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quinta-feira, 4 de abril de 2019

The Universal Priesthood and Interiorized Monasticism



Desert Monks Living in the City: The Universal Priesthood and Interiorized Monasticism (The Relevance of Philokalic Spirituality for All Christians)

When picking up the Philokalia, we may wonder what relevance the lives and writings of the desert fathers have for us today.  Why would we, monastics, secular clergy or laity living in the 21st century, read such a work?  Especially in the West, we seem to have so clearly defined and set off one path from the other.  Indeed, there is a kind of clericalism  that exist today (among those living in the world) that perhaps inhibits a certain receptivity to the notion of the the universal priesthood of the laity.  Christ’s call goes out to all: “You are not of this world, you are in the world.” ; a special form of ministry is given - to be a sign, a reference to “the wholly other.”  While we hear of the “universal call to holiness” spoken of frequently in our day, in the West the demarcation between various states of life has often had the effect of breaking down this unique and absolute call of Christ and the Gospel.  In the East, Evdokimov writes, there is a fundamental homogeneity to the spirituality that is in essence monastic.  It is this spirituality that embodies the equivalent of martyrdom - the baptism of blood of the martyrs has passed over to the baptism of ascesis of the monks and becomes the framework for those seeking to respond to the total requirement that the Gospel address to all and everyone.  

Admittedly, this my be hard for us to wrap our minds around at first.  Evdokimov offers us a few thoughts from the Fathers to ponder.  “‘When Christ, says St. John Chrysostom, ‘orders us to follow the narrow path, he addresses himself to all men.  The monk and the lay person must attain the same heights.‘  We can see indeed that there exists only one spirituality for all without distinction as to its exigency, whether for bishop, monk, or lay person, and this is monastic spirituality. . .  .In fact, according to the great teachers, the monks were only those who wished ‘to be saved’, those who ‘led a life according to the Gospel’, ‘sought the one thing necessary’, and ‘did violence to themselves in all things’.  It is quite evident that these words define exactly the state of every believing lay person. . .  .St. John Chrysostom said: ‘Those who live in the world, even though married, ought to resemble the monks in everything else.  You are entirely mistaken if you think that there are some things required of seculars, and others for monks . . . they will have the same account to render.‘  Prayer, fasting, the reading of Scripture and and ascetic discipline are imposed on all by the same prescription.”  Furthermore, Evdokimov writes, “When the Fathers spoke, they addressed themselves to all the members of the mystical body, without any distinction between clergy and laity; the spoke to the universal priesthood.  The actual pluralism of the theologies of the episcopate, the clergy, religious and the laity, being unknown at the time of the Fathers, would be even incomprehensible to them.  The Gospel in its entirety is applicable to every particular problem in any environment” (pp. 114-115).  

Whether monk or lay person makes no difference: God wants all of us and our love.  This understanding of the call to holiness and the character of the universal priesthood, Evidokmov tells us, we find in the thought of the monks themselves.  For example, St. Seraphim of Sarov writes: “As to the fact that you are a lay person and that I am a monk, there is no need to think of that . . .The Lord seeks hearts filled with love for God and their neighbor.  This is the throne on which he loves to sit and on which he will appear in the fullness of heavenly glory.  ‘My child, give me your heart, and all the rest I shall likewise give you’, because it is in the heart of man that the kingdom of God exists . . .The Lord hears the prayers of the monk as well as those of a simply lay person, provided that both have a faith without error, are truly believers and love God from the depths of their hearts, for even if their faith is only a grain of mustard seed, both of them will move mountains.‘  Both, the monk and the lay person, are a sign and a reference to “the wholly other.”  With even greater clarity, St. Tikhon of Zadonsk wrote: “Do not be in a hurry to multiply the monks.  The black habit does not save.  The one who wears a white habit and has the spirit of obedience, humility, and purity, he is a true monk of interiorize monasticism.”

Evdokimov sums it up this way: “The monasticism that was entirely centered on the last things formerly changed the face of the world.  Today it makes an appeal to all, to the laity as well as to the monks, and it points out a universal vocation.  For each one, it is a question of adaptation, of a personal equivalent of the monastic vows.  The three monastic vows constitute a greater charter of human liberty. Poverty frees from the ascendancy of the material; it is the baptismal transmutation into the new creature.  Chastity frees from the ascendance of the carnal; it is the nuptial mystery of the agape.  Obedience frees from the idolatry of the ego; it indicates the sonship to the Father.  All, whether monks or not, ask God for these things in the tripartite structure of the Lord’s prayer: obedience to the will of the Father; poverty of the one who is hungry only for the substantial and eucharistic bread; chastity, the purification from evil” (pp. 116-117).

