramples the devil underfoot, and in his left hand holds a green date-tree branch, and in his right hand a spear with a white banner (or sometimes a fiery sword), on which is outlined a scarlet cross. Gabriel with a branch from Paradise, presented by him to the Most Holy Virgin, or with a shining lantern in his right hand and with a mirror made of jasper in his left. Raphael holds a vessel with healing medications in his left hand, and with his right hand leads Tobias, carrying a fish for healing (Tobit 5-8). Uriel in his raised right hand holds a naked sword at the level of his chest, and in his lowered left hand “a fiery flame.” Selaphiel in a prayerful posture, gazing downwards, hands folded on the chest. Jehudiel holds a golden crown in his right hand, in his left, a whip of three red (or black) thongs. Barachiel is shown with a white rose on his breast. Jeremiel holds balance-scales in his hand.
Each person has a guardian angel, and every nation also receives its own guardian angel from God (Dan. 10:13). When a church is consecrated, it also receives a guardian angel (Palladius, Dial. Ch. 10)
On 22 September 2017, an international symposium on the Christian Future of Europe took place at the residence of Russia’s Ambassador to Great Britain. The keynote address was delivered by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk (photo), chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations.
By Metropolitan Hilarion
Your Eminences and Your Excellencies, dear Mr. Ambassador, conference organizers and participants,
I cordially greet all of those gathered today at the Russian Embassy in London to partake in this conference dedicated to the question of the future of Christianity in Europe.
This topic is not only not losing any of its relevance, but is resounding ever anew.
Experts believe that today Christianity remains not only the most persecuted religious community on the planet, but is also encountering fresh challenges which touch upon the moral foundations of peoples’ lives, their faith and their values.
Recent decades have seen a transformation in the religious and ethnic landscape of Europe.
Among the reasons for this is the greatest migration crisis on the continent since the end of the Second World War, caused by armed conflicts and economic problems in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.
According to figures by the European Union agency Frontex, more than 1.8 million migrants entered the EU in 2015 alone.
Figures from the UN International Migration Report show that the number of migrants in Europe has increased from 49.3 million people in 2000 to 76.1 million people in 2015.
According to research by the UN International Organization for Migration, throughout the world about 1.3 percent of the adult population, which comprises some 66 million people, in the forthcoming year intend to leave for another country in order to live permanently there.
Approximately a third of this group of people – 23 million – are already making plans to move. 16.5 percent of potential migrants who were questioned responded that the countries at the top of their list are Great Britain, Germany and France.
The other reason for the transformation of the religious map of Europe is the secularization of European society.
Figures in a British opinion poll indicate that more than half of the country’s inhabitants – for the first time in history – do not affiliate themselves to any particular religion. 2,942 people took part in an opinion poll conducted in 2016 by Britain’s National Centre for Social Research: 53 percent of those who responded to the question on religious allegiance said that they do not belong to any religious confession. Among those aged from 18 to 25, the number of non-religious is higher – 71 percent.
When similar research was carried out in 1983, only 31 percent of those questioned stated that they did not belong to any confession.
We can see an opposite trend in the Eastern European countries, in particular in Russia.
A July opinion poll conducted in Russia by the Levada-Center showed a sharp decline in the number of atheists and non-believers from 26 percent in December 2015 to 13 percent in July 2017.
This, of course, does not mean that all the remaining 83 percent are practicing believers. Many defined themselves as “religious to some degree” or “not too religious”, but nevertheless affiliated themselves with one of the traditional religions. However, the number of people who define themselves as being “very religious” is growing steadily.
The contemporary state of religious life in Russian society is directly linked to the tragic events of 100 years ago.
The historical catastrophe of 1917 embroiled Russia in a fratricidal civil war, terror, exile of the nation’s best representatives beyond the confines of their homeland, and the deliberate annihilation of whole layers of society – the nobility, the Cossacks, the clergy and affluent peasants.
They were declared to be “enemies of the people,” and their relatives were subjected to discrimination and became the “disenfranchised,” which forced them to the edge of survival.
All of this terror took place under the banner of a communist ideology that fought ferociously against religion.
Millions of believers were subjected to the cruelest of persecution, harassment, discrimination and repression – from mockery and dismissal in the workplace to imprisonment and execution by firing squad.
The Church in those years produced a great multitude of martyrs and confessors for the faith who, as St. Paul said, “were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment” (Heb 11.35-36).
Discussion on the future of Christianity in Europe is impossible without understanding the prospects for the survival of religiosity among its inhabitants.
Research carried out by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Cornwell Theological College, USA, indicates that the number of Christians in Europe will be consistently falling: from 560 million people in 2015 to 501 million by 2050.
The calculations of the Pew Research Center are more pessimistic and foretell a reduction in Christians in Europe from 553 million people in 2015 to 454 million people by 2050.
These are alarming prognoses, but they reflect the current trends in the transformation of the religious picture of Europe, and they cannot be ignored.
Some are suggesting that, unless special force is applied, Europe cannot simply cease to be Christian on the grounds that Europe has for many centuries been Christian.
I would like to remind you all that in Russia before 1917 nobody ever proposed that the collapse of a centuries-old Christian empire would happen and that it would be replaced by an atheistic totalitarian regime. And even when that did happen, few believed that it was serious and for long.
The modern-day decline of Christianity in the western world may be compared to the situation in the Russian Empire before 1917.
The revolution and the dramatic events which followed it have deep spiritual, as well as social and political, reasons.
Over many years the aristocracy and intelligentsia had abandoned the faith, and were then followed by common people.
His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia spoke of this in January 2017: “The fundamental rupture in the traditional way of life – and I am now speaking… of the spiritual and cultural self-consciousness of the people – was possible only for the reason that something very important had disappeared from peoples’ lives, in the first instance those people who belonged to the elite. In spite of an outward prosperity and appearance, the scientific and cultural achievements, less and less place was left in peoples’ lives for a living and sincere belief in God, an understanding of the exceptional importance of values belonging to a spiritual and moral tradition.”
In the immediate post-war years, Christianity played a huge role in the process of European integration, which was viewed in the context of the Cold War as one of the means of containing the expansion of atheist propaganda and communist ideology.
The Vatican relied in its anti-communist propaganda upon European unity, upon the Christian democratic parties of Western Europe.
The latter firmly believed that Western civilization is closely tied to Christian values, and had to be defended from the communist threat.
Pope Pius XII supported the creation of a European community as “Christian Europe’s historical mission.”
