St. Demetrios Orthodox Monastery is located near the intersection of Catharpin Rd. and Brock Rd. in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. To the north and east on Catharpin Rd, lies Old Plank Rd, which is also intersected by Brock Rd to the North. Further east lies Fredericksburg. During the American Civil War, the Confederate General Longstreet on marched his troops past the where the monastery is, while the Union General Hancock marched from Chancellorsville toward him. To lay east and south, General J.E.B Stuart, while the main action of the Battle of the Wilderness was engaged along the Plank Rd. The battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness, were bloody, difficult encounters in a brutal war that pitted brothers against brothers.
How providential! St. Demetrios, a military saint, would have understood the complexity and challenges of this engagement. More significantly, he understands its allegorical value as well, for the effort to bring humanity to life in Christ is one of spiritual warfare and intercedes with God on our behalf. Orthodox Christianity understands spiritual warfare as a life-creating process, restoring to health those who lost in the wilderness of despondency and despair, struggling with living according to the law of love. Orthodox Monasticism is an even more intensive form of spiritual warfare. The ascetical attitude is the pursuit to make personal the meaning of the Life-giving Cross, for us as sinners and rebels against the God of Love to re-enter the Kingdom, for it is by force that the violent take hold of the Kingdom (Matthew 11:12). Moreover, to take up the labor as asceticism for the sake of Christ, not for self, but to requite the love of God on the Cross, is to pit brothers against each other, the temptations of the world and passions of the body against the practice of virtue and the repose of the soul in lipidity, the fruit of silence-loving peace, hesychia, and the vision of God. Hence, our monastery, located in the Wilderness, is on the same evangelic road as those on the Road to Emmaus, contending with doubts and fears over the events of the day, while seeking to know the Truth of Resurrection, and conversion from Death to Life. (Luke 16: 13-49). The account in the Gospel according to St. John 12:20-26, is a different encounter with strangers visiting the Jerusalem, the city of Peace:
And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again, Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.
The Monastic Desert
Inhabiting your own desert begins with obedience to the Christ and the Church, as well as a spiritual father. One must be very attentive to what he or she says, thinks, and how one acts. Developing a way of life grounded in silence helps rid us of many evil things that come about from our own flesh. The 'desert' may be built in our modern age in secluded areas, in the closing of our doors for prayer (St. Matthew 6:6), or even in an intentional moment of stillness. However, one way to engage in this inner life more deeply and wholly is through living a monastic lifestyle. This may be accomplished personally- connected with spiritual guidance- but is best done within a monastic community...