Feb 12, 2011

Silent Forests

 In our fast-paced society, some would question the value of monks and monasteries. Yet, there is much going on in these forgotten places of the world. Some of the greatest battles are fought and won in a world that is invisible to us. The following excerpt is taken from an interview with Hieromonk James (Deschene) who is abbot of Christminster monastery in Hamilton, Ontario. Note: FJD refers to Fr. James Deschene and OC refers to Orthodox Canada.

FJD: Our essential need as monks is for the freedom and opportunity to devote ourselves to prayer. Where we do this is to some degree irrelevant, so long as there is a measure of quietness, recollection, and a regularity of life. A rural setting is nice, allowing one to be in touch with nature and creation in ways not possible where we live in Hamilton...

If I may quote myself here from an article I wrote some time ago: "Monks (it has been observed) are like the great and silent forests of the earth. In silence and stillness the trees grow, unremarkable and unobserved in their forest wilderness, silently but effectively purifying the air of the whole world, removing, in their unmoving, unimpressive activity, the poisons and carbons that would otherwise destroy the world of cities and nations. It is for others to be the primary movers and dramatic doers. Monks, like trees, will do the world far less good by removing themselves from the purifying task of prayer and monastic observance. The world in its folly sees no usefulness in its rain forests - or in its monastics. But destroy either of these - and the world is ever ready to destroy both - and the world will strangle itself and die, poisoned by its own toxins."

Saint Silouan said something similar -- that when there are no more monks in the world praying, the world will come to an end.

OC: What do you say to people seeking advice about living an authentic Orthodox spiritual life?

FJD: To live an authentic Orthodox spiritual life, one must be faithful to the basics: daily prayer, the sacraments, the ascetical disciplines of fasting, abstinence and almsgiving, and feeding the mind and heart with holy reading. All of this must be done within the context of a lively and faithful church life and under the guidance of one's spiritual father or confessor. The essence of becoming holy is learning to become totally open to and submissive to God, utterly malleable to his will and his wise and gentle moulding of us into the saints he has created us to be. There are no gimmicks or shortcuts to this end - only the patient struggle each day to lay aside sin and all that keeps us from God, who is the true and only source of our joy and who seeks nothing more than to give us the fullness of his joy. But regrettably, we have so many ways of blocking and refusing his gift. We need his help even to stop resisting his help - that's how messed-up we are.

But God is good and full of mercy and loves us unfailingly. It is such foolishness to resist such goodness, but there you are - we're fools!

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