One of the things that drew me to Orthodox Christianity is monasticism. These people were,and still remain, unique examples of what it is to follow Jesus. They attend church services, at least, two or three times a day. They pray as they work. Their meal time is spent with the words of scriptures and stories of saints. Except for liturgical vestments, everyone is dressed in the same, simple garments. Monks and nuns renounce not only sinful pursuits. They also have rejected respectable careers, loving marriages, decent hobbies, and other things we consider good in the worldly kingdom so that they can focus solely on the kingdom of heaven.
Of course, Jesus never called everyone to this sort of lifestyle. But, as I journey in the faith, I see tremendous value in striving to emulate those who have. Consider how many of us are addicted to pursuing entertainment by TV. While some programs may be educational and it is good to keep abreast of things newsworthy (not everything in the news is worthy of attention), too much of what is on television is based on sensuality and ego-driven self-help. Refraining from television during fasting periods and replacing that time with prayer, spiritual reading, or helping people in need does our souls a far greater good than following empty comedies and meaningless dramas. The monastic lays aside personal gain and follows the instruction of a seasoned and wise elder. Our society is deeply committed to individualism and self confidence. While everyone should gain some skills in their various occupations, no one ever succeeds in life by themselves. We all need to be taught, trained, and guided. The ability to be an effective father or mother in the faith is given by God through much patience, effort, and a humble spirit.
St. Macarius is well renowned for his spiritual wisdom. Yet, one of his prayers begins with these words,
Oh Lord, forgive me a sinner, for I have never done anything right …”
This man has fasted and prayed as much as any of the holy men of ancient Christianity. But, he uses a language that puts himself at the same level as the tax-collector in our Lord’s parable. Macarius also is said to have not considered himself a true monk and that there were others who have pursued the holy life with greater fervor than himself. The mind of a monastic is always to consider one’s self as not yet attaining righteousness while doing everything to seek it. This humble mind frame keeps us from thinking too much of ourselves and from complacency in the pursuit of God. Let us not forget that God gives grace to the humble.