Friday, September 21, 2012


Marriage and Monastic Life

It is an unnecessary burden, really, in our culture that we do not have abundant monastic options. The monastic option is so difficult in North America that only the most zealous seek it out. The unfortunate consequence of this is that millions of people assume that marriage is the only normal option for a devout Christian. Single people feel uncomfortable and unconnected, either awkwardly attached to their family of origin or on their own, lonely, wondering what's wrong with themselves or seduced into immorality. Others eventually marry someone good enough, and with God's help the spouse and the children make up what is lacking in the communal existence of the formally single person. Some lose themselves in their work, never really experiencing the closeness, support, and burden that family (monastic or nuptial) supplies.

In traditional Orthodox countries, there are thousands of monasteries with hundreds of thousands of monks. Is the biology of men and women in North America and Western Europe really so different from the biology of men and women in Russian and Greece? Did God "just happen to" call many more men and women to monastic life in Russia and Greece while only calling a handful in North America and Western Europe? I don't think so.

Last night the brothers and I sat around after dinner discussing our callings. We each told the story of how we began in either monasticism or (in my case) the married life. The similarities were striking. For all of us, there was a moment of certainty, a moment of commitment, and a lifetime of struggle full of moments of joy, fulfillment, doubts and even second thoughts. Nevertheless. That's the word: nevertheless. Doubts and second guessing cannot be avoided. Our mind generates them against our will. However, we must live our life for Christ--this is where nevertheless comes in.

One may or may not have made the right choice. One may or may not have had the option of making a choice. One may or may not be in their ideal calling, married to their ideal mate, in their ideal occupation or career path. Nevertheless. Nevertheless, this is my life. This is what I have to offer God. It is this life that I have to give to God. It is this spouse I have to love. These are the children God has given me, or these are the monastic brothers and fathers or sisters and mothers God has given me. It might have been different, nevertheless, it is not. Nevertheless, this is the life I offer to God.

Fr. Abbot said an interesting word to me this week. He quoted the words of St. Paul, "All of the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ." We wrongly think our mistakes, our right or wrong choices, ruin God's plan for our life. To think thus is to have a very small view of God. If we go left, God will use it to make us like Christ. If we go right, God will use it to make us like Christ. We must do what seems best, what seems right at the time, yet we cannot know what is "really" right. Perhaps, sometimes there is no "really" right. God takes what we give Him. The promises of God are always yes in Christ, nevertheless.

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