Reasons to Visit a Monastery Part 1

I recently came across this post on the blog of the Orthodox Christian Network.  Thanks to the author I have her permission to reproduce it here.  Over the next few days I will be posting the five reasons to visit a monastery.  There are in no particular order but are here for your edification.  Any questions on any of these please feel free to contact us.

Spiritual Direction

Finding a spiritual guide who has the will and means to guide and direct a believer in his endeavour to live the Gospel precepts in his daily life is not an easy task. It requires prayer and discernment on the part of the seeker, a humble disposition, and an openness to the will of God. This is because once the believer asks a priest or monk to be his spiritual father, he enters into a relationship with that person that cannot easily be dissolved, and which will have everlasting effects on his spiritual life: “A spiritual father… becomes the means of leading the life of men out of hell (by the negative effect of their passions), and into pure Christian life and spiritual freedom.” (Archimandrite Zacharias, The Enlargement of the Heart, 174)

Thus, the goal should be to find a spiritual guide who not only preaches Christ, but lives like Christ. As Monk Isaiah wrote to Nun Theodora: “The Holy Spirit is for everyone; but in those who are pure of the passions, who are chaste and live in stillness and silence, He reveals special powers.” (Monk Isaiah to Honourable Nun Theodora, Matericon, 160).  This is the primary reason why a person living in the world seeks spiritual direction from those living in monasteries. Not because the Holy Spirit only dwells in those who wear the monastic habit, but because their way of life is far more conducive to acquiring the Holy Spirit. The greatest spiritual guides are those whose manner of life teaches as much or more than their words and advice. If a spiritual guide does not live the commandments of Christ, if he has not experienced temptation, if he does not actively struggle to overcome his passions, then how will he teach others to do likewise? On this point Archmandrite Zacharias of Essex says: “if the word that the spiritual father says is not seasoned with grace, nor proceeds from a heart that is warmed by the love of Christ, it becomes like the work of psychologists or counsellors – a ‘half-blind’ worldly activity. The word of the spiritual father must bear the seal of grace, the seasoning of grace.” (Archimandrite Zacharias, The Enlargement of the Heart, 174).

The life of the monk is a macrocosm of the Christian life in the world. And so, it follows that if there are good spiritual fathers in the world, there are great spiritual fathers in the monastery. The reason for this is very simple, as St. Nikodemus states: “monastics, through ascetic struggles and through the monastic way of life, first purified themselves (from the passions and from faults) and then set out to purify others: they were first enlightened and afterwards enlightened others: they were first perfected, and then perfected others, they were, to express it concisely, first made holy and afterwards made others holy…” (St. Nikodemos, Handbooks of Counsel [Greek], 15-16)

For those who have spiritual fathers in the world, they need not forsake them for a priest-monk. They can, however, with the blessing of their spiritual father, seek the counsel of a monastic in certain circumstances that require the guidance of an experienced and specialized “doctor” since, as St. Zosimas says to St. Mary of Egypt: “Grace is recognized not by one’s orders, but by gifts of the Spirit.”

And in fulfilling the instructions of one’s spiritual guide, the layman becomes a candidate for the grace which is for the saints (2 Cor. 8:4). By this, one becomes like a certain youth who, living in the world, “began immediately, with great eagerness, to fulfill the command which the elder had given him… With this work that he did, he was made worthy to lift his mind up to Heaven, where he cried out to the Mother of Christ for compassion; and through her intercessions, he was atoned before God and there came down upon him the Grace of the Holy Spirit….” (St. Symeon the New Theologian, from Dr. Constantine Carvanos’ article A Discourse for those living in the world, Orthodox Info).  Ultimately, this is the goal of seeking spiritual direction: to not only be “atoned before God” through a life of repentance, but through the counsels and prayers of one’s spiritual guide – who himself has attained grace – to have the Holy Spirit “come down upon us.”

