Monasticism ... Invitation or Duty ??
The question of whether monasticism is an invitation or a duty is a question that frequently asked by spiritual youth and zealous servants who want to please their creator yet is unsure of their calling .They want to hear God's voice in their life. Chanting with the psalmist; " cause me to hear your loving kindness in the morning, for in you do I trust; Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to you. O Lord, from my enemies; in you I take shelter .Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; your spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness. "(Psalm 143; 8-10) , and with Moses the profit; " Now therefore , I pray , If I have found grace in your sight , show me now Your way , that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight . And consider that this nation is your people “(Exodus 33:13). They are seeking which mode of life is best for the salvation of their souls, whether it is through monasticism for a life of prayer and worship, or priesthood providing pastoral care in the world, or celibacy to dedicate one's life for service in the world, or marriage having a blessed Christian family and an exemplary house as that of Priscilla and Aquila. Here we will try to highlight the monastic invitation, which may answer some of the questions that the youth have asked and relieve those who are confused.
The Invitation and choice
If we want to know the holy Bible's teaching concerning the invitation and choice for monasticism , we need to first examine St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, where he states ; " For whom who foreknew , He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son ,that he might be the first born among many brethren . Moreover whom He predestined these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified " (Romans 8:29-30). Although in this passage the apostle is referring to salvation, we can also apply this verse to monasticism. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined ….. Moreover, whom He predestined these He also called. We notice here that knowing them precedes predestining them, which is followed by calling and inviting them. This indicates that choosing and calling depends on foreknowing, which means that God knew them through His Divine and unlimited knowledge, predestined them to accept His invitation and as such saw in them the potential for a life of prayer and worship and consequently called them to monasticism. Those whom He saw were ready for priesthood are called for this blessing and so forth. This is because God knows everything before it occurs, everyone before birth, "O Lord, You have searched me and know me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold O Lord, You know it altogether .You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me ;it is high , I cannot attain it " ( Psalm 139: 1-6 ) , "For you have formed my inward parts ; You covered me in my mother's womb . I will praise You, for I am fearfully made; Marvelous are your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts on the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written , the days fashioned for me , when as yet there were none of them " (psalm 139: 13-16 ) . David also says in another psalm;" The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions the hearts individually; He considers all their works “(Psalm 33: 13-15). God therefore knows the future inexactly the same way as He knows the past and knows the abilities and circumstances of each person and knows them by their name ; "Then Moses said to the Lord ,'See , You say to me ,'Bring up this people.' But you have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, 'I know you by name, and you have also found grace in my sight. “(Exodus 33:12).
How Can a Person Know that they are Called to Monasticism
It is possible to discern whether a person is called to monasticism through self testing and if he / she has the flowing inclinations: A great love for the life of celibacy and enormous yearning for its crown. Admiration for celibacy in our Lord Jesus' life, the Virgin St. Mary, Old Testament prophets such as, Elijah ,Elisha and Jeremiah . The blessing of celibacy of St.John and St.Paaul the apostles. Special admiration and meditations on the verses calling for and praising celibacy ,as our Lord Jesus says : " All cannot accept this saying , but only those to whom it has been given " ( Considering celibacy a precious gift and perfect from above .coming down from the Father of lights ) "For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb , and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men , and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake . " (Mathew 19: 11-12). To love and meditate on St. Paul's words " Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” (1 Corinthians 7:1) "But I say to the unmarried and the widows: it is good for them if they remain even as I am.’ (Corinthians 7:8)."But he who is married cares about the things of the world; how he may please his wife .There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit .But she who is married cares about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is prayer and that you may serve the Lord without distraction. “(1 Corinthians 7:33-35)
** He/ she might find special interest in reading the spiritual books dealing with celibacy or the blessing of monasticism.
** Does not suffer any suppression or indirectness of thought or behaviour
**Living in inner purity, in terms of mind, body and spirit, or at least in readiness to strive for purity.
** Although he / she knows that marriage is holy, he / she prefers celibacy and monasticism in order to reach perfection , as the apostle says ;"So then he who gives in marriage does well , but he who does not give her in marriage does better . “(1 Corinthians 7:38).
1 – Renunciation of money, position, fame etc. as one of the saints said; “if you want to be known to God, try not to be known and recognized by people.”
2 – Be prepared to renounce to those whom he / she is emotionally connected , such as one's family , relatives and friends , preferring Jesus ' love and community . As the Lord says; " He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. " (Matthew 10:37)
3 – Loves meditation , solitude , prayers and enjoys being free to spend time with the Lord Jesus , considering it better than any past time providing sweet satisfaction for one's life . St. Isaac the Syrian says: "He who loves Christ, loves to sit alone all the time in his cell".
4 – Ready to always be silent, possessing a love of quietness and stillness and an ability to abstain from mixing with people or listening nonsense.
5 – Be prepared to tolerate and be longsuffering. If he/ she is to fulfill the commandments of love that is serving and sacrificing, he/ she also has to practice and fulfill the commandment of longsuffering in monasticism, which is higher than the first. As the Lord Jesus says; " And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me "
(Matthew10:38), and also;"By your patience possess your souls.” (Luke 21:19)
6 – Be prepared to obey any order relating to work that needs to be done, quick to apologize for any mistakes made, humble and easy to deal with. From personal experience, he/ she who does not possess these virtues is destroyed by monasticism.
7- Fasting, piety asceticism and renouncing possession, as the apostle says; “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1Timothy 6:8)
All of the aforementioned points are for a person who is spiritually developed and yearns to reach perfection through monasticism, away from the busy troubled world. but as for the person who lives in the world struggling to overcome difficult sins and failing to do so , either because of their weak will or because of the sovereignty of sin over them , or because they are living in a defiled atmosphere at home where it is difficult to live a life of repentance and holiness , it becomes an urgent duty to direct themselves to monasticism for the sake of their salvation .