The first president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Theodor Heuss, said that Europe was built on three hills: the Acropolis, which gave her the values of freedom, philosophy and democracy; the Capitol, which represented Roman legal concepts and social order; and Golgotha, i.e. Christianity.
It must be noted too that the founding fathers of the European Union were deeply religious men – for example, the French foreign minister Robert Schuman, the chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Konrad Adenauer and the Italian foreign minister Alcide De Gasperi.
And when half a century after the creation of the European Union its constitution was being written, it would have been natural for the Christian Churches to expect that the role of Christianity as one of the European values to have been included in this document, without encroaching upon the secular nature of the authorities in a unified Europe.
But, as we know, this did not happen.
The European Union, when writing its constitution, declined to mention its Christian heritage even in the preamble of the document.
I firmly believe that a Europe which has renounced Christ will not be able to preserve its cultural and spiritual identity.
For many centuries Europe was the home where various religious traditions lived side by side, but at the same time in which Christianity played a dominant role.
This role is reflected, particularly, in the architecture of European cities which are hard to imagine without their magnificent cathedrals and numerous, though more modest in size, churches.
A monopoly of the secular idea has taken hold in Europe.
Its manifestation is the expulsion of the religious worldview from the public expanse.
Article 4 of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion and Belief, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1981, affirms that “All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life.”
The architects of the secular society have seen to the legal aspect of the issue: formally one can confess any religion, but if one attempts to motivate one’s actions through religious belief and freedom of conscience and encourage others to act in accordance with their faith, then at best one will be subjected to censure, or at worst to criminal prosecution.
For example, if one is a doctor and refuses to perform an abortion, or euthanasia, by referring to one’s religious principles, then one is breaking the law.
If you are a Protestant pastor and live in a country in which same-sex unions are legal, then you have little chance of refusing this couple the right to a Church wedding while remaining unpunished by the state.
Thus, for example, the Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven recently stated that all pastors of the Church of Sweden ought to be obliged to perform church weddings for same-sex couples, adding that “I see parallels to the midwife who refuses to perform abortions. If you work as a midwife you must be able to perform abortions, otherwise you have to do something else… It is the same for priests.”
Such political figures are the complete opposite to those who were at the foundations of the European Union, and this type of rhetoric, in my view, is suicidal for the continent of Europe.
The legalization of abortion, the encouragement of sexual promiscuity, and the systematic attempts to undermine family values have led to a profound demographic crisis in many European countries.
This crisis, accompanied by an identity crisis, will lead to a situation whereby in time other peoples will inhabit Europe with a different religion, a different culture and different paradigms of values.
Often the language of hatred in relation to Christians is used when Christians insist on their right to participate in public affairs.
They enjoy the same right as much as it is enjoyed by adherents of any other religion or by atheists.
However, in practice it is not like this: dozens of instances of discrimination against Christians on the grounds of their beliefs are registered every year.
These instances are highlighted by the media and become a topic for public discussion, but the situation as a whole does not change as a result.
In modern-day Europe militant secularism has been transformed into an autonomous power that does not tolerate dissent.
It allows well-organized minority groups to successfully impose their will on the majority under the pretext of observing human rights.
Today human rights have in essence been transformed into an instrument for manipulating the majority, and the struggle for human rights into the dictatorship of the minority in relation to the majority.
Unfortunately, we should note that these are not isolated incidents, but an already formed system of values supported by the state and supra-national institutions of the EU.
In a situation where we have aggressive pressure of the groups which propagate ideas unacceptable from the perspective of traditional Christian morality, it is essential to unite the Churches’ efforts in opposing these processes, to act jointly in the media, in the sphere of legal support, as well as in propagating common Christian values at all possible levels.
It is important that the Churches share their experience in this sphere, and develop cooperation between church human rights organizations and monitoring centers.
I believe it important that Christians of Europe should stand shoulder to shoulder to defend those values upon which the life of the continent has been built for centuries, and that they should view the afflictions and dismay of Christians throughout the world as their own.
The visit last week of Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk, Belarus, to Washington and New York, in search of upport for the creation of a new Catholic unversity in Minsk went very well.
Kondrusiewicz gave a lecture on March 22 at The Catholic University of America, just next to the National Shrine of the Basilica of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception entitled “Christian Traditions in Belarus and the Proposal to Create a Catholic University in Minsk.”
He met with Cardinal Donald Wuerl in Washington and with Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York.
For those who would like to know more about this project, or who would like to collaborate with or support the project, reply to this email and I will send you further information.
We are now in 100th year since the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima in 1917.
In his talk, Kondrusiewicz said that he had met with Sister Lucia, one of the three shepherd children of Fatima, on three occasions, during his years as the bishop of the Catholics of Moscow, and that Sister Lucia had told him that the consecration of Russia to Mary’s Immaculate Heart carried out by Pope John Paul II had been done properly and would have its effect — that Russia would return from atheism to Christian faith.
When the head of Russia’s Communist Party begins to speak publicly about how Russia’s profound Christian faith — not its atheism, not its communism — is the source of the hatred of Russia in the West, one must wonder whether we are not on the verge of some great epiphany of grace, against all expectations, against all previsions.
Our Lady said that Russia would “be converted,” and that, through such a conversion, a “period of peace” would be granted to our world.
But perhaps the West also now needs to “be converted” and, in order for the “period of peace” to come, we must end the disunity of our Churches, which has continued now for almost 1,0000 years.
On Christmas night two years ago, Anya Bulochnikova, 29, first discovered Optina Monastery’s golden onion-shaped domes rising above the bucolic hills and snowdrifts of Russia’s Ugra National Park.
“It was just like a dream,” Bulochnikova said. “There was no electric lighting, but only candles inside the church.”
“There were other young people, just like us, attending the beautiful Christmas services,” she said. “We felt that our souls were warm and full of grace; I will remember this feeling of celebration forever.”
Bulochnikova’s discovery of monastic worship exemplifies a growing identification with Orthodoxy among Russians since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
According to a recent study from the U.S.-based Pew Research Center, the number of Russians who identify themselves as Orthodox Christians rose from 37 percent in 1991 to 71 percent today. At the same time, weekly church attendance remains low — 6 percent — according to the survey.
Optina Monastery is one of the main centers of Orthodox monasticism in Russia, famous for its monks’ reputation for holiness.
Fatima fulfilled: Archbishop celebrates return of Russia to Christ
Catholics across Russia are celebrating the centenary of the 1917 apparitions of Mary to shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal.
According to one of the children, Sister Lucia Dos Santos, Mary asked for a special consecration of Russia to prevent the country from disseminating its “errors throughout the world,” a phrase now-retired Pope Benedict XVI interpreted as referring to communism.
