Do Not Move from Place to Place because of the Trials, Temptations, and Sorrows that Assail You
Athonite Orthodox monasteries are strange places. All of it, the monk's clothing, praying in the middle of the night, obedience, the absence of small talk, no eye contact, silence and their attitude towards daily life, conflict and suffering; it all shocks us and reminds us that visiting a monastery is an experience of another world.
Where did it all start? How can it all be so remarkably similar regardless of time and place? If one has had the opportunity to visit monasteries in Athos, Greece, Serbia or Romania, one can clearly see that the way of life is the same. I recently finished reading the first volume of the Evergetinos. and I am stunned to realize that the way of life of the Greek monks in the Monastery of St Anthony in Florence, Arizona, for example, is a detailed and faithful recapitulation of the experience of the desert fathers. It is wonderful to recognize, while reading this ancient literature, that I know exactly what they are talking about because I have seen it all enacted, in humility and without fanfare, in our Orthodox monasteries.
Speaking with Geronda Ephraim or Abbott Paisios of St Anthony's monastery is the same as if I was listening to Abba Pambo, or St Synkletike, St Pachomios or St Anthony of the desert, as preserved for us in the Evergetinos. How these elders deal with the sin in the lives of their apprentice monks, disobedience, anger, lust, envy, pride, etc., is not the expression of arbitrary power play or willfulness of the elders but the affirmation and reenacting of a proven way of life. The renunciation of the world is madness for those without eyes to see.
As Fr Zacharias Zacharou of Essex tells us in his talks, in the life of a monk, repetition is a most creative act. Again and again we behold the transforming power of a way of life oriented towards God and lived in the communion of love with the brethren.
There are no words to describe the serene, humble and loving gaze of a holy monk. I tremble as I stand before a holy priest holding in his hands the chalice with the Body and Blood of Christ, and when he lifts up his eyes to bless me and nourish me with the Bread that comes down from Heaven (John 6:51), it is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself who loves me through his eyes.
The desert fathers know our broken humanity very well. They also know how the evil one is able to suggest to us solutions to our problems that could even sound reasonable and wise but are death dealing. Listen to the following story from St Ephraim the Syrian (which is easily applicable to the life of a lay person in a parish),
"When the evil one wants to snatch yet another brother away from the monastery, he will put different thoughts in his mind, saying to him, 'Look, your disorderly conduct is well known here, and all the brothers are aware of your negligence; this is why you cannot live any longer in this place. For even if you yearn for virtue, the men with whom you live are the very ones who know what kind of a person you have been from the beginning. Go somewhere else, where people do not know you, and make a new start in the spiritual life, and in this way you will be pleasing to God and men.'
'Now listen, brother: Are you going to leave your spiritual Father and the brothers, in whose presence you made your monastic promises to God, because of derision on the part of men? You should call to mind the words of the prophet: My soul hath expected reproach and misery, ...and because for Thy sake I have borne reproach, shame hath covered my face (Psalm 68:21,8) from the Septuagint.
When you reflect on these words of the Prophet (King David), you will endure dishonor and contempt with joy. For the Lord says in the Beatitudes: 'Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake' (St Matthew 5:11). The derision which a man withstands for the Lord's sake contributes greatly to the cleansing of that man's sins....
Furthermore, do what is good, and you will see that the Lord will unfailingly turn the attitude of your brothers toward you to the good. Remain firm in that place where the enemy attacks you and stand up straight and fight him, so that your accomplishments may be revealed before those who are familiar with your shortcomings; in this way, you will receive great glory from our Lord Jesus Christ,...
In other words, when a soiled garment is washed, it will no longer be set aside with the dirty ones; if anyone, out of envy or evil jealousy, calls what is clean dirty, he will have no credence, for the appearance of the garment will contradict him. As a well-known and beautiful verse says, 'Thou shall wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow' (Psalm 50:9) Evergetinos Vol.1 p. 346-347
Also from St Ephraim the Syrian who hear these words. "O monk, do not say, 'Here there is affliction, but elsewhere there will be respite and freedom from care.' Tell me, if you know, who it is that wars against us. Is it not our enemy, the Devil? Listen, then, to what is said in the Book of Job: 'And the Lord said to the Devil, Whence comest thou? And the Devil said before the Lord. 'I am come from going through the world, and walking about the whole earth' (Job 2:2)
Know then that the world is greater than you and that wheresoever you may go, there is no place under the sky where the common enemy has not set foot. Remain in the place to which you were called and resist the Devil, and thereby he will flee from you; draw near to God and He will draw near to you." from the Evergetinos, Vol. 1,p.354
The Evergetinos A Complete Text (4 Volumes), Edited and Translated by Archbishop Chrysostomos and Hiewromonk Patapios, Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies 2008
The Evergetinos can be purchased here.