Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Consecrated

Yesterday was quite a special day. Not only was it the Feast of the Archangel Michael and all the Holy Angels (Byzantine calendar), but it was also the occasion of the monastic consecration (profession of solemn vows) of our Br Symeon.

This feast day was appropriate for Br Symeon’s consecration, for monastic life is sometimes called the “angelic life.” This is because monks are supposed to be constantly singing the praises of God like the angels—and we do so in church for at least four hours a day, and go on praising Him in our hearts the rest of the time, as far as we are able. Monastic life is called “angelic” also because the holy monastic fathers were said to live like angels in the flesh, that is, they hardly ever ate or slept! Now if God wanted us to live like pure spirits, he wouldn’t have created us with bodies, but there is much value in self-discipline and detachment from the things that the Lord said “all the nations” are always running after (Luke 12:30-31). Not to be anxious about material possessions or comforts is part of seeking first the Kingdom of God.

The readings for the occasion of a monastic consecration are chosen with wisdom and a certain delicacy. There are two selections from the Gospel of Matthew (10:37-39 and 11:28-30). In the first the Lord makes it clear that if one loves father or mother, son or daughter more than Him, one is not worthy of Him. This was all the more poignant since Br Symeon’s parents were present for his consecration. This is part of taking up our cross and following Jesus. Yet to leave one’s family and to take up one’s cross is not merely a negative thing, not cutting one adrift on life’s lonely sea. For in the next selection of the Gospel Jesus says: “Come to Me… I will refresh you… Learn from Me… take my yoke upon your shoulders… your soul will find rest, for My yoke is easy and My burden light.” To die to self, to detach from blood ties for Christ’s sake is to surrender oneself to the Lord’s loving embrace, to be permanently “enlisted” in the service of the King. Many people, in the name of freedom or self-expression, seek after money, possessions, and pleasures, but in the long run end up, as the monastic fathers have said, wearing a heavy yoke. Jesus would remove the heavy yoke of sin and selfishness and place upon us the yoke of obedience to the word of life. “I know that his commandment is eternal life” (John 12:50).

Once a monk chooses to love Christ more than his family, friends, and his very self, and comes to Him in love and the promise of lifelong fidelity, he is given a mission. He joins the angels not only in worshiping God, but also in fighting the devil. Therefore the other reading for the Liturgy is Ephesians 6:10-17—putting on the “armor of God” (truth, righteousness, faith, the Gospel of peace, etc). These points of the reading appear in the rite of consecration as he is being clothed with the tunic, belt, shoes, etc. For our battle, says the Apostle, is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual hosts of wickedness. So the monk can’t afford to live a soft or self-indulgent life; he has to be in top shape for both worship and warfare!

We felt the presence of the Lord and of the holy angels. The very air was charged with grace as the young novice came forth and prostrated himself, seeking to “embrace the life of asceticism” and making his perpetual vows of fidelity to the monastic vocation. He is warned that he is making these promises before the face of God and in the presence of the heavenly hosts, and that he will be judged by how well he has kept his promises. Even though there are some stern admonitions in the rite, the whole event was full of joy and was a real celebration of faith and love for God. It is not a small thing that a man offers his whole life irrevocably to God (quite rare these days—unfortunately), and God is very pleased to accept such an offering and to shower him with grace and blessing. The Lord alone knows how many souls will benefit from the new monk’s prayer and sacrifice.

I invite you to rejoice with us, that there is another consecrated monk in the world. He stands before the face of God and intercedes for you and for the salvation of all. Pray the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers, for there is still very much work to be done in his vineyard…