Mary promised that Russia would “be converted” if her request was heeded, and Catholic Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of Moscow said he had witnessed this conversion in his lifetime.
“I thank our God that I became one of the witnesses of the return of Russia to Christ,” he said. But “we should not interpret Our Lady of Fatima as foretelling Russia’s conversion to Catholicism.”
Mary “still calls Russia to convert to Christ, but she did not say what form this conversion should take,” the archbishop said.
Though Russia has no official state religion, the majority of Russians identify with Eastern Orthodoxy, a branch of Christianity that has not been in communion with Rome for nearly a thousand years.
According to a recent study from the U.S.-based Pew Research Center, less than 1 percent of the Russian population identifies itself as Catholic.
Archbishop Pezzi said the Catholic Church’s minority status in Russia is actually one of its greatest assets for evangelization.
A Catholic in Russia “cannot base his faith on the tradition of the majority or on governmental support,” Archbishop Pezzi said. “This situation is a joyful opportunity for us: We can be defenseless witnesses of our faith.”
I was surprised to find this video which is about my monastery. I was sent by the abbot with two others to found a monastery in Peru in 1981 and shall be returning to Belmont in January, 2018 at the age of 80, my mission having been completed. Of the other two, Father Luke left reluctantly because the abbot in 1991 decided that, at his age, it was better that he should have all the benefits of the National Health, and he died this last year; and the other left, just as reluctantly, to become the present abbot, elected by the Belmont community in 2000, after having actually founded the present monastery in Peru. If you watch this video, you will see a monk who clearly is not English: he is, in fact, a Peruvian called Brother Wilmer. He represented the community here at a chapter in Belmont. He was a nurse in a "centro de salud" in the countryside not far from Tambogrande where the doctor sometimes didn't turn up, so he is quite good at diagnosis. Now he is guestmaster and a very hard worker. Wilmer is one of the people I will miss when I return to Belmont.
I was interim superior of the monastery for nine years until a Peruvian could be chosen as Prior; and now that Father Alex is Prior, chosen in March 2016, it was only a matter of time before someone - in this case, a Peruvian monk who is a medical doctor, suggested that I should follow Father Luke.
Father Alex and I are very close friends, and there was no sense of rupture with the change of superior; but, as he is so much more practical and dynamic than I, there is a change of pace, which is just as it should be. I return to Belmont with an immense sense of satisfaction that, often in spite of my own weaknesses, God's will has been done.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Belmont has given up its school. As a past pupil and teacher and chaplain in the school, I considered this to be a disaster, the end of something really worthwhile; and the school still lives on in my dreams, although Peruvian boys increasingly become members of the school I visit in my sleep. Nevertheless, the closure of the school has enabled the monastery to concentrate more on its essential vocation, and I need to do the same.
I feel as reluctant as Frs Luke and Paul did when they left Peru but know it isn't the end of the world. Please pray for me, for our house in Peru, and for Belmont.
When I studied theology at Fribourg from 1961 till 1964, my very closest friend among the students was Dom Robert Gough of Quarr. This was because there was a group of Downside monk and another group of Ampleforth monks studying theology at the same time, but only one from Quarr and one from Belmont. He was older than I and had done his National Service in the Royal Navy, while I had gone straight into the monastery. He introduced me to Wagner and we had immense fun laughing at everybody else. He later became prior of Quarr and died some years ago. Resquiescat en pace
Here are three articles on the monastic life, two Orthodox and one Catholic (pinched from its monastery website). I chose the article from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico because our Abbot Paul has been there, and he says that it is the monastery that he has seen most like our own Monastery of the Incarnation in Peru. However, having read the article, I would probably say that it is the most like what we want our monastery to be. We are alike in that we live and work within the monastery and, like them, we have no employees to help us.
Those of you well acquainted with monasteries will notice how similar the problems and questions on monastic life in the contemporary world are for Orthodox and Catholic monasteries.
Catholics will be surprised at the contrast between the Archbishop's balanced, intelligent and spiritually valuable treatment of monastic life and his fundamentally silly treatment of Catholicism. I remember an exclamation of a Russian Orthodox deacon from Minsk in Belarus, "Why is it that the Russians are so anti-Catholic when they don't know any Catholics!! Most of us have relatives who are Catholics and all of us have Catholic neighbours, and we know we can't make such sweeping judgements about them. The Russians, on the other hand, are doing it all the time!!"
The trouble with "establishment" Christianity, either in its Vatican or its Orthodox forms, is a tendency to turn God into a Canon lawyer who actually thinks like a canon lawyer.
Cardinal Burke thinks that Christ's teaching on marriage and divorce is identical to the Catholic laws that govern marriage and divorce: thus a change in law will also always be a change in teaching. He does not notice that Jesus was not giving a new version of the Law of Moses - it was a bit late for that because He was about to transcend it by His death and resurrection - but was applying to the problem of marriage and divorce his new commandment to love one another as he has loved us. It is about a self-giving, self-forgetting love that goes beyond law and has become the standard way of living for Christians, a law beyond law which transforms marriage. Like the Beatitudes, it aims for the maximum, nothing less than our sharing in the divine life of the Blessed Trinity: it is the new law of love, the law of the Cross, and not simply a stricter version of the Law of Moses: the Law of Moses remains for those who are still under its yoke, divorce and all. The Orthodox recognise that the mercy that flows from the Cross of Christ and sets prisoners free is far greater than any law, whatever its provenance. That doesn't mean that laws are unimportant: they are to be observed under normal circumstances; but they cannot be allowed to create circumstances in which people are trapped by their sin so that whatever they do will cause grave harm. It is for the bishops to decide according to the pastoral circumstances. Normally, the laws must be obeyed, and this is called acribia. However, where people are trapped in their sin with no way out, then the bishops should resort to economia, because Christ saving us while we are yet in our sin is what the Christian Mystery is all about: God's mercy rides to the rescue. However, those who are set free must, in their turn, follow a life marked by the same unlimited forgiveness and mercy by which they have been liberated themselves: hence, Christ's teaching on marriage and divorce. If the Orthodox Church has much to teach us about how mercy takes preference over law in moral matters, the Catholic Church since Vatican II implicitly applies the same principle of economia over acribia in ecclesiology. I suggest that the Orthodox Church needs to do the same. Where some fall into the temptation to put law above mercy is to put too much emphasis on "canonical" when talking of the importance of "canonical communion": the actual existence of valid sacraments depends on there being "canonical", according to the canons. Thus, for many in the Russian Orthodox Church, the sacraments celebrated in the Kiev Patriarchate are simply meaningless ceremonies in a non-church. We would say that the celebration of the sacraments oblige those who celebrate, whether they are aware of it or not, to an extremely close ecclesial relationship with all others who celebrate the same sacraments, and that these ecclesial relationships should be regulated by canon law so that we may become what the sacraments want to make us; but sacramental life is more basic than legal relationships, being acts of Christ, just as mercy is more basic than law.
Christ promised that the gates of hell shall no prevail against the Church. When this threatens to happen, due to our stupidity, our pride or because of a simple mistake or because we are in the wrong place at the wrong time, Christ doesn't cut off whole populations from the sacraments without them even knowing about it or turn away from people who invoke his Name as though they were not there, or cease to speak through his Word to people who are eagerly listening. The rules may have been broken, but God's mercy rushes in to heal the wound and to clear the way that has been blocked. The rules have to be obeyed as soon as it becomes possible; but, in the meantime, the gate to heaven is open to all who call on the name of the Lord, and even to those who do not know how to, because the Incarnation makes it possible for all.
Archbishop Arndt seems to believe that there was a mutual excommunication between East and West somewhere, at some time, perhaps in 1054, and all the sacraments in the West stopped working without anyone being aware of it, all preaching lost its force without any external effect to show that this was the case, and Christian holiness ceased to exist against all evidence to the contrary, because "salvation only exists within the Church" which can only mean the Orthodox Church. As one Greek saint said, "Orthodoxy without charity is the religion of the devil," and any view of Christ who would render his sacraments null and void because of events which most people in the West were largely unaware of and very few could influence, is a diabolical view of Christ contradicted by every line of the Gospel.
Catholics don't form a part of Archbishop Arndt's world, so it is not a view that does much harm in itself, although it helps explain why the Patriarch of Moscow must tread softly on ecumenical issues. However, Archbishop Arndt does know what he is talking about on monasticism; and I have no hesitation to recommend the following article to you.
On Contemporary Monasticism: Interview with Archbishop Mark (Arndt)
One of the main problems faced by Christians and especially monastics today is that people are not used to restraining themselves, to enduring, or forcing themselves to do anything, to assume obligations, first and foremost to prayer.
by KRISTINA POLYAKOVA | 31 JULY 2014
– I’ve lived my entire life outside of Russia and cannot objectively evaluate Russian monasticism. I became a monk having seen the sort of monastic life which was impossible to have under the Soviets, so I grew up on the experience of monasteries abroad—Serbian and those on Mt Athos. But I see that today, a great deal in society—in any society—changes, and is constantly evolving.
In the West, those who enter monasteries are faced with difficulties based on the fact that Western people are educated in individualism, a striving for being special in some way, and for this reason it is difficult to share a monastic residential cell with someone else—more than that, it is almost impossible. That is why I often bless people to share a monastic cell only after a certain time period, allowing a person to live in the monastery for a few years first. From what I’ve seen, monasteries are set up differently in Russia. Common monastic cells, of course, are necessary: people must relate to each other and they know how to. Compared to the West, Russian monastics face other kinds of difficulties. For example, here, it is difficult to give a novice a cell without a private shower. But this problem is resolved differently depending on where you look. There are monasteries where everything is modern—I’ve seen this in Greece. And there are places where this would be impossible—and thank God. Because young people need to learn simplicity, in relating with others, in daily life, in personal needs, etc. Without a doubt, it is different in every country. Every society has its idiosyncrasies and difficulties which must be overcome.
One of the biggest problems we endure in the West is the universal attachment to computers , telephones , of which newer and newer models are always being offered. Such things are necessary for us monastics, too, but in monasteries, the use of such devices must be regulated. You must understand: a person who is dependent on a computer cannot pray properly. The prayer of such a person will always be superficial. That is why using modern technology must be restricted to certain times, restricted for spiritual purposes. When a monk is busy fulfilling his many obediences, it can be difficult for him to tear away from them during divine services or domestic prayer. That is why it is especially important to teach young people how to remove themselves from daily cares.
– Maybe this is an awkward topic to discuss, but they say that there is a decline in monastic life in the West, especially among Catholics. Can you comment?
– Yes, there is a certain weakness, there are faults which must be battled and overcome, but I would not say it is in decline. Such things happen in every society, at any time, and we dare not fall into despair, into a paralyzed state. We must labor so that everything takes its proper place. The Lord gives us enormous opportunities. The possibilities we now have, especially in Russia, were few and far between in the past—it would be better to say that this is a very rare moment in time. We should therefore take action. Let us not be pessimistic, but look for the positive today, on this basis we can build something good.
As far as Catholic monasteries are concerned, there is indeed a decline. In my opinion this is partly a result of the general attitude of Western society which has strayed far from its Christian roots, but also a result of the fact that Roman Catholics do not have a solid foundation for spiritual life, because they abandoned the unity of the Church. Outside the Church there is no salvation.
– In your opinion, is it necessary for monastics to examine the regulations and way of life of other monasteries abroad? Or is there a model for establishing monastic life that everyone should follow?
– There can be no set models to follow in Christian life! If everything is standardized, Christianity, as a rule, dies out. One should not simply copy someone or something—everything is individual. For example, nature itself is completely different in Greece than in Russia. This leads to various needs and problems in the monasteries of these countries. But it is always useful to acquaint oneself with the ways and customs of other monasteries, learn something beneficial, or compare to one’s own ways. One must look at the positive aspects of different monasteries and communities and emulate them if there is a need.
– Vladyka, in your opinion, what is the main problem in the spiritual life of modern man, of a monk?
– One of the main problems faced by Christians and especially monastics today is that people are not used to restraining themselves, to enduring, or forcing themselves to do anything, to assume obligations, first and foremost to prayer. For some reason we stubbornly and persistently chase after sin, but good deed—alas! One of the ancient Church fathers said that prayer is more difficult than hewing rocks. A person today is raised to want everything right away, in abundance and cheaply. We have a consumerist society, everything is desired quickly and easily. But this doesn’t happen, since whatever is quick and easy to obtain is usually not appreciated. Only by obtaining something through great effort and persistence does a person value it highly. That is why persistence in prayer demands just such an approach, and, I think, this is one of the main obstacles faced by modern man, who is not used to achieving anything through patience and painstaking effort.
The Jesus Prayer is necessary for modern man! No Christian can get by without this prayer.
– Is the Jesus Prayer accessible to contemporary man?
