East and West In Christ

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

If Anyone Desires To Come After Me

At a meeting this past weekend, I heard Father Maximos emphasize that monastics are lay people giving radical witness to their baptismal vows. I was surprised by this statement. I've often heard John Michael refer to St. John Chysostom's teaching that all people, included those married, are called to a monasic life: "What then are these things [labors, readings, watchings through the night, fastings] to us (one says) who are not monastics? Sayest thou this to me? Say it to Paul, when he says, "Watching with all perseverance and supplication" (Eph. vi. 18), when he says, "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." (Rom. xiii. 14.) For surely he wrote not these things to solitaries only, but to all that are in cities. For ought the man who lives in the world to have any advantage over the solitary, save only the living with a wife? In this point he has allowance, but in others none, but it is his duty to do all things equally with the solitary[Hom. in Epist. ad Haeb., 7, 41.] Homily VII on the letter to the Hebrews.

Now, I find "The Western Church has canonized monasticism and the lay state as two forms of life. One corresponds to the “counsels,” the other to the “precepts” of the Gospel. . . . The essentially homogenous character of Eastern Church spirituality ignores the difference between the “precepts” and the “evangelical counsels". It is in its total demands that the Gospel addresses itself to everyone, everywhere.“When Christ,” says St. John Chrysostom, “orders us to follow the narrow path, he addresses himself to all. The monastics and the lay person must attain the same heights.” [Epist. ad Haeb., 7, 4; 7, 41 Adv. oppugn. vitae monast., 3, 14.] "

This "homogenous character" is surprising to me. I once got a stern lecture from a good monk when I stated that there was no difference between the two of us as Christians (I was thinking of the "precepts" at the time; he emphasized the "counsels"). The "Eastern Church spirituality" certainly leaves me disoriented, not because I'm in disagreement but because I have to shift my world to the more primitive monasticism I've only read about and am now encountering. The odd thing is that I already knew these things intellectually; it's just that the reality of the difference between us was only our "dress" really smacked me upside the head.

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