I find Evdokimov’s remarks compelling for many reasons.  Chief among them is St. Philip Neri’s view of himself as a desert Father living in the city of Rome.  He sought first as a layman, and then only later as a secular priest to pursue without vow the liberty of which Evdokimov speaks as the distinct call to holiness received through the grace of baptism.  He made that personal adaptation and sought first to embrace the universal priesthood and call to holiness.  His heart burned for love of God and was truly His throne.  

In future posts, we will address in detail how Evdokimov envisions this personal adaptation and interiorizing of monastic spirituality.


**All quotes from “The Struggle with God” by Paul Evdokmov 

Interiorizing the Monastic Vows: Chastity, the Sacredness of Creation and the Virginity of Heart That Should Belong to All

Continuing our reflection on monasticism interiorized, we follow Evdokimov’s analysis of the Christ’s temptation in the desert.  The ordered love of a chaste and pure heart touches upon every aspect of our lives and our relations with God and others.  We find here the expression of the freedom that belongs to us as children of God as well as how we can be tempted to violate the mystery of nature, profane the sacredness of the cosmos, and the creation of God.

Evdokimov begins his analysis in this way: “‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’  To tempt is to try.  To tempt God means to try the limits of his magnanimity.  Has he not created man ‘in his image . . .   .?‘   ‘You are all gods, sons of the Most High.‘  Conscious of his greatness, this ‘little god‘ dares to claim the attributes of his high dignity.  To tempt the Lord in this case is to make use of God . . .in order to satisfy all his desires.”

This command not to tempt God, not to sully and profane chastity touches all those created in God’s image - celibate and married.  “This virtue goes beyond the physiological and expresses the entire and chaste structure of the human spirit.  It constitutes the charism of the sacrament of marriage.  In a wider sense, it inspires the meaning of the sacredness of every particle of God’s creation, inviolable in its expectation of salvation that is to come from the chaste man.  The power of chastity is the contrary of the power of magic and signifies the return to the true ‘supernaturally natural power‘ of paradise.  ‘Thou shalt not tempt thy God‘ means then that you shall not make your conformity to God the accomplice of your passions in anti-chastity.”

One begins to see here why chastity should be loved and cherish so greatly by Christians.  Our very beings become and have been made to manifest the very love of God and become the vehicles of mutual knowledge and self-donation.  “Chaste love is attracted by the heart that remains virgin beyond every corporeal actuation.  According to the Bible, there is a total ‘knowledge‘ of two beings, a conversation of spirit with spirit in which the body seems amazingly the vehicle of the spiritual.  This is why St. Paul says that man should learn ‘to possess his vessel in holiness and honor.‘  As undefiled matter suitable for liturgical use, the chaste man is entirely, body and soul, the matter of the sacrament of marriage, with the sanctification of his love.  The charism of the sacrament effects the transcendence of the self toward the transparent presence of one for the other, of one toward the other, in order to offer themselves together as a single being to God. Chastity integrated all the elements of the human being into a whole that is virginal and interior as to the spirit. . .   .”   St. Augustine speaks of interiorized chastity in this fashion: “He who is not spiritual in his flesh becomes carnal even in his spirit,” and again, “the virginity of the flesh belongs to a small number, the virginity of the heart should belong to all.”   

Christ’s refusal to cast himself down shows us the way to ascend to the Father in love.  “‘To throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple’ means to alienate himself and to render himself useless.  The answer to this temptation and to the concupiscence that inclines a man to seize the power that Christ really possesses to the point of governing even the angels, is chastity.  ‘To cast himself down’ designates the movement from the high to the low, from heaven to hell; this was Lucifier’s exact itinerary and that of the fall of man that brought concupiscence.  Chastity is an ascension; it is the Savior’s itinerary, from hell to the Father’s kingdom.  It is also an inward ascension toward the burning presence of God.  It is within one’s mind that one throws himself into the presence of God, and chastity is only one of the names of the nuptial mystery of the lamb.” 

May God’s love so shape and purify our hearts . . . 

We will return to the interiorized vow of obedience in the next post.

**All quotes from “The Struggle with God” by Paul Evdokmov

Interiorizing the Monastic Vows: Obedience to God, Receptivity to the Spirit of Truth and the Creative Freedom of the Life of Grace


In this final post on the interiorizing of the monastic vows, Evdokimov continues to unfold for us the nature of the monastic vows in light of Christ’s temptation on the mount and how each Christian is called to a “personal adaptation of the three monastic vows.”  In light of one of the comments made on a previous post, it is perhaps important to draw attention to the fact, that for the Fathers and in the view of Evdokimov these vows constitute not demands imposed nor something tied to the vocation to the religious life, but rather constitute “a great charter of liberty.”  Our true freedom is to be found in God and the life of grace he has made possible for us.  Certainly, Evdokimov is drawing out one aspect of this truth, but nonetheless one that I find quite compelling and beautiful.

