Orthodox America

  The Mission of Monasticism

Everything that we hold best in the Serbian people was given to us by monastic saints: Saint Sava, St. Simeon-and all the saints of the Nemanjic dynasty.  They founded all the holy churches and monasteries and furnished us with all the holy patriarchs, archbishops and bishops. They gave us and handed down to us the holy Orthodox Faith; and that means the salvation of the soul, the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life. -Archimandrite Justin Popovich

The communists arrested monastics as "parasites.' Through the eyes of the secular world, this image is not much improved.  Even among many Christians, the perception is that monastics have selfishly withdrawn from the world to seek God while neglecting that great commandment: Love thy neighbor as thyself.  It is easier to find some "worth" among those monastics who are engaged in some form of social or charitable activity. Mother Theresa is much admired for her work among the poor, and in the Orthodox tradition it is not uncommon for a monastic community, particularly a convent, to have a school, an orphanage, a hospice or an old age home attached. But while such "tangible" activity may serve as a measure of value according to the world's standards, the real value of monasticism and its principal contribution to society lies hidden from the world.

Hieromonk Amphilochije Radovich, in introducing his article, "The Significance of Serbian Women's Monasticism" (Orthodox Life No. 6, 1984), writes:

"By its nature, Orthodox monasticism has had from time immemorial a twofold influence and significance in the life of the Church and the world in which it finds itself. Firstly, monasticism is an institution and calling, a historical witness and reminder to man and world of their escha-tological reality.  Secondly, by its presence and activity in the world it has transfigured the environment in which it is found. Whether we talk of specially elected individuals or of monastic centers, their spiritual and moral influence on society has always been of priceless significance. An understanding of this significance is further developed by Metropolitan Anastassy in his essay, A Defense of Monasticism (Jordanville 1989): "In the person of its ascetics, the entire Church intercedes for the world and the world does not know how often they turned aside the righteous wrath of God with their prayers and inclined Divine compassion toward it once again.  The very existence of these righteous ones manifests redemption for the entire human race. /.../  It is precisely thanks to their isolation from the world that ascetics acquire for people such spiritual treasures which cannot be provided by any other benefactor of mankind, whether he be a great scholar, a writer of genius, a philanthropist, an outstanding statesman, or an economist.  They bind together earth and heaven, lifting people up to a truly superhuman, genuinely divine dignity, reveal to them great truths hidden from us, which is the crown of human knowledge, and keep vigil over the world by their intercession before God, preserving it from the destructive effects of the elements or from the diverse waves of moral wickedness and the snares of the evil one.

"Their example involuntarily prompts to imitation all who can endure, if only in the slightest degree, a similar ascetic struggle.  It speaks to each Christian heart more effectively than the most impressive rhetoric and summons us to virtue.  Through their prayers, their instructions, ages and generations are nourished and live."

At their council meeting in November, the bishops of the Russian Church Abroad addressed a letter "to the Suffering Serbian People," expressing sympathetic concern for them in their present tragic condition.  "We pray that the Serbian Church, which has raised many of our best pastors, will again breathe freely and restore not only the destroyed and desecrated temples of stone, but also the temples of human souls."

Let us act on this prayer.  By assisting in the renewal of spiritual havens such as the Milkovo Monastery, we can help, in our small way, to strengthen the moral fibre of the Serbian people and restore their Orthodox consciousness.

Not only in Serbia but everywhere, monastic communities are a needed and valuable spiritual resource. We who live in the world can help repay the debt we owe to our monasteries and convents by giving them our financial support.