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.