"There is no Orthodoxy without monasticism. It is the trunk holding up the branches and the leaves, comprised of men and women who strive to God with unceasing tears and prayers [...] If monasteries were to suddenly disappear then I know the Day of Judgment is frighteningly near. . ."
It’s no secret that I like to visit monasteries. It took only three months from the time I accepted Lord Jesus Christ in my life to step foot in one. These visits have been so spiritually profitable to me that I recommend all those who believe in Christ to visit a monastery as soon as they are able. Below are some reasons why.
1. Monasteries are an integral part of the faith
There is no Orthodoxy without monasticism. It is the trunk holding up the branches and the leaves, comprised of men and women who strive to God with unceasing tears and prayers. In many cases, monks have been given exalted gifts by the Holy Spirit to aid in the salvation of the world. If monasteries were to suddenly disappear then I know the Day of Judgment is frighteningly near.
One of the reasons I left the Armenian Church is because they have no active monasteries in the United States. Parish life, as you know, can be shallow. As devout as many parishioners are, a Christian who attends parishes alone will be drawn into worldly cares. The after-Liturgy fellowship will feature as much talk about the secular world as the divine. This is not the case in monasteries, where you find faith that is deeper and a palpable repulsion to the dumb modern world. I look up to the monastics as torch-bearers into the Kingdom. Parish life provides filtered tap water, which is eminently suitable to drink, but the monasteries provide water directly from a fresh mountain spring.
2. There is more grace
Parishes have grace, but monasteries have more grace. I consider the monastery that I was baptized at, Holy Trinity in Jordanville, to be hallowed ground because of the millions of prayers that have taken place there alongside the relics of holy men (like Archbishop Averky and Metropolitan Philaret). I feel that holiness whenever I visit. There is more peace and calm, more spiritual insights and providence. Whenever I randomly meet someone in the monastery, I stop and consider that this meeting was likely ordained by God, and when that person unknowingly provides a missing piece of the puzzle that I had been searching for, I am not surprised.
It would make sense that grace would be higher in an area where more Orthodox prayers are performed. I also perceive grace from Christians in the parish, but in the secular world when talking to secular people, I rarely perceive grace.
3. You receive deeper spiritual guidance
I remember the first monk I ever talked to in Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, West Virginia, which I detailed in my book American Pilgrim. I was overflowing with zeal but temptations also, and totally lacking in discernment when it came to understanding my thoughts and desires. The monk could see what was happening and went on to rattle my self-confidence, giving me the right amount of doubt to question my self-will, and for that I’m eternally thankful. If I did not speak to him, I would have made bigger mistakes.
If you do need spiritual guidance, ask for it when you arrive at the monastery (or contact them beforehand). The monks there tend not to bother people, so they will not attempt to serve you like you were at a restaurant. Request time with them.
4. You can win a gold medal at the Standing Olympics
Monasteries have more services… and they’re longer… and you have the ability to stand for hours each day. I must admit that I don’t even win a medal at the Standing Olympics. If there’s an opportunity to sit, such as during the reading of a Psalm, I will sit along with the old and infirm. I must train harder.
5. You feel more energized to serve God
The effect of a monastery visit is usually felt upon leaving. I had arrived with a partially depleted spiritual gas tank from being battered by the world, and now after a couple of days or even hours, my gas tank is full. I feel invigorated, fresh, and eager to serve God. I want to pray longer, fast harder, and withdraw more from the world.
Of course that invigoration fades over the next few days, but I have noticed that I advance a solid step in my faith after every monastic visit, sometimes several steps. There is always something new I learn or realize that helps me when I re-enter the world of the Washington D.C. suburbs to live amongst the secular hordes. If there were no monasteries, I don’t know how I could reliably refill my tank.
6. You receive great book recommendations
Do you know what’s better than book reviews on Amazon from anonymous consumers? Book reviews from monks! Tell a monk your story, your common problems, and ask him for book suggestions. Don’t be surprised when you then start reading a recommended book and it feels like it was written specifically for you at that moment and time. Many of the books I’ve reviewed here were recommended to me by monks.
7. Buried sins are revealed to you
Anger, pride, irritability, neuroticism, comfort-seeking… all these sins were painfully shown to me during my monastery visits. In the secular world, so many people proudly display their own sins that you begin to see them as normal and do not recognize them as sins when you perform them yourself. This false notion is dispelled when you’re surrounded by real virtue. You may realize that you are a prideful, angry person, like I realized at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona when I initiated an argument with a monk. Once you’re able to spend time with those who are struggling to achieve the Christian ideal, you plainly see where you are lacking.
8. It’s easier to shed tears of repentance
It’s no guarantee that you’ll shed tears at a monastery, but if you shed tears in a parish, you will probably shed more in a monastery, and with those tears come the presence and love of God. What a joy it is for God to give you tears that wash away the impurities of your soul.
9. Your ears behold the workings of God
When you’re at a monastery, you will meet serious Christians and hear their testimonies. You may hear of miracles that happened within monastery grounds. You may hear of visions and prophecies from the saints. You may hear the workings of the Holy Spirit. The longer you stay in a monastery, the more you will hear.
10. You learn about obedience
If you are lucky enough to stay many days in a monastery, you will learn why obedience is considered a higher virtue than prayer. You will witness monks who follow their spiritual father as if he were Christ himself, and how this obedience bestows bountiful salvific grace upon them. Once you notice this grace, perhaps you will want to fall in obedience too, to receive guidance from a spiritual elder who will aid you in your salvation.
All the reasons above ultimately boil down to one: you draw closer to God. Your spiritual life grows and your faith grows, and you become more motivated to labor with God to transform your fallen, broken soul into one that is worthy of serving God in the Kingdom of Heaven. If you have enjoyed reading my articles concerning the faith, understand that the root of my observations and knowledge have come from what I learned in the monastery. I glance at the calendar and count down the days until it’s time for my next visit.
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