Monasticism Began at Home

It is interesting that today some Orthodox families seek out monasteries to add a dimension to their spiritual lives that is missing in their daily lives.  Laura Swan in her book, The Forgotten Desert Mothers, reminds us that monasticism itself began in the home.  Families wishing to live the Gospel life more fully began shaping their lives around Christ’s commandments.  These families attempted to live for the Kingdom of God though still living ‘in the world.’

“Christian monasticism began in the home. The first communities usually included relatives, dependents, and household slaves. This inclusiveness had a deep impact upon monastic and desert spirituality. Life was centered around times of communal prayer, private prayer, services in local churches, the study of scripture and the writings of the leaders of the movement, and service to the poor. Some experienced a call to move away from the common life toward solitude.” (Swan,  pgs. 8-9)

If Swan is correct in how monasticism began, it is interesting that nowadays families seek something from outside the family to help them be disciples of Christ – they go to monasteries for monastic spirituality rather than trying to live the Gospel more fully in their own homes.   One can wonder: has historical experience taught us that we cannot live the Gospel in our home and family lives and so must go to monasteries for that dedicated spirituality?   Or have we Orthodox discovered that only in monasteries can people pursue the evangelical life – that the monastic community rather than the family community is the only way to follow Christ and practice Christian discipleship? (or at least discipline as monastics came to believe is normative for Christianity)  Or is it because we want to follow mammon AND God that we cannot be disciples of Christ in our families?  We want to pursue the American dream of success, prosperity, a suburban home and wonderful vacations AND so cannot figure out how to followChrist taught self-denial?   Is it that we want to live comfortable, middle class lives with only an occasional touch of monastic spirituality rather than shaping our family time and values by the Gospel lessons?   Or maybe we believe only monastics can really be fully Christian and so accept that we must have occasional monastic experiences but we really can’t live in the world and follow Christ.

Living a Christ-like life daily is hard work, so do we settle for vicarious experiences 0f Christianity – observing monastics while we are on retreat but imagining that we should not bother to figure out how to follow Christ within the opportunities presented by our families?   Perhaps a time will come again when we realize that Christ called us to follow Him as mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters.  Christ can be a member of our families and dwell in our homes.  We do not have to go anywhere else to find Christ, for He lives in us, in our hearts, our homes, our families.  Christ commanded us to love one another, to repent, to forgive, to practice self-denial and He taught us to pray, be charitable, to pursue godliness, to live humbly and to proclaim the joyous Good News of the resurrection.  These are all things we can do in our own homes and families.  Monasticism became the Christian way for those who wanted to forgo the married life.  Those who embrace marriage and family life have to find their way to be disciples of Christ.

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4 Responses to Monasticism Began at Home

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. Nicole says:

    Dear Fr Ted, I can only speak for myself and am not sure how much monastery experience you have had time for, but monastery experience has not been like this for me at all, so I wanted to share with you that it has been a fine supplement to, complement to my Church and at-home experience rather than a substitute or place where I “watch” vicariously…Being there serves to inspire me at home and to deepen my commitment there…I have been saddened on the internet recently to see an artificial competition set up between the two…Monasteries seem a retreat and haven from hectic schedules so I can realize I must schedule and find this very experience at home, that I can and it is only due to my sinfulness I have not…Just as I love to go to our local OCA 6 AM Monday Divine Liturgy for the quiet retreat nature of it in town and it is a respite from (but no substitute for and in fact helps me appreciate) the noise and bustle of the active and more distracting nature of the Sunday 9:30 am Divine Liturgy, so Monastery experience is wonderfully centering and inspires me to come back to my life and dedicate myself more to my church, my faith, my fellow man, not less…I would be glad to tell you where I have gone if you have had a bad experience! I hate for you to miss the richness of this experience which has aided my priests, my friends, and myself in life at home! Nothing vicarious about it! Love in Christ, Nicole

    • Fr. Ted says:

      The post is not about any particular bad experience with monasteries. It is more about shaping our daily and family lives in such a way that instead of needing to get away from daily life, daily life becomes when and where we live our spiritual lives.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Nicole says:

        Thank you Fr Ted. Perhaps it is just us publicans in the Narthex like me who need bolstering by the fine examples in monasteries to create that at home…I am grateful for and need all examples but am at the very beginning of the Orthodox journey to sanctification for sure…

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