Evdokimov takes us back up on the mount to reflect upon Christ’s response to the Tempter: “‘Thou shalt adore the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou worship.’  . . . True obedience to God implies the supreme freedom that is always creative.  Christ shows this in his manner of accomplishing every law; he fulfills and raises the law to his own mysterious truth of being grace.  Likewise the negative and restrictive form of the decalogue - ‘Thou shalt not’ - is fulfilled in giving place to the beatitudes, to the positive and limitless creation of holiness.  Obedience in the Gospel is receptive of truth, and the latter sets one free.”  

Such a view of things, Evdokimov tells us, has profound implications not only to how we view our lives in Christ, but how we understand something such as spiritual direction.  He writes: “A spiritual father is never ‘a director of conscience’; he is before all else a charismatic.  He does not engender his spiritual son, he engenders a son of God.  Both, in common, place themselves in the school of truth. . .  .  All obedience is obedience to the Father’s will in sharing in the acts of the obedient Christ.”  There must be “no idolatry of a spiritual father, even if he is a saint. . .  . Obedience crucifies man’s own will in order to arouse the final freedom - the spirit listening to the Holy Spirit.”

When we consider closely what Evdokimov describes, what a beautiful invitation goes out to all of us and what pathways it opens up for us.  He writes: “He who builds his life on the three monastic vows does so also on the three replies of Christ.  By these three vows a Christian does not bind himself; he frees himself.   He can then turn to the world and tell what he has seen in God.  If he has learned how to grow to the stature of ‘the new man’, of the adult in Christ, the world will listen to him.”  

**All quotes from “The Struggle with God” by Paul Evdokmov pp. 127-130

Interiorizing Monastic Vows: Poverty and the Primacy of Grace Over Necessity 


In the last post on “Interiorized Monasticism”, we were considering Evdokimov’s remarks on the universal vocation of all baptized Christians and how each is called to a “personal adaptation of the three monastic vows.”  These vows constitute a great charter of liberty: “Poverty frees from the ascendancy of the material; it is the baptismal transmutation into the new creature.  Chastity frees from the ascendance of the carnal; it is the nuptial mystery of the agape.  Obedience frees from the idolatry of the ego; it indicates the sonship to the Father.  All, whether monks or not, ask God for these things in the tripartite structure of the Lord’s prayer: obedience to the will of the Father; poverty of the one who is hungry only for the substantial and eucharistic bread; chastity, the purification from evil.”  

Beyond this, however, Evdokimov goes on to tell us that these three vows “reproduce exactly the three answers of Jesus” to Satan on the mount of temptation; the most categorical no to all compromise and to all conformity with the Tempter.  “The interiorized monasticism of the royal priesthood finds its own spirituality in taking to itself the equivalent of the monastic vows.”  

How so? What does this look like?  Evdokimov’s analysis is beautiful and compelling.  “Our Lord’s answer: ‘Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God,’ indicates the passage from the old curse: ‘In the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread,’ to the new hierarchy of values, to the primacy of spirit over matter, of grace over necessity.  In the house of Martha and Mary, Jesus passed from the material repast and physical hunger to the spiritual banquet, to hunger of the one thing necessary.  The version of the beatitudes in St. Luke’s Gospel accentuates the reversal of situations: ‘Blessed are the poor . . .those who hunger.’ Even physical poverty ‘in the sweat of your brow’ is no longer a curse, but a sign of election placed on the humble, the last and the least, as opposed to the rich and powerful.  The ‘poor of Israel’ available for the kingdom, and more generally ‘the poor in spirit’, receive as a gift, gratuitously, ‘the wheat of angels’, the Word of God in the eucharistic bread.  If the stones mentioned in the temptation had become bread, this miracle would have expelled ‘the poor man’ above all, not the beggar who is the object of charity bazaars, but the poor one who shares his being, his eucharistic flesh and blood.  Thus, does every truly poor person ‘in the sweat of his heart’ share his being. . . . The Gospel requires what no political doctrine would demand from its adherents . . . True needs vary according to vocations, but the essential principle is found in independence in regard to all possessions.  Absence of the need to have becomes a need not to have.  The disinterested freedom of the spirit in regard to things restores its capacity of loving them as gifts from God” (The Struggle with God, pp. 122-123). 

Every Christian, like the monk, is a cross-bearer and a Spirit-bearer, “for the cross is the the triumphant power of the Holy Spirit manifesting Christ crucified.”  Such is the freedom and liberty of the children of God and Christ’s three answers in the desert must resound in our hearts and take flesh in our lives and actions.  All true love is a victory of weakness and poverty.  Like Christ, in our poverty we must be those who welcome the other without defenses - those who share our very beings, who trusting in the infinite love and tenderness of the Father, “descend ever more fully and joyfully into a realm in which we neither possess nor understand nor control anything.”

Further consideration will be given to the vows of chastity and obedience in future posts.

**All quotes from “The Struggle with God” by Paul Evdokmov