– Of course. Moreover, it is absolutely crucial! Not only Christians in general but especially monastics need it. But there must be the desire and persistence, patience and love for Christ.
– The frescoes in Sretensky Seminary depict not only all the Russian saints, but even ascetics who have not yet been canonized, and there is a portrait of Feodor Dostoevsky along with Nikolai Gogol. You often speak of the influence Feodor Mikhailovich had on you, noting that he was one of the most Christian authors in Russian literature. What is your opinion of the role of literature and art on personal spiritual development?
– The Lord employs various means to bring us to know the truth. Good literature is one of these, bringing mankind towards Himself, it is one of the main means that turns the mind and heart to God. A Christian must know and read such writers as Dostoevsky—such reading enriches him spiritually. But when a person has already grown into the Church, there is no need for distraction by lay literature. It is better to read the Holy Fathers.
– Can monastics read lay literature? Is it beneficial?
– To a very limited degree, since if a person did not read literature before joining the monastery, it means he came unprepared. In general, it seems to me, a novice can read such things, but it is better for a monk to avoid it. A monk should be occupied with other things.
– If a monastery lacks a spiritually-experience guide, if there is no opportunity to reveal one’s thoughts to a spiritual father on a daily basis, what is to be done? In particular, this is the situation in some women’s convents.
– In my opinion, a spiritual father should be secondary in a convent—the abbess must be the one with whom a nun should share her thoughts. Or an abbess can appoint a senior nun to counsel the younger sisters. In any case, I think, it is better when a nun can talk to someone of the same sex, not to a man. A priest, a spiritual father is provided to take confession, which is somewhat different than revealing one’s innermost thoughts. Of course, an abbess can summon any spiritually-experienced person for the nuns to talk to. But such a person should display a great deal of tact and approach with caution so as not to interfere in the internal matters of the monastic community. In the Holy Land, two large convents are under my care. Of course, I do provide some counsel to the sisters, I hold discussions with them, but I always stress that at the end of the day, the abbess must rule. Unfortunately, in many monasteries they underestimate the importance of an abbess or elder nun.
– You mentioned that the monastic path must be chosen with great caution. What did you mean, exactly?
– It is necessary to maximally exclude one’s own will and accept God’s instead. In other words, to rely not on one’s own knowledge and limited mind, but on the fact that the heart will accept the Will of God, the heart will open up to the “dew” of the Holy Spirit which will allow the person to discern good from evil, what is beneficial and what is not.
– And the greatest aids for this are the Mysteries of Confession and Communion?
– Yes, primarily. I would say that this is a whole system within which a person should live and develop: prayer, the Mysteries, the revelation of thoughts, Confession, etc. We must emancipate ourselves from the state of that fragmentation which invaded human life as a result of the Western, Roman-Catholic false teachings. Fr Justin (Popovic) once said that the main sin of Catholicism is Papism, and the main sin of Protestantism is that each has its own pope, and that is even worse. This breakdown and emphasis on the human element are completely useless for salvation. It hinders spiritual development, since man is at the forefront, and in the end, there is no room for God. Even if he thinks that he is giving himself over to the Will of God, in reality it is not the case at all—it is self-delusion which will always be an obstacle to communion with God.
– How is one to tell what the Will of God is? One of the fathers of the Church said: “In order to fulfill the Will of God, one needs to know what it is, which is a great and difficult task.”
As long as a person is guided by his own will and his own mind, he cannot hear the call of God.
You understand, the most important thing in monastic life and in the life of a Christian in general is obedience. A person can attain true, genuine obedience only through humility and meekness. Only in this case will he be able to heed the voice of the Lord, to hear the Will of God. A closed, hermetic life demands great experience in obedience, which is possible specifically within a monastic community. In monastic life it is rare to go into seclusion very quickly, this is done only after many years of social life, during which a person suppresses his own ego and obtains the habit of obedience.
– How does one choose a monastery?
– If a person strives for monasticism, he must heed this call and make a conscious choice of a monastery to join. There are various kinds of monasteries . In the Orthodox world, each monastic community has its own identity and characteristics. One must choose according to the heart. Some like physical labor, others are drawn to contemplation. So in choosing a monastery, one should be oriented by individual preferences. For instance, [smiling] it took me eight years to choose.
– How should Christians react to the terrible epidemic of the genocide of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Syria, Metochia, Kosovo and Serbia? Is this active Islamization or the actions of radical extremists, bandits who only assume the mantle of Islam? His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, during a Liturgy in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow read to his Russian flock the epistle of the Antiochian Patriarch, in which he painfully called to the whole world for help, stressing that the situation is at such a horrifying stage that help is needed not only through prayers to God, but in action. But in Christian society the reigning opinion is that we can help exclusively by prayer.
– I reject the expression “help exclusively by prayer.” That we Christians are only capable of prayer is a false notion. Of course, prayer is our foundation and greatest strength. But if we think that all we can do is pray, we will go astray. Yes, we must pray, but we must also understand that people are often forced by circumstances to soften one’s language. If the Antiochian Patriarch says this, he bases it on the experience of his own nation, where Christians and Muslims always lived in peace. I think that it is incorrect to say that there are only extremists at work there. Reading the Quran, you will see that all of this lies at the foundation of Islam. Extremism exists, of course. Other Eastern hierarchs openly state that they have known about this particular aspect of Islam all their lives. I often serve in Jerusalem . There, for instance, on the feast of the Holy Trinity, right next to the church a muezzin cries from his tower that they believe in the One God Who has no children, no Son and Holy Spirit, etc. He has no compunction to do so, thought these people are not really extremists. What is this? Open, unabashed propaganda against Christianity! They know full well what they do, spewing these slogans during the main Christian holiday of the Pentecost, the celebration of the birth of the Church Herself.
Islam is at its core anti-human. Look at Ramadan—this is the mortification of the human being, of the human body. I saw how people were taken to hospitals during their observance of Ramadan. All day they eat nothing, drink nothing even during baking heat, and at night the cram there stomachs to the point of losing consciousness—it is madness! One must look truth in the eye: this is all anti-human, it is directed against humanity.
Yes, there were times when Muslims tried to live in peace with their neighbors, they even acknowledged that we Christians are people, too. But for many, those times have passed, and now they reveal who they really are.
– In other words, when some say that what is happening in Syria and other fundamentally Christian nations, it is only political, not a religious war against Christianity, it is untrue? Regardless, can we say that the Christians who are murdered for their faith today are martyrs.
