The Orthodox-Catholic Church of America has been moving decisively and carefully to restore its connection with simple, pre-denominational primitive Christianity, both in its public worship and in its ecclesiology. It has been amply demonstrated, for example, that the primitive church was motivated by joy, enthusiasm, a common vision, and enormous variety of expression. So too, the monastic spirit within the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America manifests remarkable variety and individuality, and unified by a spirit of happiness, a fervor for liturgy and prayer, and a passion for historical study.
It has been observed that the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America is itself very much like a religious order. Indeed there are a small but significant number of clergy and members of the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America who identify with the monastic vocation, deriving enormous strength from the ancient monastic rules and practices of the Christian East as well as of the Christian West.
This is a commitment to contemplation, to the seeking of God, to ceaseless prayer, and to ceaseless conversion. Saint Basil advocates for three pillars of monastic observance: prayer, spiritual comfort, and hospitality, while Saint Benedict and many of the desert fathers and mothers would add work, for a monastic should be self-supporting. In our time we find a commitment to a rational living tradition that honors all the traditional elements while supporting the quest for God and for lasting happiness.
Monasticism represents a response to the invitation to follow Christ; and as such its asceticism involved a detachment from the world and its distractions. One of the goals of the renewal of monasticism in the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America has been to recover and re-claim, as much as possible, the original character, spirit, and charism of the early church.
As modern Christians, the call to detachment, or non-attachment, is no less radical. Increasingly, the monastic ideals of simplicity, detachment, and separation find themselves manifesting psychologically rather than physically, under the general rubric of moderation rather than severity. The mandate of poverty in this century may be better understood as a call to recognize our inherent poverty of knowledge, wisdom and insight. Obedience to the needs of the poor and oppressed, to the sense of the faith community, and to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is of greater importance than unquestioning immediate obedience of a charismatic leader. The call to chastity, likewise, is not so much a matter of sexual abstinence as it is a call to find holiness and divinity in all aspects of life, without objectifying, manipulating or demeaning other people. The call to chastity is a call to live faithfully, authentically and charitably, to love deeply and heartily, to love one another as we love ourselves, and to see the living Christ in one another, and to strive to love others as Christ loves us.
Historically, there have always been those who have lived as monastics without taking vows, just as there have been countless monastics who have chosen to frame their lives within the context of formal vows. In the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America and in other jurisdictions, there are those who choose to identify simply as monastics, with a deeply personal understanding of asceticism along with a practical rule of prayer that accommodates to modern life. Without presuming to catalogue or enumerate further the varieties of monastic practice or experience, it may be helpful to take note of those common elements by which monasticism is characterized.
Abba Zacharias said that anyone who controls himself and makes himself content with just what he needs and no more, is indeed a monk. In a spirit of simplicity, we are called to embrace the present moment with its joys and sorrows, silence and loneliness, emptiness and poverty, euphoria and sweetness.
2. Solitude and Prophetic Witness
Without physical monasteries, the monastics in the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America follow the example of the apostles. They seek to follow God s call to embody love and bring the gospel freely to all. This manifests as a willingness even as an obligation to publicly proclaim oneself as a Christian.
The other side of this prophetic witness lies in the anonymity and invisibility of the prophet, the privilege of solitude and silence, and the seeming irrelevance of the monastic in the modern world. Many of us have elected to depart, and to live on the sometimes ragged edges of society and of organized religion. It is on this frontier, often in the middle of our overcrowded cities, that we truly confront our own limits as well as those of the established religious structures that have so badly failed to serve humanity. Like leaven, monastics quietly penetrate every stratum of society, recognizing that it may often be necessary or expedient to keep one s monastic vocation an entirely private matter.
We are called to a joyful sorrow that praises God with tears of joy and repentance. In the acceptance of our humanity, we are called to keep our rule of prayer, to pray constantly, and to be united with God, and to glorify God alone in all things and at all times. To rest in God and to live in God is the unremitting call, and for some of us, the words of St. Teresa of Avila apply: Let nothing disturb you, nothing affright you. All things are passing, God alone abides. Patient endurance attains to all things. Who God possess nothing shall want. God alone is everything. God alone suffices.
Stability, as a monastic value, suggests as well that the monastic be called to flourish in the place where one finds oneself. We are called to flourish in our relationships, in our parish communities, in our jurisdiction, and in our secular employment, not moving from one to another, not wandering aimlessly. The call to stability is the call to give attention to our environment, to invest our talents here and now, to give away all that we have, so that we may bring the gospel message to the world.
To restore a sense of balance, connection, and organic unity with the world and to return to a relationship with the God of all creation who seeks to be united with us in every moment and movement of our lives is a significant prophetic role for monastics. It is in seeking God that we find ourselves, and it is in loving one another that we begin to discern God s love for us and for all of creation.
6. Obedience and Service
We are called to have a rule of life and prayer, by which we may live and with which we may nourish our souls. More immediately, we are called daily to the needs of others. From earliest times, a key tenet of monastic life has been that monastics do not beg or seek alms but are self supporting: a monastic should always work in order to have enough resources to provide for daily needs, and enough to provide charitable assistance to the poor and those who are ill. Ultimately, we are called to a cluster or relationships, and to love, serve, and honor other people in society, as well as the environment, God, and ourselves.
Christianity, and Christian monasticism, is rooted in relationships, and the monastic vocation can be learnt and appreciated only in relationship and community. Nobody can learn much of lasting value about relationships or monasticism from books alone; it is essential to go and see how life and the monastic life style is lived by people. For many of us in the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America, the reality of the monastic vocation can best be discerned by immersion in the ordinary daily living-out of the monastic values of simplicity, meditation, work, and corporate liturgical prayer.
As the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America seeks to recover, re-vision, and liberate the Christian message, we find that we are indeed called in all ways to find new wine skins for the new wine that Christ gives us daily in his body and blood, in his words, and in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
We are called to listen with the ears of our hearts to the God of love who enlivens and motivates us, who pursues and loves us with an everlasting love. We are called to find new ways to interpret this radical Christian way to new generations in such a way that they can taste and see that the Lord is good, so that they can perceive the beauty that is ever new, ever captivating, ever ravishing.