Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Monk-berry moon delight...

So anyway.
I started painting Sunday - yep - just took a brush and paint and started painting.  The painting is based upon the Sinai icon, Ladder of Divine Ascent - it is fairly faithful so far - I did no drawings for it - just the brush - it's looking rather primitive.  I'm forcing myself to paint, thinking it will rev me up to paint seriously.  Even though I'm serious with this one.  (But it is NOT an icon.)
It's about the monks.
I've been reading my books on Orthodox monasticism.  I'm enthralled how the Athonite solitaries seem to have maintained a close observance to what the early desert fathers did.  I know their monastic observance  isn't exactly like that, but to know real hermits, who actually stay put in their hermitages or caves still exist in the world is very edifying.  In the West I think the only real monks are (some of) the Carthusians, Camaldolese and Carmelite nuns - though I'm told many of these now have computers and are therefore once again attached to the world.  However, that video I posted this past weekend has intrigued me so much I think of it all of the time now.
I have a wonderful book on Athos written by Philip Sherrard - Sherrard is a Byzantine scholar living in Greece - the book was published in 1985, so he might be dead.
Monastic life - an academic life.
Today Western monks and hermits travel about - in what oftentimes seems an endless pursuit of authentic monastic life, or occasionally just to go on vacation.  I can't imagine a monk getting all excited to go into Manhattan, for instance, or attending a conference on monastic prayer or liturgy.  Merton pretty much did stuff like that - hence these types of monks often "forage in a land they know not" while enriching themselves with worldly honors.  It seems to me that many of the Orthodox monks I read about understand the monastic life much better than our monastic scholars and PhDs in the West.  The more ascetic Orthodox appear to have the simplicity of the old lay-brother monks and friars, so many of whom have been canonized over the centuries.  Today monks and nuns spend an awful lot of time studying monasticism, while neglecting to live it.  But I digress.
Anyway - in order to make a post, I will share some points from Sherrard's book, Athos the Holy Mountain, which I found interesting, since many of the ideas go to the heart of my idea of monastic simplicity, humility and authentic spiritual poverty.

"The monastic vows themselves are not essential to monasticism.  The early monk was one who turned his back on the world, and had entered the narrow way, but he was without either formal vows or the tonsure or the habit.  (The first Franciscans were like this.)  His profession was merely the tacit one of an intention to lead an ascetic life.  For centuries after the institution of monasticism, formal vows were unknown.  Palladius deprecated the vows as subjecting the free will to the binding declaration of an oath.  The simple adoption of coarse clothing and entering a wilderness, or taking the habit with the permission of an abbot of a cenobium, constituted the profession of the monastic life - which only became strictly formalized with St. Benedict." - Sherrard
I'm against it.
Of course, I'm not saying the tradition of making one's profession through vows is undesirable - yet for myself, I very much prefer the idea, since by baptism the Christian is already vowed and consecrated into Christ's consecration.  Of course, religious profession renews that reality and as such is like a second baptism, and more importantly, it is required and approved by the Church.  Nevertheless, as a layman, I am content not to add to an already great mystery.  Perhaps it is my way of seeking the last place, without status or esteem.  Much like the early monks and saints such as Benedict Joseph Labre and other fools for Christ.  These types are usually simply referred to as 'confessors' of the faith - something I think the ordinary Christian is called to be.
Today, modern Orthodox monks take vows.

However - "The distinction between simple and solemn vows has never been known in Orthodox monasticism.  By traditional custom, no dispensation from monastic vows is given - though there have been exceptions to this.  Even expulsion from a monastery for immorality, the shaving off of the beard and the deprivation of the habit, do not constitute a dispensation.  A monk remains always a monk." - Sherrard
I like that - "a monk remains always a monk".
(I'm no expert however.  Just a man with an opinion.)
Icon:  The Ladder of Monks.  A 'real' icon and not my painting of one.


  1. Wow!
    Do I ever have an "examination of conscience" to do!! Thanks, Terry!
    I have to admit that my internet time should be less than my prayer time; it was the counsel of Archbishop Burke that we become better known via the internet...I know it has not always been for the "edification of the faithful" *sigh*, I do get carried away.
    I just have to say, though, that I just sat through an hour and a half in the pediatric section of a local clinic (I took my sister and her daughter, my niece, to a dr's appt) and just about went out of my mind with all the noise from the chillens (some of it high decibel screaming...not from pain but from running all over the place, having fun).
    I guess I'm very used to silence and maybe this was a good thing to experience...