There is an intentional war being waged against Christians. Kosovo was the first in the list of such genocide from Christian territory. Then Chechnya. Understand what happened, a Christian nation was simply given away to the Muslims. The destruction of churches continues, tortures, wild fanaticism, murder. Kosovo, Chechnya, Syria, Egypt…
– The next goal for these people, whether they are extremists or not, is to declare Russian Muslim. What are we to do, strengthen our prayers?
– The most important thing is to be real Christians. This means constant participation in the Mysteries of the Church. If the Lord grants someone the crown of martyrdom, it means the person earned it and must accept it with dignity.
Practical Aspects of Observing Monastic Vows in an Urban Monastery
Speech by Abbess Maria (Sidiropoulos) of St. Elizabeth Convent in Buchendorf, Germany, of the German Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, read at the round table “Particilarities of Monastic Life in Urban Monasteries” (St. Petersburg, Russia, August 8-9, 2017).
St. Ephraim the Syrian said “It is not tonsure and garb that makes the monk, but a heavenly desire and Divine living, because in this lies perfection in life.”
God’s commandments are the same for both monastics and laypersons.
Emulating Christ and deification are the meaning of earthly life for every person who calls himself a Christian. Asceticism, sorrows, deprivation, spiritual purity, obedience to God are all necessary not only for monastics but for laity. The life of every Christian is or most become parallel to the life of a monastic. But the laws of parallel lines prohibit them from intersecting…
Monastic tonsure is called a “second baptism,” during which hair is clipped, just as during the Mystery of Baptism. The vows made during monastic tonsure do not differ from those made during baptism, except, of course, the vow of chastity that monks and nuns make. But simply refusing married life does not comprise true and ideal chastity; ideal virginity applies not only to the body but to the soul.
The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit, said Holy Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 7:34). In order to observe a vow of chastity, one must fast, pray and avoid contact with the opposite sex.
All of us, monastics and laypersons, in daily prayer to the Lord, utter the words: “hallowed by Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” We ask of God not wealth and domination over our neighbor, but “our daily bread,” and obedience to God’s will, so that the Lord would take reign in our hearts, which is achieved through perpetual repetition of the Jesus prayer. We likewise beseech Him “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,” that is, to preserve us from spiritual faltering. In other words, we can say that with these words monastics and laypersons ask for virtues which in principle comprise the monastic vows: obedience, poverty, virginity.
The monastery (Ησιχαστειριо), as a place of prayer, was originally connected to the concept of quietude. But this understanding extends to the sphere of spiritual peace. External quiet is required only for engendering the easy and quick achievement of inner silence. Regardless of whether the monastery is high in the mountains, in a distant wilderness or in the center of urban chaos, the monastery walls serves its purpose: it protects, defends the inner life of the monastery from external influences not only visibly, but spiritually.
If the monastery has walls but its gates remain open from dawn until dusk for visitors, then the world and temptations will pour into the monastery. And this is for material gain [from pilgrim donations—Trans.] which pale in comparison to that which we lose—the prayer that we accumulate and the mental concentration of the souls entrusted to us. So even if a monastery church is the only one in town, it is wise to limit visiting times.
Some monks who live in noisy cities are guardians of historic sites, for instance, in the Holy City of Jerusalem. But even there, though these sites are meant for veneration for people from all over the world, pilgrims and tourists, they must guard against mobs of visitors. The gates to such monasteries must remain closed for large portions of the day.
The conditions under which one can preserve one’s monastic vows in urban monasteries depend on many internal and external factors. The monastery’s regulations, especially in urban communities, must offer its residents time for seclusion for prayer and spiritual reading. If a monk is given this opportunity after evening prayer, when he has little strength after the day just passed, then he may succumb to slumber from exhaustion. In our convent, we find solitude for the daily prayer rule during the day, two hours before the beginning of vespers, while we still have strength, and this time allows us to refresh in our minds the life of a saint that will be commemorated in church that evening. In practice, this is an foretaste of the coming divine services, for the smooth transition to evening prayer. Adherence to one’s vows is not an external matter, for we are called upon to tend to our mouths and our eyes to achieve our goals, but the main condition and foundation of the fulfillment of vows, both in the city and in secluded hermitages is to recite the Jesus Prayer unceasingly, which is the basis upon which the monastic life is built.
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation (Matthew 26:41), the Lord cautions us. As St. Isidore of Pelusium explains: “In these words of the Savior we must understand: pray so that temptation does not consume us. If the Savior had said what some people assume, that is, that you must pray lest you fall into any temptation at all, this would make no sense; for the Prophets, and the Apostles as well as other successful pious men all succumbed to great temptations. On the contrary, it might be impossible not to fall to temptation at all, but not to be conquered by them is in fact possible. So many of those who suffer ignorance in this matter can become inconsolable when facing hardship, meanwhile those who are guided by piety deflect misfortune not only by enduring temptations courageously but by pondering victory over them.”
When we utter the most sweet name of Jesus, then our mind, occupied with prayer, has neither the time nor the inclination to think of anything else, so that the very invoking of the name of Jesus Christ has the power to heal and purify the mind and heart from earthly bonds and protect us from failure and temptations.
Can anyone who finds himself in the midst of temptation not be tempted? No, of course not.
We are given examples of times when even during terrible persecutions and brutality against the Church of Christ, people would elect the path of monasticism. They lived and labored on par with laypersons in the cities, and such environments did not hinder them from fulfilling their monastic vows, for they were people of prayer, they burned with love and zeal for the ascetic life, for which they were glorified by the Church. In order the obtain such heartfelt fervor, people today must expend great effort, deny the temptations of the internet and constant flow of news from around the world, read Holy Scripture from a book, and not on a smart phone. Having a cell phone in your hand offers the temptation of reading the news of the day.
The monastic community, being an organism of the Holy Church, when healthy also possesses a robust immune system, just like the human body does. So a monk, as part of a monastic community and truly loving the monastic way of life, upon facing temptation can avoid the devil’s snares. He is helped, if you will, by his “monastic immunity,” which kills or resists the virus which attempts to infect his mind.
For all that is in the world, wrote the beloved disciple of Christ, is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). This triple evil must be defeated by chastity, poverty and obedience. That is why true monasticism demands the fulfillment of three vows: virginity, poverty and obedience.
The monastery, a place of prayer and silence but located in a noisy city is fated to develop in “climatic conditions” hostile to prayer, if it is not separated into areas accessible and inaccessible to visitors.
