Monastic Life

edited December 1969 in Faith Issues
The three pillars of Monastacism are:

How can each one be obtained?
What practical exercises can one do in an attempt to achieve them with Gods grace?
How does one prepare for this life in the world and accurately test themselves for the life?

prayers needed please
-Chief of sinners


  • This is how monasticism has been described in Roman Catholic circles, but I am not confident it is the basis of Orthodox monasticism. Not that these are not aspects of monastic living, but they are also aspects of all faithful Christian living.

    To be obedient must mean that we strive to be obedient to the will of God as it is revealed to us. And that we strive to be obedient to those whom we live among. It requires that we learn to put our own desires last. In a familial context it means being ready to do what out parents and even siblings ask straight away, without complaint and without insisting that what we are doing is of more importance than that which they want us to do. It seems to me that in the Orthodox context there is a greater emphasis on humility rather than simply obedience, in that one may be obedient and resentful. But to be humble is already to be obedient.

    To embrace poverty surely means that we seek to consume less (not only food), and that we increasingly demand less and less of the world and of those around us. It would seem to me that for most of us it requires a commitment to a simple lifestyle. We do not need to own things to be validated. We do not allow things, or food, or tv, or music etc to dominate us. We do not need any of these things because we already have that which is beyond all price, the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, within us.

    And chastity is much more than simply not engaging in sexual activity. Orthodoxy demands a complete holiness from us. And holiness is not avoiding sexual sin, it is being set apart completely for God. In the Old Testament the people of Israel was often described as a prostitute, or an adultereress, not because of sexual sin, but because the people had set up other idols and gods rather than God Himself. To be chaste, in the sense of avoiding outward sexual sin, is often easy for someone brought up in a particular environment, but to be entirely dedicated to God, to have no other 'idol' in our life, nothing else which we practically worship, this is what we are called to.

    This 'monastic' life is one which we are all called to. Of course the monastic vocation has a particular context to facilitate it, let us not pretend that we are all 'the Last Anchorite' while we tuck into a Big Mac. But we are called to the same life of the spirit in our different vocations. We must all embrace this way of life whether or not we will be called to enter the monastic vocation. We are not called to be less holy, less committed to the will of God, and less humble than a monk. Even while the monastic vocation is a constant witness to us of the possibilities of a life committed to God.

    We must all begin the monastic life, as far as it pertains to our secular vocation. But there is no need to become a 'pretend' monk. We just need to fully embrace our Orthodox spiritual tradition. It is already all there for us. It is the 'normal Orthodox life'.

    You might find benefit in reading and studying...

    St Basil and his rule:

    The Conferences and Institutes of St John Cassian:

    The Rule of St Benedict:

    Unseen Warfare:

    Letters of St Barsanuphius:

    I would encourage you to read these works with the aim of seeing how these insights can be practically applied to your own situation. The best preparation for testing the monastic vocation, it would seem to me, is not creating a monastic type structure of prayer, but embracing the spiritual tradition which we are all called to live out. If we cannot be a wholehearted Christian then we will not be able to become a monk. If we can learn to become a wholehearted Christian, following the example of the monastic Fathers, then whether we live as monks or as faithful people in the world, we will have already laid the proper foundations for a life lived in the grace of the Holy Spirit. Humility, simplicity and holiness are the necessary foundation for all Christian living, and I am sure that we can learn much of these from cleaning the Church, helping the poor and elderly, visiting the lonely or shut in, doing the jobs no-one wants at home, as well as seeking to become more prayerful, less engaged with the world, less of a consumer.

    Father Peter
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