"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Orthodox Church -- Fathers, Monks, Role of the Emperor

Ah, finally I am at the last section of chapter 2 and it deals with saints, monks and emperors. 

Amber had to go and remind me that these are people we are dealing with so it's understandable that they didn't always treat people and each other as Jesus would have.  So very true.  :)

On the negative side - which the author is honest in stating (and I like that about him!) - "Cyril of Alexandria, for example, in his struggle against Nestorius, bribed the Court heavily and terrorized the city of Ephesus with a private army of monks." (pg. 36)  He notes that the Orthodox Church "recognizes that the councils were attended by imperfect humans, but it believes that these imperfect humans were guided by the Holy Spirit." 

And on the positive side - The Byzantine bishop was not simply a distant father figure, but "in many cases a true father to his people, a friend and protector to whom people confidently turned when in trouble." Social obligations and charitable work were "principal functions" of the Church in the Byzantine Empire.

I love that!

The next part discussed monasticism of which entering it has been noted as the "best way to penetrate Orthodox spirituality."   Too often we are tempted to try building God's kingdom on earth such as even the Byzantines were apt to do. Byzantium was an "image and symbol, not the reality." The life of monks "reminded Christians that the kingdom of God is not of this world." 

There are three chief forms of monasticism

hermits -- think solitary living in huts, caves, branches of trees, even tombs

community life -- monks dwelling together; whereas western monasticism gave more emphasis to works (caring for the sick and poor, maintaining hospitals and orphanages), eastern monks' primary service and purpose was prayer

semi-eremitic life -- a "middle way"

Monastic life has always been seen as a vocation for men as well as women.

The chief center of Orthodox monastic life is Athos in northern Greece.

Unlike Roman Catholicism, there are no "Orders" in Orthodox monasticism.

A "characteristic figure in Orthodox monasticism is the 'elder' or 'old man'... a monk of spiritual discernment and wisdom, whom others...adopt as their guide and spiritual director." These "spiritual mothers" and "spiritual fathers" see "in a concrete and practical way what the will of God is in relation to each person who comes to consult him; this is the elder's special gift of charisma."  (pg. 39)

While rewarding, I actually think a monk's life is difficult. Or maybe it just requires a discipline that I don't have. I read where a monk must go through a "long and rigorous preparation in solitude" in order to learn the truth about himself and God and gain the gifts of discernment so he can help others. 

Re: the role of the Emperor ...

We've already discussed the Church and State connection which was normal for those times, however, I enjoyed this bit about the bishops being the ones who "gathered in council to decide what the true faith was" while the Emperor was in charge of protecting the faith. (pg. 41) (This reminds me of the balance of power within the US system where the Legislature is in charge of deciding the laws and the Executive branch is in charge of carrying them out.)  Ideally the two should keep their powers separate in order to keep the right balance.

The Byzantines believed Christ "had redeemed every aspect of human existence" and thus their great vision was "to establish here on earth a living image of God's government in heaven."  (pg. 42)


Lat said...

"The life of monks "reminded Christians that the kingdom of God is not of this world"

Can you explain this? Don't quite understand this with the last para,

"The Byzantines believed Christ "had redeemed every aspect of human existence" and thus their great vision was "to establish here on earth a living image of God's government in heaven." (pg. 42)"

Are they saying the same thing or different? Thanks!

Amber said...

Yes, darn me for reminding you that we're all human! Darn me! :p

I always remember the story of St. Nicholas of Myra when I think about these men who were holy and human all at the same time. He was a great man and defended the faith and he *still* lost his temper and punched a guy out.

I think the thinking process is that individually anyone may be mistaken. Even those who are good and holy, those who make the effort to follow Christ and do His Will are only human and will make errors. But the Church herself, being guided by the Holy Spirit, will never be in error.

You know I thought about being a nun once. Then I realized I'd make a terrible nun. :) One of those little goals I have in life is to visit a monastery some day on a retreat. I think, for those of us who aren't called to the monastic life that it's an excellent opportunity to step away from the world and take a breather. To get a moment of deep rest and embrace the peace we can find when we're focused on God alone without any distractions.

Susanne said...

Lat, good question. I think "image" from the last paragraph is the key to recognizing the difference.

I see the monks reminding everyone that "helllooooo, this [Byzantium] is only a SYMBOL (an image) and *not* the Kingdom of God which is not of this earth." Remember how these guys like icons (symbols/imagery)? I think Byzantium was an icon of what is waiting for us in God's holy presence (i.e., heaven).

I'm not sure about that, but it's how I took it. Is that any clearer?

Susanne said...

Amber, ahhhh, I didn't know this about St. Nicholas of Myra...ha! Yes, I should have realized people = imperfect. I'm really glad you reminded me actually. :)

"But the Church herself, being guided by the Holy Spirit, will never be in error."

Gotcha and that makes sense! actually it is helpful in understanding the next chapter when Rome kind of went out by itself and started changing things. It's like this all is a puzzle building on itself - quite interesting!

I was thinking of "How do you solve a problem like [Amber]?" from The Sound of Music when you said you thought of becoming a nun at one time. I can only imagine ... :) You might like the book I read in December about Stephanie Saldana. She spent time at a monastery in Syria (Mar Musa -- http://www.sacred-destinations.com/syria/mar-mousa-monastery.htm ) and wrote about some of her experiences there. I, too, think it would be a life-changing experience. I remember in Syria we visited some monasteries and I recall one of them having rooms upstairs and how I would love to stay there for a time and ... wow, wouldn't that be a great opportunity?

Lat said...

Ah Hah!Okay! I'll try to get it :)

Susanne said...

Like heaven is for real/the real deal of God's Kingdom and Byzantium is just a model/replica/image on earth. Hope you get it! :)