July 3, 2016

"The Fathers Who Made the Mountain Heavenly"

By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria

The Second Sunday of Matthew the Evangelist, as it is called in the language of our Church, is dedicated to all those Venerable and God-bearing Fathers who shined in asceticism and athleticism on the Holy Mountain.

Honored at the Sacred Garden of the Most Holy Theotokos, which was given as a "chosen place and mountain of inheritance" to her from her Son and God, are all those who lived in the area, and displayed it with their asceticism, angelic state and the grace given to them by God, to be a second heaven. It is "a second heaven," according to the expression of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite. Honored are Holy Hierarchs, Ascetics, Venerable Martyrs, Confessors and Hesychasts, known and unknown, who "bloomed as evergreen and most-fragrant lilies at the foot of the Mountain, and in its valleys and shores, as tall trees full of leaves," as the sacred hymnographer of their Service chants, Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite.

All these persons who lived through the centuries in the arena of Mount Athos became "dwelling-places of the divine virtues," as well as "treasuries of humility" and "workshops of everlasting prayer," who came "on behalf of all the beatitudes of the Lord":

"Poor in spirit, they became rich,
meek, they inherited the earth of the meek,
mourning, they were comforted,
hungry for righteousness, they were filled,
merciful, they received mercy,
pure in heart, they were able to see God,
peacemakers, they were made worthy of divine sonship,
persecuted and tormented on behalf of righteousness and piety,
they rejoice and are glad in the heavens."

This sacred synaxis gives us the opportunity to highlight some thoughts borrowed from patristic literature regarding the monastic state and the misunderstood nowadays institution of monasticism.

1. What are Monks?

Saint John Chrysostom, who also was a monk, recalls that monastics are "the Angels of God," who chose a life without troubles, in order to live the life of the gospel, and attain from the image to the likeness of God. They are those persons who - and we refer to genuine monasticism and not to certain ailing forms which appear nowadays covered with the mantle of secularism - live with nostalgia for eternal life. Their interest is on contemplating the name of God, namely prayer, and studying the Divine Scriptures, as well as performing their daily work of service, which ensures their livelihood.

"A monk’s wealth is the comfort that comes of mourning and the joy that comes of faith, shining the inner chamber of the intellect," writes Saint Isaac the Syrian. The monk is not involved in the certainties of life, nor do they accept in their life ephemeral riches and glory. What primarily interests them is to cleanse themselves through repentance of the passions and acquire spiritual wealth, which is the presence of Christ within them. And Saint Isaac will add: "Being occupied with many things is a sure sign of a monks porousness, towards the readiness to cultivate the commandments of Christ and reveals their inferiority to the divine."

"A monk," according to Saint John Climacus, "is he who controls his nature with violence 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." They seek to behold the face of Christ and be found with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven.

These monks, the genuine, purified, illumined, godlike, earthly angels and heavenly men, as were precisely the Athonite Fathers, are called by the pillar of Orthodoxy, Athanasius the Great "voluntary martyrs," and Saint Symeon the New Theologian calls them "continuators of the martyric Church of Christ."

2. Their Offering

A genuine monk, like we encounter in the texts of the Holy Fathers and as we experience them in the persons of the Venerable Elders of our age, such as Saint Porphyrios of Kavsokalyva, and the contemporaries Elder Ieronymos of Simonopetra, Ephraim of Katounakia, Paisios the Athonite, Joseph the Hesychast, Philotheos of Paros, Amphilochios of Patmos, Iakovos of the Monastery of the Venerable David, as well as many other contemporary monks, who do not have on their forehead the sign of the Savior, who do not speak of themselves, nor present themselves, but disappear and only present Christ, these are soldiers of Christ, according to the expression of Basil the Great, and their offering is immeasurable.

They offer the service of prayer, they offer service to the brethren, they offer the safeguarding of doctrines, they offer to culture, they offer to the Church as well as to the nation. And the monastery in which a monk dwells is a mighty spiritual fortress. It is a bright beacon that illuminates man's passage to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a place that preserves evangelical perfection, patristic thought and ecclesiastical experience, thus replicating the life of Christ.

In a genuine monk we encounter a prophet with the all the features of the Holy Prophets. They feature love towards God, zeal for the rights of God, a call to monastic life, repentance, and treatment of the passions.

In a monk we encounter the presence of an Apostle. In their heart is the desire to spread the message of the gospel, through mission and sacrifice. For the monk applies the word of the Apostle Paul: "Seek not your own, but that of others." And as the apostolic life is characterized by poverty, in the same way the life of a monk is characterized by the same virtue.

In a monk we encounter a Martyr of the Church. A monk fights for freedom from his passions and at the same time struggles to keep the Orthodox doctrines and mindset.

This offering of a monk is clearly recorded in the writings of Saint Silouan the Athonite:

"There are people who say that monks ought to be of some use in the world, and not eat bread they have not toiled for; but we have to understand the nature of a monk's service and the way in which he has to help the world. A monk is someone who prays for the whole world, who weeps for the whole world; and in this lies his main work. But who is it that constrains him to weep for the whole world? The Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, incites him. He gives the monk the love of the Holy Spirit, and by virtue of this love the monk's heart forever sorrows over the people because not all men are saved. The Lord Himself so grieved over people that He gave Himself to death on the Cross. And the Mother of God bore in her heart a like sorrow for men. And she, like her beloved Son, desired with her whole heart the salvation of all. The same Holy Spirit the Lord gave to the Apostles, to our holy Fathers and to the pastors of the Church. This is how we serve the world. And this is why neither pastors of the Church nor monks should busy themselves with secular matters but should seek to be like the Mother of God, who in the Temple, in the 'Holy of Holies', day and night pondered the law of the Lord and continued in prayer for the people. It is not for the monk to serve the world with the work of his hands. That is the layman's business. The man who lives in the world prays little, whereas the monk prays constantly. Thanks to monks, prayer continues unceasing on earth, and the whole world profits, for through prayer the world continues to exist; but when prayer fails, the world will perish."

"Full of wonder are the Athonite Fathers, known and unknown, hierarchs and venerables, martyrs and God-bearing ascetics, intercede to the Lord on our behalf."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.