Old Testament Roots
In Psalm 33, the Prophet-King David sings the sublime hymn familiar to us from the Divine
Liturgy, where it follows the prayer behind the ambo after all have received the Body and Blood
of the God-Man.
"I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
In the Lord shall my soul be praised; let the meek hear and be glad
O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.
I sought the Lord and He heard me, and delivered me from all my tribulations.
Come unto Him and be enlightened, your faces shall not be ashamed.
The poor man cried, the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his tribulations.
The angel of the Lord will encamp round about them that fear Him, and will deliver them.
O fear the Lord, all ye His saints, for there is no want to them that fear Him.
Rich men have turned poor and gone hungry; but they that seek the Lord shall not be
deprived of any good thing.
Come ye children, harken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
What man is there that desireth life, who loveth to see good days?
Keep thy tongue from evil, thy lips from speaking guile.
Turn away from evil, do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their supplication.
The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, utterly to destroy the remembrance of
them from the earth.
The righteous cried, the Lord heard them, He delivered them out of all their tribulations.
The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart, and He will save the humble of spirit.
Many are the tribulations of the righteous, and the Lord shall deliver them out of them all.
The Lord keepth all their bones, not one of them shall be broken.
The death of sinners is evil, and they that hate the righteous shall do wrong.
The Lord will redeem the souls of His servants, and none of them will do wrong that hope in Him."
These beautiful verses and even more beautiful by answering one of the most fundamental,
existential questions of life with three simple commandments. If one truly desires to live life to
the fullest, all that is required is to control the tongue by speaking honestly, to renounce evil in
order to do good, and to not simply seek peace but purse it.
What is a Monk?
The pursuit of peace, or in the vocabulary of the Fathers of the Egyptian desert, repose, is the beginning of the ascetic life of every Christian, and for those called to make the pursuit of a life in and with Christ with complete singleness of mind, the very grounds of monasticism. As St. John Climacus writes in the opening paragraphs of his great treatise on monastic life, The Ladder of Divine Ascent: God belongs to all free beings. He is the life of all, the salvation of all... The Christian is one who imitates Christ in thought, word, and deed, as far as is possible for human beings, believing rightly and blamelessly in the Holy Trinity.
The lover of God is he who lives in communion with all that is natural and sinless, and as far as he is able neglects nothing good. The continent man is one who lives in the midst of temptations, snares, and turmoil, and who is eager to imitate with all his might those who are free from turmoil. Monasticism is an angelic order and state achieved in an earthly and soiled body.
A monk is one who is one who constantly constrains his nature and unceasingly watches over his senses. A monk is he who keeps his body in chastity, his mouth pure, and his mind illumined. A monk is a mourning soul that both asleep and awake is unceasingly occupied with the remembrance of death. Withdrawal from the world is voluntary hatred of vaunted material things and denial of nature for the attainment of what is above nature. A single life of asceticism (which is the core meaning of the word "monasticism"; or in Syriac ihidayutha – a life of oneness), even in the texts quoted, is not a life without trial and tribulation, quite the opposite, it is a life of spiritual warfare that requires utmost faith that in the end God saves. Indeed, faith that God not only rescues one of trials and suffering, but enable the entire person of the self to acquire the gift of hesychia, which some translate as "tranquility"; or in the charming expression of St, Isaac the Syrian, "limped purity"; of thoughts and the vision of God as Love.
However, the monastic life in no way an escape from daily life, exactly the opposite, for in no way is one absolved from the Commandment of God to love one's neighbor. As St. Isaac himself writes, in his Fifth Ascetic Homily:
Love the poor that through them you also may find mercy. Do not keep company with the disputations, lest you be forced to take leave of your calm. Bear the noisome smells of the sick without disgust, especially the poor, you too are wrapped in a body. Do not rebuke those who are afflicted in heart, lest you be scourged with the selfsame rod: when you seek consolation and will find none. Do not disdain those deformed from birth, all of us go to the grave equally privileged. Love sinners, but hate their works, do not despise them for your faults, lest you be tempted by the same. Remember you share the earthly nature of Adam and are clothed with his infirmity. Do not reprove those in need of prayer, neither withhold tender words of comfort from them, lest they perish and their souls be required of you, rather do as the physicians, who cure diseases, the feverish with cooling remedies, the more chilling with their opposites. When you meet your fellow man, constrain yourself to pay him more honor than is his due. Kiss his hands and feet, often take his hands with deep respect, put them over your eyes, and praise him for what he does not even possess. When he parts from you, say every good thing about him, whatever commands respect. By these and similar acts, you draw him to good and make him feel ashamed
because of the gracious names by which you have called him, thus sowing seeds of virtue in him.
Baptism into Crucifixion
Clearly, that the unyielding, singular commitment to Christ that grounds monastic
asceticism demands the acquisition of a heart at peace with God and of love free of judgment,
the easy burden and yoke of Christ... but it is also the way of the Cross itself, as the ever- memorable contemporary Archbishop Averky (Taushev) writes in his monograph The Struggle for Virtue...the fulfillment of the evangelical commandments, or the performing of good works, is an essential foundation for the spiritual life. One who disregards the fulfillment of the commandments and does not perform good works is alien to true spiritual life. However, the evil habits and sinful disposition of the soul that live in us resist the fulfillment of the commandments and the performance of good works. Every time we would like to perform some good work, we must overcome and suppress in ourselves one evil habit or another that protests against the good work we would like to accomplish. In this manner, a battle emerges in the soul between good aspirations and evil habits. So it is that one considering a monastic life, must start with understanding that the path before them is one of spiritual training (which is the original meaning of asceticism) themselves to becoming themselves crucified in Christ.
In fact, the monastic tonsure, the rite by which a person who has matured in the life of being single-mindedly Christian, is categorized as a type of second baptism, in which the monk receives a new name.
Conversely, it may be said that undertaking the monastic life is simple making the commitment to an authentic living out the renunciation of "the world, the flesh, and the devil" made as part of one's Baptism into the death and Resurrection of our Lord, such as satisfy St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16:
"I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to naught: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ."
The Mind of Christ: a Little Corner of Paradise
To acquire the Mind of Christ authentically and fully within their own personhood is the single-minded goal of the monastic, it is the peace that passes all understanding, and its hoped- for consummation, in this life or the next, is the repose of theosis, participation in the unity of the energies of God, Who Is, and Is Love. It is in theosis that the fullness of the promise of the Resurrection, salvation from the death of Adam and Eve. As St Ephraim the Syrian described and St. Gregory of Nyssa preached, the in theosis that each person restoration to Paradise, to Eden itself, being granted the gift of dwelling in the presence of God, or in the words of the modern Romanian Elder Paisius (Olaru) of Sihla, one acquires that "little corner of paradise" in which we can all hope to meet.