Prophets of the Kingdom in the World

By: His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the monastic way in our contemporary world is its prophetic presence in an age of confusion or ignorance, when people tend to overlook the spiritual dimension of the world. “A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough” (Gal. 5:9). By purifying their own souls, monastics seek to purify the soul of every person as well as the soul of the world. The prayer of monastics sustains the whole world (Gen 18:23-33). Their primarily spiritual importance, therefore, becomes social, moral, and even environmental. In the fourth century, Evagrius of Pontus defined the monk as “the one who is separated from all and at the same time united to all.” He was right.

By restoring the divine image within their own bodies and souls, monastics aspire to refresh the divine image within all people and to renew the face of God on the face of the whole world. Thus, a genuine monastery is “an icon of the church,” says the great visionary Saint Basil (330-379). Indeed, a genuine monastery might be said to constitute an icon of the entire world. It is an example and prototype of a healthy community. Within this context, a genuine monastic does not evade social responsibility; he or she seeks a deeper response to the meaning of life, in the re-creation and reformation, the transfiguration and transformation of the entire fallen world, by silently changing water into wine through Christ (cf. John 2:1-11).

Monasticism proposes a different way of perceiving and doing things in the world. In our age, we have become accustomed to seeing things in a particular way. Indeed, we are constantly bombarded by numerous images, both visual and aural, that determine our ways of responding and reacting. Monasticism provides us with a different set of values, an alternative way of living without compromising. Monasticism seeks to change the world with silence and humility, rather than through power and imposition. It changes the world from within, internally, and not from the outside, externally. In many ways, authentic monasticism proposes a revolutionary worldview, especially in a world where so many people are stuck in established ways that have proved destructive. The silence of the monks is a way of waiting on the grace of God, an earnest expectation of the kingdom.

By maintaining the spirit of the Gospel, monasticism is said to constitute the sinews of the Church (St. Theodore the Studite, 759-826) and the lungs of the entire world. When it functions properly – and, like any other human institution, it does not always function smoothly – monasticism transmits clean are that sustains all people, all animals, and all creation. In many ways, then, the silent prayer of monastics bears greater influence and impact on the natural environment than numerous visible and loud actions that catch our attention. Saints cleanse their surroundings by spilling into them the grace of God that permeates and fulfills everything. It is no wonder that so many Orthodox saints had a natural and friendly relationship with animals that lived near them.

The Fourth Step of Humility

The fourth step of humility is that in this obedience, under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions, his heart quietly embraces suffering and endures it without weakening or seeking escape. Rule of St. Benedict
 The practice of the fourth step of humility, according to Saint Benedict, is very demanding and painful.  It is only in light of the mystery of the cross of Christ and of his supreme obedience to the Father that we can begin to apprehend the hardship entailed in this form of following the Lord.  If we think that physical suffering is difficult to endure, we shall soon find out that mental and emotional suffering is many times more painful.  Only those who have endured unjust persecution and the mental anguish that sort of suffering carries with it have experiential knowledge of how painful it is to assent to God’s will under such circumstances.
We shall not be surprised, if in a moment of weakness and fear, we try to escape from the practice of this step.  Jesus Himself prayed: “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by.”  it is precisely at this moment, though, “with a quiet heart” as counseled by Saint Benedict, that we try to submit to God’s wishes as we utter the remainder of Jesus words: “Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.”  In this submission, all natural resentment emanating from the source of this suffering begins to lessen, and a deep inner peace – a sure sign of the healing presence of God – settles in.

Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette

The Third Step of Humility

The third step of humility is that a man submits to his superior in all obedience for the love of God, imitating the Lord of whom the Apostle says: “He became obedient to the point of death.” (Phil 2:8) Rule of St. Benedict


The mystery of monastic obedience, and its only justification, is based on Jesus’ submission to his heavenly Father.  Throughout his thirty-three years on earth, he not only obeyed his heavenly Father but also his mother Mary and his stepfather Joseph.  This submission to his Father was carried out to the end of his life, as he obediently accepted even death, death on a cross!
Following the example of Christ, the monk promises to remain obedient “even unto death” in the monastery.  The monastic obedience implies fidelity and daily submission to the will of God, to the Church which is Christ’s Body, to the Rule, to the monastic tradition, to the Father of the community, and to one another.  Obedience allows the monk to become a servant as Christ became for our sake.  Obedience, for the monk, is expressed ultimately in the humble respect he shows towards the abbot, the brethren, and all those he comes in contact with, seeing Christ in all of them.

Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette

Blessings of the Daily, A Monastic Book of Days

The Second Step of Humility

The second step of humility is that a man loves not his own will nor takes pleasure in the satisfaction of his desires; rather he shall imitate by his actions that saying of the Lord: I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”  Rule of St. Benedict

The essence of the Christian life consists in the imitation of the life of Christ.  He is the model.  He is also the master and we are the disciples to whom he utters the invitation: “If anyone wishes to follow me, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and then follow me.”  In order to follow Jesus, we must embrace the cross, the small crosses of everyday life, and follow the path of self-renunciation.  This path is not easy, for we know it to be so contrary to human nature.

Jesus never promised us that the way to heaven would be easy.  What he promised was to send us a Comforter who would remind us of Jesus’ teachings and, at the same time, give us the strength and the necessary fortitude to follow the ways of the Gospel, no matter how perilous they may seem to be.

In the Our Father we pray daily, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  This is precisely what Saint Benedict encourages us to seek through the practice of humility’s second step: acceptance of the will of God in our daily life and in all of our actions.  In accomplishing the will of the Father, we shall discover our true freedom, our only joy, our perfect peace.  I think it was Dante who towards the end of his life stated, “In your will is my peace.”

Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette
Blessings of the Daily, A Monastic Book of Days


By St. Nikolai VelimirovichThat God may forgive us, let us forgive men.

We are all on this earth as temporary guests.
… Prolonged fasting and prayer is in vain
Without forgiveness and true mercy.
God is the true Physician; sins are leprosy.
Whomever God cleanses, God also glorifies.
Every merciful act of men, God rewards with mercy.
He who returns sin with sin perishes without mercy.
Pus is not cleansed by pus from infected wounds,
Neither is the darkness of the dungeon dispelled by darkness,
But pure balm heals the festering wound,
And light disperses the darkness of the dungeon.
To the seriously wounded, mercy is like a balm;
As if seeing a torch dispersing the darkness, everyone rejoices in mercy.
The madman says, “I have no need of mercy!”
But when he is overcome by misery, he cries out for mercy!
Men bathe in the mercy of God,
And that mercy of God wakens us to life!
That God may forgive us, let us forgive men,
We are all on this earth as temporary guests.

What to do During Great Lent

Today the Church begins the season of Great Lent.  For the past few weeks we have been preparing for this time of the year and now it is upon us.  What are you going to do during this season to make it different than any other time of the year?

Our life is supposed to be different during this time of year.  We should not be going out to eat or to parties nor should we be going to see movies.  This is a penitential time of the year and we “do not feast when we fast.”

Here are some suggestions of things that you can do to make this Great Lent special.

This time of year makes it easy to be a bit more prayerful.  The services of the Church lend themselves to the spirit of prayerfulness more this time of year than any other.  There are several opportunities for your consideration.

Great Vespers with Compline – Each Saturday night during Great Lent the service of Vespers will be offered.  Although this service is offered each Saturday during the Great Lent it takes on a penitential tone and the night time service of Compline is added to the end.  The service begins with the church in darkness and moves to fully lite as we sing, “O Joyful Light.”  This reminds of us of our journey from the darkness of sin into the light that Christ brings with His Resurrection.  The service begins at 6:00 pm

The Presanctified Liturgy – As in years past we will alternate this Wednesday evening service with our friends at St. Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church.  Starting at 6:30 pm the service is a kin to Vespers with the addition of the reception of Holy Communion from the Presanctified gifts.  In my estimation this is one of the most beautiful liturgies of the Orthodox Church and is the oldest known liturgy.

Daily Prayer – Each day at 6:30 am in the Monastery Chapel the Midnight Service will be prayed and at 8:00 am the Canonical hours will be prayed.  Each evening at 5:15 pm Vespers will be served.  These services help us to focus throughout the day on our prayer life.  If you are able try to attend as many services as possible.