Although monasteries may all differ in external ways, all monasteries contain people who labor in common thought, interests and goals—Christ. Sooner or later they will see Christ in the image of their brother, they will access Him through ascetic labors, fasting and inner peace. They will also see Christ in the face of a pilgrim, with whom he may not even speak, but whom he will join in prayer. But many pilgrims think that if a monastic doesn’t talk to them, the monk or nun is cold, haughty and condescending. On the contrary, if a monastic doesn’t speak to pilgrims, he is passing them by physically but not spiritually; without allowing them entry into his mind, he makes them a place in his heart, for he will pray for them in his cell.
St. Barsonophius the Great says: “Not all who live in a monastery are monks, only those who do the work of a monk.” It is not the task of a monastic to befriend pilgrims, the main work of a monk is to live in obedience, prayer, adhering to his monastic vows. An elder once told a monk: “Better they call you unwelcoming and brusque than they praise you and you fall into the prelest’ [self-deception] of pride…”
Socializing with pilgrims can be very dangerous, especially early in one’s monastic life. Pilgrims may unwittingly become the instrument of the devil and remind and stoke in the soul of the monk memories of earthly life.
Striving for perfection and to fulfilling Divine commandments is the nourishment for a monastic, whose path ascends to one’s own personal Transfiguration. Laypersons who may have the same desires walk along a horizontal path, knowingly or not immersed in the cares of daily life.
I can share one experience, though our convent is not an urban one. We are blessed by God to be located in a town of 700 people, 20 kilometers from Munich, but our monastery is the only Orthodox convent in Germany. Our practices show that while performing missionary work in a foreign land, where interest in Orthodox Christianity is growing, although we rarely turn away pilgrims, still, from 12-2 pm and during cell prayers from 4-6 pm, we close our doors to visitors. Before vigil, we open the doors, and after compline we close again. Our nuns do not have blessing to commune with pilgrims.
Our residents do not have personal effects or phones. The nuns do not have blessing to receive gifts from pilgrims or relatives. If they get a package in the mail, they must bring it to me and receive blessing as to what to do with it. Knowing the weaknesses of each nun, I sometimes give my blessing to share the gifts with one nun or another, or keep something for herself and give the rest for common use. In order to prevent the sisters from becoming attached to material goods, they do not have blessing to bring anything into their cells without the abbess’ blessing. By our rule, the nuns cannot and do not have their own money. Going to town for groceries is done by the nuns only once a week, usually on Mondays.
In one of his lectures, our spiritual father [Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany] noted the difference between monastic vows and consumption in society today:
the vow of poverty contrasts with the desire for unlimited consumption of material goods;
the vow of chastity contrasts with sexual promiscuity;
the vow of obedience contrasts with the unlimited “personal freedom” which leads one to self-confirmation at any cost.
The goal of monasticism is achieved through the voluntary fulfillment of Christian commandments and the fundamental monastic vows, which are based on Holy Scripture:
the vow of poverty: Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me (Matthew 19:21);
the vow of chastity: For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it (Matthew 19:12).
the vow of obedience: Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (Matthew 16:24).
O that today you would listen to His voice.—Psalm 94When I am lifted up I shall draw all men to myself.—John 12:32I have loved you with an everlasting love.—Jeremiah 31:3
All men and women are called to holiness, to be holy as God is holy. This is the source and goal of our human dignity. Some are called to serve the world by devoting all their energies to preaching the Gospel and tending the poor and needy. Some are called to bring new life into the world through married love. A few, however, are called in love to follow a road less traveled, to give themselves over to God alone in joyous solitude and silence, in constant prayer and willing penance. Such are the monks of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, whose “principal duty is to present to the Divine Majesty a service at once humble and noble within the walls of the monastery” (Perfectae Caritatis §§ 7 & 9). In responding to God’s call to holiness, a contemplative monk fulfills an important role in the Church: he visibly witnesses in his life to the absolute priority of God to any created thing. The contemplative life, then, is the highest form of life that a Christian may live. It is called “the angelic life,” because our contemplation of God will continue in heaven and throughout all eternity. The life of the contemplative monk is already a foretaste of what is to come. It is for this reason that Christ looks at a man with love and invites him to leave everything he has and to follow Him, to surrender radically to God in His mission for the salvation of mankind. (Mark 10:21). As the monk grows closer to God in love, he both draws God closer to the world and the world closer to God. Thus it comes about that we, too, even though we abstain from exterior activity, exercise nevertheless an apostolate of the very highest order, since we strive to follow Christ in the inmost heart of His saving mission. Some website visitors read through this vocations section just to learn more about the monastic life at Christ in the Desert. They often wish to support us so that this life can be offered to a world greatly in need of such vocational opportunities, especially for the youth of today. You may do so here and be assured of our gratitude. Our way of Life at the Monastery
The word monk (from the Greek μοναχός) refers to singleness of heart. A monk is single in several senses: by being celibate; by being single-minded or pure of heart in his dedication to God; and also by a desire for a simple life focused on the ‘one thing necessary’, as Jesus calls it, for eternal life. (Luke 10:42). In modern language a monk lives a life of integrity (wholeness) which he finds in relation to God. Importantly as well, a man desiring to become a monk does not enter an order, but a specific monastery. Thus the way of life or charism of a particular monastery is of greatest importance in the process of discernment. Our Abbot Philip has declared:
“Monastic life, as lived at Christ in the Desert, is relentless.”
That mirrors the fact that we must be relentless in our search for God every day. When men come to join our community, sometimes they are in for a rude awakening because our life is so very active. One person called it a daily marathon — and it is. Contemplative life does not mean sitting around and thinking about God all day long or even being on our knees and praying to God all day long. Rather, contemplative life for us is the challenge of remembering God in all that we do, say and are during the whole day — while we go about the normal things that monks do. Those normal things are common prayer, common work, common meals, meetings, private prayer, Scripture reading — and of course, some sleep! The first thing that will strike any visitor to our monastery is that we pray constantly. Christ in the Desert is only one of a handful of monasteries of men in the Americas that still faithfully prays the full psalmody every week as we were instructed to by St. Benedict. (RSB 18:23). Beginning in the early morning, well before sunrise, the monk’s day of prayer begins, when all of nature is silent and the monk is free to meet the living God. Because we gather in our Abbey Church eight times a day to chant the Psalms and celebrate Mass, it is only natural that the monk is molded by this rhythm and his whole life becomes a prayer taken up into that of Christ and the Church far beyond the limits of his understanding. He thus stands before God with and on behalf of all people. Secondly, at least four hours of the monk’s every weekday is spent in labor.
As the Rule says: “The Brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading … when they live by the work of their hands … then they are truly monks,” (RSB 48).