Flying To the Wilderness:
** He forsakes the fatal and corrupt atmosphere surrounding him, which will kill his soul and send it to eternal destruction.
** To live in the holy pure wilderness, searching for virtues and blessing and flowing in the monks' footsteps. There in the monastery .he lives the life of repentance and striving for his/ her salvation.
Examples of Monasticism Invitation:
Some fathers tell their stories of monastic invitation:
1- One of the fathers said: “Before graduating, I always dreamt of having a happy family, wife and children. Following graduation, I was unable to find a suitable job, so I continued to pray to God and became closer to Him. Finally, I got an excellent position where I met a colleague who was a faithful servant with monastic intention. I began serving with him, reading lots of spiritual books, and developed an idea about celibacy and its advantages for the youth. Gradually, the idea of marriage started to vanish. Later I met another friend who was also planning to join the monastery and who talked a lot about monasticism and eventually, he left for the monastery and became a monk. We continued to sending letters to each other and he used to encourage me by advising me to not back out of this blessed intention. Tow years later, after thinking deeply and yielding the matter into God's hands, I decided to go and spend my holiday in the monastery. There God prepared me for a meeting with one of the righteous Fathers. We talked for hours and he eased all the matters that I perceived as problems facing my monasticism. I eventually resigned from work, took all my spiritual books and belongings, joined the monastery and became a monk.
2 – Another father said; “I deeply loved monasticism after reading “The Life of Orthodox Prayers " released by El Syrian Monastery for the first edition. At that time, I was still in high school. I loved prayers solitude and retreats, obtaining great comfort, peace and joy when spending time with the Lord. As I waited for the HCS results, I dreamt of myself asking the school's secretary about my results. The Lord answered and said " why do you worry about the results, aren't you going to be a monk? “. I woke up the following morning comforted and encouraged. I entered university, graduated and got a job. In all honesty, my monastic intentions persevered and protected me during this critical stage of my youth, where many youths get dragged into bad habits, failure and destruction. During this period, I would go to the monastery frequently. Finally, I decided to go to the monastery and become a monk, but after few days, I was defeated by some thoughts. I left the monastery and went back to the world, trying to free my intellect from the idea of monasticism. One day, I tried to jump into a tram while it was slowing down and fell under the wheels. I heard people screaming, as it was a dreadful accident. However, to everyone's surprise, they pulled me out from under the wheels with minor scratches. Someone later told me that as he was watching, it was as if someone was trying to stop me from getting hit by the tram wheels. After this accident, I returned to my old vow of monasticism with the Lord I thought that if monasticism is death from the world, it is better for me to die under the feet of Christ. I considered this accident as a sign from the Lord to fulfil my vow, as King Solomon says;" Better not to vow than to vow and not pay".(Ecclesiastes 5:5) A few days later, I went back to monastery. Living in obedience to God, in happiness with the community." I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."(Galatians2:20).
3- A third story by a monk is as follows:" I was a solider in the army and become involved in the war. As the enemy began shooting at my comrades and I, we laid down facing the ground and I felt, heard and saw the bullets passing over my head. At that moment I prayed to God and asked for St. Mary's intercession, vowing to give my life in the service of the Lord in whatever way He finds suitable for me I found a hand covering my head, which protected me from bullets, while everyone around me was screaming, wounded or killed. When the war came to an end and my military service was completed, I was unable to find within myself any potential for service in the world, so I fulfilled my vow and become a monk."
4 – A forth monk recounts: "I wanted to become a monk, however, my parents refused and instead, forced me to get married. After a brief period of time, my wife died, and the idea of monasticism again entered my mind, and again, my parents refused. I then fell sick and was on the brink of death, to the extent that a rotten stench came from my body, and I was diagnosed as a hopeless case. However, the kind and tender Lord had mercy on me, and I was healed. My parents then said to me; 'If monasticism is death to the world, we already saw you dying and your body rots. Since you have been granted new life, go and spend it with God in the monastery.' I then went to the monastery and become a monk."
The Reason for the Failure of Some Monks
At times we hear of monks who quit monasticism by breaking their vow and going back into the world. Some may get married, while others may regret their decision and return to the monastery. If this is the case, they are not re-ordained as monks, but rather, they return as a monk, on the condition that they are accepted back into the monastery.
Some Reasons for Quitting Monasticism
1- The strictness of the family environment may entice some youths to enter the monastery, or a refusal for them to marry the person they choose, or forcing them to marry a person they do not love. In these cases, the youth's last resort is to enter the monastery, pretending to be spiritual and obedient. After a while, they find the life of isolation and spiritual warfare unbearable and they return to the world in great shame.
2- Some monks came to the monastery in search for clerical positions and leadership position in the church. On failing to fulfil this, they withdraw
3- Some monks begin with the genuine intention and with a holy invitation to monasticism, but they may also withdraw because of their reluctance to follow the monastery's rules concerning prayers, fasting, praises etc. as set by the Holy Spirit through the early fathers. God respects our freedom to choose whatever suits us. We have many examples in the Bible about people of whom it was said," Are you so foolish? Having begun in the spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?"(Galatians 3:3), also others:" But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by Him."(Luke 7:30). These people started in the spirit, but then relinquished their vow Judas Iscariot, who loved money more than his Master and finally left the Lord and the disciples. Also Nicholas the deacon, who relinquished his vow and led others to the Nicolaitans heresy, which the Lord also despises. There is also Demas, one of St. Paul's disciples who abandoned the service for love of the world. Such monks suffer spiritual coldness and boredom, as they do not heed the monastic invitation. But rather, interfere in every thing, they like to hear the news and stories about others and like to be leaders. Eventually, these people return to the world.