Monday, November 7, 2022

Met Antonios (el-Souri): ُExile from the World

 Arabic original here, originally published in an-Nahar on March 2, 2019, here.

Exile from the World

I write these words while I am on the Holy Mountain, Athos. For those who do not know, this peninsula in Greece is considered a monastic state and is only inhabited by monks. The monastic life began in earnest on this mountain starting in the tenth century. According to Church tradition, the Virgin Mary visited this mountain and regarded it as a spiritual garden for herself and so women are not permitted to enter it.

One who comes to practice monasticism on this mountain chooses complete exile from the world and, to live out the struggle of spiritual purification. The purpose of exile is to be cut off from everything connected to man's life, that is cutting off the old bonds to the world in order to create new bonds. Just as a man must leave his father and mother to become attached to his wife so that, by God's grace and presence with them, between them and in them, they may constitute one body, so too must one who seeks to be a monk leave his father, his mother, his possessions, his money, his rank and his authority in order to become attached to God and become one with Him. Thus monks are called 'mutawahhidun' [lit.'solitaries'], that is, those who seek unity with God. One of the prayers of the Orthodox Church says, "Blessed is the life of the people of the deserts, for the rise and ascend in divine love," and in another prayer we hear that monks "return love for love."

The principle behind this estrangement is that the Kingdom of God is not food or drink, but rather righteousness and holiness. This means that man leaves what is passing and impermanent in order to seek that which is lasting and eternal. And there is nothing that is lasting except the face of your Lord. This world will come to an end because it came from nothing and it has no existence except by the will of God. But God did not create man out of nothing to return him to nothing, but just the opposite: He created him out of nothing to grant him eternal life. Had man not rejected God as the source of his life, then death would not have entered our body. But the spirit remains, even if the body passes away because God "is the God of the living, not the God of the dead."

What monks experience in estrangement from the world is death to all that is old and a reaching in repentance toward the purification of existence in prayer, fasting and service with voluntary poverty and non-acquisitiveness (that is, renouncing one's own will) in obedience to a pure and illumined spiritual father. "The eye has not seen and the ear has not heard what God has prepared for His chosen ones." This is what the believer seeks and this is what the monk struggles for with greater longing, perhaps.

In general, the experience of serious monks in choosing this life greatly transcends the experiences of those in the world (this is not, of course, to negate the existence of exceptions) in what pertains to knowledge of the human soul and the spiritual war with the spirits of evil and demons and in acquiring the divine love that grants them joy and inner peace with kindness, meekness, humility, patience, chastity, and deep-rooted, firm faith in all circumstances. This makes them beacons that shine in the darkness of this world and attracts to them the weary and heavy-laden who come from every direction to be healed, strengthened and comforted and to face hardships with patience, hope and trust that are not ashamed of God.

The Holy Mountain welcomes to its twenty monasteries and its sketes millions every year. They come to seek a word useful for salvation and return strengthened and comforted by God's presence and activity in the life of man through the power of prayer and unconditional love. The world today is in the greatest possible need of monasteries and monks because those who are sincere and courageous are rarer day by day and those who bear witness to the truth of the Gospel through total renunciation and estrangement from the world and its spirit grow fewer and fewer.

All are called to exile in one way or another because he who seeks to settle down forever in that which is impermanent will be put to shame and he who dies to that which is passing away while seeking what is eternal will not be put to shame unto ages of ages. Who do you think is the wise one?

No comments: