The Monastery of St. John the Baptist and Community Life
I have recently made a pilgrimage to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in England for the feast of St. Silouan the Athonite. So now, I believe it is good to place on my blog something of my experience which is embodied in the writings of a spiritual father at the monastery, Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou).
There are eleven monks and twenty eight nuns in the community and one aspect of their life which stood out for me is their struggle to keep a spirit of love and harmony alive among them. In passing on some precepts of the monastery’s founder, Archimandrite Sophrony*, Fr. Zacharias gives us the key to acquiring this in our immediate community, whether in a family or a monastery. Although he speaks of the principles of his Elder being applicable to married couples, this presupposes that both are struggling to live a life in Christ with the help of a spiritual father. Now to Fr. Zacharias:
In both marriage and monasticism we apply the same Christian principles. For example, Elder Sophrony said that even one evil thought against our brother ‘causes a crack in our spiritual stronghold’. Furthermore, he emphasized that each of us when we stand before God, should carry in our hearts all of our brethren. In this way, the unity of the brethren is achieved in the heart of each one of us, not simply in the heart of the Abbot.
Why is it that, as Elder Sophrony drew to our attention, one evil thought causes a crack in the wall of our spiritual fortification? It is because when we stir up negative thoughts about our brother and we remove him from our heart, then we mutilate our being. Our unity is contained in this understanding: to hold all in our heart and to avoid even the least negative thought for our fellows.
The same occurs in marriage; each spouse must learn not to accept a negative thought for each other, but to compete as we do in the monastery in the mystery of obedience, considering the other always more important. So whatever the Abbot says, we answer, ‘Yes your blessing!’I accept the will of the other, because the other is more important than myself. Therefore, finally I learn to accept the will of the ultimate Other, the will of the Saviour Christ.
If a couple competes as we do in a monastery, each striving to do the will of the other more perfectly, then their life will be enriched and established in the antechamber of paradise. As a spiritual fruit they will enjoy unity of heart and spirit, and not just psychological unity. In the monastery, everyone who has learned this competition, to humble oneself more before the other, is spiritually reborn. The same occurs also in a family. We don’t accept an evil thought for another member, but compete to do the will of the others and to humble ourselves more before them. As St. Silouan teaches, pride drives away love. The proud man is full of himself and does not make space in his heart for anything or anyone. If we carry, however, all our brethren or all our family in our heart before God and bring them before God in our everyday prayer, then surely there will be unity and love amongst us. All things can find room in our heart. (The Engraving of Christ in Man’s Heart, Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, pp. 20-21)
If we acquire such a love and unity in our immediate community of family or monastery this would overflow to others. Thus we could be witnesses to our Christian faith and our Lord Jesus Christ, Who prayed for His disciples: “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me” (John 17:21). Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may we attain to this, and so, lead each other and those near us unto salvation. Amen
*This past week the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew announced the Canonization of Archimandrie Sophrony who is now officially numbered among the saints–A CORRECTION: A Greek news site had misinformation which others republished. It appears that at one point while on the Holy Mountain Patriarch Bartholomew commented that his canonization is in consideration. This was misinterpreted.