The Monastery of Christ in the Desert has no employees; all of its day to day work is done by the monastic community. The work engaged in by the monks any day might include cooking for the community, working in the vegetable gardens and on the grounds, painting cells, building walls, cleaning the guesthouse, working in the leather or tailor shops, clearing brush or making rosaries. Thirdly, no guest leaves the Monastery of Christ in the Desert without noting the peace of the place and the joy of the community. The life of a faithful contemplative monk is joyfully lived in silence, prayer, work and contemplation while holding the deep needs of the world in his heart. The monk has the joy and support of living in the company of like-minded men, men who believe in prayer, who delight in serving their brothers and giving a witness to God’s love for mankind in the presence of our loving God. How Can I Discern My Vocation?
My words are addressed to you especially, whoever you may be, whatever your circumstances, who turn from the pursuit of your own self-will and ask to enlist under Christ…”(RSB: Prologue)
The great mysteries of our faith, such as the Incarnation and the Trinity, are realities of profound beauty for the believer. A vocation, on the other hand, is not so mysterious. When speaking about a life of celibacy, Our Lord simply concludes: “He who is able to choose this, let him choose it.” (Matt. 19:12). A vocation is primarily a matter of choice — both ours and God’s. While God has called all Christians to holiness, He invites those who can accept a life of poverty, chastity and obedience to choose that life. Since it is an article of faith that none of us can undertake any good thing without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, (Council of Orange, 529 A.D. Canon 7; John 15:15), we can know with assurance that any wholesome desire to live the monastic life is a gift of God. So if at some level you feel drawn to the monastic life, there are three simple and practical things that you can do to determine that such a prompting is from God. The first is to avail yourself of grace. Participate in the sacraments fully, attending daily Mass if you are able, and going to Confession frequently. Develop your prayer life. Thank God for His great kindness and the many gifts He has given you. Pray that He may help you to be as generous with your life as the Father was in giving His Son to us. And if you are really bold, ask God to bless you with a religious vocation. Secondly, and in line with prayer, acknowledge God as a Father who truly loves you and wishes to shower you with graces. Since you are God’s child, humbly ask Him to make His will known to you. Be assured He will answer you, as He will do anything that we ask in Christ’s name. (John 14:14). The way God often speaks affirmatively to us is by granting us the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22). Thirdly, when Our Lord called His first disciples He told them to “come and see” how he lived. So get to know monastic life. Read the Rule of St. Benedict (especially the Prologue and Chapter 58). Read the lives of saintly men and women whose lives may inspire you. Do not be afraid to reach out to the Vocation Director of the monastery and discuss with him your sense of your vocation. He will be able to encourage you and help you think over carefully what is involved. And a natural thing to do is to come and see how monks live. Arrange to spend some time at the monastery, experiencing the rhythm of prayer and work of the monks.
A Prayer of Discernment–by Thomas Merton My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I actually am doing so. For I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you, and I hope that I have the desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadows of death. I will not fear, for you will not leave me to face the perils alone. Amen
Stages of Formation
After the community comes to know a prospective candidate, he can be invited to live with us for a time in the cloister. Once in the monastery he will participate fully in the life of the community. This stage is referred to as the Observership, and it usually lasts for a month or two depending on each individual. Next comes Postulancy, which is a period of one year. Postulants wear a simple black tunic (cassock) and leather belt, and attend classes with the novices and participate fully in the work and prayer of the monastery. If the Abbot and his Council determine the postulant is ready, the postulant may petition the community for entry to the novitiate. The Novice receives a new monastic name along with the black tunic, belt and short hooded scapular. During this period of formation he will study the Psalms, chant, liturgy, monastic history and the Rule of Saint Benedict. During initial formation (Observership, Postulancy and Novitiate) the brothers live in the Old Cells and St. Antony’s Novitiate, both of which are north of the main dormitory cloister of the monastery proper. St. Antony’s has its own chapel where the brothers in initial formation do Lectio Divina (sacred reading) together in common, as well as a gym. In addition to weekly classes, on Sundays and Solemnities the brothers in formation go on hikes together, play volleyball or, in summertime, swim in the Chama River. At the end of the one year of novitiate, when the Chapter — that is the monks in solemn vows — approves his petition, he may make Simple Vows for one year. At the time of his Simple Profession he is clothed with a black tunic and the long scapular of the professed monks. Classes for the simply professed cover a wide range of topics, including monastic and Church history, liturgy, patristics, philosophy and theology — allowing the monk to focus on a particular field of interest. Simple Vows are renewed each year, normally lasting for a period of three years. The next stage in a monk’s life begins with his Solemn Profession. This commitment is for life. A Benedictine monk takes the vows of Obedience, Stability, and Conversion of Life. (RSB 58). It is at this point that the monk is given a long black choir robe, known as the Cuculla or Cowl, and assumes the responsibility of a chapter member, those who meet with the Abbot and vote on important matters in the monastery. God has blessed our monastery with many wonderful vocations. It is perhaps because of our humble way of life and great fidelity to monastic tradition that we have attracted so many vocations. Currently we have six postulants, ten novices and six brothers preparing for Solemn Vows, and during the last 25 years we have made three monastic foundations (two in Mexico and one in Texas) and have helped revive four other contemplative monasteries. Requirements Test the spirits to see if they are from God. –John 4:1 A vocation involves three parties: God who calls, the person who is called, and the Church which, guided by the Holy Spirit, determines whether the call is genuine. In this case, the Church is represented by the Abbot and Community. The testing of a vocation is an interplay of human and divine freedoms and, of necessity, takes some time. There are, however, some objective criteria which are essential for a genuine vocation to our monastic life. A candidate must be male, single, Roman Catholic, and have received the Sacrament of Confirmation. He must be free from all binding obligations to his family and should not be in debt. In addition to this he should have lived a good, moral, Catholic life for a number of years and, normally, have shown that he is capable of earning his own living. Our life is joyful and rewarding, but it is also demanding, and therefore a candidate needs robust mental and physical health and an ability to live with others in community. Usually he will be between 20 and 35 years of age. He will need the intellectual ability to gain spiritual benefit from two hours of spiritual reading (Lectio Divina) a day and to be able to participate fully in the Mass and Office. Count Montalembert, in his Monks of the West (1872), said that to be a good monk one needs the characteristics of simplicity, generosity and a sense of humor. That still holds true today. If you are interested in a vigorous monastic life with much prayer and emphasis on seeking God, if you are drawn to common prayer with brothers who are seeking God, if you can accept obedience and humility, then perhaps this is the community for you. If you would like information about joining the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, please contact our Novicemaster or fill in the inquiry form below.