Family life & Monasticism: Paths of salvation

Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite once wrote:

Just as in the physical heaven the fixed stars are divided into six orders and magnitudes, so also the saints who shine in the spiritual Heaven are distinguished into six orders: Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Hierarchs, Monastic Saints, and Righteous.

For Orthodox Christians in contemporary America, all of whom are called to holiness, that is, to sainthood, our vocation is more often realized in the latter orders, hierarchs and by extension, saints who were clergy, monastic saints or righteous saints.  The challenge though, in each and every generation, is identifying our vocations in Christ and then responding accordingly on our respective path of salvation.

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos explains:

The Christian way of life is catholic.  All the Christians must have a common ethos.  The aim of Christ’s commandments and the Holy Canons of the Church are for Christians to attain this common ethos, this uniform life.  While all of us can keep the commandments of God and have the aim of deification, there are different degrees, but also different ways.  The path is the same, but the way varies according to the way in which each person lives… The whole way of life, which we see in the Holy Scripture and the tradition of the Church, is valid for all men.  We can all attain deification. 

One of the most common divisions in the Church is between those who are married, and by extension, those who live in the world, and those who have removed themselves from the world, monastics.  Thankfully, monasticism and parish life go hand in hand.  Ultimately, both are needed in their purest forms to attain balance in the Church. 

Although this division is logical, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos reminds us:

…in the Church the people are not divided simply into unmarried and married, but into people who live in Christ and people who do not live in Christ.  Thus on the one hand we have people who have the Holy Spirit and on the other hand people who do not have the Holy Spirit…  Therefore, if some monk criticizes marriage in Christ, he shows that he has a problem with the monastic life, and if a married person criticizes and looks askance at the monastic life, it means that he has a problem with the way in which he is living his life.  A good monk never criticizes what God praises and a good married person never criticizes any that God praises, such as the monastic life.     

Is one path better than the other?  In a poignant story, Fr. Ephiphanios illustrates that both paths are pleasing and blessed by God; it’s simply a matter of where God leads us. 

A certain one of his spiritual children, who was undecided as to what path he should follow, marriage or celibacy, asked him to tell him what to do.  “My child,” he answered, “I cannot tell you what to follow.  Pray a lot to God and he will answer you.”  “But, Elder,” retorted the youth, “I am not holy for God to answer me!”  “God answers His children through events,” the Elder clarified.  “Go and you will see God’s hand.  In any case, whatever decision you make, I will love you equally and will bless you with both my hands.”

Is one path easier?  Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica simply suggests: “When people get married they think that everything will go smoothly, but this is not always so, for life is a battlefield.  It is the same in monasteries.  You go to a monastery and think that all is peaceful and quiet there, but it is not.  It is a battlefield there, too.” 

We therefore pray that with God’s blessings we fight the good fight and attain salvation on our respective battlefield. 

And, as “The Martyrs earned Paradise with their blood; the Monastics, with their ascetic life. Now we, my brethren, who beget children [those in the world], how shall we earn Paradise?”  Saint Cosmas Aitalos who posed this question also provides the answer. “[we shall earn paradise] With hospitality, by relieving the poor, the blind, the lame, as Joachim (the Father of the Theotokos) did.” 

Before I close with the counsel of St. Symeon the New Theologian for those of us who live in the world, let us offer a common prayer for Gerontissa Markella and her synodia at the Life-Giving Spring Monastery in Dunlap, whose monastery church was consecrated yesterday.  May God grant these sisters, treasured members of our Christian family, every good gift unto salvation as they offer their prayers for us who fight the good fight in the world.

It is possible for all, not only for monks, but also for those in the world, to repent at all times, to weep, and to entreat God, and thus acquire all the virtues.  Now that what I say is true is confirmed by John Chrysostom, the great pillar and Teacher of the Church, in the discourses where he explains the fiftieth Psalm of David.  He says: ‘It is possible for him, too, who has a wife, and children, and many servants, and much wealth, and is great and famous in the worldly things, not only to weep daily and pray, and repent every day, but if he wants, he can attain to perfect virtue, and receive the Holy Spirit and become a friend of God, and enjoy the contemplation of Him.”