7/7 – 7-20 2009 2009
7th Monday after Pentecost
The importance of Monasticism Dinner
Marina and I attended a fund-raising dinner for the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Women’s Monastery (http://monasteryfriends.org/) Sunday night, due to the gracious invitation of Sister Barbara. This convent is in the process of being formed. They are in the final stages of negotiation for a beautiful property in East Texas, about 2 hours from Dallas. I learned at the dinner that they were only $9000 short of the down payment of the property at the start of the dinner.
The dinner was at Bent Tree Country club, and featured excellent musical entertainment and a keynote speech by Metropolitan Jonah.
Two choirs performed Liturgical music in Slavonic and English as we were served the first course of salad. I am not a fan of choral music outside of church, but these performances were excellent. They did not sing too loud, or too shrill, or too operatic (all pet peeves of mine when it comes to church music). In fact, the music was very compunctionate and melodic. I especially appreciated the excellent blending of male and female voices. Although there where some quite beautiful voices that I could discern individually when I concentrated (the table I was at was directly in front of the singers), all the voices blended really well and no one voice stood out.
I remember thinking that excellent choral music such as this, is a profound “icon” of the virtues of humility and meekness. Everything in life is so much more pleasant when there is no pride! It is hard for me to eat when I hear choral music; it seems rude to eat when someone is praying! I especially remained stock still when the Our Father was sung, and noticed that the room was noticeably quieter, with almost no clinking of silverware during it.
After the choral performances, a string quartet (2 violins and a cello) performed “background music” during the dinner. I loved hearing the melodic and sonorous cello, which blended well with the violins.
I appreciated that dinner had options for non meat eaters, such of an oddball such as myself, and of course, monastics.
After dinner, Metropolitan Jonah gave a speech about the importance of monasticism, speaking from a single half sheet of notes. I do not think he will mind my characterization: he speaks like a “regular guy”, with humor and often a bit of a twinkle in his eye. He is very engaging and easy to listen to; He spoke simply and profoundly, and now I wish I had taken notes (but every time I take notes, I seem to lose them anyway).
The "take home" from his talk is this: the church is not healthy without healthy monasticism, and healthy monasticism is just like a healthy marriage in every important measurement.
He compared monasticism and marriage, using the monastic ideals of poverty, obedience, chastity and stability. It was a very interesting perspective, and I found myself nodding my head in agreement (internally I hope) many times. His approach reminded me somewhat of the book “The Arena” by St Bishop Ignati Briachaninov, who took great pains to explain that there is not an essential difference between monasticism and married life or any life in the world for that matter, because the goals are the same: live according to the commandments, and be purified.
Of course, the application of the monastic ideals in monasticism and life in the world differ in external details, but their essence is exactly the same. This is a powerful message, which needs to be inculcated in the minds of the faithful. The Metropolitan told us at the beginning that where monastic life is strong and lived according to the gospel, parish life is strong and lived according to the gospel. Where it is weak, or corrupt, parish life is weak and corrupt. Big head shake yes here!
When he said this, I though of places in our church in the whole of North America where Monasticism is weak, or even denigrated and censored from church life. There are great upheavals occurring in church life in many places in North America because some churches have no significant monastic witness, and even have a culture of distrust of monasticism, considering it to be anachronistic and not fit for the modern Orthodox Christian.
The balance of his talk explained the terms he introduced and gave examples in monastic life and life in the world, particularly married life.
Poverty. He clarified this term by stating that at its root is non-acquisitiveness. Whereas a monk may literally own nothing, and a Christian in the world has various possessions, nothing we own or use should possess use (he used the catchy phrase “our possessions should not possess us”) . This virtue is closely tied with detachment, which he spoke about at some length. This was more or less defined as caring about nothing else except God.
Obedience. It was pointed out that we all must be obedient to someone. There were several great examples that I unfortunately cannot call to mind at the moment. By the way, except when trying to summarize a lecture, it really does not matter if a person can recall exactly what the speaker said. Any good sermon or lecture imparts a feeling upon the listener that remains long after the exact details have faded. The “take home” about obedience: people obey those they love.
He paused to remark with evident affection about Archbishop Dmitri’s relationship with his entire flock, and especially his priests, that they were obedient because they loved him and sensed his love for them. This comment and the body language of both Archpastors was for me a word picture worth a thousand words and worth the price of admission all by itself, as they say.
Chastity. He dispelled the notion that chastity means sexual abstinence. It includes is of course, but sexual abstinence, or in married life, sexual self-control is a natural extension of chastity, which he defined as “integrity”. This makes chastity a much deeper virtue than many people think of it as, (and (he emphasized), as binding and necessary for an unmarried monk and a married person in the world.
Stability. He also discussed detachment here. If we are never satisfied with what we have, we will make no progress in the spiritual life.
This is a short summary of the talk. I believe it was recorded, so you can see how well I did when I get the URL for you. AS I said above, exact details are not important; but the feelings I experienced are.
Of course, he was preaching to the choir; I believe with all my heart that the Orthodox Church must be monastic. This is why I thank God that I not only become Orthodox, but through no intelligence of my own, have been a part of ROCOR for all my Christian life. In my opinion, in all the churches in ROCOR I have ever been in, monasticism is integrated into the culture.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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 Our choir has none of these bad habits. I have been around the block a few times, as they say, and I prefer our little choir to anything I have ever heard. We are peaceful and melodic, and thank God, there is no “drama”. Way to go, guys (and girls)!