Scripture Reading
During the period of Great Lent the Church reads from the Book of Genesis, the Prophet Isaiah, and the Book of Proverbs.  Genesis reminds us of the creation of the world and the perfect state that we humans were created to live in.  The Book of Proverbs is the moral code that the Church built her life around and the Prophet Isaiah informs us of the coming of the Christ that we will welcome on Pascha.

The daily email will contain the readings for the day and if you do not have access to email they will be include in the weekly bulletin.  Take the few minutes each day to read the Scriptures that the Church has appointed for these days.  Reading Scripture should be a part of everyday but it is essential during Lent.

The Church directs that these days we abstain from all meat and dairy products and we also fast.  Fasting means that we do not over eat and we remain hungry.  We spend more time talking about food during Great Lent than anything.  Fasting and Abstinence is an important spiritual discipline that needs to be a part of our everyday spiritual life but it is a very large part of our Lenten journey.  However we should not be so concerned with the letter of the law that we miss the spirit of the law.  Strict fasting, no meat products which includes fish, no dairy products, which include eggs, no oil, or wine during this period of time.  With that said one needs to start slowly and move towards a more stricter fast.  If you presently keep the Wednesday and Friday fast during the year, add another day of the week.  If you do not keep the regular fast then start with Wednesday and Friday.  Start with a goal that you will be able to meet.  The strict fast is the goal that one day we can aim for but if you have never done this before it is not easy and should be entered into slowly.  If there are medical reasons for not fasting or abstaining then speak with your physician prior to starting any program.  I am always available to answer questions.

One way to truly live the spirit of Great Lent is through almsgiving.  The Orthodox Church has a long standing tradition of Philanthropy and almsgiving is part of it.  Through the support of the poor and the needy we live of the Gospel command to love your neighbor.  Here are a few suggestions:  Bring a non-perishable item to church.  Starting this week a box will be placed in the entrance of the Church for you to place these items in.  These items will be placed on the table in the hall for use during our community meal.  Volunteering at the Community Meal.  If you have spare time you can practice almsgiving by giving of your time on the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Thursday of the Month at the Community Meal.  We gather in the hall around 3:00 pm to set up the hall and serve until 6:30 pm.  The clean-up is done and we are gone by 7:30 pm.  Come for all or part of it.  Almsgiving also includes money.  If you fast from a meal take the money you would save and give it to the poor and needy.  All of these are examples of almsgiving and should be a part of our Lenten journey.

Confession needs to be a part of our Lenten Journey.  Confession is vital to the life of an Orthodox Christian.  If it has been some time since you have been to confession make this the year you return.  Don’t wait until the last minute; confession will be available after Vespers on Saturday night as well as after all of the Service of Holy Week up to Holy Friday.  Make every effort to make a good confession during this time of the year.

The Spirit of Great Lent
It is important for us to remember that we need to focus on the spirit of Great Lent and not just the legality of Great Lent.  We can get lost in the details of what we are eating and what we are not supposed to eat and that defeats the entire purpose.  As I have mentioned before, if you finish Lent the same way you started it did not work.  Focus on the spirituality of Great Lent this year and all of the other things will work themselves out.

As part of our Lenten prayers we should try to pray the Prayer of St. Ephraim once a day.  Take a few moments each day to say this short prayer.

O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen

Please know that I will continue to pray for all of your during this Holy season of the Church.

Monastic Practice ~ Work

As I have written before, the monastic life is like a three legged stool.  One of those legs is prayer, the other is divine reading and the third, and the subject of this essay, is work.

Monastic work is very different from the work we might perform in the secular world as it focus is not on us but on the other.  Our work is an expression of our love, not the love of work or the love of money, but the love of the community and of the other.  Self-forgetful service to the community is a movement out of me and a movement toward the other; it is a movement of giving and a movement of love.  If our work loses the intent to serve the other, then it becomes merely a means of support and less a monastic practice.

By our work we intend to accomplish something good for others or ourselves.  If this is not our mission then we are not working we are just simply playing.  We have to put ourselves wholeheartedly into our work and accomplish it fairly well then and only then can we take pride in our accomplishments, not for our won glory but for that of the other.

The early monastics in the Egyptian desert refused alms even from their own relatives.  Rather they worked and earned their bread by their own hands by their own labor.  This form of manual labor offers a distinct value in the spiritual life.  If we rely only on two legs of the monastic stool, that of prayer and reading, the monastic can get restless and start to think about other things.  Manual labor helps to keep us focused on God.  This is true if you remove one of the other legs of the stool.  A balanced life is what the monk strives for.

Josemaria Escriva, founder of the Roman Catholic Opus Dei said this about our work; “Your work too must become a personal prayer, it must become a real conversation with Our Father in heaven.”  Manual labor should not have priority over liturgical prayer or divine reading but for the work to have value there must be balance between our work, prayer, and reading.  They must flow in and from each other.  For one who truly knows how to work their work can be a prayer.

In the monastic life, work and prayer can converge in to a single point.  That point of convergence is a heart that is penetrated with love.  Work and prayer are both expressions of love if they are done for the other.  All of my work can become prayer if I do it under obedience for the good of others and for the glory of the Holy Trinity.  We work for the same reason we pray and practice divine reading; we do this a means of truly seeking God.

Monastic Practice ~ Liturgical Prayer

Another one of the legs of the stool of monastic life is Liturgical Prayer.  We encounter the word of God in Liturgical Prayer as we do in Sacred Reading.  We need to move from an encounter with the written word to a deeper relationship with the living God of the Scripture.  Liturgy Prayer will aid us in that journey.

One of the things that monasteries are known for is the liturgical services that the monastery has during the day.  The complete round of services is a major part of the life of the monastery and perhaps is the only way that one might come in contact with the monks.  Communal prayer is extremely important in the life of the monk.  Here at St. Columba we serve Matins and Vespers each day as public services but also pray Compline each night.

Liturgical prayer is a continuation of our day and part of our daily rhythm and not an interruption in the day or a distraction from the work we might be engaged in when the bells rings.  When we gather for liturgical prayer we bring all of the concerns of the day to the prayer.  We lay them at the feet of God and ask that His will be done in each of the situations we remember.

Orthodox liturgy hits all of the senses.  The sights, the sounds, the smells of liturgy draw us into a living existence.  Prayer is not a static arrangement but a living and breathing part of our day.  Liturgical prayer deepens our personal prayer and deepens our relationship with the Living God and with each other.

We use the Psalms in our liturgical prayer and through the seasons of the church year we will be able to grasp in a deeper sense the meaning of the ancient prayers.  We need to make them our own prayer and harmonize our heart with our voice so that we will be honoring God with our hearts and our lips.

In his rule for monasteries, St. Benedict assumed that the monks would know the Psalms by heart.  Most of the monks of his day could not read so they would commit all of the Psalms to memory.  Although this is not necessary we should try to at least commit some of our favorite Psalms to memory for use during the day.

Part of the cell rule in the monastery, or the personal prayer routine of the monks, portions of the Psalms are read each day so the monk reads through the entire books of Psalms each week.  The Psalms become part of us as we move through the seasons of our life.

The Liturgical life of the monastery directly reflects the community life of the monastery.  If there is conflict in the community there will be conflict in the prayer of the community.  Because liturgical prayer looks forward to the Kingdom of God the prayer of the community will strengthen each of the members and will foster the loving unity that will characterize the community of believers when God has become all in all.

“Liturgical prayer is designed to lead us ever deeper into the mystery of Christ until we live not for ourselves but for him who died for all humanity and rise again.  Learning the full meaning of liturgical prayer and being transformed by it will occupy us for a lifetime.” (Monastic Practices)

Monastic Practice ~ Divine Reading

How does one live the monastic life in this crazy world that we live in?  What are the aspects of the monastic life that even lay people can use in their everyday life to enhance their walk with the Lord?

The monastic life is like a three legged stool based on Sacred Reading, Manual Work, and Liturgical Prayer.  Each of these legs is important in the life of the monk and without one the stool will not stand.  Each of these legs needs to be worked on and worked at if they are going to keep the life of the monk balanced.