  2. Anonymous12:04 PM

    Hello Terry,

    Thanks for those nice quotes.

    A while back I almost purchased Sherrard's book after reading about in Merton's "Disputed Questions." So thanks for the reminder. I just pick up a used copy on Amazon.

    Love your [not an] icon. Nicely done! I like the rough and tumble look it has, with that border around the edges.


  3. Anonymous12:25 PM


    Could you explain something for me? You wrote that you think "the only real monks are (some of) the Carthusians, Camaldolese and Carmelite nuns"? What makes a monk a "real" monk?


  4. I just posted - see how we do that?

  5. Though not precisely related, your post makes me think of this passage I recently read in Benedict's "Jesus of Nazareth":

    "Francis of Assisi was gripped in an utterly radical way by the promise of the first beatitude, to the point that he even gave away his garments and let himself be clothed anew by the bishop, the representative of God's fatherly goodness, through which the lilies of the field were clad in robes finer than Solomon's. For Francis, this extreme humility was above all freedom for service, freedom for mission, ultimate trust in God who cares not only for the flowers of the field but specifically for his human children. It was a corrective to the Church of his day, which, through the fuedal system, had lost the freedom and dynamism of missionary outreach. It was the deepest possible openness to Christ, to whom Francis was perfectly configured by the wounds of the stigmata, so perfectly that from then on he truly no longer lived as himself, but as one reborn, totally from and in Christ. For he did not want to found a religious order: He simply wanted to gather the People of God to listen anew to the word--without evading the seriousness of God's call by means of learned commentaries.
    By creating the Third Order, though, Francis did accept the distinction between radical commitment and the necessity of living in the world. The point of the Third Order is to accept with humility the task of one's secular profession and its requirements, wherever one happens to be, while directing one's whole life to that deep interior communion with Christ that Francis showed us. "To own goods as if you owned nothing"--to master this inner tension, which is perhaps the more difficult challenge, and, sustained by those pledged to follow Christ radically, truly to live it out ever anew--that is what the Third Orders are for. And they open up for us what this Beatitude can mean for all."

  6. Oh Father - not at all - you have a unique vocation I think. I'm just reflecting for myself here.

    Anonymous - I shouldn't use the term 'real' monks - that isn't fair to anyone. What I'm attempting to explain by that is those who absolutely, completely leave evrything to seek God alone - most people would say that is no longer possible, but the Orthodox monks tell us otherwise. It also occurs to me that M. teresa's Missionaries of Charity demonstrate that radical separation although they live in the world. They renounce even legitimate comforts. Perhaps I tend to be too idealistic. I assure you I'm not - faithless is a better description.

    John - no - the icon illustrating the post is a real one - I haven't finished my painting yet.

    Anonymous - perhaps the difference between a real icon and a painting of an icon is the better analogy for what I term a real monk - yes, I think that is it.

    Paul - I forgot how the Holy Father so wisely points that out in his book - Thanks very much for adding that.

  7. Larry - I had no idea. It is uncanny.

    Fr. - and see - you are acting in obedience. Still praying for you and your sister and niece of course.

  8. Terry, forgive me, I skipped reading most of the post but I am very, very happy for you that you are painting again.

    It's exciting to just dive in without drawing first. Most of my recent stuff has been direct to it with the final media (permanent ink brush pen, watercolour ...) without any pre work.

  9. Terry: thank you so very much.
    What you said about having a "unique vocation" was told to me way back in college by my very wise spiritual director (who I was torturing, probably, with all of my antics and questions and strange behavior...not sinful, just strange!)...anyway...this holy priest (who was a phlegmatic if there ever was one) who fell asleep during our spiritual direction conferences (a real turn-off for this one, nevertheless) just looked at me one day, didn't blink an eye, and told me, "You've got something very unusual going on here; just do it."
    My sister and niece are doing fine; a credit to your prayers and all of those who pray for them.
    I am so ever grateful.

  10. Maria7:55 PM

    Padre--I for one just love having you round this parts. BTW, I don't see you shopping for your next vacation. What I most love about you is your humility in disclosing your humanity. Such a lesson for me...

  11. Maria: thank you from my heart. You are so kind.


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