Married or Monastic

Monasticism (from Greek: μοναχός, a solitary person) is the ancient Christian practice of withdrawal from the world in order to dedicate oneself fully and intensely to the life of the Gospel, seeking union with Jesus Christ. The focus of monasticism is on theosis, the process of perfection to which every Christian is called. This ideal is expressed everywhere that the things of God are sought above all other things, as seen for example in the Philokalia, a book of monastic writings. In other words, a monk or nun is a person who has vowed to follow not only the commandments of the Church, but also the counsels (i.e., vows of poverty, chastity, stability, and obedience). The words of Jesus which are the cornerstone for this ideal are “be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Today monasticism remains an important and vital part of the Orthodox Christian faith, and major monastic centers such as Mount Athos, St. Catherine’s Monastery (Sinai), and Hermitage of the Holy Cross are seeing a revival both in terms of the numbers of monks coming to take up the life and in terms of the intensity of the life being led. Pilgrims are also becoming more and more frequent, and rebuilding of many ancient centers of monasticism is moving forward at a high rate.

Per The Orthodox Christian Information Center in Orthodox Christian Monasticism,

“With the development of monasticism in the Church there appeared a peculiar way of life, which however did not proclaim a new morality. The Church does not have one set of moral rules for the laity and another for monks, nor does it divide the faithful into classes according to their obligations towards God. The Christian life is the same for everyone. All Christians have in common that “their being and name is from Christ”.  This means that the true Christian must ground his life and conduct in Christ, something which is hard to achieve in the world.

What is difficult in the world is approached with dedication in the monastic life. In his spiritual life the monk simply tries to do what every Christian should try to do: to live according to God’s commandments. The fundamental principles of monasticism are not different from those of the lives of all the faithful. This is especially apparent in the history of the early Church, before monasticism appeared.”

Can a married person live their life as a dedicated Orthodox Christian, as a Monastic does?  The short answer, in my opinion, is YES!.  I am married and a Priest, thus for me, living for Christ is priority.  He has blessed me with a family, thus for me, my family is also my priority, though Christ comes first!

St. Chrysostom is particularly emphatic on this point: “You greatly delude yourself and err, if you think that one thing is demanded from the layman and another from the monk; since the difference between them is in that whether one is married or not, while in everything else they have the same responsibilities… Because all must rise to the same height; and what has turned the world upside down is that we think only the monk must live rigorously, while the rest are allowed to live a life of indolence”. Referring to the observance of particular commandments in the Gospels, he says: “Whoever is angry with his brother without cause, regardless of whether he is a layman or a monk, opposes God in the same way. And whoever looks at a woman lustfully, regardless of his status, commits the same sin”.  In general, he observes that in giving His commandments Christ does not make distinction between people: “A man is not defined by whether he is a layman or a monk, but by the way he thinks”.

Christ’s commandments demand strictness of life that we often expect only from monks. The requirements of decent and sober behaviour, the condemnation of wealth and adoption of frugality, the avoidance of idle talk and the call to show selfless love are not given only for monks, but for all the faithful.

Saint Simeon the New Theologian observes: “Living in a city does not prevent us from carrying out God’s commandments if we are zealous, and silence and solitude are of no benefit if we are slothful and neglectful”. Elsewhere he says that it is possible for all, not only monks but laymen too, to “eternally and continuously repent and weep and pray to God, and by these actions to acquire all the other virtues.”

Many see celibacy as a defining characteristic of monastic life. This does not mean, however, that celibacy is the most important aspect of the monastic life: it simply gives this distinctiveness to this way of life. All the other obligations, even the other two monastic vows of obedience and poverty, essentially concern all the faithful. Needless to say, all this takes on a special form in the monastic life, but that has no bearing on the essence of the matter.

All Christians are obliged to keep the Lord’s commandments, but this requires effort. Fallen human nature, enslaved by its passions is reluctant to fulfill this obligation. It seeks pleasure and avoids the pain involved in fighting the passions and selfishness. The monastic life is so arranged as to facilitate this work. On the other hand the worldly life, particularly in our secular society, makes it harder to be an ascetic. The problem for the Christian in the world is that he is called upon to reach the same goal under adverse conditions.

One cannot deny that the monk and the married man have different ways of life, but this does not alter their common responsibility towards God and His commandments. Every one of us has his own special gift within the one and indivisible body of Christ’s Church. Every way of life, whether married or solitary, is equally subject to God’s absolute will. Hence no way of life can be taken as an excuse for ignoring or selectively responding to Christ’s call and His commandments. Both paths demand effort and determination.

Therefore, the rejection of worldly thinking is the duty not only of monks, but of all Christians. The faithful must not have a worldly mind, but sojourn as strangers and travelers with their minds fixed on God. Their home is not on earth, but in the kingdom of heaven: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come”.  The Church can be seen as a community in exodus. The world is its temporary home but the Church is bound for the kingdom of God. Just as the Israelites, freed from bondage in Egypt, journeyed towards Jerusalem through many trials and tribulations, so Christians, freed from the bondage of sin, journey through many trials and tribulations towards the kingdom of heaven.  From — http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/monasticism.php

We are all summoned to strive in prayer and work, as far as they are able, so that by the help of divine grace they may attain to Christian perfection and union with the Holy Trinity.  Some are called to serve the world by devoting all their energies to preaching the Gospel and tending the poor and needy.  Some are called to bring new life into the world through married love.

All men and women are called to love and serve God.

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About padrerichard

I am a Priest with ROCOR and serve as Rector at St. Joseph of Optina Parish in Virginia Beach, VA
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