Here on the Eastern Carolina Orthodox blog, I’ve laid out a general vision for our work in the Eastern Carolina region, and I have begun to produce posts about local communities in the region where we pray that one day Orthodox Christianity will take root. With this post, I’d like to highlight another aspect of our vision for mission work, the foundation of a monastery in Eastern Carolina.
To some readers, the connection between missionary outreach and a monastery will not be immediately clear. Monasteries are focused inwards, a retreat from the evils of the world, where men or women live in community with others of the same sex, under obedience to an abbot or abbess who provides them with spiritual direction. Mission work, or church planting, is focused outwards, on reaching those who have not heard the Gospel, those who have fallen away, or those who have heard a false or incomplete version of the Gospel and are searching for something more authentic. How then would a monastery fit in with our missionary work?
We gain an early glimpse of proto-monasticism from the life of St. John the Baptist, who while living in the wilderness, nevertheless attracted thousands who heard his message of repentance and turned their lives to God. Later, we see that widows were playing a role of teaching both by their example and their words, in what is an office or role:
The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed (Titus 2:3-5).
St. Paul of course encourages celibacy as a higher calling:
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman… For I would that all men were even as I myself…Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God. Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you…But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord…But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction…So then he that giveth her [a Virgin] in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better (1 Corinthians 7, various verses).
From these passages, we gain the sense that some are called to remain single in order to work solely for the advancement of the Kingdom, and that these people serve as examples to other members of the community.
Over time, these communities developed in a more organized fashion, especially in Egypt in the fourth century. Monasteries over the centuries have provided Christians with places of retreat, places to go and get spiritual refreshment and guidance, and were also places of learning. Monasteries are places that highlight the ideal of the Christian life, and allow others to see a high standard against which to measure their own Christian walk. Monasteries are also primarily places of prayer, with long daily services being the norm. This prayer contributes greatly to the surrounding community’s blessings and success.
Turning the focus to our region, the establishment of a monastery would provide a great advantage to Church life in general here, and would provide great support for our missions. Here are a few ways:
- Oftentimes, mission communities to do not have as much time with their priest and other Orthodox Christians as they would like. A centrally-located monastery would provide more opportunities for faithful to interact with spiritual guides and fellow Christians.
- With mission communities, many converts come in to the Church, and need to be acculturated into an Orthodox mindset and way of life. Becoming an Orthodox Christian is thus more than just acquiring a new set of beliefs. Monasteries provide an experience of this life in a more obvious form. It should be noted, however, that monasteries are different than parishes, and do not compete with parishes. Instead, they compliment them.
- The priests of the mission(s) become tired through the constant struggles, and the monasteries can be a place of retreat and spiritual stability for them as well.
- Having a nearby monastery can be a great way for laypeople from the missions to expand their Christian charity by supporting the monastery in its projects, both physically and financially.
- The monastery can become a place of education, where talks and seminars are held to encourage a deeper walk with Christ.
The benefit to the monastery, besides #4, is also the potential for members of the parishes to adopt the monastic life for themselves; thus having a community that supports the monastery also provides a pool of potential future candidates for monasticism.
The practical details of how we will found a monastery have not been addressed in this article, as here we are attempting to set the vision and ask for prayers for our intention, and to alert those with an inclination towards monasticism to know that there may someday be a local opportunity to exercise this calling. If you would like to be part of this project of establishing a monastery in Eastern Carolina, please let us know.