Why does one become a monastic?

What is a monk? One who strives to love God with all his heart, all his soul and all his mind and all his strength, and to love his neighbor as himself. Monasticism is the heart of the Christian Church. It is radical discipleship to Christ, taking the Lord at His word in the Scriptures, and striving to live by it in an integral way.

Monasticism is not about being all dressed up. It is not about doing all the church services. It is not about being involved in church politics, or even knowing about them. Monasticism is not about religion—all the practices, beliefs, rituals and traditions. It is not about ascetic acts. It is not about a solitary life of pursuing one’s own religious path.

Monasticism is about living the Gospel without compromise. It is about living in Christ by the Holy Spirit, and growing by grace to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Monasticism is about life lived in obedience to Christ, in self-denial and bearing the cross of whatever suffering God sends us to help us work out our salvation.

Monasticism is about working out our salvation in a community of likeminded men, by learning to love our brother “who is our life” (St Silouan). A monastery is a single body, a sacramental community of the Church, like a marriage. It is a community in which each is present to help the other work out his salvation. We are not saved alone. We are saved as the Body of Christ. The Body is constituted by communion in love: in one mind and heart, with one will and one life. To build that unity in Christ by the Spirit, in one will and vision, is the common task of the brotherhood. It is the means by which we transcend our isolated individualism, our falleness, and attain to true personhood. Our true personhood embraces all in the one mystical Person of Christ. This is the real ascetic task: to overcome our individual isolation, our egoism, our self-centeredness and self-love, and all our agendas and concepts of ourself and even of God. Ultimately, it is to embrace the whole world, the whole creation, and each person, in love.

Who can become a monk? Anyone. BUT, that does not mean that everyone is called to it. It is a calling, a charism, a gift. There are no impediments to becoming a monk. But not every community is able to receive everyone.

It is important to remember that monastic life is about striving for Christ. A monastery is not a psychiatric hospital, not a poorhouse, retirement home, group home or halfway house. To use it as such is to abuse it. To try to use it as a means to escape the responsibilities of life, or in order to be taken care of, will only lead to disappointment. This does not mean that the monastery does not take care of the ill, elderly or those in need. Those are important ministries of a monastic community. But to join the monastery to try to escape the necessities of living, working and relating in the world is to come to it for the wrong reason. The only reason to join the monastery is for the love of Christ, and the desire to follow Him.

Preparation for Monastic Life

St Ignatiy Brianchaninov writes that God-pleasing life in the world is the most important preparation for monastic life. This means to fulfill all one’s responsibilities, and live according to the commandments, working to support oneself, and being merciful to the needy. And, of course, one must go to church, receive the sacraments, and live a life of prayer and fasting.

For the ancient Fathers, coming to baptism and entering monasticism went hand in hand. They renounced a sinful way of life and the world at the same time, and embraced the spiritual life in a radical way. This often happens in our own days as well. One should have a good foundation in the life of the Church before coming to the monastery. But, some come to the monastery directly out of the world. Each is called differently. What is important is a solid faith, a radical commitment to Christ, and a sense that the world holds nothing for oneself, but that our life consists entirely in the love of Christ.

To join the monastery, on a practical level, one should have all one’s debts paid off. Bankruptcy, for the sake of convenience or laziness, is not an option. It may be best to live close to the monastery while paying off one’s debts, and do whatever it is that will pay them off as quickly as possible, and honorably.
We must battle to overcome consumerism and worldliness while living in the world. The Lord calls us to be “in the world, but not of the world.” If one has children, or ill or elderly parents, one cannot simply abandon them. Their welfare must be seen to. This is an essential Christian duty, which as the Lord tells us, cannot be abolished. It also means that one might have to put off monastic commitment until such issues are resolved. Those issues have to be dealt with before one enters the community.

One cannot “retire” to a monastery. A monastery is a place of intense struggle, work and constant, demanding effort. Monks often work harder than those who are in the world, with hours per day of services on top of the work load. St Benedict’s motto was “Prayer and work.” We must strive to earn our own living by the work of our own hands. Everyone has to work, to contribute, to share the burden. The difference is that in the monastery, work is sanctified, and work sanctifies us, as our contribution to the life of the whole body. It is a means of serving one another, and of overcoming our selfishness.

Neither can one escape his problems or “issues” in the monastery. In contrast to living in the world, where there are endless distractions to keep us from confronting our problems, emotional and psychological issues, there are no distractions in the monastery. In the monastery, there are no television, movies, radio, newspapers, novels or friends, parties, alcohol or narcotics. There is only the silence, the services, our quiet work, and our prayers. And in the normal course of spiritual development, all our issues come up and hit us squarely in the face… 

Source: http://www.monasteryofstjohn.org/documents/abbatialessays/Why_be_a_monk.pdf

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