Sacred Reading is not a new practice but is as old as the Church.  For generations monks have made this a part of their daily practice.  It is also, I believe, one of the lest understood legs of the monastic stool.

It can be said that once you are schooled in a particular spirituality then you remain in that spirituality for the rest of your days.  I was schooled in the Benedictine Monastic tradition and this influences my spirituality today.  I am also school in the Celtic Spirituality and this influences my spiritual life as well.  Both spiritualities practiced some form of sacred reading.

In the monasteries of St. Benedict he allotted two to three hours a day during the summer months and up to five hours during the winter months.  So Scared Reading was important to St. Benedict and his monasteries.  St. Benedict believed that idleness was the enemy to the soul and so he prescribed reading and manual labor to his monks.

Sacred Reading is the process of assimilating the word of God by letting its very meaning spread through your blood to all parts of your body.  To become one with the Word so you can become one with the Word.

What is the process of Sacred Reading?

1.  Time ~ There needs to be a set time, not only a length of time but a time of the day.  It has been suggested that you start with no less than a half hour per sitting.  The time of the day is up to you but it should be a time that works and will have the least amount of distractions.  If that is even possible in out busy daily lives.

2.  Place ~ The place you choose is as important as the time you choose.  It needs to be a comfortable place, not too cold not too hot, and free of distractions.  No radio or other sound.  You need to feel at home in this place and relaxed.

3.  Be at Peace ~ The Word of God will speak to us if we are in a state of relaxed peacefulness and we are also willing to accept the Word that will be spoken We need a sense of quiet receptivity to the Word.

4.  Prayer ~ As with anything, this will be a grace guided activity so one needs to pray before starting.  Pray that God truly speaks to you through His Word.  Use your own words or if you like the words spoken prior to the reading of the Gospel during the Divine Liturgy:  Enkindle in our hearts the pure light of your divine knowledge, O master, lover of mankind, and open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of your evangelical proclamations.  Instill in us so that, trampling down all bodily desires, we may practice a spiritual life, thinking and doing all which pleases you.

What Scripture passage to start with?

The easiest answer to this question is to use the Scripture the Church selects for each day of the week.  These can be found in many places but one of the most comprehensive lists on the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.  If you wish, although I do not suggest this to start with, you can just let the Bible fall open to any Scripture passage you wish.

The 12th Century Carthusian Guigo, wrote an essay called the ladder.  In this letter he lists four rungs of spiritual reading.  These are not steps that one moves up each one after completing the previous, but used more as a guide of the process of spiritual reading. The four rungs are:


Let us now look at each of these.

Reading ~  Begin with a careful attentive survey of the passage.  Grasp the central idea that the author is trying to convey.  Listen to what the text is saying, what is being said and not being said.  Ask what the meaning of the situation or the text is.  Where is it taking place and who is it addressed too?

Meditation ~ Turn the passage over in your mind.  Chew on it, ask questions about it.  Again note what is said and not said and ask why.  If you get stuck on a particular word or phrase stick with it and find out what it is saying to you.  Probe the passage for the underlying meaning and hear the words as if they were written just for you.

Prayer ~ Shift from the text you are reading to God.  Move from the word, the Divine Speaker of the Word, to the Word, God.  Dialogue with God about what you have just read and ask questions of how this may or may not apply to your life.

 ~ Rest in the presence of God.  Let the words wash over you and be at peace with them and with God.  Just bask in the Divine Light of the Lord and the Word.  Remain with God and listen with the ear of your heart not the ear of your mind.  Meet the Lord in the mystery of the silence you now sit in, the silence created without and the silence created within.

This is not an easy process or procedure to follow and it will seem difficult at first.  It will be dry and it will take some time to get used too.  You will feel like your wasting your time, but what a better way to waste time then wasting time with God and His Word?  Monks have been practicing Sacred Reading for years and it takes that long to get into it. 

Just start and let God work in your life.  Once you get into it you will notice a difference in your life.  The Word of God is living and it needs to live in each one of us.  It will be fruitful and multiply if you let it.