“Who shall climb the Mountain of the Lord,
who shall stand in His Holy Place…”
by Hieromonk Theodosy
In 2008, with trust in the Most High God Who calls us all to climb His Holy Mountain, and with the blessing and guidance of His Grace Bishop David, we set out on an adventure to practically discern the building up of a monastic community in the Studite tradition within the Eparchy of Edmonton. By the surprising providence of the Lord, right at the outset, this little monastic endeavor found itself whisked-up to the northern reaches of the eparchy – the Peace River Pastoral District. There, for the last 10 months we have had the joy of serving the eparchial faithful in that far-reaching area, bearing witness to Christ among our fellow northerners, and all the while making a humble beginning to live the monastic life in a little rented farmhouse in Beaverlodge, Alberta, our base camp. Truly, it can be said, the Lord has provided a wonderful start!
A recent and special joy occurred when our humble little ‘Skete’ as we call it (a term often used for a small monastic community), dedicated to the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-creating Cross, celebrated its first praznyk in Beaverlodge, with the celebration of the Vigil (Great Vespers, Great Matins and the elevation of the Cross) and Festal Divine Liturgy on the Feastday itself – September 14, 2009. With a priest of the Latin Church and about 20 Greek-Catholic parishioners from Grande Prairie and the surrounding area, we gathered very closely together that evening for the Holy Mysteries in our beautiful but relatively small basement chapel and then partook of a delicious feast of monastic clam chowder and the abundant and diverse ‘fast’ foods that all the visitors brought and shared. As one young mother of a newly arrived immigrant family commented of the holy celebrations and our close fellowship: “it was just like being in Ukraine again!” Aha! A confirmation! We are touching our Studite roots!
And so, with God’s grace, we have humbly begun… But the question may be asked: “Begun what???” Indeed, monastic life is not easily comprehended in our age of great materialism, secularism and activism, even by many in the Church. What good can monks contribute? Are they not just running away from really engaging the world that Christ came to save? In what precise way can such a monastic endeavor be of any real value for the Eparchy of Edmonton? To do these questions justice one would have to address the very nature of monastic life itself and its history in the Church. While this is not the place for that thorough reflection we can at least get a glimpse of an answer to such objections in the words of one of the great inspirers of this particular monastic effort, John Paul II – of blessed memory – who insightfully extolled eastern monastic life as “a reference point for all the baptized”, “a symbolic synthesis of Christianity”, indeed, nothing less than their [the Eastern Catholic churches] “very soul” (cf., Orientale lumen, #9). Furthermore, it is again this great authority that gave such strong encouragement for a vital indigenous eastern monastic life in our Church in Canada with his words:
With regard to monasticism, in the consideration of its importance in Eastern Christianity, we would like it to flourish once more in the Eastern Catholic churches and that support be given to all those who feel called to work for its revitalization…a well trained and motivated renewal of monastic life could mean true ecclesial fruitfulness for them [the Eastern Catholic churches] as well…this hope [the renewal of Eastern monastic life] also concerns the territories of the Eastern diaspora, where the presence of Eastern monasteries would give greater stability to the Eastern churches in those countries, and would make a valuable contribution to the religious life of Western Christians. (cf. Orientale lumen, #27 emphasis mine)
That certainly places eastern monastic life in a positive light and further gives hope for all the very real, practical and wonderful benefits it can produce for the local Church that fosters it!
Yet another perspective of the value of this new monastic beginning in the Eparchy of Edmonton is captured in a reflection by one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, Louis Bouyer, who stated:
If the Church did not have the monastery within her, it would be as though the apostolic community of Pentecost had not had Mary in its midst; the Church would be seized by the spirit of the world [secularism], would forget to seek and to call without ceasing on the Spirit of God, would forget that the life of the Spirit can and should be a reality for us here and now, the life in which the eschatological life [the future heavenly life] of the Kingdom is as it were anticipated (cf. Introduction to Spirituality).
Truly, the Christian monk and nun, in imitation of our Lady, the All-holy one – she who is “full of Grace” because she is completely given over to God (cf., Lk 1:28, 38) – focuses on what our Lord called “the one thing needful…the better part” (Lk 10:42): that is, our ultimate calling of complete attentiveness to the God of Life Whose very Word creates and saves us and, through our obedience to Him, divinizes us in His Image and Likeness, the likeness of the God of Life! This ‘attentiveness’ and its fruit of ‘communion/divinization’ is not meant to be understood or sought in some self-centered sense but precisely for the salvation of the world. It is by drawing God’s grace into his life by the labor of prayer, that the monk (indeed every Christian!) becomes an instrument of God’s saving work. As St Seraphim of Sarov wonderfully taught from experience: “Acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved.” As the holy monastic fathers in East and West understood it, theirs is the vocation of Moses on the mountain when Israel battled their great enemy Amalek (cf., Genesis 17:8-16). When Moses upheld his arms in supplication in the form of a cross, Joshua and the forces of God’s People had the better of the battle. But as soon as he lowered them in weariness, so would Amalek prevail. It was when Moses sat on a large stone and Aaron and Hur supported his arms that Israel was finally victorious. And thus the Christian monk, resting on the rock of Christ’s Holy Church, conforming himself to the Cross, and with his brothers, raising his entire life in supplication, does battle for the entire Church.
So this is our hope… to build a house, a family, a consecrated brotherhood, dedicated to the “the one thing needful…the better part”, and there, on the summit of His Mountain where the precious and life-creating Instrument of the New Creation is planted and exalted, raise a sacrifice of praise in the form of His Cross for the renewal of the eparchy, for the victory of the entire Church, and for the salvation of world. Pray with us, brothers and sisters, for we are poor in every way to achieve such a lofty goal. Indeed it is the Lord Himself that needs to build the house – for without Him, in vain do the laborers labor! (Ps 126)